History of Prison Reform in the US Essay

2067 Words 9 Pages
When people think of reform movements, they often look for one key sign, and ask one key question of whether that the reform was a success. Did the reform create a lasting change in the way people view the institution that was reformed? All the great reformation movements, from Horace Mann and his education reforms, to Martin Luther, and the Protestant Reformation, to the civil rights movement, all created lasting change in the minds of the average person. One other reform, often overlooked historically is the Prison Reform movement. As the world shifted from 18th to 19th century ways of life, many key aspects of life underwent tremendous change. As the United States gained their independence from Britain and began to shape their own …show more content…
While the reforms of the 1820s through the 1850s were well intended, what began as a moral reform transformed into one of secular interest.
Capital punishment played a pivotal role in the punishment of criminals in the early colonial period, with William Penn of Pennsylvania being the first responsible leader to utilize imprisonment as a corrective treatment for major offenders. In 1682 his “Great Law” provided the confinement of both major and minor violators of the law to be placed in houses of correction.3 There they would partake in work for moderate compensation, for a period of time proportional to their respective crimes. Soon an amendment was ratified making murder a capital offense, and remained the only capital offense until 1700 when treason could also be punished by death. Up until the death of William Penn in 1718, Pennsylvania largely relied on fines and imprisonment, shifting to a different system of criminal punishment only after the passing of Penn. Soon after conservative groups gained control, and Pennsylvania reimposed the English criminal code, which increased the number of crimes punishable by death to twelve, and allowed punishments such as whipping to be doled out. This system lasted until the post colonial age, when in 1786 the state eliminated the death penalty for robbery and burglary and subsequently only retained capital punishment for first degree murder in 1794.4 Sparking the changes was the…