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Incarceration as the common solution to the rise in crimes Essay

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In today’s society incarceration in a correctional facility is a common punishment for those who have committed a crime. Earlier responses to crimes were brutal and often tried to relate the punishment to the crime itself. Prisons are not as old as some may think and be established because of displeasure from extensive use of brutal corporal and capital punishment. The Pennsylvania and Auburn systems were two of the earliest modern prison systems that highlighted the opportunity for prisoners to reform.

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Prison labor can play an important role in a countries economy and overtime can cut many costs.

The history of punishment can be described in one word, brutal. Early forms of punishment included torture, beatings, branding, mutilation, and death (Seiter, 2011). Most misdemeanor crimes were punished with fines but more serious offenses were punished with public shame, a period of time in the stocks, or a mark on an individual’s body to identify the offense (Lynch, 2011). Early forms of punishment attempted to relate the punishment to the crime such as liars had their tongues ripped out and thieves had a finger or hand cut off (Seiter, 2011). Some forms of punishment were not directly harmful such as exile from a community or tribe. This would ensure the individual does not repeat the offense but could also cause death because the individual could not survive in the wilderness alone (Seiter, 2011). In England, deportation was a common form of punishment and they would send their prisoners or criminal to their colonies.

Prisons are not as old as some may believe. Many people were not satisfied with the response to criminal behavior and found the criminal codes were inhumane. They found judges did not want to impose more severe punishments for fairly minor offenses. William Penn and the Quakers came up with a new criminal code to replace the old one that would abolish capital punishment for crimes other than homicide, provide free food and shelter to inmates, and replace the stocks with houses of detention (Seiter, 2011). This code was later repealed until the late 1700’s when Dr. Benjamin Rush revived the Quaker code and established the first prison in the United States. Rush converted a wing of the Walnut Street jail to house offenders as an alternative to corporal punishment (Seiter, 2011). This early prison stressed hard work and repenting for their offenses. The inmates were kept in individual cells and could not speak so they could avoid moral contamination among the other prisoners (Seiter, 2011). Administrators would put masks on inmate’s faces when being moved because they did not want other inmates to identify each other. Prisoners were also given work to do in their cells and encouraged to read the bible. Overall the prison enforced strict discipline, hard labor, and solidarity.

The Pennsylvania system incorporated the Walnut street jails ideas and operations and encouraged solitary confinement, hard labor, and silence for the inmates. The Pennsylvania system was intended to have prisoners separate from each other even when they were working so inmates would not be distracted and focused on their repentance. The Auburn prison system was first implemented in 1819 at the New York state prison in Auburn. It incorporates the Quaker principles of reformation and considered a less pure model than the Pennsylvania system (Barnes, 1921). The Auburn system incorporated different methods such as inmates together side by side while working, eating and praying but they returned to solitary cells at night. The Auburn system introduced a tier system of different levels of cells built above one another. They housed inmates according to their offenses such as first time and repeat offenders (Barnes, 1921). Inmates wore uniforms of different colors which represented the classification of their crimes.

Prison labor can be an important part of a countries economy and it can help reduce the cost of keeping inmates in prison. In the past, prison labor has been used as a punishment for those who are incarcerated and is meant to be physically draining. Recently, prison labor has adjusted to help save the cost of housing inmates. By making the inmates work in the prison it cuts the costs because the prison does not have to hire people to do the jobs such as cooking, cleaning, and manual labor. Over the past twenty years, state has passed laws allowing the use of convict labor for commercial enterprises (Whyte & Baker, 2000). Prisoners now are allowed to manufacture many things ranging from blue jeans to auto parts. AT&T has even used prison labor for telemarketing services and in Oregon, prisoners do all the data entry and record keeping for the Secretary of States corporate division (Whyte & Baker, 2000).

In today’s society incarceration is a common form of punishment for those who have committed a crime but that has not always been the case. Those who have committed a crime were often beaten, branded, mutilated or even put to death. Prisons are not as old as many may believe and come about because people did not believe in the corporal and capital punishments placed upon people. The Pennsylvania and Auburn systems both incorporated similar aspects but have many distinct features separating them such as their view on isolation. Prison labor has changed over the years and it can help cut costs.




Barnes, H. E. (1921). The Historical Origin of the Prison System in America. Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, 12(1), 35-60. Retrieved May 8, 2015, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1133652?ref=no-x-route:ed4b290f20ea7490acdfc081b09cdbd2


Lynch, J. (2011). History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website. Retrieved from http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Summer11/prison.cfm


Seiter, R. P. (2011). Corrections: An introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.


Whyte, A., & Baker, J. (2000, May 8). World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/05/pris-m08.html

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