Walnut Street Prison (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The Walnut Street Prison was a pioneering effort in prison reform. Originally built as a conventional jail just before the American Revolution, it was expanded in 1790 and hailed as a model of enlightened thinking about criminals. The prison, in fact, was known as a "penitentiary" (from the Latin word for remorse). It was designed to provide a severe environment that left inmates much time for reflection, but it was also designed to be cleaner and safer than past prisons. The Walnut Street Prison was one of the forerunners of an entire school of thought on prison construction and reform.
The prison was built on Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, as a city jail in 1773 to alleviate overcrowding in the existing city jail. Although designed by ROBERT SMITH, Pennsylvania's most prominent architect, the building was a typical U-shaped building, designed to hold groups of prisoners in large rooms. By and large the role of prisons was to incarcerate criminals. There was little regard for their physical well-being, nor were there any attempts to rehabilitate them. Prisons were overcrowded and dirty, and inmates attacked each other regularly. Those who served their sentences came out of prison probably more inclined toward a criminal life than they were before their incarceration.
It was the Quakers of Philadelphia who came up with the concept for what they called a penitentiary place...
(The entire section is 952 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!