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Modern Criminal Justice - Treatment Or Punishment

prisons prison inmates conditions

Through the years the public has shifted back and forth on how to treat adult prison inmates. From 1890 to 1930 prisons put inmates to work manufacturing various items, like military clothing for World War I. Major industrial prisons included Sing Sing in New York, San Quentin in California, and the Illinois State Penitentiary. In the South chain gangs (convicts chained together to do heavy labor outside the prison) worked on public road projects. In addition to jobs, prisons also provided education, use of a prison library, outdoor recreation, and the opportunity to learn various trades.

Businesses located near prisons often complained of unfair competition from prison factories. Labor unions protested that the low wages paid to inmates caused wages outside prison walls to decline as well.

During the economic crash of the Great Depression in the 1930s, prisons decreased certain operations as the demand for goods dropped sharply. Responding to business, labor, and changing economic conditions, Congress passed the Ashurst-Summers Act in 1935 prohibiting the interstate or state-to-state transportation of goods produced in prisons. Most states soon followed and passed similar laws prohibiting the sale of prison-made goods within their states.

During the 1930s prisons focused more on strict discipline and punishment rather than treatment. Violence and riots within the prisons resulted from these harsher conditions. In response the prisons turned back to the Wickersham Commission recommendations. They categorized inmates according to their level of security risk and placed less serious offenders in prison farms and forest camps. They also returned to programs of education and vocational training as well as rehabilitation programs. Focus on treatment more than punishment again became the preferred approach toward inmates. Prisoners began receiving individualized rehabilitation plans.

Before long, prison life changed once more. The rising crime rate through the 1960s and 1970s led again to a "get tough" approach on crime. Treatment approaches ended and tougher prison conditions resulted.

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