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Auburn Penitentiary: Silent and Congregate Correctional Facility

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Auburn Penitentiary: Silent and Congregate Correctional Facility

Throughout the nineteenth century, penology was characterized by a debate between two 'schools'. The first was the system of "solitary" and "segregation" proposed by the Pennsylvania penitentiary. The second, that of which will be discussed in this paper, the "silent" and "congregate" system was designed for the Auburn penitentiary in New York State.

The Auburn State Prison was built in 1816, occupied in 1821 and soon after became the model for succeeding American prisons. Quaker thinking, in that "repentance for one's wrongs was best attained through private contemplation, which was facilitated by the penitentiary concept", influenced the Auburn prison. (Carney,
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A number of procedures were devised to prevent communication in any form. In the dining halls, for example, "prisoners were seated with their backs toward the centre so that each looked only at the backs of others; in movement, the 'lockstep' formation was exclusively employed." (Cloward et al., 1960: 26) The lockstep formation entailed "marching in single file, placing the right hand on the shoulder of the man ahead, and facing toward the guard." (http://www.britannica.com) Constant activity when out of the cells was key to prisoners adhering to the rules. These devices may be understood as instruments used to suppress interaction among prisoners.

Prisoners not abiding by silence or working rules were punished. Punishments ranged from diets of bread and water, banishment to the 'dark hole' or whippings with a cat-o'-nine-tail. (Johnson & Wolfe: 135)

Auburn's idea of congregate labour paired with its architectural plan won the country to its idea of the silent system. The solitary cellblocks were multitiered and very small, each measuring approximately "31/2 by 7 and 7 ft. high." (McKelvey, 1968: 8) Initial construction costs were lower and more space was provided given that the cells were so small on account of them only being occupied at night. The Auburn layout contained, "inside cell blocks, back to
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