Gordon Crews and Wayne Gillespie
Prior to the American Revolution, things were not much different in the colonies than in England. For the most part, corrections amounted to humiliations, severe corporal punishments, and executions. However, the alternative of long-term confinement at hard labor, in place of the traditional punishments, did start again just before the Revolution. It is reported by the Connecticut Historical Commission in Hartford, Connecticut, that the New Gate Prison at East Granby was opened in 1773. After the Revolution, it became the first state prison in the United States. It was built over an old copper mine, and prisoners were housed in spurs off of the vertical mine shaft. Their “hard labor” was largely busywork, since the mine had played out some years earlier. Although it was claimed to be an advancement over the brutalities of corporal and capital punishment, the living and working conditions were so miserable that its operation was plagued by inmate riots, and it was closed in 1825.
The real beginning of the American prison movement came in Pennsylvania, and it was mainly, but not exclusively, through the efforts of the Quakers. It was here that the progressive, humanitarian ideas of persons such as John Howard and Elizabeth Fry were forged, over a period of some forty years (1788-1829), into a major public policy for criminal corrections—the philosophy and practice of reformation.
The basic assumptions of reformation were that (1) human beings are fundamentally good, harmonious, and productive; (2) criminal behavior is