A fleeting History of Prisons

A fleeting History of Prisons

Prisons systems serve an important role in ensuring citizens of their right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, by imprisoning those in society that have behavioral problems. Prisons also protect those who break the law from mob rule, also sometimes called mob justice. Clearly, this makes prisons an indispensable fixture of our society.

Prior to the reform movement there were not prisons in America as we traditionally think of them today. Most criminals were punished by lashings, whipping, execution, or other forms of frontier justice. In my opinion, this kind of “justice” violated a persons Fifth Amendment rights.

Reformers were the first in this country to argue in favor of institutions for those with mental or behavioral problems. A consequence of those efforts was a growing and thriving prison system in America during the 1800’s. Mark C. Carnes and John A. Garraty state in their book, The American Nation, that the motivating spirit of the founders of these places was humane treatment of prisoners. These founders also championed the benefits of prisons, and other like institutions to both the occupants of the institution and society as a whole.

While many of the early prisons were anything but humane, the idea of centralized prisons was correct in my opinion. I think criminals have to be removed from society both as a method of punishing the criminal, in addition to protecting society from further acts of criminality.

American prisons have themselves been reformed many times throughout history to help make them better at housing inmates, rehabilitating inmates, and trying to rid prisons of corruption. While there is nevertheless room for improvement based on reports and studies conducted into prisoner abuse, financial abuse, etc, overall in my opinion prisons serve a vital role in helping to keep America safe.

(c) 2006, Marcus Barber

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