We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Prisons: History

The establishment of a second New York state prison at Auburn in 1816 soon led to a new prison model and regime, designed to keep convicts separate and unable to communicate with each other even as they were forced to labor as penal slaves. "Industry, obedience, and silence" were the guiding principles of the new system. One of its chief proponents and rulers was Elam Lynds, who served for many years as warden of Auburn and other prisons.

By the early 1820s, the Auburn plan had resulted in the construction of tiny individual cells and workshops as well as a rigid system of enforced silence and harsh punishments. Each entering convict was assigned a prison number, which served as his or her identity. Movement to and from the workshops was performed in a regimented manner, known as the lockstep, which called for prisoners to march in a military-style human chain.

A Boston clergyman who visited Auburn in 1826 found it a shining example of what could be accomplished with proper discipline and design. "The whole establishment, from the gate to the sewer, is a specimen of neatness," he wrote. "The unremitted industry, the entire subordination and subdued feelings of the convicts, have probably no parallel among an equal number of criminals." The Reverend Louis Dwight and his associates from the Boston Prison Discipline Society pronounced Auburn a "noble institution" and said, "We regard it as a model worthy of the world's imitation." The institution seemed so successful that in 1825 Lynds was assigned to build a similar prison in Sing Sing.

Many Americans took such pride in what they seemed to have accomplished in their new model prisons that they encouraged visitors to tour the institutions in exchange for a small fee, to see for themselves what was being done with public funds.

In 1831 two young French magistrates, Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, were dispatched by their government to study the new American prison systems and report back on their possible application in France. Although Tocqueville was also interested in observing America's political system, which later would form the basis of his classic study Democracy in America (1835, 1840), he visited the United States in order to examine different penal approaches. The pair wrote in On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France (1833) that "[w]hile society in the United States gives the example of the most extended liberty, the prisons of the same country offer the spectacle of the most complete despotism."

Locate a Person Held for an Immigration Violation

You can locate someone who:

Is currently detained for possible violation of immigration laws

Was released within the last 60 days from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility

To do so, use the Online Detainee Locator System. Or, contact the field offices of the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations. If you know the facility where the person is being held, call that immigration detention facility directly.

For information about the status of a particular court case, contact the immigration court.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

For more than 90 years the Bureau of Prisons has achieved many accomplishments and faced extraordinary challenges.

Pursuant to Pub. L. No. 71-218, 46 Stat. 325 (May 14,1930), Congress established the Bureau of Prisons within the Department of Justice and charged the agency with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions." The federal prison system had already existed for nearly 40 years under the Three Prisons Act (1891), which authorized the first three federal penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta and USP McNeil Island, and had since grown to 11 federal prisons. The wardens functioned autonomously for the most part with limited oversight by a Department of Justice official, the Superintendent of Prisons, in Washington, DC. With the creation of the Bureau of Prisons, the agency assumed the responsibilities of oversight, management and administration of the 11 Federal prisons in operation at the time.

As time passed and laws changed, the Bureau's responsibilities grew along with the prison population. By the end of 1930, the agency operated 14 facilities for just over 13,000 inmates. In 1932 the Bureau opened USP Lewisburg, the first penitentiary built by the newly established agency. By 1940, the Bureau had grown to 24 facilities with 24,360 inmates. Except for a few fluctuations, the number of inmates did not change significantly between 1940 and 1980, when the population was 24,252. However, the number of facilities almost doubled (from 24 to 44) as the Bureau gradually moved from operating large facilities confining inmates of many security levels to operating smaller facilities that confined inmates with similar security needs.

As a result of Federal law enforcement efforts and new legislation that dramatically altered sentencing in the Federal criminal justice system, the 1980's brought a significant increase in the number of Federal inmates. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and reduced good time additionally, several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions were enacted in 1986, 1988, and 1990. From 1980 to 1989, the inmate population more than doubled, from just over 24,000 to almost 58,000, and the number of federal prisons increased to 62. During the 1990's, the population more than doubled again, reaching approximately 136,000 at the end of 1999 as efforts to combat illegal drugs and illegal immigration contributed to significantly increased conviction rates. By the end of the decade, the Bureau was operating 95 institutions.

For the next 13 years, the inmate population continued to increase to over 217,000 in 119 institutions. In 2014, for the first time in 34 years, the population declined. A variety of legislative changes, including most recently the First Step Act of 2018, will continue to contribute to the overall decline in the inmate population. Today, the Bureau operates 122 federal prisons and manages an inmate population of 153,047.


