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Early Prisons: Middle Ages. First prison existed in Europe – 1400 & 1500s – for debtors. Philadelphia. Converted to prison by Quakers Study of bible was primary method Goal was to provide religion and humanity to imprisoned Offenders held in solitary confinement No more Corporal Punishment.

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early prisons middle ages
Early Prisons:Middle Ages

First prison existed in Europe – 1400 & 1500s – for debtors

penitentiary era 1790 1825 walnut street jail

Converted to prison by Quakers

Study of bible was primary method

Goal was to provide religion and humanity to imprisoned

Offenders held in solitary confinement

No more Corporal Punishment

Penitentiary Era (1790-1825):Walnut Street Jail
penitentiary era 1790 1825 walnut street jail3

Became known as the “Pennsylvania System”

Handicrafts were introduced allowing prisoners to work in their cells

Penitentiary Era (1790-1825):Walnut Street Jail
mass prison era 1825 1876
- “congregate,” but, silent style

Offenders ate, lived, and worked together in silence

Corporal punishment was used for rule violators

From 1825 onward – most prisons built in U.S. followed Auburn system

Became known as the “Auburn System”

New York State Prison at Auburn

Mass Prison Era (1825-1876)
reformatory era 1876 1890
Reformatory Era (1876-1890)

Based upon use of indeterminate sentence and belief in rehabilitation

Reformatory movement is the result of the work of two men:

  • Captain Alexander Maconochie
  • Zebulon Brockway
reformatory era 1876 1890 elmira reformatory 1876
Reformatory Era (1876-1890):Elmira Reformatory (1876)

Zebulon Brockway was warden at Elmira

A leading advocate of the indeterminate sentence

Elmira accepted only first time offenders between ages 16-30

reformatory era 1876 1890 elmira reformatory 187611
Reformatory Era (1876-1890):Elmira Reformatory (1876)

Training made available in such areas as:

    • telegraphy
    • tailoring
    • plumbing
    • carpentry
  • The movement was a failure (no change in outside social conditions)
reformatory era 1876 1890 captain alexander maconochie
Reformatory Era (1876-1890):Captain Alexander Maconochie
  • Warden of Norfolk Island prison off of coast of Australia in 1840s
  • prisoners at Norfolk were “doubly condemned”
    • They had been “transported” to Australia because of crimes they had committed and then they were punished for new crimes while in Australia
reformatory era 1876 1890 captain alexander maconochie18
Reformatory Era (1876-1890):Captain Alexander Maconochie
    • Maconochie developed “mark system”
    • prisoners could earn credits to buy their freedom
    • negative behavior caused marks to be lost

Mark system constituted first “early release” program

  • Maconochie became known as “father of parole”

A drawing shows Sydney, Australia, in 1788, at the time of its founding as a British penal colony.

industrial prison era 1890 1935
Southern Prisons

Prisoners replaced freed slaves

Farm labor

Public works projects

Goal – to maximize use of offender labor movement began in industrial northeast U.S.

Northern Prisons

Smelted steel

Made furniture

Molded tires

Industrial Prison Era: (1890-1935)
industrial prison era 1890 1935 ashurst sumners act 1935
Specifically prohibited interstate transportation and sale of prison made goods where prohibited by state law

Act came about partly as a result of the Depression

Ashurst-Sumners Act ended industrial prison era

Industrial Prison Era: (1890-1935)Ashurst-Sumners Act (1935)
punitive era 1935 1945
With moratorium on prison industries – prisons reverted back to custody and security as main goals

Large maximum security prisons evolved in rural “out-of-sight” locations

 Alcatraz

Punitive Era (1935-1945)
treatment era 1945 1967
Development of behavioral techniques in 1930s and 1940s brought about concept of treatment in prisons

“Correctional Facilities”

Treatment based on “medical model”

Individual and group therapy programs evolved

Treatment Era (1945-1967)
treatment era 1945 196729
Types of therapy programs:

Behavioral therapy



Sensory deprivation

Aversion therapy

Treatment Era (1945-1967)
treatment era 1945 196730

Used to control aggressive behavior and destructive urges – frontal lobotomies were part of this approach

Sensory deprivation

Denial of stimulation by isolating prisoners in quiet, secluded environment

Aversion therapy

Drugs and/or electric shock used to teach prisoner to associate negative behavior with pain and displeasure

Treatment Era (1945-1967)
community based treatment era 1967 1980
Community-Based Treatment Era (1967-1980)
  • Relies upon resources of community instead of prison
  • Plan is to keep offender in the community
  • Half-way house – community-based treatment program whereby individual lives at house but is allowed to go to work during the day
warehousing overcrowding era 1980 1995
Robert Martinson

“Nothing Works” Study (1974)

Surveyed 231 research studies that evaluated correctional treatment programs between 1945-1967

None of the 231 programs appeared to substantially reduce recidivism

Warehousing/Overcrowding Era (1980-1995)
  • public and judicial disapproval of release programs and recidivism led to longer sentences with fewer releases
  • prison overcrowding became widespread
  • greater emphasis on incarcerating non-violent drug offenders
just deserts era 1995 present
Imprisonment is seen as fully deserved and a proper consequence of criminal behavior

Root purpose of imprisonment is punishment

AKA “Justice Model” - Get what you deserve

Zero Tolerance

Loss of priviledges

Chain Gangs in Alabama, Florida, Arizono

General Deterrence at work

Just Deserts Era (1995-present)
just deserts era 1995 present38
Reductions in –

personal property allowed

restrictions on outside purchases

elimination of cable TV

abolish family visits

no more special occasion banquets

1995 – Virginia abolishes parole, increased the length of sentences for certain violent crimes, and planned building of 12 new prisons

1995 – 28 states reported a decrease in prisoner privileges during previous 12 months

Just Deserts Era (1995-present)
prisons today
Prisons Today
  • Whites- 1229 incarcerated per 100,000 white males in their late 20’s.
  • Blacks- 10,376 incarcerated per 100,000 black males in their late 20’s.



low level of formal education

  • socially disadvantaged background
  • lack of significant vocational skills
  • (most) served time in a juvenile facility


prisons today45

high fences/walls of concrete

barriers between living area and outer perimeter

--electric perimeters

--laser motion detectors

--electronic and pneumatic locking systems

--metal detectors

--X-ray machines

--television surveillance

Prisons Today
prisons today46

Similar in design to maximum security facilities, however, theyallow prisoners more freedom. In them, prisoners can usually:

associate with other prisoners

go to the prison yard

use exercise room/equipment

visit the library

take showers and use bathroom facilities with less supervision

Prisons Today
prisons today47

Dormitory style housing is sometimes used.

Cells and living quarters tend to have more windows.

These facilities tend to have barbed wire fences instead of large stone walls.

Prisons Today
prisons today48

Housing tends to be dormitory style,and prisoners usually have freedom of movement within the facility.

Work is done under general supervision only.

Guards are unarmed, and gun towers do not exist.

Fences, if they exist, are low and sometimes unlocked.

“Counts” are usually not taken.

Prisoners are sometimes allowed to wear their own clothes.

Prisons Today

Martha Stewart’s Minimum Security Prison

Alderson Federal prison camp in Alderson, WV

original purpose- Short-term confinement of suspects following arrest and awaiting trial.

current use- Jails hold those convicted of misdemeanors and some felonies, as well as holding suspects following arrest and awaiting trial.

 sentences are less than one year (usually)