I will speak specifically to the history of imprisonment in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Prior to the end of the Civil War, prisons in the United States were not large-scale institutions. Prisons were created in the United States as a means of punishment that emphasized isolation and confinement, contrasting with physical torture and public punishment. Of course, confinement and isolation can be considered forms of torture on their own, and physical abuse in prisons still ran rampant. The prisons were designed to pacify prisoners and force them to submit to God in their solitude.
However, after the Civil War, the growth of prisons rose dramatically. For example, prior to the Civil War, the state of Georgia imprisoned roughly forty people per year. By 1910, that number was over 1,000. Nationally, the prison population quadrupled between 1880 and 1910. This massive spike in prison population is significantly attributed to the incarceration of black people directly after emancipation. Jim Crow laws allowed white vigilantes and officials to attack, incarcerate, and kill black people for just about any perceived crime. In an attempt to re-enslave black people, and to continue to maintain a system of free labor through convict leasing, prisons became absolutely filled with black people, especially black men. By the 1900s, prisons across the nation were filled with mainly black men, as white officials could charge them with anything they wanted to and incarcerate them with impunity.