The state of Pennsylvania has always differed greatly from other states in America when it comes to correctional reforms and prison life. The reformists in Pennsylvania held very innovative approaches toward prison regarding it as a place to serve the punishment and change for the better, but not merely as a place to ruin individuals or starve them to death the way it happened in many other states. The correctional reform has impacted Pennsylvania greatly since it was the first state in the United States that developed an innovative prison aiming to improve prisoners behaviour. The approach of the reformists of that time impacted the next generations and brought a much more humanistic approach to the punishment of the criminals throughout the country.
Place New Order
In the beginning, it is important to describe what the prison was like in the early American history. The prisoners were not separated from one another, so a murderer could end up in the same cell with a robber or person committed sodomy. There was also no difference whether a criminal was an adult or a child. The prisoners lived in horrific conditions as the cells were cold, and they often starved. The jailors would sell them food and clothes for money, so those who could not afford it or had no access to outside finances were doomed to freezing and starving to death. Besides, jailors would sell alcohol to prisoners, and that spurred violence between them causing lethal consequences in many cases (Woodham, 2008). Thus, instead of rethinking their crimes, the prisoners were fighting for life within the prisons.
Besides, the norms and laws of that time were rather simple since the death sentence was regarded as a normal punishment both for a murderer and an atheist who did not want to accept Christianity.
Henceforth, the state of prisons in the country was rather dull, and many prisoners were dying in cells because of the severe conditions. In Pennsylvania, there were efforts to change the situation for the better. In the early American history, there were significant attempts for the improvement. For instance, the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, William Penn, thought of various ways to advance the prison system in the region. He practiced his attempts in the beginning of the eighteenth century while working on the states improvements. For example, Penn believed that the prisoners had to work within prisons, and the capital punishment could be applied only to those who have committed murder. His system was called Quaker-based, and although very innovative for that time, it was gone after his death when the state authorities returned to the old way of running prisons.
It was only after the American Revolutionary War that the state was able to have a reform in the prison system, although the attempts to do so began a decade before. At that time, Dr. Benjamin Rush became active in Pennsylvania. As a psychiatrist, he had very innovative ideas regarding prisons and the necessity to turn them into places where the prisoners could be changed and improved.
This man was dynamic in politics, signing the Declaration of Independence and then working in order to have the American Constitution signed. He knew many prominent persons of that time such as Benjamin Franklin. Rush was also well-known in the circles within Pennsylvania being acquainted with many progressive minds of that time such as writers and scientists. Thus, among them he was spreading his ideas about a new prison reform that was badly needed.
- Our custom writing services includes:
- Custom essay writing for the best grades;
- CV, resume and cover letters which would
make you successful
- Thesis and dissertations writing by academic
As Rush regarded the crime being a disease of the persons morality, he believed it could be cured with the right prison system. Thus, he suggested making a change using the Walnut Street prison as a starting point. In 1787, Rush alongside his supporters who called themselves Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (or, for short, Pennsylvania Prison Society), gathered in the house of Benjamin Franklin to discuss the prison reform.
The suggestions made by the reformists later on would be named the institution of penitentiary and the System of Pennsylvania. The group was able to convince the state authorities who allowed implementing the reforms on the jail on the Walnut Street.
Thanks to the reforms, the prisoners were separated from one another based on particular criteria like the crimes they committed or gender. The prisoners had to perform particular work duties and participated in workshops. Also, there were no more violent punishments and abuses against the criminals.
Nevertheless, it was still difficult to carry on the reforms in the old jail, and that was the reason a new one was built in 1829 where the prisoners were separated and the conditions were very good. With an innovative prison, the reformists wanted to make sure that the prisoners would change having a time to think about their crimes, but the prison also guaranteed a higher level of security so no one could escape.
Thus, it can be said that the groups of innovative reformists were cheering for the reform, and they wanted it out of humanist and democratic principles respecting the individual rights. The prison that was constructed due to their attempts was an example of innovative jail, but due to its small size it was closed down in 1971 and turned into a National Historic Landmark (Eastern State Penitentiary, n.d.).
Nevertheless, despite the closure, the reformists did have an impact on the future of the prisons and the correctional reform. Since the prison was well-known, it spurred nationwide interest toward the new treatment of the prisoners. Thus, after it started functioning, many states as well as the state of Philadelphia passed new laws regarding prisons and punishments that separated the prisoners and were more humanistic in treating them.
It can be said that the reform had an influential legacy toward changing the correctional situation in the entire country because thanks to it, the United States received new, more democratic and humanistic laws regarding that sphere.
The alterations influenced modern system: the prisoners now are separated and participate in particular tasks and assignments to be able to rethink their crimes. Also, the violence and alcohol in prisons are prohibited, and it is mostly due to the reforms of the past. Besides, the prisoners are able to learn in jails, and there are better conditions for the criminals there.
Nevertheless, the modern system is still different due to the increases in population and the necessity to build bigger jails that would contain larger amounts of people. This fact determined the situation with the modern prisons as they cannot focus on an individual prisoner and grant him or her many opportunities for personal change. The prison system nowadays is no longer focused on personal development as it was intended centuries ago by the reformists, but it does provide people in jails with an opportunity to learn and gain necessary skills to begin an honest life after serving the term.
Thus, the correctional reform in Pennsylvania is a good example of a system changing itself thanks to the initiative groups. Their legacy is carried out to the modern times, bringing improvements to the modern-day punishment system and the prisons that function within the country.