Housing the Dangerous Classes
History of Imprisonment
Why was there no long-term sentences and prisons prior to the late 18th century?
How do we account for the rise of the penitentiary and especially its rapid growth in the 19th century?
What social and economic factors relate to this development?
Where did the idea of the jail come from?
Punishment Prior to 18th Century
Harsh and physical to say the least
Punishment was done in public often with large crowds
Some illustrations: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-12-most-exorbitant-and-vicious-execution-methods-worlds-history?image=1
• In a word, they were public and often physical
– Stocks, pillory, whippings, branding, etc.
• No prisons, although most towns had jails, but these jails resembled regular houses
• Primary method of social control was informal
– Local families, the community, and the church providing most forms of punishment.
• After the revolution the old Walnut Street Jail was converted to the first state prison
– First time for any kind of long term incarceration
– Part of a larger attempt to maintain “order” in the new, highly stratified society
• Rather than merely physical punishment imposed upon the body, we find a form of discipline aimed at the mind.
– Daily rituals and routines
– Inculcation of various attitudes and values (“Protestant ethic”)
– Hard labor and solitary confinement.
• This arose simultaneously with the emergence of almost identical forms of discipline in the newly emerging factory system
Trafficking, Slavery & Prisons
• prisoners and slaves – terms often used simultaneously
– descriptions of Spanish and French slave trades often used the terms “slave” and “prisoner” interchangeably
• Both convicts and slaves shipped to American colonies to work
– This is how the early fortunes were made
• “Eventually plantation owners found that they could save even more money by using black slaves, since they could keep them for life”
• Children were seized (often called “napping”) for shipment to American colonies to be servants.
– This practice became so common that the term “kidnapping” was often used
• American colonial history is mostly a “story of the immigration of prisoners.”
– Prisoners “manned the ships” and “were carried to the colonies to work in the mines and fields”
– “brought in chains from African and Europe to the Caribbean and the Americas as slaves”
• Parliament passed an act to assist new businesses in the colonies
– allowed courts to sentence offenders to “transportation” to the colonies instead of to the gallows
– Thousands of offenders shipped to America to be “servants” for a period of usually 7 years.
• Between 1720 and 1765 Parliament passed 16 laws making transportation the required form of punishment for a wide variety of mostly minor crimes, such as poaching and perjury
– 16,000 sent to the new colony of Georgia
– ¼ of all immigrants to American colonies were convicted criminals – this only includes those from England, as many came from France, Spain and Denmark
Prisoners, slaves & profits
• Like African slaves, prisoners were often viewed as “human cargoes” and mere “commodities.”
• Advertisements were posted throughout the colonies noting the planned arrival of a particular “convict vessel,” in a manner almost identical to the arrival of African slaves.
Forerunners of the Modern Prison
• Saint Michael Boys Home – 1704 (Rome)
Workhouses and Poorhouses
• First known workhouse was in Amsterdam in 1596 – the Rasphaus
· Intent was to discipline the inmates into accepting a regimen like a factory
· Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island, New York City (c. 1852)
• Penal workhouse, Ghent, Belgium, 1773
Panopticon Prison Design
• Jeremy Bentham derived the idea from the plan of a factory designed for easy supervision, itself conceived by his brother Samuel who arrived to it as a solution to the complexities involved in the handling of large numbers of men
• Bentham’s Panopticon Prison Design.
Panopticon, the Factory, schools, etc.
• Prisons and other hierarchical structures (army, school, hospital and factory) have evolved through history to resemble the Bentham's Panopticon.
• This technology and philosophy could be expanded to society as a whole.
– Many areas have closed-circuit TV surveillance (stoplights and in downtown areas) used to reduce the risk of crime.
In totalitarian societies, Panopticon systems
could lead to oppressive Orwellian conditions.
Gaols and Debtor's Prisons
It is obvious that from the very beginning jails were almost exclusively used to house the poor.
Which is why I use the phrase “temporary housing for the poor”
In fact, a term often used interchangeably with jail was
that of debtor's prison
One of the most famous gaols was that of Newgate in London opened in 1188
Managed by private "gaolers," or "keepers” – early form of “privatization
Rampant corruption as you might guess
Some famous people locked up there, such as Robinson Caruso and William Penn (who ironically was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania State Prison)
Dickens wrote about this (Oliver Twist)
Passed in the late 16th and early 17th century this was an
attempt to control the “surplus population” following the famous “black death”
Within the Settlement Act of 1662 there is the creation of a “workhouse.”
This term often used interchangeably with “poorhouse”
Walnut St. Jail - see photo here: http://www.ushistory.org/birch/plates/plate24.htm
Images of these old prisons can be seen here: http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/soc/prison.html
Pennsylvania and Auburn Systems
• Belief that criminals lacked respect for authority and proper work habits led to the adoption of the Auburn system
– Hard labor was the cure.
• Belief that criminals were “sinners” and needed to “repent” for their crimes led to the adoption of the Pennsylvania system
– Solitary confinement with the Bible was the cure
• Originated in the medieval monasteries of Europe for monks who had sinned or committed crimes (hence the term penitentiary).
