12 Dec 2022


Principles Of The Eastern (Pennsylvanian) Correction System

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The Pennsylvanian system was among the first prison systems and the same ideology was incorporated for Eastern state penitentiary. The prison’s operations were managed by five general principles all based on a common idea that solitary confinement encourages reformation in prisons. The system originated from an effort to correct disorderliness in prisons where all classes of law offenders were being imprisoned in a common jail under the colonial government. 

A merchant by the name Richard Wistar together with other reformers saw the horrible conditions of the city prison and decided to form and style a movement known as Philadelphia society for assisting stressed out prisoners (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2006). Therefore, the idea of the Pennsylvanian system came with this movement which helped the eastern state penitentiary to apply for the so called separate philosophy which advocated for prisoners to be kept in solitary confinement. Each confinement cell had an exercise yard which was completely enclosed in such a way that there was no contact among prisoners at all. The society later saw to it that solitary penitence was modified to allow prisoners to undertake activities such as shoemaking and weaving. In addition, the society continued to spread the Pennsylvanian system until it finally dominated all the prisons in Europe. 

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Before introduction of the Pennsylvanian system to European prisons, they emphasized on strict discipline, harsh punishments and hard labor. The system however insisted on prisoner rehabilitation based on the first principle which disregarded treating prisoners harshly but instructing them that hard and selective forms of suffering would change their lives. The solitary confinement was a hard and selective form of suffering which helped prisoners to seek to live a better life upon their release.in addition, the Pennsylvanian system proposed that solitary confinement would help prisoners reflect on their misdeeds, pray, read the bible as well as study informative books which would eventually guide them to repentance. This supports the principle that prisoners should reflect on their transgressions and repent. 

Each solitary cell had an exercise yard so prisoners spent days and nights alone eating and working alone at various craft yards (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2006). The prisoners were restricted from having any contact among them and this was punishment enough for them based on the principle that solitary confinement is considered punishment. More so, the system forbade interaction between inmates to avoid negative influences between prisoners. It also helped them to meditate and contemplate on their crimes thus making decisions to reform without influence from other prisoners. This is based on the principle that solitary confinement will prevent further corruption. 

Finally the last principle that solitary confinement is economical is supported by the fact that prisoners taken to solitary were assigned some tasks which would have been assigned to other prison workers instead this cut costs and it was productive for the prisoners because it was considered health since it was expected to prepare inmates for a more successful transition from prison life to living in the society they came from. 

I think the general principles of the Pennsylvanian system were implemented because the Philadelphia society for alleviating the miseries of public prisons argued for the system proving that it would transform the situation in public prisons (Rubin, 2017). The society maintained that the system would facilitate the control of prisoners in public prisons; it also maintained that the system would consider individual needs in public prisons including their health and hard labor, the system would also prevent contamination through contact from other intimates. Moreover, the society maintained that the system would provide a room for mediation and repentance and this was very much valued by the intimates because their main objective was to get better so that they would become better people. The system also promised to secure anonymity for inmates upon their release. 

Arguments made by the Pennsylvanian system supporters were quite accurate and they attracted many people in the justice system and I think that is why the system’s principles were implemented. The system was conducive to control prisoners based on its principles (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2006). For instance, not treating inmates harshly but instructing them that selective forms of suffering could change their lives helped control prisoners in that they were not afraid that they would be beaten up to death. Prisoners were expected to take it positively and reflect on their transgressions. This would therefore improve order in public prisons. 

The system also maintained control in that prisoners were not supposed to make contact with each other thus reducing gang related violence within public prisons. When inmates are left in a huge hall, they are likely to plot murders, drug trafficking and other injustices. However, when they are locked up in solitary confinement each of them focuses on getting better and getting out of prison. 

In addition, the principles were implemented because they aimed at improving the justice system as a whole as well as improving the quality of prison life. The main objective of the five principles is to reform prisons through solitary confinement. The entire justice system wanted a reformation because the prison system was very poor (Rubin, 2017). On the other hand, prisoners were very distressed by torture and mutilations which was the main form of punishment in public prisons. Therefore, any system that suggested replacement of these forms of punishment was highly appreciated by prisoners. I think it was implemented because it was introduced in an era where both law enforcers and the prisoners were really in need of a better system. 

The five general principles of the Pennsylvanian system had many effects of prisoners. First, prisoners were able to reflect on their deeds in solitary confinement and most of them were truly sorry for what they had done. Most prisoners who underwent solitary confinement left prison fully reformed individuals and this was good for their families, for themselves and for the community at large because it reduced crime rate.in addition, prisoners were so used to harsh treatment and mutilations before this system was introduced (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2006). They therefore did not look at solitary confinement as harsh punishment, they took it positively and most of them read the bible and other motivational books during their time in solitary and these highly reformed prisoners. They were more knowledgeable than before and they became more focused to change than before. 

The principles of this system also helped prisoners to build a new set of values because they were expected to work alone, eat alone and pray alone. The fact that they did all these alone without mind corruption from other inmates made them grow spiritually and mentally thus they built their own values and standards. This reformed so many inmates who finally became productive community members upon release. 

However, these principles worked for a short while and other systems took over because Philadelphia’s population was on the rise and so was the criminal element. Jails were soon overcrowded and therefore solitary confinement became an impossible way to transform prisoners. For full repentance to occur according to the system, each prisoner needed to be confined in isolation and this was impossible with overcrowded jails (Rubin, 2017). Eastern state penitentiary gave up on solitary penitence and prisoners began sharing cells, played together and worked in organized teams. 


Clear, T. R., Cole, G. F., & Reisig, M. D. (2006). American corrections. (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. 

Rubin, A. (2017). Pennsylvania Prison System. The Encyclopedia of Corrections

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