Prison reform
Prison reform is the attempt to improve conditions inside prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

s, aiming at a more effective penal system.


Prisons have only been used as the primary punishment for criminal acts in the last couple of centuries. Far more common earlier were various types of corporal punishment
Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable...

, public humiliation
Public humiliation
Public humiliation was often used by local communities to punish minor and petty criminals before the age of large, modern prisons .- Shameful exposure :...

, penal bondage
Unfree labour
Unfree labour includes all forms of slavery as well as all other related institutions .-Payment for unfree labour:If payment occurs, it may be in one or more of the following forms:...

, and banishment for more severe offences, as well as capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...


United States

In colonial America, punishments were severe. The Massachusetts assembly in 1736 ordered that a thief, on first conviction, be fined or whipped. The second time he was to pay treble damages, sit for an hour upon the gallows platform with a noose around his neck and then be carted to the whipping post for thirty stripes. For the third offense he was to be hanged. But the implementation was haphazard as there was no effective police system and judges wouldn't convict if they believed the punishment was excessive. The local jails mainly held men awaiting trial or punishment and those in debt.

In the aftermath of independence most states amended their criminal punishment statutes. Pennsylvania eliminated the death penalty for robbery and burglary in 1786, and in 1794 retained it only for first degree murder. Other states followed and in all cases the answer to what alternative penalties should be imposed was incarceration. Pennsylvania turned its old jail at Walnut Street into a state prison. New York built Newgate state prison in Greenwich Village and other states followed. But by 1820 faith in the efficacy of legal reform had declined as statuary changes had no discernable effect on the level of crime and the prisons, where prisoners shared large rooms and booty including alcohol, had become riotous and prone to escapes.

In response, New York developed the Auburn system
Auburn system
The Auburn system is a penal method of the 19th century in which persons worked during the day in groups and were kept in solitary confinement at night, with enforced silence at all times...

 in which prisoners were confined in separate cells and prohibited from talking when eating and working together, implementing it at Auburn State Prison and Sing Sing
Sing Sing
Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services in the town of Ossining, New York...

 at Ossining
Ossining (town), New York
Ossining is a town in Westchester County, New York, United States. The population was 37,674 at the 2010 census. It contains two villages, the Village of Ossining and part of Briarcliff Manor, the rest of which is located in the Town of Mount Pleasant....

. The aim of this was rehabilitative
Rehabilitation (penology)
Rehabilitation means; To restore to useful life, as through therapy and education or To restore to good condition, operation, or capacity....

: the reformers talked about the penitentiary serving as a model for the family and the school and almost all the states adopted the plan (though Pennsylvania went even further in separating prisoners). The system's fame spread and visitors to the U.S. to see the prisons included de Tocqueville who wrote Democracy in America
Democracy in America
De la démocratie en Amérique is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. A "literal" translation of its title is Of Democracy in America, but the usual translation of the title is simply Democracy in America...

 as a result of his visit.

However by the 1860s, overcrowding became the rule of the day, partly because of the long sentences given for violent crimes, despite increasing severity inside the prison and often cruel methods of gagging and restraining prisoners. An increasing proportion of prisoners were new immigrants. As a result of a tour of prisons in 18 states, Enoch Wines and Theodore Dwight
Theodore William Dwight
Theodore William Dwight , American jurist and educator, cousin of Theodore Dwight Woolsey and of Timothy Dwight V, was born July 18, 1822 in Catskill, New York....

 produced a monumental report describing the flaws in the existing system and proposing remedies. Their critical finding was that not one of the state prisons in the United States was seeking the reformation of its inmates as a primary goal. They set out an agenda for reform which was endorsed by a National Congress in Cincinnati in 1870. These ideas were put into practice in the Elmira Reformatory in New York in 1876 run by Zebulon Brockway
Zebulon Brockway
Zebulon Reed Brockway was a penologist and is sometimes regarded as the "Father of prison reform" in the United States.Brockway was born in Lyme, Connecticut in 1828 and began his career as a prison guard at the state prison in Wethersfield, Connecticut at age 20. Brockway became a clerk at the...

