Prison and Asylum Reform in the 19th Century

In early American society, criminals that were held by our government we executed, whipped, and held in a dark cell for a short amount of time. The insane wandered around as a danger to themselves and people around them; and the churches caer took the poor. In the 1820s and 1830s there was a growing number of criminals, lunatics, and the poor people. Reformers wanted to establish an official institute for them. The reformers believed that reform and rehabilitation was possible in a controlled environment. The reformers had a few goals that they wanted to establish. They wanted more separation; the mentally ill children should not be held together with the convicts. They also wanted better prison grounds with better conditions. They wanted the abuse to be reduced; no more whipping and other forms of torture.

They wanted change. Dorothea Dix was a Sunday school teacher at the East Cambridge jail. There, she was exposed to the horrible conditions these people had to live with such as no heat, no separation between the criminals, the children and the mentally ill. Dorothea was horrified by this and secured a court order to make improvements. She wondered about other jails in Massachusetts; so she traveled and the conditions were worse. She was so disturbed by what she saw she set out to reform prisons and asylums everywhere. Dorothea was a major factor in the reform. She helped cause awareness to the serious matter and she was responsible for the building of hospitals for the insane. In 1835 The United States had two of the best prisons in Pennsylvania. The two prisons were a product of the on going reform and were both a success. New York and Pennsylvania had the best prisons because they experimented with solitary confinement, where the criminal could reflect on their sins and not be influenced by other inmates.

Dorothea Dix, in March of 1841, taught a Sunday class for woman at the East Cambridge Jail. This shows that she thinks that even if people are in jail or prison, that they are still people but just need to be world with. The question we are looking for is if prisons were meant for punishment or to help make these people better people for the future; future was a big question at that time. All in all, most of these reformers’ goals were met. They wanted change and they got it. They believed in something so much with such passion that they actually changed American history; and that is why American justice system is one of the best.

What do you think?

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