History of American Corrections

Date: Nov 23, 2018


In the modern society, corrections are so widely accepted that they are considered as a crucial part of criminal justice; thus, most people do not imagine the society without them. The history of corrections is based on both the best intentions and the most awful abuses. From the beginning, corrections were introduced to decrease the amount of criminals in the city or to monitor, control, and shape their behavior. In addition, corrections prevent coercive or more violent responses to such groups of the community. In this regard, the history of American corrections should be specifically emphasized in order to trace the way of the formation of the USA correctional facilities and their development.

King Henry II - the Father of the Common Law

Correctional facilities are an integral part of the modern common law abidance. King Henry II was a founder of the English common law. The ancient meaning of this expression assumes that there is a royal law common for all members of the society. Moreover, the common law developed in most English-speaking countries, including the USA, means the indigenous set of precedents, principles, and procedures. Legal initiatives of Henry II are based on the system of common law. The King had to provide and maintain the ideal of the common law in its initial sense, and he was successful in this practice because the royal monopoly of justice was extended to almost all serious criminal violations of that time. However, the solutions suggested by the King and his assistants in the 12th century were rather efficient; therefore, they allowed the development of the common law in its second meaning, namely, the law system (Roth, 2011).

King Henry II has succeeded in his legal innovations due to his desire to determine and defend royal rights. An important part of the established royal power were the obligations of vassalage and feudal service. Henry provided taxing fiefs in order to support and increase the troops. Later, he obligated every free man to have a certain weapon to be used in the King's service. Thus, Henry II managed to exploit all free people (Roth, 2011).

The King was rather respected and became successful due to his policy of landowners defense. Henry II and his councils developed a number of standard legal procedures, which granted a certain security to free tenants. Various possessory writs and the Grand assize were the innovation in the solutions of the upper-class disputes over the lands. Moreover, the King administered juries, which served as the main device of his legal system. He actively involved them into the reformation of his criminal justice system ("A history of corrections," n.d.).

Despite all innovations, there was an opinion that Henry lost the control over the crimes, which were widely spread in the aftermath of the Civil War, because the amount of bandits, goons, and other criminals was increasing rapidly. In fact, the king did not replace existing regulations, but tried to supplement them in order to make justice more efficient. He introduced grand juries, which are still present in the United States, indict and sentence defendants. Convict persons were tried by ordeal, and criminal defendants, who were found guilty, were mutilated or hung according to the law (Roth, 2011).

Henry provided juries with the right to detect bad persons and condemn them to the ordeal or force them to leave the country. This was the first step to change juries to a body that had a right to decide whether the person is guilty or not. Currently, juries are considered as a demonstration of democracy. There is a significant contract between the Anglo-American juries and the juries of the Roman law tradition. Thus, King Henry II developed a number of criminal law measures, which became the basis of modern American criminal justice system (Clear, Reisig, & Cole, 2012).

History and Structure of the U.S. Criminal Justice System

The modern criminal justice system of the USA consists of three parts, including the law enforcement, courts, and corrections. These three components have historic origin in the English law. For example, it is know that the modern law enforcement traces its formation from the English King Alfred the Great. During the period of his government, in the seventh century, families, which swore their allegiance to the King, formed patrols in their districts and appointed an official who was mandated to administer them. Later, these officials were called "sheriffs" ("History of the American criminal justice system," 2013)

  • Plagiarism and QA report
  • Professionally-qualified writing experts
  • Top-quality, at a great price - guaranteed
  • Commitment to deliver papers by deadline
  • No limit of revisions a customer can request

Further, the early colonists of New England appointed sheriffs for ensuring common peace and safety. Thus, by 1700, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston adopted night shifts, and the first patrol areas appeared in Philadelphia. The later industrialization and population growth led to the development of the local municipal police departments. However, the old sheriff system still exists in most districts nowadays. Both sheriffs and police departments perform similar functions ("A history of corrections," n.d.).

Pre-Revolutionary American courts were organized according to the basic laws of Great Britain. One of the major reasons for rebellion was the fact that colonists did not have the same rights as Englishmen in some cases. In 1787, the U.S. court system was founded based on the American Constitution. The criminal justice included two Constitutional Amendments, namely, the Sixth and the Eighth Amendments. According to the Sixth Amendment, defendants should be informed about their rights in courts. Juries define the facts in trials, assure the reliability of sworn testimonies, and decide whether the defendants are guilty ("History of the American criminal justice system," 2013).

The formation of modern correction system in the USA was preceded by the British penal system operating during Colonial times and performing the acts of punishment and execution. In the 1800s, the imprisonment of the criminals became more spread than whipping, pillorying, or their execution. Nevertheless, the measures of the criminals' punishment were reformed. Penitentiaries applied to the prisoners could work and conduct their repentance and were influenced by the Quaker thought ("A history of corrections," n.d.).