. At the core of the design was an educational program which included general subjects and vocational training for the less capable. Instead of fixed sentences, prisoners who did well could be released early.

But by the 1890s, Elmira had twice as many inmates as it was designed for and they were not only the first offenders between 16 and 31 for which the program was intended. Although it had a number of imitators in different states, it did little to halt the deterioration of the country's prisons which carried on a dreary life of their own. In the southern states, in which blacks made up more than 75% of the inmates, there was ruthless exploitation in which the states leased prisoners as chain gangs to entrepreneurs who treated them worse than slaves. By the 1920s drug use in prisons was also becoming a problem.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, psychiatric interpretations of social deviance were gaining a central role in criminology and policy making. By 1926, 67 prisons employed psychiatrists and 45 had psychologists. The language of medicine was applied in an attempt to "cure" offenders of their criminality. In fact, little was known about the causes of their behaviour and prescriptions were not much different from the earlier reform methods. A system of probation was introduced, but often used simply as an alternative to suspended sentences, and the probation officers appointed had little training, and their caseloads numbered several hundred making assistance or surveillance practically impossible. At the same time they could revoke the probation status without going through another trial or other proper process.

In 1913, Thomas Mott Osborne
Thomas Mott Osborne
Thomas Mott Osborne was an American prison administrator, prison reformer, industrialist and New York State political reformer...

 became chairman of a commission for the reform of the New York prison system and introduced a Mutual Welfare League at Auburn with a committee of 49 prisoners appointed by secret ballot from the 1400 inmates. He also removed the striped dress uniform at Sing Sing and introduced recreation and movies. Progressive reform resulted in the "Big House" by the late twenties - prisons averaging 2,500 men with professional management designed to eliminate the abusive forms of corporal punishment and prison labor prevailing at the time.

The American prison system was shaken by a series of riots in the early 1950s triggered by deficiencies of prison facilities, lack of hygiene or medical care, poor food quality, and guard brutality. In the next decade all these demands were recognized as rights by the courts. In 1954, the American Prison Association changed its name to the American Correctional Association
American Correctional Association
The American Correctional Association , formerly known as the American Prison Association, is the oldest and largest international correctional association in the world. Approximately 80 percent of all state departments of corrections and youth services are active participants...

and the rehabilitative emphasis was formalized in the 1955 United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were adopted on 30 August 1955 by the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva, and approved by the Economic and Social Council in resolutions of 31 July 1957 and 13 May 1977.Although...


Since the 1960s the prison population in the US has risen steadily, even during periods where the crime rate has fallen. This is partly due to profound changes in sentencing practices due to a denunciation of lenient policies in the late sixties and early seventies and assertions that rehabilitative purposes don't work. As a consequence sentencing commissions started to establish minimum as well as maximum sentencing guidelines, which have reduced the discretion of parole authorities and also reduced parole supervision of released prisoners. By 2010, the United States had more prisoners than any other country and a greater percentage of its population was in prison than in any other country in the world. "Mass incarceration" became a serious social and economic problem, as each of the 2.3 million American prisoners costs an average of about $25,000 per year. Recidivism remained high, and useful programs were often cut during the recession of 2009-2010. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata upheld the release of thousands of California prisoners due to California's inability to provide constitutionally mandated levels of healthcare.

United Kingdom

Eighteenth century English justice used a wide variety of measures to punish crime, including fines, the pillory and whipping. Transportation to America was often offered, until 1776, as an alternative to the death penalty, which could be imposed for many offenses including pilfering. When they ran out of prisons in 1776 they used old sailing vessels which came to be called hulks as places of temporary confinement.

