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Penitentiary Ideal and Models of American Prison

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The penitentiary was supposed to be a place for humane punishment not the physical punishment that was imposed in those days. It was supposed to be a place the inmates asked for forgiveness for the sins they committed. They were supposed to reform from their old ways. The main goal was for the prison system to help the inmates find spiritual transformation that was associated with the medieval monastery. They wanted the inmates to find healing and spirituality. The difference between the eastern and auburn prisons were that one believed in complete solitary confinement and the other didn’t. The Eastern State Penitentiary believed that if the inmates were left alone they could think about the crimes they had committed and would ask for forgiveness. Inmates were required to work in their cells and would be allowed to workout outside alone for thirty minutes a day. They were not allowed to have contact with other inmates. When they were brought into the jail their heads were covered so that they couldn’t see where they were being taken. The Eastern Penitentiary was also roomier but more solitary.

The cells were about ten feet by eight feet and the ceilings were about fifteen feet high. The plan was called The Quaker Plan. They used this method to hopefully reflect some penance and so that the inmates wouldn’t rub off on each other and get bad habits. Inmates were not allowed to have visitors or have contact with the guards. They worked and ate in their cells. In the Auburn prisons the cells were seven feet by three and a half feet and only seven feet high. The cells are stacked and they did not have outside access. Inmates at these prisons were allowed to have contact with each other. They worked, cleaned and ate together. They also had a silent system in place. In that system inmates were not allowed to talk to each other when they were together. The Auburn prison was such a success that New York went ahead and built larger prisons. The inmate management was called the congregate system because the lived alone in their cell but were allowed to spend time with other inmates. Another system they had in place was called the silent system. This system still allowed them to be in contact with each other but they were not allowed to speak.

Some of the benefit from the eastern penitentiary is that inmates had more time on their hands to think about what they had done and find the spiritual healing to ask for forgiveness. They also didn’t have contact with the other inmates and therefor couldn’t pick up the bad habits of the other inmates. It was the perfect ideal prison during those times. Inmates would also work to pay for their own care. The cell in the eastern state prison was cleaner and more spacious. The bad part about the eastern state prison was that some inmates didn’t do good being alone. Beside the fact that it cost more and it was the ideal way some just could not handle the loneliness. The auburn state prison was not the same as the eastern state prison in so many ways. At the Auburn prison inmates didn’t have access to the outside. They worked together but sometimes it was done in a quiet environment. The cells were much smaller and sometimes housed more than one inmate at a time.

Here the inmates were divided into three levels. Auburn did try the solitary confinement but it didn’t work out. Inmates got sick and some committed suicide. It was known that it was more productive for all the inmates to work together than to have them work alone. The model that was considered to be the best was the auburn model. It was believed that more work and production was done when all the inmates worked together rather than working alone. It was said that solitary confinement was cruel and inhumane. Some people couldn’t stand being alone. Some inmates got sick and even died because they couldn’t take being alone all the time. Also, with the auburn system the prison could profit from the labor the inmates did. The Auburn prison was cheaper to build and easier to operate. There were three reasons why the Auburn system won and the outcome of the war brought more inmates because of the effect of the war, immigration and the economy. Lastly, to keep inmates in solitary confinement was more expensive. Solitary confident was only used as a form of punishment. More guards were used and within time some prisons started to use the Auburn prison model.

Correction: The Fundamentals, by Burk Foster, Chapter 2
Published by Prentice-Hall

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