Corrections In America Vs. Corrections In Spain

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Corrections in America vs. Corrections in Spain

Prison System in United States

The prison system in the United States may be one of the cleanest and most hygienic in the world, but other conditions are deplorable, and something needs to be done. United States government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, even if they are criminals.

The U.S. prison system has its roots in 17th-century Europe. At that time, countries such as England, the Netherlands and Germany began imprisoning criminals. Previously, most convicted criminals had been subjected instead to some sort of corporal punishment, such as whipping, hanging or beheading. Criminals in England were often deported to that country's colonies around the world (New York Times, 31). Beginning in the late 1600s, people who could not pay off debts and other criminals were often sentenced to stays in prisons. The earliest jails were dark and filthy. Men and women, children and adults, and the sane and insane were thrown together in overcrowded cells. In the 18th century, public outcry for more humane conditions resulted in laws that improved prison sanitation, separated the sexes and kept most children out of prison (Tonry, 67-71).

The English founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, was instrumental in improving the quality of early American prisons. Opposed to capital punishment for religious reasons, Penn in the late 1600s abolished execution for most crimes and substituted imprisonment. In 1789, the Pennsylvania legislature abolished capital punishment, and Philadelphia's Walnut Street Gaol became the first prison in the U.S (Mollins, 34).

In contrast to the Auburn model, a system initiated in 1829 in Pennsylvania emphasized rehabilitation and penitence, from which the word "penitentiary" was derived. Inmates were housed in solitary confinement both day and night with only a Bible. They were expected to contemplate their wrong-doing and conclude that they would lead better lives once they were released. Supporters of the Pennsylvania system described the Auburn system as virtual slavery, while its defenders praised its profit-making potential. Critics of the Pennsylvania system claimed that its enforced solitude often led to madness (Mergenhagen, 36).

U.S. attitudes toward incarceration have swung between those two poles. In the mid-1800s, most states found the profit potential of the New York model appealing. By the end of the century, however, public opinion gradually swung to favor the idea of rehabilitation. The National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline (known today as the American Correctional Association [ACA]) met for the first time in 1870 (McCarthy, 8). It endorsed a program based on the rehabilitation of prisoners. That program soon led to the creation of reformatories for young offenders, and, eventually, of probation, parole, courts for juvenile criminals, community corrections programs and work-release programs (Kilborn, 18).

Another factor in the rise of rehabilitation was the opposition of labor unions, which gained strength at the beginning of the 20th century, to forced prison labor. Culminating in the Ashurst-Sumners Act of 1935, Congress gradually eliminated the market for prison-made goods. Prisoners made idle by the elimination of forced labor were offered rehabilitation programs such as vocational ...
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