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Prisons Systems

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Prison Systems

Prisons have drastically changed through the years, from dungeons and workhouses, to the institutions we see today. From early Jerusalem times, prisons have been in existence and have been used to detain those accused of wrongdoing. The prison system is divided between state and federal crimes. They have become a place of punishment, where individuals who commit crimes are kept while serving out their sentences. Prisons serve as detainment units to keep felons and serious crime offenders away from law abiding citizens.

Punishments in the early times were often cruel and unusual in nature. There were beatings in public, mutilations, and even hangings (Schmallenger, 2011). Early reformists were searching for humane alternatives to death and other capital punishment methods that were previously used. 1790 marked the Penitentiary Era, where the Walnut Street Jail in Pennsylvania became the first model for the American prison system (Johnston, 2009). The two-story wooden structure was a U-shaped building and included a series of small cells designed to hold individual prisoners (US History, 2010). Jail cells and the corridors connecting them were designed to prevent prisoners from communicating with each other. The cells had nine-foot high ceilings with high, grated windows to prevent prisoners from looking onto the street ("Law Library," 2011). The philosophy of the Penitentiary Era was one of rehabilitation and deterrence. Inmates were confined to their cells for the duration of their imprisonment. It was designed to provide a severe environment that left inmates plenty of time for reflection on wrongdoings, but it was also designed to be cleaner and safer than past prisons ("Law Library," 2011). The concepts of solitary confinement and repentance were key components of prison life at this institution.

Solitary confinement became overly expensive, so in 1825 Mass Prison Era arose. Here the focus was to still confine the prisoners, but it was also focused on deterrence. The prisoners were held in groups and forced to remain quiet. They were also subject to hard labor and whippings to keep the silence. The Mass Prison Era proved to a move in the wrong direction, so in 1876 the Reformation Era evolved based on the philosophy of rehabilitation once again. Prisoners were encouraged to focus on education and behavior. Here prisoners could earn possible early release for those that earned it as the focus was individual treatment. The Reformation Era was unsuccessful due to overcrowding, poorly trained staff and a continued emphasis on control ("Law Library," 2011).

The Industrial Era began in 1890 and focused on maximizing cheap prisoner labor and replacing slaves that were freed during the war (Bates, 1936). The philosophy was confinement in conjunction with restoration in the industry. Chain gangs were popular and legal in most states with many states allowing county convicts to work on public roads. Chain gangs were most common in the South. Wearing leg irons, convicts would work in small groups, linked



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