History and Purposes of Prisons Essay Sample

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Crime has had an impact on society for years, and will continue to do so well into the future. The presence of criminals and criminal acts proved that there was and all ways will be a need for penitentiaries. Correctional facilities no matter if they are prisons, jails, or penitentiaries are all part of the criminal justice system. Their overall goal and objective is to house offenders with the hope to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into society to have a positive impact. Penitentiaries have a strong history with society and will continue to serve an important purpose within the criminal justice system. History of Punishment

Punishment is defined as a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, or the severe handling or treatment (dictionary.com, 2012). The criminal justice system has evolved over year as has the forms off punishment that are used. In the early years of society punishment would sometimes be considered as harsh and cruel, but to society at that present time it was considered just. Some early forms of punishment were beating, stoning, slavery, and taking of offenders limbs such as arms, legs, fingers, eye, and sometimes a person’s head. Since crime has been a part of society it has given a need for punishment and given punishment a purpose. Seiter (2011) states “Cesare Beccaria suggested that the purpose of punishment is utility or the prevention of crime”.

Punishment was limited in the early years meaning that most punishments did not fit the crimes. Today more goes into punishment than just an “eye for an eye”, there are limits to the type of punishment an offender can receive based on the severity of the crime committed. Punishments vary from fines, probation, imprisonment, and the harshest being the different forms of capital punishment. While in the early years of punishment stealing food might have lead to being stoned or losing a hand; today this type of crime might lead to a fine or possibly jail time. One case that could possibly be made as to early punishment having an advantage over punishment today is that someone would think twice about stealing food if they knew that the punishment would be losing a hand over receiving a fine. History of Prison Development

The changes and the improvements of prisons can be linked to the work of William Penn, a former governor of Pennsylvania. Penn changed the way the prison system is run and how it is viewed by people. The early correction facilities allowed inmates to have limited or no rights at all. William Penn chose to take a stand and make changes because of the early prisons and the experiences that he had being a Quaker. The Walnut Street Jail was the first penitentiary in the United States established in 1790 by Benjamin Rush. Seiter (2011), states that “The Walnut Street Jail created a regimen of hard work and doing penance for their offences”. The Walnut Street Jail served as the template for prisons that were developed after. New prisons strived to do more than to punish offenders by using cruel and sometimes degrading forms of punishment. The basis of the new prisons’ operations was the same as the Walnut Street Jail: to emphasize the opportunity for prisoners to reform themselves through hard work while reflecting on their crimes, Seiter (2011). Even though the new prisons were effective they had their flaws. The Pennsylvania System and the Auburn System

The Pennsylvania System required a lack of communication and interaction between inmates which eventually cause more problems than it prevented. This was believed to prevent criminals from picking up bad habits and criminal traits from one another. The Auburn System kept inmates separate, but allowed them to work together within the prison to allow for better production. In the end both of the systems had their positives, but it was the Auburn System that proved to be the better system. The Auburn System made it possible for prisons to meet their financial demands by the production that the congregate system allowed between inmates. Prison Labor

Within the two system the Pennsylvania and the Auburn, the key difference was the labor. The Auburn system had more of an affect because of the money that prisons were able to make which allowed them to function properly and eventually have the desired effect. It was proven to be important for prisons to have inmates work, since it was free labor and the products sold allowed facilities to be self-sufficient. The labor of inmates also taught some of them skill that would help them make the transition to life after prison. In conclusion penitentiaries have been through many changes through the years. Along with the structure of prisons the overall goal has changed. It is not just about punishing offenders, it is more about rehabilitation of them as well. The history of penitentiaries has made them into what they are today, and is the main reason they are an important part of the criminal justice system.


Punishment. Dictionary.com (2012). Retrieved from www.dictonary.com/punishment. Seiter, R. P. (2011). Corrections: An Introduction third edition

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