Jails contained both felons and debtors - the latter were allowed to bring in wives and children. The jailer made his money by charging the inmates for food and drink and legal services and the whole system was corrupt. One reform of the sixteenth century had been the establishment of the London Bridewell as a house of correction
House of Correction
The house of correction was a type of establishment built after the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law , places where those who were "unwilling to work", including vagrants and beggars, were set to work. The building of houses of correction came after the passing of an amendment to the Elizabethan...

 for women and children. This was the only place any medical services were provided.

The most notable reformer was John Howard
John Howard (prison reformer)
John Howard was a philanthropist and the first English prison reformer.-Birth and early life:Howard was born in Lower Clapton, London. His father, also John, was a wealthy upholsterer at Smithfield Market in the city...

 who, having visited several hundred prisons across England and Europe, beginning when he was high sheriff of Bedfordshire, published The State of the Prisons in 1777. He was particularly appalled to discover prisoners who had been acquitted but were still confined because they couldn't pay the jailer's fees. He proposed that each prisoner should be in a separate cell with separate sections for women felons, men felons, young offenders and debtors. The prison reform charity, the Howard League for Penal Reform
Howard League for Penal Reform
The Howard League for Penal Reform is a London-based registered charity in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest penal reform organisation in the world, named after John Howard. Founded in 1866 as the Howard Association, a merger with the Penal Reform League in 1921 created the Howard League for...

, takes its name from John Howard.

The Penitentiary Act
Penitentiary Act
The Penitentiary Act was a British Act of Parliament passed in 1779 which introduced state prisons for the first time. The Act was drafted by the prison reformer John Howard and the jurist William Blackstone and recommended imprisonment as an alternative sentence to death or transportation.The...

 which passed in 1779 following his agitation introduced solitary confinement, religious instruction and a labor regime and proposed two state penitentiaries, one for men and one for women. These were never built due to disagreements in the committee and pressures from wars with France and jails remained a local responsibility. But other measures passed in the next few years provided magistrates with the powers to implement many of these reforms and eventually in 1815 jail fees were abolished.

Quakers such as Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry , née Gurney, was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist...

 continued to publicize the dire state of prisons as did Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 in his novel David Copperfield
David Copperfield (novel)
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery , commonly referred to as David Copperfield, is the eighth novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a novel in 1850. Like most of his works, it originally appeared in serial...

about the Marshalsea
The Marshalsea was a prison on the south bank of the River Thames in Southwark, now part of London. From the 14th century until it closed in 1842, it housed men under court martial for crimes at sea, including those accused of "unnatural crimes", political figures and intellectuals accused of...

. Samuel Romilly
Samuel Romilly
Sir Samuel Romilly , was a British legal reformer.-Background and education:Romilly was born in Frith Street, Soho, London, the second son of Peter Romilly, a watchmaker and jeweller...

 managed to repeal the death penalty for theft in 1806, but repealing it for other similar offences brought in a political element that had previously been absent. The Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline, founded in 1816, supported both the Panopticon
The Panopticon is a type of building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched...

 for the design of prisons and the use of the treadwheel
A treadwheel is a form of animal engine typically powered by humans. It may resemble a water wheel in appearance, and can be worked either by a human treading paddles set into its circumference , or by a human or animal standing inside it .Uses of treadwheels included raising water, to power...

 as a means of hard labor. By 1824, 54 prisons had adopted this means of discipline. Robert Peel's Gaols Act
Gaols Act 1823
The Gaols Act 1823 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that provided for improvements in the treatment of prisoners in the United Kingdom.-Overview:...

 of 1823 attempted to impose uniformity in the country but local prisons remained under the control of magistrates until the Prison Act of 1877.

