Prison Reform

"Making it good for the bad"


Began in the 1820s the prison reform was a social movement in the US for better prison conditions, the punishments for crimes, treatment of the mentally ill and imprisonment for debt. The conditions of the cells were really small and filthy and had a lot of diseases which spread quickly between prisoners. The punishments for small crimes was often as cruel as torture and sometimes as severe as death. The mentally ill had it even worse because they were considered evil simply because their condition and were often whipped, branded and chained in cells. Many things like this got the attention of reformers like Dorothea Dix and William Ladd to improve the conditions of prisons, the treatment of the mentally ill, and just treatments for crimes.


There was many causes that sparked this movement. One of the main events was when Dorothea Dix (who would than become an important reformer in this movement) held a devotional hour for women in 1841 in a Cambridge Jail and saw how mentally ill women were confined in cells with criminals and were chained in dirty, cold cells. Another big cause was the imprisonment for debt. People who owned money were placed horrible debtor prisons were they didn't provide any food, furniture or fuel for the inmates. They were placed in those places and treated like criminals for owning less than a dollar. Another reason that set this movement was the punishments for crimes were very severe. They ranged from death to public whipping to branding for small crimes.


This social movement wanted to accomplish many things, not only for prisoners but also for the mentally ill. They wanted to change the punishments for crimes and punish criminals according to the severity of the crime. The wanted to improve the conditions in the jails, make them a cleaner more humane place. Another big goal in this movement was to get better treatment for the mentally ill and better institutions to help them, like hospitals and asylums. A big milestone was when the government said that a person will only be prosecuted as a criminal if the subject knew right from wrong. (For Example; In 1835 when Richard Lawrence fired upon president Andrew Jackson. He was not prosecuted criminally instead confined to an insane asylum since the court found him to be mentally unstable. Imprisonment for debt was also a big objective in this reform.


Dorothea Dix, a teacher herself won support from famous educators such as Horace Mann and other powerful men such statesman like Charles Sumner. Supporters of this movement began to view crime as a social problem and made it their duty to help criminals find the right path and rehabilitate. These new prisons were called "Reformatories" or "Penitentiaries". They also instituted hard physical labor or solitary consignment as methods of discipline these methods slowly replaced torture and death. Imprisonment for debt was now viewed as irrational because the debtors couldn't pay their debt from inside the prisons, led to the evolution of debtors prisons and the jailing of women and veterans became illegal.
Big image


In 1843 Dix with the help of powerful men like Horace Mann and Charles Sumner confronted the state legislature and persuaded them to fund the bill to expand the Worcester State Hospital for the insane. Only by 1880, Dorothea already had a firm founding in 23 of 123 mental hospitals in America, a 110 increase since 1843. Aside from these initial successes many more goals were accomplish. Like the improvement of prison conditions, more and better facilities to handle certain offenders including the mentally ill.

Key Person: Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was born on the Maine frontier in 1802. After an unhappy childhood, she moved away from home at the age of 12. By the age of 14 she had already opened her first school for young children. For the next 20 years she was an educator and dedicated her life to writing textbooks and poetry for young readers. She is important in this movement because in 1841 while on a visit to the Cambridge prison she discovered the maltreatment of the insane, two years later she presented to the state legislature the horrible conditions in which mentally sick people were held. Led this movement along side with Samuel G. Howe and Horace Mann.

Key Event: Pennsylvania Eastern State Penitentiary (1859)

This was the first new "reformed" prison. Here prisoners were physically isolated from each other. Every prison cell had its own exercise yard, work area, and personal hygiene facilities. This mean prisoners had more space and the cells were not filthy anymore.


This movement can also be linked with the Women's Rights movement due to the fact that a women was a main reformer in it and it shows how women are starting to have more and more voice in society. Other than that, one can also make a connection to the education movement since again Dorothea Dix was a big educator and also big supporter of Dix and the Prison movement Horace Mann also formed part and was a big reformer in the education/public schools movement.

Why we need your help ?

  • We need to put more money in getting the word out, we need to print more pamphlets, pay for newspaper ads to explain to people why they have to do whats right and help the mentally ill and prisoners who yes they did bad but don't deserve the harsh treatments or the conditions.
  • We also need to put money to rebuild the old prisons into better conditioned prisons, with personal hygiene facilities in every cell, enough cells to physically isolate inmates and put exercise yards.
  • We need to train personnel to deal with the mentally ill and better institutions like hospitals so they can give them the support they need.
  • Build asylums specifically to those with mental disabilities.
Big image


  • People who donate a small amount of money will get a subscription to an E-Mail newsletter updated every week saying how we are doing and how were making American prisons better and helping the mentally ill.
  • People who donate a decent amount of money will receive a 3-D model of the new prison we are building at the moment, letters from mentally ill patients whom we have helped with this movement and the subscription to the E-Mail newsletter.
  • People who donate a large amount of money will receive all of the above plus a link to a live website where we post all of our latest updates with live video feed so you can see exactly what we do with your money and ho we use it to help the community.


We plan to advertise this on TV commercials and infomercials with a hotline number that people can call anytime to donate money to our cause. The TV Commercials and infomercials would appeal to the emotional side of the person explaining to them and persuading why they should donate money to our movement. We also plan to advertise on the back of cereal boxes and newspapers with emotional stories about wrong convictions, mentally ill prisoners and the conditions inside of prison cells and at the end of the story there would be a number thy can call to donate money to help our cause.