By: Spencer Hartman
One day while volunteering to teach Sunday school to a prison, Dorothea Dix came to the realization of the horrible conditions that the prisoners were faced with. They were all in chains bound to each other and locked in cages. Children that were caught stealing minor things were tried as adults and faced their consequences. This sparked an outcry for reform within American prisons.
Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887) was an activist on behalf of the insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums. During the year 1844 Dix visited all the counties, jails in New Jersey giving a detailed account of her observations and facts. Dix appealed to the government to act and make funds to construct a facility for the care and treatment of the imprisoned. She cited a number of cases to emphasize the importance of the state taking responsibility for this class of unfortunates.
By 1835, America was considered to have two of the best prisons in the world in Pennsylvania. Astonishingly, reformers from Europe looked to the new nation as a model for building, utilizing and improving their own systems. Advocates for prisoners believed that deviants could change and that a prison stay could have a positive effect. It was a revolutionary idea in the beginning of the 19th century that society rather than individuals had the responsibility for criminal activity and had the duty to treat neglected children and rehabilitate alcoholics.