Before the 1950s, prison conditions were grim. Inmates were regularly caged and chained, often in places like cellars and closets. They were also often left naked and physical abuse was common. Mentally ill inmates were held in the general population with no treatments available to them. While the creation of mental asylums was brought about in the 1800s, they were far from a quick fix, and conditions for inmates in general did not improve for decades. A series of riots and public outcry led to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which were adopted in 1955, and conditions in prisons and for offenders improved.

In the 1960s, the common theory on crime included the notion that oppressive societies created criminals and that almost all offenders could become regular members of society given the right resources. As an almost unprecedented crime wave swept across the country, the resources in place at the time did little, if anything, to curb the crime rate that continued to grow well into the 1970s.

At this time, the nation’s opinion shifted to one of mass incarceration. If rehabilitating criminals didn’t work, the new plan was to lock offenders up and throw away the key. Over the next few decades, regardless of whether the crime rate was growing or shrinking, this attitude continued, and more and more Americans were placed behind bars, often for non-violent and minor crimes. The creation of minimum and maximum sentences, as well as the implementation of “three strikes” laws were leading causes behind the incarceration of millions.

Historically, prisoners were given useful work to do, manufacturing products and supporting the prisons themselves through industry. As laws were passed prohibiting transport of prison-made goods across state lines, most goods made in prisons today are for government use, and the practice itself has been in decline for decades, leaving offenders without any productive activities while serving their sentences.

Currently, prisons are overcrowded and underfunded. In 2008, 1 in 100 American adults were incarcerated. Estimates vary, but it can cost upwards of $30,000 per year to keep an inmate behind bars. The costs of healthcare for inmates, who often suffer mental health and addiction issues, grew at a rate of 10% per year according to a 2007 Pew study. Programs for the incarcerated are often non-existent or underfunded. Recidivism rates are through the roof, with one Bureau of Justice Statistics study finding that more than 75% of released inmates were arrested again within five years.

As the number of inmates in American prisons continues to grow, citizens are increasingly speaking out against mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses as well as prison overcrowding, health care, and numerous other issues facing the large incarcerated population in this country. CPR’s mission involves improving opportunities for inmates while incarcerated, allowing for an easier transition into society once released, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism throughout the current U.S. prison population.

American History, Race, and Prison

Max Blau and Emanuella Grinberg, “Why US Inmates Launched a Nationwide Strike,” CNN, 2016 Max Blau and Emanuella Grinberg, “Why US Inmates Launched a Nationwide Strike,” CNN, October 31, 2016,

In 1970, the era of mass incarceration began. This growth in the nation’s prison population was a deliberate policy. It was inflamed by campaign rhetoric that focused on an uptick in crime and orchestrated by people in power, including legislators who demanded stricter sentencing laws, state and local executives who ordered law enforcement officers to be tougher on crime, and prison administrators who were forced to house a growing population with limited resources. Travis, Western, and Redburn, The Growth of Incarceration, 2014, 104-29 and Bruce Western, “The Prison Boom and the Decline of American Citizenship,” Society 44, no. 5 (2007), 30-36, 31-32.

Although the unprecedented increase in prison populations during this period may seem like an aberration, the ground was fertile for this growth long before 1970. Certainly the number of people sent to prison was far greater during the era of mass incarceration than in any other time period, but the policies that fueled that growth stemmed from a familiar narrative: one involving public anxiety about both actual and alleged criminal behavior by racial and ethnic minorities and the use of state punishment to control them.

It is a narrative that repeats itself throughout this country’s history. From America’s founding to the present, there are stories of crime waves or criminal behavior and then patterns of disproportionate imprisonment of those on the margins of society: black people, immigrants, Native Americans, refugees, and others with outsider status. The result has been the persistent and disproportionate impact of incarceration on these groups. From 1850 to 1940, racial and ethnic minorities—including foreign-born and non-English speaking European immigrants— made up 40 to 50 percent of the prison population. Margaret Cahalan, “Trends in Incarceration in the United States Since 1880: A Summary of Reported Rates and the Distribution of Offenses,” Crime & Delinquency 25, no. 1 (1979), 9-41, 40. Note that over time, the ethnic and racial origins of interest to those collecting information on prison demographics have changed. Into the early decades of the 20 th century, these figures included counts of those who were “foreign born.” More recent demographic categories have included white, black, and Latino/Hispanic populations. In 2015, about 55 percent of people imprisoned in federal or state prisons were black or Latino. Carson and Anderson, Prisoners in 2015, 2016, 14.

