Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary Photographer: Jake Dobkin at Bluejake Licensed under a Creative Commons License

This evening ABC Radios PM aired a Current Affairs Special on Eastern State Penitentiary a former American Prison that become a Model for hundreds of Prisons around the world, including Melbourne's Pentridge Prison.
Built in Philadelphia in 1829, the prison was seen as revolutionary as it introduced the idea of the Prison as a place of reform rather than punishment.

Philadelphia was influenced by the Quaker tradition, and the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons decided that the best way to encourage repentance was to isolate prisoners with labour, hence the term Penitentiary. So although Eastern State introduced amenities such as running water and central heating, its whole design was based on the notion of solitary confinement. The prison became world famous and about 300 copies of the prison were made worldwide.

Charles Dickens, one of the initial supporters of this new prison, changed his mind after visiting the prison, writing;

"I held this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body, and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear, therefore I the more denounce it as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay."

Eastern State did not abandon solitary confinement until 1913 and the prison finally closed in 1970.
The website for Eastern State Prison can be found here and a history of the prison here.

Nothing to do with Eastern State but these photographs of inmates of the Arkansas State Prison 1915-1937 found and printed by Bruce Jackson are powerfull images. There is no information about these nameless prisoners except their assigned prison number. The viewer is left to wonder at the stories that could be told about their situation.




Anonymous said...

It makes me sad that America has sown the seeds of it's own corruption by abandoning the concepts adn practices of Eastern State. I'm sure we could build a proper prison if only we would return to rational thought on what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment". Most of islamic practice is sheer murderous intolerance, but they definitely have a solid grasp on justice.

cucina testa rossa said...

what powerful pictures!

Anonymous said...

Your article is very informative and helped me further.

Thanks, David