United States

Riots and Reforms
  • Renée Short


The origins of the American prison system may be traced directly to the English prisons and to the maison d’arrêt of the French. The first proposals for reform came from the Quakers of Philadelphia, who protested about the cruel system the colonies had inherited from England. As a result by 1787 punishment by death, mutilation and whipping were very nearly eliminated and imprisonment was substituted for corporal punishment. Imprisonment was intended to punish and deter and it had to be painful and, unlike torture or corporal punishment, it gave the prisoner time to reflect and meditate on his evil-doing. It was hoped that, after a time, he would mend his ways. While he was in prison he was, of course, unable to commit further offences. It is from this background that the grim aspect of the old, fortress prisons in both the United States and Britain stems. The daily routine and the general inadequacy of the prisons made worse by severe overcrowding was the same in both countries and much of this legacy still remains in both.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    John Gillin, Taming the Criminal (Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith, 1931).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Frank Tannenbaum, Osborne of Sing Sing (University of North Carolina Press, 1933).Google Scholar

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© Renée Short 1979

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  • Renée Short

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