During the 15th century in Europe, the penalties for crimes were some form of corporal punishment like whippings for less serious crimes and execution or enslavement for more serious offenses. In early 16th century England, vagrants and petty offenders were committed to correctional institutions known as workhouses. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the government transported convicted felons to the English colonies. The punishment was thought of as the hard labor to which the prisoners were consigned. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the idea that persons convicted of crimes could be punished by confinement and released after a period of time.
During the 17th century, England and other European countries like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands began imprisoning debtors, delinquent juveniles, minor misdemeanant, and felons. Early jails were mostly dark, overcrowded, and filthy. Prisoners were herded together indiscriminately, with no separation of men and women, the young and old, the convicted and unconvicted, or the sane and insane. In America the concept of imprisonment came because of deep religious beliefs.
The English Quaker William Penn abolished the death penalty for most crimes in the late 1600’s and substituted imprisonment. The Pennsylvania legislature replaced capitalpunishment with incarceration as the primary punishment for felons in 1789. By the mid-19th century most states had followed suit. Two models of prisons emerged in the United States. The first system began in Auburn State Prison in New York in 1817.
Prisoners worked together in total silence during the day, but were housed separately at night. Strict discipline was enforced, and violators were subject to severe reprisals. The second model, the Pennsylvania system, begun in 1829 in the Eastern State Penitentiary at Cherry Hill, was based on solitary confinement for convicts by day and night. There was a lot of debate about the two systems.
People who favored the Pennsylvania model focused on its hope of rehabilitation, the theory being that a felon alone in a cell with only a Bible to read would become penitent. This is where the term penitentiary came from. The Auburn system was criticized as being virtual slavery, because prisoners were often put to work for private entrepreneurs who had contracted with the state for their labor. Prisoners of the system were never paid leaving a good profit for the business owners and the state. People who believed in the Auburn system said that the idleness of the prisoners in the Cherry Hill penitentiary sometimes caused madness.
The activity of the prisoners and the profits from their labor meant the state didn’t have to finance the prison. Most states adopted the Auburn approach. European countries adopted the Pennsylvania Private business had always been opposed to the industrial Auburn model prison. They considered the unpaid prison labor unfair competition. Early trade unions challenged the idea. As the labor influence grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dramatic changes occurred.
By the 1920’s labor and humanitarian critics achieved their goal of severely restricting prison labor. The United States Congress enacted the Hawes-Cooper Act(1929), which deprived prison-made goods of the protection afforded by the Interstate Commerce Act and made such goods subject to state punitive laws. During the depression of the 1930’s Congress completed the task by prohibiting transport companies from accepting prison-made products for transportation into any state in violation of the laws of that state. This legislation, the Ashurst-Sumners Act(1935) effectively closed the market to goods made by prisoners, and most states then The American prison began to use the idea of rehabilitation again as the principal goal of incarceration because thousands of prisoners were left idle.
They began to classify prisoners according to the likelihood of rehabilitation. A wide variety of institutions, including reformatories, work camps, and minimum-security prisons were established. The idea of rehabilitation led to probation and parole. Even a separate system of procedures and courts for dealing with