In the late 1800s, reformers changed penitentiaries to the establishments, where the criminals were subject to their deterrence and rehabilitation. The majority of existing penitentiaries became reformatories. At that time, it was suggested that the prisoners could be treated according to their criminal behavior by means of wearing striped uniforms and abidance of total silence. Modern criminal justice programs are concentrated on the rehabilitation of criminals, which will be ultimately released. Nowadays, corrections provide imprisoned persons with various rehabilitation services, including housing assistance or job training, as they near the dates of their release ("History of the American criminal justice system," 2013).

The Development of American Correctional Theory

Nowadays, the community has adopted certain visions concerning the aspects of the corrections. These rival perspectives are called the theories of corrections, which include three main components. The reference to the purpose of the corrections is the first component. This implies that each correction should be directed either to reforming and helping the prisoners or just emphasize inflicting pain and restraining them. Secondly, each theory is based on the explicit or implicit blueprint concerning possible operations of the corrections, including practices, polices, and organizational structure. Finally, corrections should claim their effectiveness (Cullen, 2010).

The dynamic social and political contexts have considerably changed the theory of the American correctional system. In the early 1900s, during the Progressive Era, the rehabilitation theory has emerged and formed the American corrections according to its perspectives until the 1960s. However, the social mass unrests occurring in the sixties have sharply criticized the therapeutic vision of the corrections and changed the corrections to the establishments, where the offenders were punished. In the 1980s, during the governance of President R. Reagan, the conservative times established a receptive context of the vision and perception of the offenders as extremely dangerous predators, which should be terminally imprisoned (Cullen, 2010).

Thus, it becomes obvious that the social context plays a decisive role in the formation of the imprisonment ideas. The experience of the community influences its world perception changing common correctional theories. Moreover, the theory and policy of the correction system are also changed because the majority of correctional ideologies were based on the common sense generated from the personal experience rather than on the hard empirical evidences. Such approach led to the ineffective correctional interventions worsening the prisoners. In medicine, there is a term "quackery" meaning any interventions without scientific supplementation. Today, correctional quackery is a widely spread phenomenon, which is a serious challenge for those who want to improve the corrections for both prisoners' and public safety (Clear, Reisig, & Cole, 2012).

Nowadays, there exist several correctional theories, for example, utilitarian and non-utilitarian ones. According to the non-utilitarian theory, the offender deserves punishment or pain because breaking the law was chosen due to his own will. However, utilitarian theory is based not only on seeking any sanctions for the criminals, but also on another purpose, namely crime reduction. This theory also assumes that people harming others should be punished equally (Carlson & Garrett, 2013).

Deterrence theory suggests that the criminal should be punished in such a measure that the next time he could evaluate the punishment and stop committing crimes. In addition, this theory is aimed at showing other people what happens to the criminals in order they could decide by themselves whether to commit the crime. The deterrence theory matches only a particular kind of corrections since its main idea is to punish the crime, not the criminal. There is another theory, namely early intervention, which is aimed at involve those children, who are most likely to have the criminal future, into preventing programs. The main idea of this correctional theory is to prevent what can be prevented (Cullen, 2010).

History of the American Correctional Practice

Among all American correctional institutions, the jails appeared long ago in the United States. However, there is the least information available on this kind of corrections. Being the place of incarceration of the defendant prior to the trail processes, jails existed in the earliest forms of government. Although there are not any records saved to date, archeological excavations showed that the first jails were mainly represented by gloomy caves, unscalable pits, ramshackle cages of timber, and strong trees or poles to which the prisoners were tied. In the Medieval period, the prisoners were incarcerated in various settings, including fortress precipices and dungeons outside settlement gates, high castle walls, and bridge abutments, as well as humid cellars of private and municipal buildings. The intense system of the insurmountable security was the common feature of all these jails (Clear, Reisig, & Cole, 2012).

Buy history essay

The history of the American corrections is tightly interweaved with the traditions and laws of the Anglo-Saxon society that has introduced to the USA the majority of its social institutions. Therefore, modern American correctional establishments have the organizational structure similar to the jails of the tenth century, the main purpose of which was to detain persons waiting for trial processes and the convicted ones waiting for punishment. In addition, modern corrections include the features of the correctional houses of the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, which were used for the detention and punishment of minor criminals, such as beggars, debtors, prostitutes, and vagrants. At the beginning, the corrections had a wide range of functions and included punishment, custody, and coercion. In the late eighth century AD, Alfred the Great introduced the written laws, which marked the beginning for realization of the punitive functions of the corrections. Historians detected the creation of the modern prisons prototype in the local governmental establishments in the English-speaking states in 1166, after the order of English King Henry II to construct houses of correction in his kingdom (Carlson & Garrett, 2013).

The creation of the county sheriff's office coincided with the active development of the jails. The main sheriff's functions were to represent the king in the counties or shires in the local government matters. His duties included ensuring peace in the administered counties and monitoring rotation of the king's revenues. In other words, he was obliged to collect all rents along with any fines determined by the courts. Being a county chief executive officer, sheriff was endued with the position of the jailer and had a right to supervise suspected and arrested criminals, thus managing the local jail. The maintenance and construction of correctional establishments were under the sheriff's responsibility. Sheriffs usually worked on the contract basis, without any salary, but received waged from the prisoners' own funds according to their offence degree and social status (Johnson, 2005).