It is a narrative founded on myths, lies, and stereotypes about people of color, and to truly reform prison practices—and to justify the path this report marks out—it is a narrative that must be reckoned with and subverted. We must grapple with the ways in which prisons in this country are entwined with the legacy of slavery and generations of racial and social injustice. No new era is built from a clean slate, but rather each is layered on top of earlier practices, values, and physical infrastructure. Mass incarceration is an era marked by significant encroachment on the freedoms of racial and ethnic minorities, most notably black Americans. But this inequitable treatment has its roots in the correctional eras that came before it: each one building on the last and leading to the prison landscape we face today. This section ties together this country’s history of racism with its history of incarceration and recounts three important junctures in the history of prisons through the lens of America’s troubled and complex history of racial oppression.

Prison in the South: 1865-1940

Hannah Grabenstein, “Inside Mississippi’s Notorious Parchman Prison,” PBS NewsHour, 2018 Hannah Grabenstein, “Inside Mississippi’s Notorious Parchman Prison,” PBS NewsHour, January 29, 2018 (referencing David M. Oshinsky, Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press, 1997)),

The year 1865 should be as notable to criminologists as is the year 1970. While it marked the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13 th Amendment, it also triggered the nation’s first prison boom when the number of black Americans arrested and incarcerated surged. Christopher R. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery: Southern State Penal Systems, 1865-1890,” Social Problems 30, no. 5 (1983), 555-69 Khalil Gibran Muhammad, “Where Did All the White Criminals Go? Reconfiguring Race and Crime on the Road to Mass Incarceration,” Souls 13, no. 1 (2011), 72-90 and Western, “The Prison Boom,” 2007, 30-36. This was the result of state governments reacting to two powerful social forces: first, public anxiety and fear about crime stemming from newly freed black Americans and second, economic depression resulting from the war and the loss of a free supply of labor. State and local leaders in the South used the criminal justice system to both pacify the public’s fear and bolster the depressed economy. All across the South, Black Codes were passed that outlawed behaviors common to black people, such as “walking without a purpose” or “walking at night,” hunting on Sundays, or settling on public or private land.

These laws also stripped formerly incarcerated people of their citizenship rights long after their sentences were completed. Among the most well-known examples are laws that temporarily or permanently suspended the right to vote of people convicted of felonies. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 558-59 A. E. Raza, “Legacies of the Racialization of Incarceration: From Convict-Lease to the Prison Industrial Complex,” Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies 11 (2011), 159-70, 162-65 Christopher Uggen, Jeff Manza, and Melissa Thompson, “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Civic Reintegration of Criminal Offenders,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 605, no. 1 (2006), 281-310 and Elizabeth Hull, The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2006), 17-22.[/footnote] Southern law enforcement authorities targeted black people and aggressively enforced these laws, and funneled greater numbers of them into the state punishment systems. By the 1870s, almost all of the people under criminal custody of the Southern states—a full 95 percent—were black. This ratio did not change much in the following decades. In 1908 in Georgia, 90 percent of people in state custody during an investigation of the convict leasing system were black. For 1870, see Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 558-61. For 1908, see Alex Lichtenstein, “Good Roads and Chain Gangs in the Progressive South: 'The Negro Convict is a Slave,'” Journal of Southern History 59, no. 1 (1993), 85-110, 90.

