RQ: influenced by, the mental health reform, prison

RQ: What social factors
influenced the US Prison System’s treatment of African-Americans and
minorities, and how did these factors lead to the mass incarceration problems
that exist today?


Essentially talk about the historical aspects that influenced the penal system,
don’t analyze this part as much, simply list information. Include the British
penal system that the US was influenced by, the mental health reform, prison
reform, and others (research). Then move onto the global politics side, mainly
with mass incarceration and other issues that still exist today. Talk about how
these controversies may influence the future of the US penal system

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and British Influence on the United States Prison System

US Prison System has much of its beginnings in English Society. The English
workhouse, constructed around the 1550’s, laid the foundation for the modern
day penitentiary, and served as a place to hold “unproductive” members of
society. (Hirsch, 1992).” To combat this,
the workhouse, an early jail, was created as a place for the idle to be
committed for a period of time. The reasons for incarceration in England
expanded to include petty crimes in the 1620’s. As England developed throughout
the 1700’s to become Great Britain, incarceration with labor was deemed an
acceptable punishment those convicted of larceny, those that could not be
brought to the colonies, or those awaiting an execution. Transportation of
convicts from Great Britain to the colonies proved difficult with the start of
the American Revolution, and the Penitentiary Act was passed. The act required
the construction of two prisons with a daily work schedule for highly regulated
and controlled prisoners (Hirsch, 1992). The influx of
prisoners into British prisons quickly caused their quality to deteriorate,
which would lead to John Howard’s work as a proponent for prisoner’s rights and
prison reform (Christianson, 1998) (Hirsch, 1992). John Howard, after
being imprisoned for a period of time himself, lead the way for prison reform
in Great Britain, Europe, and the United States. His 1777 publication, The State of the Prisons, included his
personal accounts, plans, and ideas for prison improvements. In fact the
penitentiaries built in the United States during the 1820’s, the Auburn and
Eastern State, both would use solitary confinement and inmate division to
rehabilitate inmates, ideas spawned from single-celling. Single-celling was Howard’s
idea of keeping inmates in individual cells instead of groups. These
penitentiaries would become models for future penitentiaries throughout the
United States as it developed (Meranze, 1996) (Sherman &
Hawkins, 1983).

of the United States Prison System

 As the Colonies grew in North America so did
their prison and jail systems. The colonies prison system of the late 1600’s to
mid-1700’s lacked any prolonged confinement. Instead of hard labor and
imprisonment, punishments such as fines whippings, banishment, capital
punishment by hanging, and the stocks were used as deterrents, with some groups
focusing specifically on preventing and punishing any “sinful” behavior,
demonstrated by the following excerpt from With
Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America. “The Puritans who
had founded Massachusetts in 1630 viewed their war on crime as a moral
necessity, for they considered every crime a sin and every sin a crime …
Believing that public humiliation would help deter others, the Puritans
constructed stocks in every public square … The punitive alphabet included “A”
(adulterer), “B” (blasphemer), “D” (drunk), “F” (fighter), “M” (manslaughter),
“R” (rogue), and “T” (thief). (Christianson, 1998)” Similarly to how England designated
vagrants as those worthy of punishment, the Puritans too had begun to label
groups of people as criminals, a trend that will heavily impact minorities after
the Civil War. Another religious group, the Quakers would find themselves in a
unique situation to shape the prison system. The Quakers became interested in
the existing Colonies penal system after many Quakers themselves were
imprisoned and observed the faults within it. In fact the Quaker colony of
Pennsylvania, which was formed to escape religious persecution and
imprisonment, had a criminal law code that favored imprisonment instead of community
punishments that colonies such as Massachusetts favored, with future
individuals calling for prison reform to aid inmates (Christianson,
1998) (Henderson,
Year Unknown).
From the early days of the American colonies there existed a desire for prison
reform as different colonies experimented with different systems and people
experienced the faults within them, however there still was no cohesive system
that could be systematically fixed. Since punishment was employed more often
than incarceration, jails were used primarily for pre-trial and pre-sentencing purposes,
or for holding debtors or those that could not pay bail, mainly the poor.  Most jails were attached to the jailors house
or residence, inmates were required to pay for their cell and basic items, and
without laws that set guidelines for how a jail should be run, most inmates’
basic rights and needs were neglected and escapes were both common and ignored (Christianson,
1998) (Hirsch, 1992). It took the
post-Revolution urbanization of the United States, and the increased crime
rates and changing social mindsets that came with it, to create the need for
more uniformity within the United States prisons and jails (Hirsch, 1992).