The American separate system
Separate system
The Separate system is a form of prison management based on the principle of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement. When first introduced in the early 19th century, the objective of such a prison or "penitentiary" was that of penance by the prisoners through silent reflection, as much as that...

 attracted the attention of some reformers and led to the creation of Millbank Prison
Millbank Prison
Millbank Prison was a prison in Millbank, Pimlico, London, originally constructed as the National Penitentiary, and which for part of its history served as a holding facility for convicted prisoners before they were transported to Australia...

 in 1816 and Pentonville prison
Pentonville (HM Prison)
HM Prison Pentonville is a Category B/C men's prison, operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. Pentonville Prison is not actually within Pentonville itself, but is located further north, on the Caledonian Road in the Barnsbury area of the London Borough of Islington, in inner-North London,...

 in 1842. By now the end of transportation to Australia and the use of hulks was in sight and Joshua Jebb
Joshua Jebb
Sir Joshua Jebb was a Royal Engineer and the British Surveyor-General of convict prisons.He participated in the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain during the War of 1812, and surveyed a route between Ottawa River and Kingston where Lake Ontario flows into Saint Lawrence River...

 set an ambitious program of prison building with one large prison opening per year. The main principles were separation and hard labour for serious crimes, using treadwheels and cranks. However by the 1860s public opinion was calling for harsher measures in reaction to an increase in crime which was perceived to come from the 'flood of criminals' released under the penal servitude system. The reaction from the committee set up under the commissioner of prisons, Colonel Edmund du Cane, was to increase minimum sentences for many offences with deterrent principles of 'hard labour, hard fare, and a hard bed'. In 1877 he encouraged Disraeli's government to remove all prisons from local government and held a firm grip on the prison system till his forced retirement in 1895. He also established a tradition of secrecy which lasted till the 1970s so that even magistrates and investigators were unable to see the insides of prisons. By the 1890s the prison population was over 20,000.

In 1894-5 Herbert Gladstone's Committee on Prisons showed that criminal propensity peaked from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties. He took the view that central government should break the cycle of offending and imprisonment by establishing a new type of reformatory, that was called Borstal
A borstal was a type of youth prison in the United Kingdom, run by the Prison Service and intended to reform seriously delinquent young people. The word is sometimes used loosely to apply to other kinds of youth institution or reformatory, such as Approved Schools and Detention Centres. The court...

after the village in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 which housed the first one. The movement reached its peak after the first world war when Alexander Paterson
Alexander Paterson (penologist)
Sir Alexander Henry Paterson MC was a British penologist who, as Commissioner of Prisons, introduced reforms that would provide a humane regime in penal institutions and encourage rehabilitation among inmates....

 became commissioner, delegating authority and encouraging personal responsibility in the fashion of the English Public school
Public School (UK)
A public school, in common British usage, is a school that is neither administered nor financed by the state or from taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees and charitable contributions, usually existing as a non profit-making charitable trust...

: cellblocks were designated as 'houses' by name and had a housemaster
In British education, a housemaster is a member of staff in charge of a boarding house, normally at a boarding school . The housemaster is responsible for the supervision and care of boarders in the house and typically lives on the premises...

. Cross-country walks were encouraged, and no one ran away. Prison populations remained at a low level until after the second world war when Paterson died and the movement was unable to update itself.

Some aspects of Borstal found their way into the main prison system, including open prison
Open prison
An open prison is an informal description applied to any penal establishment in which the prisoners are trusted to serve their sentences with minimal supervision and perimeter security and so do not need to be locked up in prison cells...

s and housemasters, renamed assistant governors and many Borstal-trained prison officers used their experience in the wider service. But in general the prison system in the twentieth century remained in Victorian buildings which steadily became more and more overcrowded with inevitable results.


The first public prison in Europe was Le Stinche in Florence, constructed in 1297, copied in several other cities. The more modern use grew from the prison workhouse
In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment...

 from 1600 in Holland. The house was normally managed by a married couple, the 'father' and 'mother', usually with a work master and discipline master. The inmates, or journeymen, often spent their time on spinning, weaving and fabricating cloths and their output was measured and those who exceeded the minimum received a small sum of money with which they could buy extras from the indoor father.