• Penance could be accomplished only through the use of solitary confinement and no contact with other prisoners or with the outside world.
• Each cell had an outside exercise yard, each was allowed short periods in this yard for daily exercise but spent most of the time inside the cell working at some menial task or individual craft.
• Each prisoner was blindfolded upon entering the prison to begin his sentence and was prohibited from contact with other prisoners.
• Emphasized work in association with other prisoners
• Began in New York
– supported by business class
• “Congregate” system – prisoners were allowed to congregate in work groups
• Similar to a factory – important idea
• Silent system prevailed
– Gave rise to a “prison subculture” because of the need to communicate with others
Eastern State Penitentiary
• Like spokes on a wheel http://www.easternstate.org/album/arch/set1/index.html
Auburn Prison - for photos go to this web site: http://www.co.cayuga.ny.us/history/cayugahistory/p-pictures.html
The Reformatory, 1870–1900
• Prisoners should be rehabilitated
• Origins in the system designed by Alexander Maconochie, who headed the penal colony on Norfolk Island in Australia in the 1830s. (http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/maconochie_alexander.htm).
– Introduced the “mark system” where an offender can get time reduced for good behavior– today called “good time”
• Walter Crofton introduced the Irish system in Ireland’s prisons (1850s) which used indeterminate sentences and the ticket-of-leave which became known as parole.
The Fate of the Reformatory
• Elmira Reformatory was supposed to be the best of all possible worlds, but instead became a “garrison fortress” of brutality
• Failed to live up to the promise of reforming criminals
• One historian stated that “The whole system of discipline was repressive, and varied from benevolent despotism, in the best instances, to tyrannical cruelty in the worst.”
• Custody v. treatment constant conflict
– Custody usually wins
Why did the “Auburn Plan” become dominant?
• In a word: profits.
• State use, contract and convict leasing all took advantage of prison labor
• Convict leasing was the most notorious, occurring all over the south, filling prisons with mostly black prisoners, often sent up on minor or trumped up charges
• The plan fit in nicely with the emerging capitalist economy, since there was always a need for cheap labor, no matter where it was found
• Slavery did not end after the Civil War – yes you read this correctly.
• Another form of slavery was instituted as virtually every southern state enacted laws that ensured the continual bondage of former slaves
– Known as “Jim Crow” laws
• One method was convict leasing.
• This was a source of cheap labor to help re-build the war-torn South
• Hundreds of businesses, including the Tenn. Coal, Iron and Railway Company, a subsidiary of US Steel
• Notice the shift in the prison population from mostly white before the war to mostly black after the war
Slavery by Another Name
• The case of a man named Green Cottenham, arrested for vagrancy in 1908 and because he could not pay the fine he was “sold” to a subsidiary of US Steel where he and many others worked the mines
– 60 died during the following year in one mine alone
• This happened to thousands of Blacks all in the South
• South needed former slaves to help rebuild and so the convict leasing system began
• Blacks were routinely rounded up on the flimsiest of charges and sent to work the mines, railroads, etc.
– With the help of local sheriffs and the KKK
• Virtually all counties had justices of the peace and sheriffs who collaborated with local businesses
– Many felonies were reduced to misdemeanors so that the offenders would be sent to local jails and then to local businesses
– Sheriffs got kickbacks and so were financially motivated to arrest and convict as many as they could – his job was more like trading mules than law enforcement
– Here’s the web site from the book I quoted from earlier
– The photos are priceless and tell the story better than words
– Keep in mind that this was still going on well into the 1960s as the “chain gang” (a carry-over from the convict lease system) persisted
• Chain gangs have recently made a comeback
The “Big House,” 1900–1946
•Jackson (Michigan), San Quentin (California), Joliet (Illinois), Sing Sing (New York), Stateville (Illinois) and Attica (New York), Carson City, etc.
• Photo of Sing Sing: • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/00/State_Prison%2C_at_Sing_Sing%2C_New_York.jpg
The Modern Era
•As of June, 2006 there were 2.3 million in prison and jail
•incarceration rate of 750, highest in world
•Rate for black males was 4789 compared to 736 for white males
–Jail incarceration rate was 815 for blacks and 170 for whites
New American Apartheid
•Incarceration rates and race (2006)
–White males = 736
–Black males = 4,789
–Hispanic males = 1,862
–White females = 94
–Black females = 358
–Hispanic females = 152
White males = 478
Black males = 3,023
Hispanic males = 1,238
White females = 51
Black females = 129
Hispanic females = 71
Lifetime chances of going to prison
•Odds of going to prison
–Black male = 13% (female = 1%)
–White male = 2 (female = 0.2%)
–Hispanic male = 4 (female = 0.4%)
–Black male = 32% (female = 6%)
–White male = 6 (female = 1%)
–Hispanic male = 17 (female = 2%)
Jail incarceration rates
–White: 90 170
–Black: 574 815
–Hispanic: 259 283