Post-Revolution Changes and Reforms

      As Colonies, doubled, tripled, and even
increased their populations by fivefold, there became an urgent need for an
improved prison system within the United States. Traditional punishments no
longer worked as a crime deterrent, and as an increased population size came
with increased urbanization, the social structures of the 1700’s began to
deteriorate as social mobility became more fluid in urban areas (Rothman, 1971). As this social
change was occurring, so was the public’s idea of a new subclass, the criminal.
As crime rates appeared to rise, so did the desire to place this newly
discovered subclass in a location away from the other citizens (Hirsch, 1992). With the continual
abolishment of slavery in some States, starting in 1777 with Vermont, and the
slow discontinuation of outdated and ineffective methods of community-based
punishments, fines, and banishment (Meranze, 1996), reformers of the
time began to try and distance the United States from the British penal
practices they had based their systems on. In fact by the 1820’s only three
states had yet to make incarceration the primary punishment for a crime (Rothman,
The construction of prisons progressed alongside the United States shift
towards incarceration; however true penitentiaries would not form until the
Jacksonian Era (Rothman, 1971).

Jacksonian/Antebellum Era and the Modern Day Penitentiary

            As the nineteenth century progressed, so did the American
perception of what constitutes criminality and how it should be dealt with. Jails
and prisons were to broad, and so began the construction of penitentiaries for
criminals, asylums for the mentally ill, and almshouses for the poor. With this
continual shift in perception also came the societal desire to define and trace
criminality. Reformers and officials of the time concluded that society was the
cause, and thus needed to be eliminated from an inmate’s life in order to
properly rehabilitate them. In the 1820’s New York would build two penitentiaries
with that goal in mind, a place for the convicted to live either entirely or
partially in solitude (Rothman, 1971). The Pennsylvania
system favored complete solitude; an inmate lived in the same cell for the
duration of their sentence, with no outside contact. The purpose of the
institution was for the inmate to rehabilitate themselves through reflection
and solitude, although it ended up driving many insane (Rothman, 1971). The eventual cost
of the building, $750,000, would prove to be too much for widespread use (Hirsch, 1992) (McKelvey,
The Auburn System, another Northern penitentiary, would be far more successful
and cost effective. This system had prisoners remain in solitude while they
slept, but required group working hours during the day, with communication
between inmates prohibited. Auburn began to classify inmates based off of
danger shortly into its operation, keeping the worst offenders under complete
solitary confinement, allowing average offenders with good behavior to work in
groups, and allowing the least guilty to live under the original design of the
Auburn system. Similarly to the Pennsylvania system, several worst offenders
under complete solitude would die or go insane (Christianson,
The problems within this system weren’t entirely unaddressed, however. Reformers
Francis Lieber, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Dorothea Dix all sought improvements
to these institutions, with libraries, education, reduced violent punishments,
and the separation of women and children from male convicts. Reform was
limited, but the United States still felt as though it held the model prison
for rehabilitation and punishment (ushistory.org). As the Antebellum
Period came to a close, fifteen states or territories had created a
penitentiary that implemented a system similar to the Auburn system, and a
unified prison system had begun to form in the Northern United States. The
South, with its different economic and societal circumstances, would prove more
resistant to the systems implanted  (McKelvey,

            The South had not urbanized to the extent of the North,
and there existed an idea that no white person, not even a criminal, should
have their freedom taken by any person or entity, especially the government.
The persecution of petty criminals would be handled locally in most rural
communities of the South, with the government taking responsibility only for
the more dangerous cases (Ayers, 1986). Although public
support for penitentiaries was lacking in the South, only two states would fail
to construct one before the Civil War. The majority of inmates in these
institutions proved to be whites, as slaves were generally tried and punished
outside of the penitentiary system. This did not prevent free blacks from
making up a surprising third majority in some Southern states prisons. Even
though around nine tenths of the Southern population lived outside of an urban
setting and violent crimes were predominant, it was property crime and theft
that was judged harsher, making up half of the South’s inmate population while also
only making up twenty percent of crimes charged in court (Ayers, 1986). This was due partly
to the difficulty in finding an unbiased jury in the close communities of the
South, and many violence trials ended in an acquittal rather than a conviction.

