The Path of Punishment Essay

Submitted By whm13
Words: 863
Pages: 4

The Path of Punishment

The United States has played a big part in shaping what corrections is today. We have put a great deal of focus into refining and adjusting our corrections system, more so than any other country. Before the 1800s, the United States punished criminals in much of the same way that the Europeans did. From being whipped or branded to being hung, punishment was usually physical. As in Europe, offenders could be sentenced to hard labor but that looked nothing like our sentencing process today. At the start of the 19th century, an English sheriff named John Howard wrote his influential book on corrections reform called The State of Prisons in England and Wales. In his book, Howard described how horrible the prisons he visited were with emphasis on the lack of discipline. Although his book did not affect European policies until long after his death, Howard’s ideas quickly spread across the Atlantic to America where Parliament passed the Penitentiary Act of 1779. This new act introduced the house of hard labor where criminals could be sentenced for up to two years. Commonly referred to as a penitentiary today, the house of hard labor focused on sanitary facilities and strict discipline where inmates followed the rules to the letter. Now corrections had turned its focus away form physical punishment and towards reforming the offender (Cole, Smith, & Dejong 510). As the movement to reform criminals and corrections continued, individual states began to form their own ideas on how to control crime. The Pennsylvania system focused on isolating the criminal from all contact so that they could think about their crimes and repent. From the Pennsylvania system sprouted the system of separate confinement that believed that isolation would not only be the greatest punishment but also deter further illegal activity once inside (Cole, Smith, & Dejong 512). Developed in New York about 30 years later, the congregate system isolated prisoners at night but required them to work in workshops during the day. This system advocated strict discipline and even though they were not isolated for work time and meals any communication was not allowed; the prisoners could not even look each other in the face. Elam Lynds, a leader in New York corrections reform, also put a great deal of emphasis on discipline and obedience. He started requiring prisoners to wear prison strips, a trademark of the American penitentiary. He also started the contract labor system that produced goods that could be sold to maintain the prison facilities. With new ideas coming from across the country, American corrections continued to improve and reform (Cole, Smith, & Dejong 513). By the mid 1900s, all the prisons were becoming overcrowded with not enough money or man power to maintain them. With such an influx of prisoners across the country, in 1870 the National Prison Association met in Cincinnati to find a new direction of penitentiary reform. From this meeting, it was decided that corrections should shift their focus. First, it was agreed that prison sentences should depend on how much the prisoner changed with reformation leading to release. Second, no longer would all sentences be fixed and instead would be indeterminate depending on the prisoners actions. In 1876 the first reformatory was established in Elmira, New York that was for younger offenders. The goal of the reformatory was to find the underlining causes of the offender’s deviant behavior. There was a mark system…