In the essay “Prison “Reform” in America,” Roger T. Pray points out the much attention that has been devoted to research to help prevent crimes. Showing criminals the errors of their ways not by brutal punishment, but by locking them up in the attempt to reform them. Robert Pray, who is a prison psychologist, is currently a researcher with the Utah Dept. of Corrections. He has seen what has become of our prison system and easily shows us that there is really no such thing as “Prison Reform” In Roger Prays essay we see how our prison system has come to where we are at now.
He shows how history of prisons worked and how our basis of the prison system came about over the last 200 years. Robert states that it was the Americans that invented the prison. “The history of prison in America is the history of a troubled search for solutions. ” Before we had prisons in America, criminals where dealt with in a swift and brutal manner. Many prisoner where dealt with by corporal or capital punishment. Jails did exist in this time but they were “primarily for pretrail detention” stated Pray. “Today’s system, where imprisonment is a common penalty for most crimes, is a historical newcomer.
Many crimes during 1718 and 1776 were punishable by death. This was usually done by hanging, sometimes by stoning, breaking on the rack and burning at the stake. Towards the end of the 1700’s people realized that cruel punishment did little to reduce crime and their society was changing the population grew and people started to move around more frequently. There had to be a search for new punishments. “New punishments were to rely heavily on new ideas imported from Europe in the writing of such social thinkers of the Enlightenment as the baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Thomas Pain and Cesare Beccaria”.
These thinkers came to believe that criminals could be rehabilitated. ” Beccaria, a European theorizer, had the most influence on penology. “His work had a profound effect on criminal punishment the world over. ” Beccaria wrote “the purpose of punishment is not to torment a sensible being, or to undo a crime [but] is none other than to prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society and to prevent others from committing the like offense. ” This is how we came to categorizing crimes. In 1786, the Quakers played an important role in inventing the first prison.
They felt that the brutal criminal punishment was irreconcilable with their Christian beliefs. So in 1786, they persuaded the Pennsylvania legislature to limit the death penalty to murder, treason, rape and arson. It was then that all other criminals would have to be imprisoned for up to ten years. As the population grew and more people where getting sent to prison instead of being executed the prison began to get crowded. The Walnut Street prison, which was the first prison, built in 1790 was a prototype for other prisons to be built over the next 30 years. By the year 1817 the prison began to deteriorate.
Changes and overcrowding of prisoners in one room pushed Pennsylvania legislature to build more prisons. In 1817 two more prisons where built, one in eastern and one in western Pennsylvania. They built these prisons with separate cell areas, so each inmate could be kept alone, eliminating all the problems of congregate living. The idea of having separate cells did not originate in America. “Of course the notion of forcibly confining people is ancient and there is extensive evidence that the Romans had a well-developed system for imprisoning different types of offenders. ” (Meskelly).
It was the Auburn jail that added a new system to imprisonment. It was solitary confinement. At the time many criminals had mental breakdowns being locked up in one room by themselves for years. It was then that a thirty five year rivalry between Pennsylvania and New York began. They had prison systems of two basic forms, Pennsylvania had the individual system and New York the congregated system. It was during this time that attitudes changed drastically. They focused more on reforming prisoners then on the humane laws of prisoners. They felt isolation was the key for “basic goodness in man to emerge”.
Europeans came to visit these institutions with the hope of using the system in their country. By the mid 1800’s prison everywhere scarcely reflected the basic forms of prison. In the 1830’s, many prisoners where often leased to private contractors, but was discontinued in the mid 1840’s. In the 19th century it was seen that the prison system could not reform the prisoners. Citizens lost faith and felt that there was no cure to society’s crime problem. It is interesting to see how our prison came about. Through the years and centuries we have been trying to find the right way to deal with criminals.
Yes, criminals where dealt with brutally and maybe too brutal for the crimes committed. Today someone can commit murder and get 25 years. I don’t feel that during these 25 years the criminal will really get reformed. How many prisoners get out of prison and go back to society as normal people. It seems to me that they usually have been in prison for so many years they have trouble going back to society. The only way they know how to live is how they lived in prison. In prison they get a bed to sleep in, food and clothing and they don’t have to work hard for it.
