Here is your essay on The American Prison System.
The medieval period in the history of American colonies witnessed an era of barbarism and deterrent punishment for criminals. The offenders were mercilessly tortured and brutally treated. Even for minor offences they were subjected to severe punishment such as death, public humiliation, branding, whipping and so on. Those who were to be tried for political offences, war-crimes or blasphemy, were kept in prison as undertrials.
Thus imprisonment was used only in rare cases. The life inside the prison was hard, unbearable and painful. With the march of time, public opinion mobilised against these barbarous methods of treating the prisoners which eventually led to the passing of famous Penn’s Charter of 1862.
Penn’s Charter of 1862:
The main object of this Charter was to put an end to brutal methods of punishment on humanitarian grounds and bring out reforms in prison administration. The Charter inter alia contained that:—
1. The practice of releasing prisoners on bail should be introduced.
2. Compensation should be allowed to persons who were wrongfully imprisoned and this amount should be double the amount of loss actually suffered by the victim of the offender’s act.
3. Prisoners should be allowed the choice of their food and lodging to a certain extent.
4. The system of ‘pillory’ i.e. punishing the offender in public places should be abolished.
The period that followed brought a better future for prisoners. With the advance of civilization, greater emphasis was laid on prisoner’s reformation. Earlier, the Quaker’s Movement in 1775 had led to remodelling of Philadelphian prison on a new pattern. The prisoners were classified into two main categories, namely,—
(i) Incorrigible or hardened criminals; and
(ii) Corrigible or ordinary criminals who were capable of reformation.
Incorrigible prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement in cells without any labour whereas the corrigibles were lodged together in rooms and were put to work in shops during day time. Women delinquents and vagrants were kept in separate well-fenced quarters. Thus, the prison was modelled on two major principles, namely, (1) work during day; and (2) humanitarian treatment of offenders.
The condition of Philadelphian prison, however, deteriorated towards the end of eighteenth century due to overcrowding, laxity in discipline and abuse of power by Governors. This necessitated establishment of a new Model Prison elsewhere. Eventually, two model prisons were set up, one at Pennsylvania and the other at Auburn. The study of American prisons broadly comprises these two systems which were started simultaneously in Pennsylvania and Auburn.