The Evolution of the Prison
by, 03-20-12 at 10:04 AM (1051 Views)
The Evolution of the Prison: From Rehabilitation to Punishment
While there was an intellectual basis for using prisons as a way to ‘rehabilitate’ prisoners, there were soon major changes in prisons. Due to a series of changes, the prison became a place, not for a criminal to be rehabilitated, but rather, for them to be punished.
Prisons began to change after the Revolutionary War. In Philadelphia, due to prisoners being engaged in hard labor and this causing fear among the populace, people began to form groups such as The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Misery of Public Prisons, which argued for prison reform. This push for prison reform culminated in the creation of the Walnut Street prison.
Two major figures involved in Walnut Street were Caleb Lownes and Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush would eventually become involved in the Walnut Street Prison, but he came into the world of prisons when he went to Europe in 1768 where he “mingled among scientists, philosophers and literati, listening to progressive European theories about such issues as crime and punishment that would eventually follow him to America.”  In Europe he was exposed to the notion that crime was a ‘moral disease.’ This thought would stay with him when he came back to the States and began to argue that crime could be solved by creating a ‘house of repentance’ which would allow for the rehabilitation of criminals.
Once back in the United States, Rush wrote a book entitled An Enquiry Into The Effects Of Public Punishment Upon Criminals, And Upon Society. In it he argued that criminals could not be reformed by public punishments, such as floggings, due to the fact that such punishments “[are] always connected with infamy [and thus destroy] in him the sense of shame, which is one of the strongest out-posts of virtue” and “[are] generally of such short duration, as to produce none of those changes in body or mind, which are absolutely necessary to reform obstinate habits of vice.” Rush’s final argument was that public punishments actually increase crime as “the man who has lost his character at a whipping-post has nothing valuable left to lose” and due to his punishment, the criminal
probably feels a spirit of revenge against t he w hole community whose laws have inflicted his punishment upon him; and hence he is stimulated to add to the number and enormity of his outrages upon society. 
From this manner of thinking he then argued that the only way this situation could be remedied was to fix punishment. He argued that the punishments “if they were moderate, just, and private” and the fact of the certainty of being punished “would lead [the criminal] to connect the beginning of his repentance with the last words of his sentence of condemnation [the length of the punishment].”  In his mind, this goal could be achieved by building “a large house” to hold those who violated the law.
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