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Women Prisons Before the 1800 Essay

“Women were punished as men were, with the exception that pregnant women were often spared punishment until after they had given birth. Women were generally mixed with male prisoners and supervised by male jailers, which made the women doubly subject to abuse and exploitation.”(Foster, 2006) Women who violated the law, then, also violated their subservient position and were seen as morally suspect as well as criminal. Prior to the development of prisons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, punishment for women and men took a variety of forms: Serious offenders were put to death by hanging or burning, or banished from their community or sold as slaves

How have they changed?

The Indiana State Reformatory was established in 1873 as the first separate prison for women in America. (Foster, 2006) The women in prisons are still treated the same except they have separate prisons and more rights to help them when they are abused. They still do have coed prisons in Illinois but they are minimum security prisons. What are the three basic arguments established in the 1800s that supported the separation of juvenile prisoners from adult prisoners?

1. The penitentiary regimen was too hard on tender youth.
2. Juveniles would learn bad habits from older criminals and be embittered by The experience of confinement.
3. Adolescents could be reformed if they were diverted early enough into institutions Designed specifically for people their age.
What would happen if there were no distinction between prisons for juveniles and adults? It would be like sending flocks of young sheep to live with older wolves. The juveniles would be exploited and exposed to a great deal immoral and illegal things.

What was the purpose of prison labor?

In the 1800s, prisons recouped their expenses by leasing convicts to private companies; in 1885, fully three-quarters of prisoners were involved in some form of labor, mostly for private companies or individuals (du Pont, “Some Benefits of Prisoner Labor”). This had little to do with attempts at rehabilitation. Prisoners were forced to work without pay, often in dangerous conditions; convict miners were killed in cave-ins in the 1800s (Leonhardt A1). In 1887, Congress for the first time attempted to outlaw the leasing of convict labor to private parties (Ingley 28+), but there was backlash at the state level: refusal to house federal prisoners.

What finally drove legislation restricting prison labor were the Depression and the increasing fear that private jobs would be lost to cheaper convict labor. The 1935 Hawes-Cooper Act, along with the Ashurst-Sumner Act of 1940, outlawed interstate trade in convict-made goods, making it a felony and a federal crime to traffic in them (O’Meara 14; du Pont, “Some Benefits of Prisoner Labor”). Subsection (b) of the Ashurst-Sumner Act does exempt goods made in State prisons for use by any prison in any other state, or federal prison-made goods for use by any other federal prison (Ingley 28+). Congress banned prison labor use on federal contracts exceeding $10,000 the same year (du Pont, “Some Benefits”); the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act placed limits on the purchase of prison-made goods by the federal government (Ingley 28+).


The Fundamentals, by Burk Foster. Published by Prentice-Hall. Copyright © 2006 by Pearson Education, Inc. Du Pont, Pete. “Some Benefits of Prisoner Labor.” The San Diego Union-Tribune 30 Nov. 1995: pg.? Leonhard, David. “As Prison Labor Grows, So Does the Debate.” The New York Times 19 Mar. 2000, final ed.: A1. Ingley, Gwen Smith. “Inmate Labor: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Corrections Today v. 58 Feb. 1996: 28+.

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