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There are numerous ways one is able to assess the changes in man’s use of corrections from ancient Greece, to our present day. Jim Finckenauer, a professor at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, shared his observation for how the history of the United States is better explained as a failed panaceas in saying correctional programs that promised far more “crime control” than they could possibly deliver (Bryne & Brewster 1993). In 1960’s and 1970’s, the United States believed that using treatments (thearapy/conditioning) could reduce the increasing number in crime. The method of correction instead of imprisonment were institutional and community-based rehabilitation programs, used, and evaluated to see how they handled the criminals during those times. It was discovered that these programs weren’t as effective as the government would have liked them to be.
The lawmakers at that time decided that instead of focusing on rehabilitation methods for correction, the policies were to be shifted to further support a punishment aspect (Bryne & Brewster 1993). One of the biggest upsets in the history of United State corrections is during the 1970’s was when the “War” on drugs started by hand of President Richard Nixon. He is coined for getting Congress to declare drug abuse “public enemy number one”. During this time people were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at numbers much higher than any other time in the history of corrections. The results were upsurges in prison and jail inhabitants, correctional crowding, and correctional budgets by the end of the decade (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1993).
These types of correctional methods are far different from how punishment was back in Late Antique. Instead of indefinite containment, antique prisons served as holding cells for prisoners to sit until their sentence was over; cells were used much differently.
Individuals who has power intended these prisons to serve as a half-way house for those who were awaiting trial, or the destined guilty that were awaiting their death (Olsen 2008). Not only was the purpose of prison being unlike to those of present day, there were also vast differences in how the prisoners felt while spending time locked up. Christianity was seen as one of the ways prisoners could get seclusion and reflect, grow spiritually (Olsen 2008). Time was spent in prisons reflecting and looking inward; those who practiced religion felt it was a good place to prepare for the transition into the next world (death).
Not all prisoners felt this way about being locked up though. Most reflections throughout history recall the horrible conditions for living. There are several recollections throughout philosopher’s writings that recall the less than satisfactory conditions. The comparison to present day prisons, the living conditions have improved, sanitary wise, as well as what is consumed daily.
Reflecting into colonial times during the eighteenth century, punishment and crimes were the big differentiator during this time. There was a significant increase in the number of crimes that were classified as capital offences. The types of crimes marked as capital offenses, though, wasn’t nearly as bad as a century later in England.
England was experiencing between two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred crimes listed as capital; Corporal punishment said to be “milder” than death was used rather than incarceration (Olsen 2008). To those in charge of controlling the crime and uproars from communities within society, corporal punishment was the best method at hand. It seems resources for building prisons and correctional facilities weren’t as easy to build from the ground up. Instead of investing time to make holding cells for prisoners, some examples of corporal punishment used include: mutilating, branding confinement in the stocks or pillory, whipping and “ducking” (Barnes 1921). These punishments were most popular during the colonial times. Centuries ago crimes were in the process of being created. Not only were these laws being written from scratch, there wasn’t as much experience to base these control methods off. Before technology and having an extensive record of history written through pages upon pages – our ancestors back to the ancient Greek days were making up rules and history based on the knowledge they held in their own actions.
Quaker codes were one of the methods of correction throughout the colonies used mainly in West Jersey and Pennsylvania. By the Quaker code, it was said that only treason and murder were capital offences, and in the latter of murder alone was the crime that punishable by death (Barnes 1921). “It is probable that the influence of these Quaker laws and theories did more than anything else to promote that movement for the liberalizing and humanizing of the criminal codes in this country, which began immediately after the Revolution and spread from Philadelphia throughout the states” (Barnes 1921).
The idea that prisons were used to hold prisoners in captivity rather than a use of holding cell can be seen through physical history left behind from the Roman era. “In Athens, prison remains consisted of “eight cells and a courtyard” (Olsen 2008). It is said to be more open, and that there are multiple parts of the system to include “the outer, more open area and “an inner (or deeper) [prison]…in which the accused might be shut up in darkness…” (Olsen 2008). The conditions of a prison in Southern Italy from 539 and 540 CE are described as: “a deep underground dungeon, no larger than a nine-couch room, dark and noisome from the large numbers committed to the place, who were men under condemnation on capital charges” (Olsen 2008). This type of prison is called the inner prison, which is also referred to as “a dark hole”. Some of the conditions faced were that the prison were for suffering in the darkness and must be kept in good health only by the enjoyment of light during dawn. “He shall forthwith be led out into the common light of day that he may not perish from the torments of prison, a fate which is considered pitiable for the innocent but not sever enough for the guilty” (Olsen 2008). The different between being placed in the inner versus outer prison was based upon if the prisoner had been condemned or accused at the point of incarceration.
It wasn’t until the late 4th century that prisoners’ rights were starting to become a part of the entire judicial system. By the 5th century, there was involvement of bishops by how the conditions inside the prisons were maintained – giving a guarantee to the humane treatment of those incarcerated. Roman politicians were also a part of using prisons as a halfway house in finding where their final stop was in the judicial process. It was a preventative measure to make sure that justice was served – though it varied based upon social status and how extreme the crime was that occurred. Because of how inconvenient the entire judicial process was in charging someone for a crime, prisons continued to stay away from the idea that they were used for permanent imprisonment until the past few decades.
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