An exception to the rule of forced labor were those inmates whose families could not look after them and paid for them to be in the workhouse. From the later 17th century private institutions for the insane, called the beterhuis, developed to meet this need.

In Hamburg a different pattern occurred with the spinhaus in 1669, to which only infamous criminals were admitted. This was paid by the public treasury and the pattern spread in eighteenth century Germany. In France the use of galley servitude
Galley slave
A galley slave was a slave rowing in a galley. The expression has two distinct meanings: it can refer either to a convicted criminal sentenced to work at the oar , or to a kind of human chattel, often a prisoner of war, assigned to his duty of rowing.-Antiquity:Contrary to the popular image of the...

 was most common until galleys were abolished in 1748. After this the condemned were put to work in naval arsenal
An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, issued to authorized users, or any combination of those...

s doing heavy work. Confinement originated from the hôpitaux généraux which were mostly asylums, though in Paris they included many convicts, and persisted up till the revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...


The use of capital punishment and judicial torture declined during the eighteenth century and imprisonment came to dominate the system, although reform movements started almost immediately. Many countries were committed to the goal as a financially self-sustaining institution and the organization was often subcontracted to entrepreneurs, though this created its own tensions and abuse. By the mid nineteenth century several countries initiated experiments in allowing the prisoners to choose the trades in which they were to be apprenticed. The growing amount of recidivism
Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior...

 in the latter half of the nineteenth century led a number of criminologists to argue that "imprisonment did not, and could not fulfill its original ideal of treatment aimed at reintegrating the offender into the community". Belgium led the way in introducing the suspended sentence
Suspended sentence
A suspended sentence is a legal term for a judge's delaying of a defendant's serving of a sentence after they have been found guilty, in order to allow the defendant to perform a period of probation...

 for first-time offenders in 1888, followed by France in 1891 and most other countries in the next few years. Parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

 had been introduced on an experimental basis in France in the 1830s, with laws for juveniles introduced in 1850, and Portugal began to use it for adult criminals from 1861. The parole system introduced in France in 1885 made use of a strong private patronage network. Parole was approved throughout Europe at the International Prison Congress of 1910. As a result of these reforms the prison populations of many European countries halved in the first half of the twentieth century.

Exceptions to this trend included France and Italy between the world wars, when there was a huge increase in the use of imprisonment. The National Socialist state in Germany used it as an important tool to rid itself of its enemies as crime rates rocketed as a consequence of new categories of criminal behavior. Russia, which had only started to reform its penal and judicial system in 1860 by abolishing corporal punishment, continued the use of exile with hard labor as a punishment and this was increased to a new level of brutality under Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

, despite early reforms by the Bolsheviks.

Postwar reforms stressed the need for the state to tailor punishment to the individual convicted criminal. In 1965, Sweden enacted a new criminal code emphasizing non-institutional alternatives to punishment including conditional sentences, probation
Probation literally means testing of behaviour or abilities. In a legal sense, an offender on probation is ordered to follow certain conditions set forth by the court, often under the supervision of a probation officer...

 for first-time offenders and the more extensive use use of fines. The use of probation caused a dramatic decline in the number women serving long-term sentences: in France the number fell from 5,231 in 1946 to 1,121 in 1980. Probation spread to most European countries though the level of surveillance varies. In the Netherlands, religious and philanthropic groups are responsible for much of the probationary care. The Dutch government invests heavily in correctional personnel, having 3,100 for 4,500 prisoners in 1959.

However despite these reforms, numbers in prison started to grow again after the 1960s even in countries committed to non-custodial policies.