            While the North was unifying its idea of a prison system
around its urban cities and areas, the South was struggling to enforce those
same ideas amongst a scattered population that believed in the rights of an
individual over the government (Ayers, 1986). Despite these
differences the penitentiary had managed to cement itself within American
society once the Civil War ended.

Immigration, and Eugenics

            As prison populations increased past the capacity of both
the institutions and those there to control them, wardens and guards increased
the use of treatments and devices, such as shackles, solitary confinement,
simulated drowning, and paddling, in order to control the inmates (Rothman,
Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive
America, 2002).
While abuse seemed widespread and investigations constant in some states, there
was little done to change how inmates were treated (Christianson,
The general apathy that existed during the Reconstruction Era had to do with
who made up prison populations. During the late 1800’s immigration into the
United States continued to rapidly increase, with millions of immigrants
arriving between the 1870’s and 1910’s. Foreign born inmates outnumbered native
born two to one, while black natives outnumbered white natives three to one.
Most inmates also possessed little to no education, worked in unskilled jobs,
and lacked connections in the increasingly nativist society of the United
States (Christianson, 1998). The emergence of
eugenics also posed a threat to the rights and conditions of inmates.
Criminality became increasingly equated to genetics during this time, with
penitentiaries asylums recording data on their inmates, testing medicines,
running experiments, and sterilizing their inmates, most with state support and
funding (Christianson, 1998). Due to fears of the
criminal class and the potential for their “inferior” genes to taint the
population there were little to no improvements during the Reconstruction Era,
instead prisons saw an influx of minorities, an increase in abuse, and a loss
in rights for inmates (Christianson, 1998) (Rothman,
Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive
America, 2002).
Reform groups, however productive, were beginning to gather during this time
though, One group pushed for penitentiaries in order to prevent the return to
the lesser practices of corporal and traditional punishments. Another group,
The National Congress, set out reform goals that included competent
administration, hygiene standards, education, less violent punishment, and
rewards for good behavior. This group, however, also failed to gain much
support during the time, and cared little for the minority or foreign inmates
due to their supposed genetic inferiority (Christianson, 1998). A group did manage
to make changes in the South that went by the name, The Ku Klux Klan. They and
other Southerners pushed for local white police forces to maintain the racial
status quo, and to protect white citizens. Black Americans were also excluded
from the legal process and thus lost representation, further increases minority
populations within prisons as black defendants were convicted in the highest
numbers (Ayers, 1986). Southern States
pushed to pass “Black Codes” in the mid to late 1800’s, which made vagrancy a
crime and thus punishable with servitude (Ayers, 1986). Southern prisons
became more geared towards economic advantages as their black inmate
populations continued to rise opposite to their white inmate populations.
Convicts rebuilt a state’s infrastructure, were sent to mine, and continued to
lease inmates to businesses and companies (Christianson, 1998). The convict lease
system not only reestablished a form of slavery, it also allowed the devastated
economies of the Southern states to rebuild with essentially free labor at the
expense of minority groups, as death rates for leased convicts were three times
the rates of those in the North (Ayers, 1986) (Christianson,
The Reconstruction Era served to reform prisons for the benefit of white
southerners, with foreigners and black natives being held subject to abuse,
experimentation, and death. Public apathy would give way to empathy as the
early to mid-1900 progressed, however, especially as the Civil Rights Movement
gained momentum.

Era, Civil Rights Movement, and Law and Order

            Psychology and psychiatry began to find their place
within the United States prison systems towards the start of the nineteen
hundreds, with health officials becoming more involved in criminal policy
making. Little changed initially through an increased scientific perspective,
however, as little was still understood about the “causes” of criminality
within a person. The introduction of behavioral sciences began to refocus
prisons on rehabilitation during the 1950’s, with rehabilitative practices that
focused on the inmates correction more so than the punishment. Unfortunately
the civil unrest and societal tension found a home within the prisons, and
riots broke out in prisons across the United States, spurned by a lack of
hygiene standards, healthcare, food, and by excessive uses of force (Abadinsky,
2014) (Morris &
Rothman, 1997).



Three strikes law

Difference in
population and prison population





            Any other Prison Reform

            The New Jim Crow

            Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty / Rights
(solitary confinement)

These are really the two major
controversies of today
Drug use is treated differently
among different ethnicities
Death penalty might be overused
Solitary confinement is basically
considered to be torture
How these will influence the policy
of the future’
These might be split into separate





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