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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

In a democratic society one of the greatest powers a government has over its citizens is the right to punish them for breaking its laws. The gravity of this power is heightened when the punishment involves imprisonment or capital punishment. While punishment obviously is administered to the convicted, it has significant symbolic effects on the wider law-abiding population as well. In colonial and early America, before imprisonment was the primary mode of punishment, corporal and capital punishment were public spectacles. The methods of punishment were meant to "fit the crimes" of the offenders and were also intended as warnings and admonishment to the citizenry who watched.

Representations of punishments were also common in public buildings and in popular culture. Broadsides advertised public punishments and executions, and often featured gruesome representations and moralizing texts. An eighteenth-century document emphasizes the symbolic nature of the punishment of counterfeiters in Charleston who were sentenced to one hour in the pillory, to have one of their ears cut off, and to be whipped twenty times at the public whipping post. The poem accompanying an engraving of the scene of punishment indicates that the public spectacle is meant both to humiliate the convicted and warn the onlookers. The text speaks of the desire of self-righteous spectators to further punish the prisoners by throwing eggs and stones and hurling insults. Yet it warns as it explains a symbolic aspect of the punishment:

"But pray consider what you do While thus expos'd to public view. Justice has often done its part, And made the guilty rebels smart; But they went on did still rebel, And seem'd to storm the gates of hell. To no good counsel would they hear; But now each one must loose an car, And they although against their will Are forc'd to chew this bitter pil; And this day brings the villains hence To suffer for their late offence; They on th'Pillory stand in view: A warning sirs to me and you!"

"From their disgrace, now warning take, And never do your ruin make By stealing, or unlawful ways; (If you would live out all your days) But keep secure from theft and Pride; Strive to have virtue on your side. Despise the harlots flattering airs, And hate her ways, avoid her snares; Keep clear from Sin of every kind, And then you'll have true peace of Mind."

As reforms took hold in Europe, the American justice system often followed suit, although, as many images attest, the symbolic and public aspects of punishment still prevailed. Executions were carried out by means such as hanging, firing squads, burning at the stake, and crushing for serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, and kidnapping, and sometimes for morals offenses such as idolatry, witchcraft, blasphemy, and adultery. Mutilation, branding, and whipping, which left scars on the bodies of criminals, were permanent symbols of the wrath of justice. Lesser crimes were punished by public humiliation. Towns maintained stocks and pillories in public gathering places. Gossips, thieves, and other petty criminals were exposed to ridicule and stares.

As confinement became the dominant mode of punishment in the United States, prisoners were moved out of the public eye, and prison architecture was designed to be symbolic of American society s attitude toward crime and punishment. The concept of the necessary "terror of punishment" influenced prison architects for decades. Jails and proto-prisons in colonial America were modeled on the workhouses and prisons of England. Inmates of both sexes, sometimes even children, who were convicted of a range of offenscs, were thrown together in overcrowded rooms. In 1775, Connecticut established a prison in Simsbury in an abandoned copper mine. Conditions were abominable; prisoners were chained in crowded underground cages. America's first prison structure was Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail. It was arguably the worlds first penitentiary because incarceration was the means of punishment. There was a rudimentary system of classification and individual cells, which were intended as places for penance.

Prison reformers like William Penn and Benjamin Rush influenced changes in prisons that reflected their attitude that incarceration should bring about the reform of the convicted. Pennsylvania's Newgate prison, established under the influence of Penn's reforms, was the prototype of the modern penitentiary, whose philosophy was that criminals were redeemable and could be reformed. Architects often employed European building styles, such as fortress-like medieval turrets, to create a sense of imposing surveillance upon the prisoners.

As different attitudes about incarceration and prisons emerged, prison architecture changed. In the nineteenth century, many law-enforcement officials believed that solitary confinement was the most conducive method for reforming offenders and preventing recidivism. They reasoned that time alone would enable convicts to reflect on their misdeeds and pray for redemption, and that less exposure to other inmates, who could encourage more criminal and anti-social behavior, was essential to forming new attitudes. These "Separate System" prisons featured cellblocks that radiated from a central point like spokes of a wheel. At the same time, another philosophy of incarceration competed with the Separate System. This was known as the Congregate or Auburn system because it was first implemented at the prison in Auburn, New York. Because prisoners spent only the evening hours in their cells, individual accommodations were much smaller than those of the Separate System. Groups of inmates together posed disciplinary problems, so Auburn-style penitentiaries imposed strict measures to maintain control, including striped uniforms for inmates. Architecturally the Auburn prisons were very different from the Separate System buildings. Cellblocks were grouped in long, multitiered rows of double cells. Surrounded by a corridor or range—entirely enclosed within a larger building—cells did not have exterior walls. Congregate System architecture tended to be on a grand scale. Fortress-like walls and Gothic styling provided security and also made a significant symbolic statement about the authority of the state.

A third prison style was the Panopticon design, originated by the British scholar and philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1791. Bentham reasoned that his design could improve security and enhance the goal of the penitentiary—moral reflection and reform. The Panopticon model featured multiple levels of outside cells facing onto an interior courtyard or well that housed a guard s station. Since every cell was visible from a central vantage point, inmates, knowing they were constantly watched, were supposed to become more self-reflective and to internalize better behavior. Prison officials could also broadcast various religious and self-improvement messages to an entire cellblock at once. A number of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American prisons were built according to this model.

In the late twentieth century, law enforcement officials and prison architects at once moved toward the future and returned to the past. To increase security and efficiency in an increasingly crowded prison system, designers and architects employed advanced technology to monitor and control prisoners. At the same time, in a "get tough on crime" political climate, legislators, judges, prosecutors, and members of the general public suggested measures that would symbolically return inmates to earlier, less "criminal-friendly" times. These proposals included hard labor, striped uniforms to publicly humiliate inmates, corporal punishment, increasingly harsher sentences, and wider application of capital punishment.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall.com Online Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

Shopping Mall: Law and Legal Services get attorney advice, search, law firm, legal law advice Forms, law, power of attorney, Legal service, Free legal Forms, legal advice, legal, aid, legal document, prepaid legal, help, information

Law Topics: Preapaid Legal Services, Law, Legal, Attorney, Advice, Law Firm, Search, attorneys, Legal Terms, Free legal documents, attorney, lawyer, lawyers, power of attorneys durable, forms