Corrections System

It is often said that a good measure of the condition of the state can be seen on the conditions of their prison. If the state is able to provide for its lowliest citizens, then it can support the whole population well. The punishment for crimes is very critical to maintain a social order. Hence, it has been existent since the primitive times.  Back then, when the social system consists of tribes or villages, the most prevalent form of punishment is a blood feud. When a crime is committed, the victims family or tribe takes revenge on the offenders family or tribe. This type of violent and bloody practice is characteristic of the lack of civilization at that time. In certain cases, most probably in less serious crimes, lex salica- the use of payment to appease the victims family or tribe, may be enough. In some others, lex talionis or  an eye for an eye  is more appropriate. In such cases, the punishments handed out are harsh and based on vengeance. Lex salica is also known as wergeld in Europe which means payment to the victim and the other variation is friedensgeld which is payment to the state. Another form of punishment is civil death which meant that the offenders property was confiscated in the name of the state and his wife is declared a widow, eligible to remarry. To society, the criminal was, in effect, dead.

During the Middle Ages, the growing influence of the church caused chaos in terms of crime and punishment. The main contribution of that era, the idea of free will, assumes that individuals choose their actions,good or bad, and they can be held fully responsible for them. The religious doctrines of eternal punishment, atonement, and spiritual conversion rest on the assumption that individuals who commit sins could have acted differently had they chosen to do so. Hence, the offender is held responsible for all his actions and will have to pay two debts, one to society and another to God.

Public punishments are carried out by using devices such as the stocks, the pillory, ducking stools, the brank and branding. These punishments are carried out in public to prevent others from committing the same offenses.

Bridewell, a workhouse, was created for the employment and housing of Londons riffraff in 1557 and was based on the work ethic that followed the breakup of feudalism and the increased migration of the rural populations to urban areas. They were not merely extensions of almshouses or poorhouses, but were actually penal institutions for all sorts of misdemeanants. The workhouse was so successful that by 1576 Parliament required the construction of a Bridewell in every county in England. The same unsettled social conditions prevailed in Holland, and the Dutch began building workhouses in 1596 that were soon copied all over Europe.

As the society evolved and become more sophisticated, there have been movements that recognized the humanitys dignity and imperfection. During the Age of Enlightenment, philosophers have influenced the development of the corrections system. Two of the primer movers were Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. The best-known work of Cesare Beccaria is An Essay on Crimes and Punishment-a primary influence in the transition from punishment to corrections. Although Beccaria himself did not seek or receive great personal fame, his small volume was praised as one of the most significant books produced by the Age of Enlightenment. Four of his newer ideas were incorporated into the French Code of Criminal Procedure in 1808 and into the French Penal Code of 1810

1. An individual should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

2. An individual should not be forced to testify against himself or herself.

3. An individual should have the right to employ counsel and to cross-examine the states witnesses.

4. An individual should have the right to a prompt and public trial and, in most cases, a trial by jury.

Jeremy Bentham was the leading reformer of the British criminal law system during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He strongly advocated a system of graduated penalties to tie more closely the punishment to the crime. Bentham believed that an individuals conduct could be influenced in a more scientific manner. Asserting that the main objective of an intelligent person is to achieve the most pleasure while receiving the least amount of pain, he developed his hedonistic calculus, which he applied to all of his efforts to reform the criminal law. He, like Beccaria, believed punishment could act as a deterrent, but only if it were made appropriate to the crime. This line of thought, adopted by active reformers Samuel Romilly and Robert Peel in the early nineteenth century,has been instrumental in the development of the modern prison.

In 1779, Parliament passed the Penitentiary Act, providing four principles for reform secure and sanitary structures, systematic inspection, abolition of fees, and a reformatory regime.John Howards name has become synonymous with prison reform, and the John Howard Society has carried his ideas forward to this day.

The concept of more humanitarian treatment of offenders was brought to America by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and leader of the Quakers. The Quaker movement was the touchstone of penal reform, not only in America, but also in Italy and England through its influence on such advocates as Beccaria and Howard. Compared with the other harsh colonial codes in force at the time the Great Law of the Quakers was quite humane. This body of laws envisioned hard labor as a more effective punishment than death for serious crimes, and capital punishment was eliminated from the original codes. Later, in supplementary acts, murder and manslaughter were included as social crimes.

Only premeditated murder was punishable by death, with other criminal acts treated according to the circumstances. Pennsylvania, the home of the Declaration of Independence, is also the home of the Walnut Street Jail, the first true correctional institution in America. Although not all of the idealistic reforms were adopted, the direction of change had been established. The system of prison discipline developed at the Walnut Street Jail became known as the Pennsylvania system.

The reformation of the corrections system owes a great deal to the work of Captain Alexander Maconochie and Sir Walter Crofton. Together they laid the foundation for reformative rather than punitive programs for the treatment of criminals. The first thing Maconochie did was to eliminate the flat sentence.- a system that had allowed no hope of release until the full time had been served. Then he developed a mark system whereby a convict could earn freedom by hard work and good behavior. This put the burden of release on the convict. As Maconochie said, When a man keeps the key of his own prison, he is soon persuaded to fit it into the lock.

Leaders in U.S. penology and prison administration met at the American Prison Congress of 1870 to discuss the direction that corrections practices should take. They were especially concerned about overcrowding, and they discussed what new kinds of prisons should be built to alleviate it. Many urged that Maconochies and Croftons plans be adopted in America. That idea was endorsed by the members, and the reformatory era in American corrections was born. Although the two main contributions of the reformatory era were the indeterminate sentence and parole, the seeds of education, vocational training, and individual rehabilitation had been sown. Even though such radical ideas could not flourish in the barren and hostile environment of that period, they took root and grew to fruition in later years.

The industrial prison really had its origins in the profits turned by the first state prisons. Early in the nineteenth century, however, mechanics and cabinetmakers began to complain about the unfair competition they faced fromthe virtually free labor force available to prisons. The use of lease and contract systems aggravated the problem and led to a series of investigations that reached national prominence in 1886. The emergence of the labor union movement, coupled with abuses of the contract and lease systems of prison labor, eliminated those systems in the northern prisons by the end of the nineteenth century. They were replaced by piece-price and state-account systems. Opposition to prison industries resulted in enforced idleness among the increasing inmate population. This forced the adult prisons to adopt reformatory methods in some measure but made self-sustaining institutions a thing of the past.

Fear of violence, drive-by shootings, juvenile gangs struggling to control the drug trade, drug use, and racism have combined to create a get-tough environment.The results were rapid prison population expansion and prison construction, increased prison overcrowding, reduction of early release mechanisms from prison, and massive jail populations and jail construction.


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