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Purpose and History Essay

The Code of Ur-Nammu assumed an understanding that the law descended from the gods, and the king or ruler was the administrator of the law on the part of the people. Under this code, severe penalties were considered to be unnecessary for the majority of crimes. Since people believed to know how they should behave towards each other, monetary fines served as a reminder of how to behave (Mark, 2014). The structure of the Code of Hammurabi is very particular, with each offense having a distinct discipline. The punishments tended to be extremely critical compared to today’s modern day standards, many of the offenses resulted in death, disfigurement, or the use of what we know today as “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Lex Talionis “Law of Retaliation”) philosophy. The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest examples of law where the assumption of innocence has been incorporated, and the accused and accuser have the opportunity to produce and present evidence on their behalf. However, no provisions were made for extenuating circumstances to be presented in order to alter any prescribed punishment. History of prison development

During the early colonial years, prisons had not yet been developed as a form of punishment for crimes. The colonists did however use jails, copying the English system of gallows, in order to hold defendants who were awaiting trial or for those already convicted and were awaiting their corporal or capital punishment. These jails had deplorable conditions. Poor men, women, and children were all housed together, with very little food or sanitary conditions. Offenders who could afford it paid a fee in order to avoid jail; this early bail system enabled the rich to pay a fee in order to be released. The conditions in both the English and colonial jails during the 1600s and 1700s were so deplorable that few doubted the need for reform (Richard P. Seiter, 2011). Comparison of the Pennsylvania and Auburn system

The Pennsylvania system was known as the “separate and silent” system, with silence enforced and inmates not allowed to see or talk with each other. Through this approach, it was believed that offenders would not be morally contaminated and be trained in crime by other prisoners. There were several problems with the Pennsylvania system. First, it was almost impossible to keep prisoners from seeing and communicating with each other. Second, it was very expensive to operate, as a requirement to keep prisoners separated this increased the number of staff members needed. Third, there was very limited productivity by inmates, as a requirement to work alone in their cells did not allow for as much production of goods for resale as was desired. Fourth, opponents of the operation of the Pennsylvania prisons suggested that the solitude imposed on prisoners made many of them mentally ill. Finally, the planned operation was modified almost immediately.

Two prisoners were placed in a cell together so one could learn a trade from the other and increase the production of goods. The warden of the Eastern Penitentiary, Samuel Wood, used prisoners as servants in his home and allowed them to communicate. The Pennsylvania system seemed doomed from its beginning and forced prison operators in other states to search for new approaches to overcome the problems. Although there was great interest in the Pennsylvania system, only two states (New Jersey and Rhode Island) adopted its “separate and silent” system. However, both soon abandoned the Pennsylvania system in favor of the improved system that was created in Auburn, New York (Richard P. Seiter, 2011). The Auburn system became known as the “congregate and silent” system as officials continued to reduce the spread of criminal ideas by inmates through silence and strict discipline. Barnes and Teeters describe the enforcement of the system through lockstep marching with eyes downcast, hard work and activity while outside cells, and prohibitions of inmates even being face to face.

After the operation of Auburn was copied at Sing Sing prison in New York, as well as at prisons in other states, the Auburn system was recognized as better than the Pennsylvania system. The prisons were cheaper to build and operate, the congregate style allowed production of goods and more income for the state, and fewer prisoners developed mental health problems. Other prisons being built across the country adopted the Auburn system. The operation of prisons for sentenced offenders received international attention, and many countries sent representatives to examine the operation of both the Pennsylvania-style and Auburn-style prisons.

Although the Pennsylvania style of prisons was seldom favored in the United States, most international visitors found advantages in both, and many preferred the Pennsylvania system because of its effort to avoid contamination among prisoners. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Auburn style of silence, hard work, separation at night, congregation during the day to maximize production of goods, and strict control was the method used for most American prisons (Richard P. Seiter, 2011). Impact and involvement of prison labor over time

Throughout US history, there have been many laws both morally and ethically concerning prison labor. The Hawes-Cooper Act and the Ashurst-Sumner Act made interstate trading of prison-made goods illegal. During the 1970’s, many of laws regarding prison labor were amended. The Justice System Improvement Act of 1979 allowed for the privatization of prisons and the transport of their goods across state lines. Once this change in the law took place, the prison industry profits sky rocketed from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Prison industry partnerships benefit both businesses and inmates. Businesses are provided with a stable, motivated work force, with reduced overhead, an alternative to overseas operations, and a “made in the USA” label. Inmates are provided with income to offset the cost of their incarceration, allows for compensation to victims and provides the inmates family with support. Inmates have the ability to learn a trade and gain valuable work experience (“U.S. Prison Labor At Home and Abroad”, 2003).


Mark, J. J. (2014). Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from


Richard P. Seiter. (2011). Corrections an introduction. Retrieved from Richard P. Seiter, CJA234

– Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Admin/Human Services website.

U.S. Prison Labor at Home and Abroad. (2003). Retrieved from


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