Retribution, vengeance and retaliation

This is founded on the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" incarceration philosophy, which essentially states that if one person harms another, then an equivalent harm should be done to them. One goal here is to prevent vigilantism, gang or clan warfare, and other actions by those who have an unsatisfied need to "get even" for a crime against them, their family, or their group. It is, however, difficult to determine how to equate different types of "harm". A literal case is where a murderer is punished with the death penalty, the argument being "justice demands a life for a life". One criticism of long term prison sentences and other methods for achieving justice is that such "warehousing" of criminals is rather expensive, this argument notwithstanding the fact that the multiple incarceration appeals of a death penalty case often exceed the price of the "warehousing" of the criminal in question.
Yet another facet of this debate disregards the financial cost for the most part. The argument regarding warehousing rests, in this case, upon the theory that any punishment considered respectful of human rights should not include caging humans for life without chance of release—that even death is morally and ethically a higher road than no-parole prison sentences.


The criminal is used as a "threat to themselves and others". By subjecting prisoners to harsh conditions, authorities hope to convince them to avoid future criminal behavior and to exemplify for others the rewards for avoiding such behavior; that is, the fear of punishment will win over whatever benefit or pleasure the illegal activity might bring. The deterrence model frequently goes far beyond "an eye for an eye", exacting a more severe punishment than would seem to be indicated by the crime. Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 has been used in the past as a deterrent, as has the public embarrassment and discomfort of stocks
Stocks are devices used in the medieval and colonial American times as a form of physical punishment involving public humiliation. The stocks partially immobilized its victims and they were often exposed in a public place such as the site of a market to the scorn of those who passed by...

, and, in religious communities, excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

. Executions, particularly gruesome ones (such as hanging or beheading), often for petty offenses, are further examples of attempts at deterrence. One criticism of the deterrence model is that criminals typically have a rather short-term orientation, and the possibility of long-term consequences is of little importance to them. Also, their quality of life may be so horrific that any treatment within the criminal justice system (which is compatible with human rights law) will only be seen as an improvement over their previous situation. However, if that's the case, this points to a far more severe social problem.

Rehabilitation, reform and correction

("Reform" here refers to reform of the individual, not the reform of the penal system.) The goal is to "repair" the deficiencies in the individual and return them as productive members of society. Education, work skills, deferred gratification
Deferred gratification
Deferred gratification and delayed gratification denote a person’s ability to wait in order to obtain something that he or she wants. This intellectual attribute is also called impulse control, will power, self control, and “low” time preference, in economics...

, treating others with respect, and self-discipline are stressed. Younger criminals who have committed fewer and less severe crimes are most likely to be successfully reformed. "Reform schools" and "boot camps" are set up according to this model. One criticism of this model is that criminals are rewarded with training and other items which would not have been available to them had they not committed a crime. However, it must be noted that criminals or potential criminals who do not have access to such educational resources are only acting in their best interests by gaining access to these prisons; if a prison is successful at providing resources to individuals who were unable to get these resources through "acceptable" channels, then perhaps what would be next needed, in the implementation of this model, is societal reform.

Prior to its closing in late 1969, Eastern State Penitentiary, then known as State Correctional Institution, Philadelphia, had established a far reaching program of voluntary group therapy with the goal of having all inmates in the prison involved. From 1967 when the plan was initiated, the program appears to have been successful as many inmates did volunteer for group therapy. An interesting aspect was that the groups were to be led by two therapists, one from the psychology or social work department and a second from one of the officers among the prison guard staff.

Removal from society

The goal here is simply to keep criminals away from potential victims, thus reducing the number of crimes they can commit. The criticism of this model is that others increase the number and severity of crimes they commit to make up for the "vacuum" left by the removed criminal. For example, incarcerating a drug dealer will result in an unmet demand for drugs at that locale, and an existing or new drug dealer will then appear, to fill the void. This new drug dealer may have been innocent of any crimes before this opportunity, or may have been guilty of less serious crimes, such as being a look-out for the previous drug dealer.

Restitution or repayment

Prisoners are forced to repay their "debt" to society. Unpaid or low pay work is common in many prisons, often to the benefit of the community. In some countries prisons operate as labour camps. Critics say that the repayment model gives government an economic incentive to send more people to prison. In corrupt or authoritarian regimes, such as the former Soviet Union under the control of Joseph Stalin, many citizens are sentenced to forced labour for minor breaches of the law, simply because the government requires the labour camps as a source of income. Community service
Community service
Community service is donated service or activity that is performed by someone or a group of people for the benefit of the public or its institutions....

 is increasingly being used as an alternative to prison for petty criminals.

