Corrections Purpose and History Essay

Corrections Purpose and History Essay.

The history of punishment is a unique one, since the dawn of man human kind has punished one another. Man did not merely throw someone in a chamber and let them contemplate their crimes such as we do in today’s society; rather, during those early times, punishment was harsh and swift. Criminals were not drawn through the litigation processes; instead, they were found immediately guilty of a crime and brought forth to be punished in an open forum, serving to the masses as an example of the consequences of crime.

The early forms of punishment in Europe varied greatly but all forms were meant to inflict unimaginable pain upon the recipient, and it is from the European methods of imprisonment from which the U.S. drew inspiration. Punishment such as crucifixion, burning on pyres, guillotines, and gauntlets are but a few examples of what methods were utilized as early methods of punishment in early Europe. This illustrates the underlying ideology that punishment should be administered with two principles in mind, deterrence and retribution.

Purpose and History

Methods of imprisonment introduced near the turn of the eighteenth century England inspired and revolutionized the way we punish and house inmates. In England during the fifteenth and sixteenth century’s corporal punishment reined supreme. Public beatings were carried out in the streets with whips; beheadings and torture were the norm for serious crimes; and enslavement was common for petty offenders. During the seventeenth century in England and other European countries, imprisonment for lesser offenses started to occur but conditions were less than desirable or humane. These facilities were overcrowded, unsanitary, and, worst of all, gender/age neutral, which meant that male felons frequently took liberties with incarcerated women and children (“Incarcerated: The History of the Penitentiary from 1776-Present”, 1997). The American Colonies quickly embraced the idea of imprisonment, because of the religious freedoms English settlers sought when they colonized this nation.

The Quakers were a religious group that settled in the northeast United States and they developed new laws to govern punishment and incarcerations that focused on prolonged imprisonment to serve as retribution for crimes committed. The Quakers belief system focused on of morality, peace, non-violence, and humanity. As such they showed mercy on offenders by allowing them to shed their anti-social behaviors through long term incarceration and a penance of hard labor. It is from this that modern the concept of reformation was established. Since this form of incarceration gained popularity, it has held onto two core principles: that a criminal can make restitutions for his/her crimes and that a convict can be eventually reintegrated back into society. The new form of punishment provided an alternative to the implemented punishments of yesteryear.

Auburn versus Cherry Hill Pennsylvania System

This reformation of how society punished criminals served as the foundation for new and competing theories on incarceration and punishment. In America around the early 1800’s, two prison systems were the dominant models of confinement: the Pennsylvania and the Auburn State. The first model was the Pennsylvania model, which was first used at Cherry Hill prison. This model used solitary confinement as its primary tool: convicts were perpetually detained without interactions with other individuals or time outside of confinement. The idea was that solitary confinement would lead to inward reflection and religious motivation and result in a penitent convict. In fact the word penitentiary actually comes from the Pennsylvania model of perpetual confinement because it had religious implications. At first, particularly in Cherry Hill, a Bible would be left in the solitary confinement cells in the hopes it would help prisoners repent. The second model was the Auburn State prison system, which supported the labor penance model. It operated under the assumption that hard, physical labor could not only serve as restitution but as a means of helping a convicted criminal reintegrate into society fully reformed. Often, prisoners worked during the day in total silence and would be hosed down them at night.

A main criticism of the Auburn system was that prisoners were being used essentially as slave labor. Inmates were being farmed out to private business owners, who had contracts with the state, which in turn lined the pockets of the private businesses and cut costs for the state. As such, the Auburn model became the popular model, because states faced significantly less prison and prisoner care costs. Businesses paid a fee in order to use the prisoners and the prisoners acted as unpaid labor for the businesses. The state prisons pocketed the fees thus creating a revenue stream that could be used to support the prisons, rather than tapping into state funds, i.e. tax payer dollars (Colvin, 1997). Around the 1920’s to 1930’s many changes occurred due to the state of the economy and activists pressing the government for prison reform. One of the main changes occurred when Congress enacted the Hawes Cooper Act, which effectively stymied the sale of prison-made goods or the use of prison-labor by making such goods subject to state punitive laws.

This act was passed in no small part due to the jobs that were needed by good upstanding citizens—jobs that were being taken away during extremely tough financial times by cheap prison labor. Congress had the authority to pass such a law thanks to its power to control and tax interstate commerce. The Ashurst-Sumners Act was the final nail in the coffin by prohibiting transport companies from accepting prison-made products (McShane & Williams,1996). The changes that stemmed from the Depression helped shape the correctional system into the rehabilitation-oriented program we have today. Prisoners are now classified into the likelihood of rehabilitation and the type of crimes that were committed, and this determines what type of facility an offender is incarcerated. Since 1935, the government made it clear that prisons must separate prisoners on the basis of gender and age. Now, facilities specifically for juvenile offenders have been established and the handling procedures for younger offenders have been defined.

Furthermore, there are programs to rehabilitate all types of offenders whether their needs are as simple as talking to someone during counseling sessions or educational opportunities. In some ways this system has been detrimental to corrections as a whole because it arguably results in overcrowding and a more lenient attitude: if you commit a crime then you will only have to contend with years off your life rather than hard labor and making reparations for the crime (Seiter, 2011). Over-population has resulted in more money taken from the taxpayers because if there are more people in the correctional system, more facilities and care are needed. Crime levels have dissipated over the years but not dramatically enough to really prove that this system is the true solution to our problems.


Modern principles of rehabilitation and reform have brought about the institution of facilities to incarcerate convicted individuals; these structures are called penitentiaries, jails, and prisons. Current prisons are more aptly concerned with long-term detention rather than a temporary housing prior to punishment like it was used as in the past. Today’s Prisons are a shell of the former institutions. Inmates in facilities today would never allow themselves to be used for labor outside prison walls it would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. For now the correctional system work, but soon it could be on the verge of collapse and any moment the flood gates could burst and the concept of rehabilitation could come to an end.

Mcshane, M. D., & Williams, F. P. (1996). Encyclopedia of American Prisons (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. INCARCERATED: THE HISTORY OF THE PENITENTIARY FROM 1776-
PRESENT. (1997). Retrieved from Colvin, M. (1997). Penitentiaries, Reformatories, and Chain Gangs: Social Theory and the History of Punishment in Nineteenth Century America. : St. Martin’s Press. Seiter, R. (2011). Corrections an Introduction (3rd ed.). Upper saddle Hall, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Corrections Purpose and History Essay