Society's desire to control criminal behavior has always been the basis for the establishment and perpetuation of carceral systems the world over. How those systems operate, and the extent to which they are successful, has been of much concern and debate for sociologists, psychologists, criminologists, and the general public, especially in the western world. In America, the establishment of the current penitentiary form of incarceration can be traced to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as the fledgling country sought to separate itself from its historical and political ties to England and the European continent.
Indeed, the American penal reform movement is at least as old as the country. At the time of the Revolution, the main societal controls designed to control and punish criminal activities in use in the colonies were those that had historically been in use in England since at least the sixteenth century: the gallows, whipping post, stocks, and pillory. According to Pillsbury (1989), these structures "had stood at the center of American towns and villages throughout the colonial era [and] were massive structures, built in urban and rural areas, designed for the collective incarceration and reform of a region's criminals" (p. 729).
The establishment of the first penitentiaries paralleled the birth of the new nation in the period between 1790 and 1815, and resulted from a legislative shift away from mere corporal punishment to incarceration as the principal form of punishing offenders. America was envisioned as a nation of virtue . . . and the citizenry found the traditional penal methods ineffective at maintaining a virtuous society. But as Pillsbury (1989) observes, the penal system which replaced the stocks and pillory "ensured that the penitentiary was a place, not of benevolent rehabilitation, but of often brutal repression" (p. 730).
Yet prisons and prison reforms have never fully ac...