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Gustave de Beaumont

The Prison Report

Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville coauthored a volume on prison reform entitled On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France. Published in 1833, it covered their research of American penal systems conducted from May 1831 through February 1832. The report written by Beaumont and Tocqueville observed that while some American penitentiaries in their study could serve as models for other countries to copy, some were models of everything that should be avoided.

The two facilities Beaumont and Tocqueville studied most thoroughly were the Cherry Hill Prison in Philadelphia and the Auburn Prison in New York. They found three distinct differences that set them apart from older American prisons and from European prisons. First, isolation was used in order to keep prisoners from corrupting each other. Secondly, work was provided for inmates throughout their jail time. Lastly, an attempt was made by authorities to reform prisoners both morally and spiritually.

They reported that nine states had adopted new systems and the other fifteen still used the old systems. The old systems were overcrowded and unhealthy with many escapes and deaths recorded. Of those states using the new systems, most followed Auburn, which showed some evidence of changing criminals. At Auburn isolation was enforced by forbidding inmates to talk to one another even while working together during the day. At night, each inmate was locked in a separate cell to avoid communication.

Beaumont carried several notebooks to record the journey in sketches. The first album was a rough sketchbook done in pencil to record his first impression of the people and places he saw. The second album was produced in pen and ink, reproducing the pencil sketches in more elaborate detail for the report.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawGustave de Beaumont - French Aristocracy, Political Play, Coming To America, The Prison Report, Political Disappointment