American colonists brought their native institutions and customs to the United States. Due to their interaction with the native American society at that time, the system of the county government was established, the first prisons were constructed, and local sheriffs were appointed and empowered to ensure the peace and control the local corrections. The first records about the correctional institutions in the United States referred to prerevolutionary Boston, in which the construction of the people pen started in 1632. The historical stability of these first establishments can be traced in the fact that they remain actual nowadays, and their form prevails in the majority of modern local law enforcement and state corrections (Johnson, 2005).

Corrections had kept their limited functions in the colonies by the eighteenth century. They locked offenders waiting for a trial, when there was a risk that the prisoners could escape. In addition, those offenders who were waiting for a sentence and were unable to pay their contract debts were also imprisoned in these jails. Nevertheless, corrections detained offenders for their correction or punishment on rare occasions. Initially, the prisons only eased the criminal punishment processes, although they were not represented as a tool for discipline. During that period, the prevailing form of punishment was corporal, physical mutilation, death, whipping, and branding decreed for the serious crimes. Lesser crimes were accompanied with such kinds of punishment as public humiliation and ridicule, efficiently conducted at the pillories, stocks, ducking stool, or in the public cages. The wide range of punishments also involved public whippings, banishments, fines, or their various combination ("Jails - historical perspective," 2014).

In the nineteenth century, the criminal justice practice of the eighteenth century could not survive any longer. The Quakers of the colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the first who responded against cruel British criminal laws and practices. They tried to eliminate the pillory, stocks, gallows, and the branding iron, as well as the imprisonment for the death penalty and corporal punishment. After the colonists became independent from England, they encouraged the Quakers' leadership through the rejection of old punitive regulations and the rapid change of their criminal codes. The newly adopted laws reflected classical philosophy of law of the Enlightenment and based on the recommendations of such famous social philosophers as Jeremy Bentham, Cesare Beccaria, Samuel Romilly, and others. Consequently, the amount of crimes punished by death penalty was essentially decreased, and the prevailing form of punishment for the majority of the committed crimes was the usual imprisonment or a penalty charge (Carlson & Garrett, 2013).

The implementation of new laws required the invention of new institutions. At that time, several states began the invention of penal facilities for imprisonment of serious criminals, thus inventing the modern type of corrections. Nevertheless, insignificant offenders were incarcerated in the existing correctional establishments, which increasingly became the location of the vagrants, beggars, debtors, mentally ill, promiscuous, and untried persons. Therefore, the American jails preceded modern correctional system, but they received their unique character in consequence of a large movement of the penal and legal reforms ("Jails - historical perspective," 2014).

However, in the sixteenth century, the local governmental bodies of England developed penal institutions, including various types, such as houses of corrections, workhouses, and reformatories. They were used to punish the persons who committed political or religious crimes by means of their incarceration. Moreover, they served as a substitution of the corporal punishment for public drunkenness, vagrancy, juvenile, and delinquency prostitution. By the middle of the eighteenth century, these establishments had been merged with the local correctional houses. By 1748, American colonists had made attempts to build workhouses for the imprisonment and punishment of vagabonds, rogues, and minor criminals. However, the practice to use the workhouses for the punishment of offenders failed because only few of the existing corrections provided investments for their construction, while those, which were built, unified with the existing poorhouses. Consequently, these establishments are classified as predecessors of modern American corrections rather than first-hand ancestors of the county prisons (Johnson, 2005).

Buy essay now

Only at the beginning of the nineteenth century, American corrections assumed their combined function of correction and detention of criminals, and only some aspects changed from that time concerning the variations of their clientele. within addition to the growth of cities, the consequent development of the city law enforcement bodies leads to the creation of the new kind of jails, namely the city jails. Their purposes changed over the time from the place for the temporary police detention into the institution for trial purposes and interrogations. The city jails passed under administration of law enforcement agencies and changed to full-scaled jails serving both sentenced and detainee persons, being a part of the general U.S. system of corrections ("Jails - historical perspective," 2014).


Considering abovementioned information, during the history, people remained rather inventive regarding development of punishment measures and ways of people detention. Consequently, humanity invented the corrections, which permeated the attempts to improve means of deterrence and the reform. In the course of time, those offenders, who possessed more means, were less sentenced and punished severely. The King Henry II, Beccaria, William Penn, John Howard, and others were especially influential in changing modern perception and ideas about punishment, crime, and corrections. Many ancient English versions of the prisons were similar in their mission and operation corresponding to the earliest corrections of the United States. Numerous correctional reforms conducted to increase the humane treatment of the prisoners and their secure control, which caused unintended consequences. Nevertheless, all the changes and reformations of the early American prisons conferred to the modern correctional systems those feature they possess today.

Views: 0