Role and Evolution of the American Prison Research Paper

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Role and Evolution of the American Prison System

Explain the Primary Role and Evolution of the American Prison System and Determine if Incarceration Reduces Crime

The United States constitution is the fundamental foundation of the American criminal justice system. Given that the document is now over two hundred years old, it constantly experiences numerous amendments and interpretations. As a result, the criminal justice system over the years experienced alterations in order to reflect the needs and beliefs of each subsequent generation. The configuration of the modern prison system has its basis in the late 1700's and early 1800s. The development of the modern prison system aims at protecting innocent members of the society from criminals. The prison systems also deter criminals from committing more crimes through detaining and rehabilitating them. However, more and more deluge of white-collar crimes and other crimes, burdens the American criminal justice system and the prison system. Given the rise in crimes in the society, the effectiveness of incarceration is open to discussion. It is as a result the purpose of this paper to highlight the evolution and the major role of the modern prison system in America. The paper also highlights incarceration in the American prison system, its functions and determines whether incarceration reduces crimes in America.


The prison system is in divergent ways an excellent prism through which to assess a particular culture. If a prison system is corrective, that tells that a given society experiences increased crime rates. A prison is an organization marked through considerable authority but modest accomplishment (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). A prison system, on the other hand, refers to the managerial arrangement of prerequisite for incarceration of convicted criminals. The American prison system entails the federal prisons, states prisons and local prisons (Kraska & Brent, 2011). The society has had prisons of all sorts from the biblical times. Although prisons are different in their internal systems and stated objectives, the major accomplishment of a prison in its fundamental directive is to restrain and contain offenders. Rehabilitation is a recurring objective of prisons, although this aim is sometimes unachievable. However, rehabilitation is reformers' dream, but not beneficial to all criminals. The utilization of prison as an authority experienced steady growth since the beginning of the 19th Century penitentiary, and is a major dominant of the modern criminal justice system (Kraska & Brent, 2011). The development in the utilization of prisons is specifically for the minority and more presently women. Women face underrepresentation in the American prisons with almost 7% of women in the overall prison population even after the present accelerated development in the rate of women confinement.

The Evolution of the American Prison System

The formation of the modern prison has its foundation in the late 1700's and early 1800s. The prison reformers borrowed ideas from institutions and Laws of England. The shifts during the era link to individuals, both in the early American and England colonies. The Quakers who settled in Pennsylvania were instrumental in forming a prison system with incarceration as a way of moral reformation serving the primary objective (Barnes, 1921). Dr. Benjamin Rush signed the Declaration of Independence and he was a major architect of the transformational prisons model that influenced the perspective of penology. His foundational principle supported "houses of Repentance," and this instigated the establishment of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which allowed Benjamin to endorse prison reform principles.

According to Benjamin, reform principles were crucial in the treatment of prisoners (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). His reform principles meant shifts in punishment and prisons, reduced number of convicted criminals, but a rise in prison population with longer incarceration sentences. John Howard worked to ensure relief to American Indians while Quakers influenced the colonies' perspective to punishment and crime. During the colonial era, there was little requirement for prisons in America. Criminals got detained temporarily as they waited for court rulings or specific punishments (Barnes, 1921). People viewed incarceration as an expensive proposition and a loss of valuable labor. As a result, confinement mostly did not last more than one day.

In 1682, nearly a century before the outbreak of the American revolution, the Pennsylvania Quakers adopted William Penn's blueprint of government which became the framework for the colony as well as the first exemplar of the penal reform in the history of America (Barnes, 1921) . One of the key reforms was the rejection of the jailers practice that charged prisoners for fees, boardroom and other extravagances. The Pennsylvania Quaker reformers dominated the American prison reform in the 19th Century. Before 1750, incarceration by law was rare compared to increased general public and physical punishments. Colonial jails contained a variety of political and military prisoners with undetermined sentences. Incarceration failed to become a crucial criminal sanction until the late 19th Century after the culmination of the American Revolution (Barnes, 1921).

Early jails after American Revolution held debtors and those who failed to pay tax and other fine payments (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). From this perspective, people viewed jails as a technique for coercing debtors to pay as opposed to a criminal sanction. During early 19th century, the condition of the American jails reflected that of its Western world counterparts. Cellular confinement was nonexistent with prisons and jails becoming huge rooms that housed all types of prisoners; from debtors, children, felons, the dissolute and the mentally ill. Architects of prison history believe that the foundation of the contemporary prison system is the evolution of Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). .

John Howard and Benjamin Rush had a hand in the reformation of the Walnut Street Jail. They transformed Walnut Street Jail and other jails that followed from an entirely punitive establishment to jails that stressed on rehabilitation, reform and penitence (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). Benjamin and his colleagues supported the introduction of single cells to Walnut Street Jail as a means of isolating the most risky prisoners from others thereby doing away with the component of criminal contagion.

By early 1820, two competing models of prison evolved out of the Walnut Street Jail. The Pennsylvania system that took over the Walnut Street Jail supported a 24-hour separation and labor behind bars (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). On the other hand, the Auburn Prison scheme that formed in New York promoted cellular isolation at night and congregate labor in stringent silence during the day. Eventually, the Auburn Scheme became the prominent design of prison in the United States. This is because of the congregate labor that became more effective compared to individual labor. The Auburn prisons were more cost-effective as they saved money hence, becoming the underside line for prison administrators.

A novel wave of reforms in prison concurred with culmination of the 1865 American Civil War. By late 1860s, American prisons were suffering from overcrowding (Barnes, 1921). Together with the developing opposition of labor unions who acted against unfair antagonism prison labor posed to free labor, prison restructuring was on the perspective. Notwithstanding the novel reform environment, Southern states, so ravaged by the war, would catch up for the coming century. Ill equipped to house prisoners in conservative prisons, most Southern states resorted to convict leasing, chain gang, and the agricultural prison camps.

The meeting of the first National Prison Congress in Ohio, in 1870, represented a huge speculative turning point in penology (Barnes, 1921). Building on the current experiments with undefined sentences and the Australia and Ireland mark system, the congress took on a Declaration of Principles regarded as the most progressive documents in the 19th Century prison reform. Prior to the culmination of the 19th Century, numerous experiments at reforms were attempted. The New York's Elmira Reformatory laid the foundation for the reformatory movement in 1876 through stressing on imprecise sentencing and the mark system over the fixed sentence. Between 1877 and 1901, twelve states formed comparable reformatories. One imperative area that went virtually overlooked at the National Prison Congress was the female offenders' incarceration.

In 1874, Indiana opened the first female prison with Massachusetts opening a reformatory for females the subsequent (Barnes, 1921). Apparently, female imprisonment was not a priority for reformers in the early 19th Century because they were few female prisoners. The "Sing Prison" in New York was the first prison to form an isolated wing for women following its establishment of the Mount Pleasant Female Prison in 1830. Between 1870 and 1935, the country developed twenty female reformatories exclusively for women when female criminality became more of an issue (Barnes, 1921). In the 19th Century, American prisons adopted correctional innovations as parole, indeterminate sentencing and probation. Between 1870 and 1904, the American inmate population developed by sixty two percent, and by 1935, the state population had experienced a tremendous rise of 162% since 1904 (Barnes, 1921). Despite the addition of novel prisons and the execution of the novel progressive experiments, the first decades of the 20th Century requested for the return to an earlier era placing less stress on moral education, instruction and classification…[continue]

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