Reduction in immediate costs

Government and prison officials also have the goal of minimizing short-term costs.
In wealthy societies:
This calls for keeping prisoners placated by providing them with things like television and conjugal visits. Inexpensive measures like these prevent prison assaults and riots which in turn allow the number of guards to be minimized. Providing the quickest possible parole and/or release also reduces immediate costs to the prison system (although these may very well increase long term costs to the prison system and society due to recidivism
Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior...

). The ultimate way to reduce immediate costs is to eliminate prisons entirely and use fines, community service, and other sanctions (like the loss of a driver's license or the right to vote) instead. Executions at first would appear to limit costs, but, in most wealthy societies, the long appeals process for death sentences (and associated legal costs) make them quite expensive. Note that this goal may conflict with a number of goals for criminal justice systems.

In poor societies:

Poor societies, which lack the resources to imprison criminals for years, frequently use execution in place of imprisonment, for severe crimes. Less severe crimes, such as theft, might be dealt with by less severe physical means, such as amputation of the hands. When long term imprisonment is used in such societies, it may be a virtual death sentence, as the lack of food, sanitation, and medical care causes widespread disease and death, in such prisons.

Some of the goals of criminal justice are compatible with one another, while others are in conflict. In the history of prison reform, the harsh treatment, torture, and executions used for deterrence first came under fire as a violation of human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

. The salvation goal, and methods, were later attacked as violations of the individual's Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

. This led to further reforms aimed principally at reform/correction of the individual, removal from society, and reduction of immediate costs. The perception that such reforms sometimes denied victims justice then led to further changes.


John Howard
John Howard (prison reformer)
John Howard was a philanthropist and the first English prison reformer.-Birth and early life:Howard was born in Lower Clapton, London. His father, also John, was a wealthy upholsterer at Smithfield Market in the city...

 is now widely regarded as the founding father of prison reform, having travelled extensively visiting prisons across Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 in the 1770s and 1780s. Also, the great social reformer Jonas Hanway
Jonas Hanway
Jonas Hanway , English traveller and philanthropist, was born at Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.-Life:...

 promoted "solitude in imprisonment, with proper profitable labour and a spare diet." Indeed, this became the popular model in England for many decades.

United Kingdom

Within Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, prison reform was spearheaded by the Quakers, and in particular, Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry , née Gurney, was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist...

 during the Victorian Age
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

. Elizabeth Fry visited prisons and suggested basic human rights for prisoners, such as privacy
Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively...

 and teaching prisoners a trade. Fry was particularly concerned with women's rights
Women's rights
Women's rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies.In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behaviour, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed...

. Parliament, coming to realize that a significant portion of prisoners had come to commit crimes as a result of mental illness, passed the County Asylums Act (1808). This made it possible for Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 in each county to build and run their own pauper asylums.

"Whereas the practice of confining such lunatics and other insane persons as are chargeable to their respective parishes in Gaols, Houses of Correction, Poor Houses and Houses of Industry, is highly dangerous and inconvenient"

United States

In the United States, Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Lynde Dix was an American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums...

 toured prisons in the U.S. and all over Europe looking at the conditions of the mentally handicapped. Her ideas led to a mushroom effect of asylums all over the United States in the mid-19th-century.
Musician Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
John R. "Johnny" Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century...

 performed and recorded at many prisons and fought for prison reform.