So they are quick to commit another crime to go back there. Seeing this happen over and over I feel that you really can’t reform our prisoners or the prisons they are locked up in. In Prays essay we do see however, how we have come to change how criminals are dealt with but has the change really been good for both the criminal and our society? In “Prison “Reform” in America”, Pray mostly explains the changes in the American prison systems. He has shown how we got the basis of our prison systems and how they came about. We have come a long way for criminal punishment but we still have a way to go to prison reform.
I feel many changes have been made in the prison system but none of these changes have discouraged criminals not to do the crime. Since changing the criminal system, it seems that it did not decrease the crimes that are happening. I realized that during the years and centuries population has grown but it seems the percentage of crimes have increased dramatically during the time. We haven’t seen any decrease in crime. If anything crime, continues to increase year after year. The United States has incarcerated over 2 million people. Compare this to crimes of the 1700’s.
Maybe we should look back at history and see how their ways had more effect on criminals thinking twice about committing a crime. Maybe we should have more brutal punishments for the more severe crimes like murder, rape and child molestation. I feel that prisons are built to cage criminals not reform them. Now that we have more people out there doing more of these viscous crimes we need to take the next step to show remorse to people who commit these crimes. Maybe more people should go to death row. We should not be scared to send one who has committed such a horrendous and vicious crime to death.
We can’t reform criminals now, just like we couldn’t back then ” de Tocqueville and de Beaumont reported that one in nineteen criminals released from Auburn would later commit crimes. ” (Meskell). Our society has changed from the 1700’s and so have the crimes. I am sure there were murderers and rapists then and weren’t they treated with brutal punishment? Does our Bible not say one should follow good works. If that is the case we should treat criminal as they had treated their victims. We should execute murders to make a communal proclamation: that murder is intolerable.
This is the only way we can make a difference in these appalling crimes. What we have today is not enough to deteriorate criminals Solitary confinement was started with the Auburn prison but discontinued due to criminals having mental breakdowns. We have brought this back in today’s system and it seems to work, but it is not the key to success in reforming prisoners. It is used for prisoners who do not abide by the rules of the institution. The conclusion that solitary confinement caused mental breakdowns and insanity was never questioned.
There probably were some negative effects to prisoners who stayed in solitary confinement for long periods of time but many may have already been insane or on their way to a nervous breakdown before they were sent to confinement. There may never be a cure or a true reform system to help our prison system and the criminals who live behind these steel bars, but there are ways for improvement. We need to go the root of the problem. “The inspector concluded that a lack of regorous childhood training in discipline and obedience was, along with exposure to vice, a major cause of crime.
Criminals are not born, they are created by poor social conditions. “There have been numerous studies cataloging the early childhood of criminals which seemed to confirm the hypothesis that social conditions bred crime. ” Many punishments had succeeded in early items due to small communities. As America grows we need to change the way we punish criminals. Everyone has the right to freedom and justice and this is why everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but once convicted of a crime their punishment should reflect the severity of the crime.
Beccarai wrote that “the purpose of punishment is not to torment a sensible being, or to undo a crime, but is none other than to prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society and to prevent others from committing the like offense. ” How many times has this worked. It is known that many murders get paroled and 1/3 of these commits another murder. Do we really want to try to make prisoners better people? They committed crime once who is to say they won’t again. Maybe if I saw more reports on how prison has improved our society and the criminals who live among us, I would see why we should work on reforming our prisons.
Until then, it does not seem to be working. We trust in the government to provide for our safety, but we must take responsibility among ourselves. To understand that the current system does work and that its intent is not to provide a safe society. History has shown us that. What we have done or continue to do will not make this a safer place to live. The problem is not to reform our prison system, for this won’t stop criminals to commit crimes, but to find ways and means to deteriorate them from doing the crime.