In the early 1900s Samuel June Barrow was a leader in prison reform. President Cleveland appointed him International Prison Commissioner for the U.S. in 1895, and in 1900 Barrows became Secretary of the Prison Association of New York and held that position until his death on April 21, 1909. A Unitarian pastor, Barrows used his influence as editor of the Unitarian Christian Register to speak at meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, the National International Prison Congresses, and the Society for International Law. As the International Prison Commissioner for the U.S., he wrote several of today’s most valuable documents of American penological literature, including “Children’s Courts in the United States” and “The Criminal Insane in the United States and in Foreign Countries.” As a House representative, Barrows was pivotal in the creation of the International Prison Congress and became its president in 1905. In his final role, as Secretary of the Prison Association of New York, he dissolved the association’s debt, began issuing annual reports, drafted and ensured passage of New York’s first probation law, assisted in the implementation of a federal Parole Law, and promoted civil service for prison employees. Moreover, Barrows advocated improved prison structures and methods, traveling in 1907 around the world to bring back detailed plans of 36 of the best prisons in 14 different countries. In 1910 the National League of Volunteer Workers, nicknamed the “Barrows League” in his memory, formed in New York as a group dedicated to helping released prisoners and petitioning for better prison conditions.

Zebulon Brockway in Fifty Years of Prison Service outlined an ideal prison system: Prisoners should support themselves in prison though industry, in anticipation of supporting themselves outside prison; outside businesses and labor must not interfere; indeterminate sentences were required, making prisoners earn their release with constructive behavior, not just the passage of time; and education and a Christian culture should be imparted. Nevertheless, opposition to prison industries and labor increased. Finally, U.S. law prohibited the transport of prison-made goods across state lines. Most prison-made goods today are only for government use -- but the state and federal governments are not required to meet their needs from prison industries. Although nearly every prison reformer in history believed prisoners should work usefully, and several prisons in the 1800's were profitable and self-supporting, most American prisoners today do not have productive jobs in prison.

See also

  • Community health
    Community health
    Community health, a field of public health, is a discipline that concerns itself with the study and betterment of the health characteristics of biological communities. While the term community can be broadly defined, community health tends to focus on geographic areas rather than people with shared...

  • Gordon Lakes
    Gordon Lakes
    Gordon Harry Lakes MC was a former Deputy Director General in the UK Prison Service. He is credited with helping to achieve improved working conditions among UK prisons.-Life and career:...

  • Grassroots Leadership
    Grassroots Leadership
    Grassroots Leadership is a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 by Si Kahn, a Pennsylvania-born songwriter/activist who has lived for many years in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the purpose of helping to create an "infrastructure for a progressive Southern movement." Grassroots Leadership's...

  • Howard League for Penal Reform
    Howard League for Penal Reform
    The Howard League for Penal Reform is a London-based registered charity in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest penal reform organisation in the world, named after John Howard. Founded in 1866 as the Howard Association, a merger with the Penal Reform League in 1921 created the Howard League for...

    , penal reform organisations named after John Howard
  • November Coalition
    November Coalition
    The November Coalition is a non-profit grassroots organization, founded in 1997, which fights against the War on Drugs and for the rights of the prisoners incarcerated as the effect of that war. It publishes a bulletin called Razor Wire.-Tyrone Brown:...

  • Penal Reform International
    Penal Reform International
    Penal Reform International was founded in London in 1989, and has members in five continents and in over 80 countries. PRI is an international non-governmental organisation working on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide...

  • Prison Reform Trust
    Prison Reform Trust
    The Prison Reform Trust was founded in 1981 in London, England by a small group of prison reform campaigners who were unhappy with the direction in which the Howard League for Penal Reform was heading, concentrating more on community punishments than on traditional prison reform issues...

  • Restorative Justice
    Restorative justice
    Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender...

  • Single-celling
    Single-celling is the practice of assigning only one inmate to each cell in a prison. John Howard has been credited as establishing the practice of single-celling in the United Kingdom and, by extension, in the United States...

  • Thomas Mott Osborne
    Thomas Mott Osborne
    Thomas Mott Osborne was an American prison administrator, prison reformer, industrialist and New York State political reformer...

    , a US prison reformer

Further reading

External links

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