State penal authorities deployed these imprisoned people to help rebuild the South—they rented out convicted people to private companies through a system of convict leasing and put incarcerated individuals to work on, for example, prison farms to produce agricultural products. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983 Gwen Smith Ingley, “Inmate Labor: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Corrections Today 58, no. 1 (1996), 28-77, 30 Theresa R. Jach, “Reform Versus Reality in the Progressive Era Texas Prison,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 53-67 and Robert Johnson, Ania Dobrzanska, and Seri Palla, “The American Prison in Historical Perspective: Race, Gender, and Adjustment,” in Prisons Today and Tomorrow, edited by Ashley G. Blackburn, Shannon K. Fowler, and Joycelyn M. Pollock (Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2005), 22-42, 29-31. In the Reconstruction South, these were fiscally attractive strategies given the destruction of Southern prisons during the Civil War and the economic depression that followed it. In terms of prison infrastructure, it is also important to note that even before 1865, Southern states had few prisons. Another important consideration was that if a Southern state incarcerated a slave for a crime, it would be depriving the owner of the slave’s labor. Prisons in Southern states, therefore, were primarily used for white felons. The region depended heavily on extralegal systems to resolve legal disputes involving slaves and—in contrast to the North—defined white crime as arising from individual passion rather than social conditions or moral failings. Southern punishment ideology therefore tended more toward the retributive, while Northern ideology included ideals of reform and rehabilitation (although evidence suggests harsh prison operations routinely failed to support these ideals). Despite the differences between Northern and Southern ideas of crime, punishment, and reform, all Southern states had at least one large prison modeled on the Auburn Prison style congregate model by 1850. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 556-58 and Alexander Pisciotta, “Scientific Reform: The ‘New Penology’ at Elmira, 1876-1900,” Crime & Delinquency 29, no. 4 (1983), 613-30. Convict leasing programs that operated through an external supervision model—in which incarcerated people were supervised entirely by a private company that was paying the state for their labor—turned a state cost into a much-needed profit and enabled states to take penal custody of people without the need to build prisons in which to house them. Prior to the Civil War, prisons all over the country had experimented with strategies to profit off of the labor of incarcerated people, with most adopting factory-style contract work in which incarcerated people were used to perform work for outside companies at the prison. Between 1828 and 1833, Auburn Prison in New York earned $25,000 (the equivalent of over half a million dollars in 2017) above the costs of prison administration through the sale of goods produced by incarcerated workers. During the earliest period of convict leasing, most contracting companies were headquartered in Northern states and were actually compensated by the Southern states for taking the supervision of those in state criminal custody off their hands. Only in the 1870s and 1880s, after Southern-based companies and individuals retook control of state governments, did the arrangements reverse: companies began to compensate states for leasing convict labor. In some states, contracts from convict leasing accounted for 10 percent of the state’s revenues. Under convict leasing schemes, state prison systems in the South often did not know where those who were leased out were housed or whether they were living or dead. Private convict leasing was replaced by the chain gang, or labor on public works such as the building of roads, in the first decade of the 20 th century in both Georgia and North Carolina. The chain gang continued into the 1940s. Those sentenced to serve on chain gangs were predominantly black. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 556, 562-66 & 567 Lichtenstein, “Good Roads and Chain Gangs,” 1993, 85-110 Matthew W. Meskell, “An American Resolution: The History of Prisons in the United States from 1777 to 1877,” Stanford Law Review 51, no. 4 (1999), 839-65, 861-62 and Raza, “Legacies of the Racialization of Incarceration,” 2011, 162-65.

Although economic, political, and industrial changes in the United States contributed to the end of private convict leasing in practice by 1928, other forms of slavery-like labor practices emerged. Matthew J. Mancini, "Race, Economics, and the Abandonment of Convict Leasing," Journal of Negro History 63, no. 4 (1978), 339-52 and J. A. C. Grant, “Interstate Traffic in Convict-Made Goods,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 28, no. 6 (1938), 854-60, 855. State prison authorities introduced the chain gang, a brutal form of forced labor in which incarcerated people toiled on public works, such as building roads or clearing land. Chain gangs existed into the 1940s. Risa Goluboff, “The Thirteenth Amendment and the Lost Origins of Civil Rights,” Duke Law Journal 50, no. 6 (2001), 1609-85 and Lichtenstein, “Good Roads and Chain Gangs,” 1993, 85-110. And, as with convict leasing before it, those sentenced to serve on chain gangs were predominantly black. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 565-66 and Lichtenstein, “Good Roads and Chain Gangs,” 1993, 85-110. Prison farms also continued to dominate the Southern landscape during this period. In 1928, Texas was operating 12 state prison farms and nearly 100 percent of the workers on them were black. Jach, “Reform Versus Reality,” 2005, 57 and Johnson, Dobrzanska, and Palla, “Prison in Historical Perspective,” 2005, 27-29.

The loophole contained within the 13 th Amendment, which abolished slavery and indentured servitude except as punishment for a crime, paved the way for Southern states to use convict leasing, prison farms, and chain gangs as legal means to continue white control over black people and to secure their labor at no or little cost. The language was selected for the 13 th Amendment in part due to its legal strength. The concept had first entered federal law in Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which governed territories that later became the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. These states subsequently incorporated this aspect of the Northwest Ordinance into their state constitutions. Many other states followed suit. By the time the 13 th Amendment was ratified by Congress, it had been tested by the courts and adopted into the constitutions of 23 of the 36 states in the nation and the Home Rule Charter of the District of Columbia. Eight Northeastern states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont) abolished slavery through a mixture of means and using various language by 1804. Maine entered the union as a free state in 1820. For more information about the congressional debate surrounding the adoption of the 13 th Amendment, see David R. Upham, “The Understanding of ‘Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude Shall Exist’ Before the Thirteenth Amendment,” Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy 15, no. 1 (2017), 137-71 Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967) and Matthew Mason, “The Maine and Missouri Crisis: Competing Priorities and Northern Slavery Politics in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 4 (2013), 675-700. Furthering control over black bodies was the continued use of extralegal punishment following emancipation, including brutal lynchings that were widely supported by state and local leaders and witnessed by large celebratory crowds. At least 4,000 such extra-judicial killings occurred between 1877 and 1950 in 20 states. Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America (2015). Very few white men and women were ever sent to work under these arrangements. Incarcerated whites were not included in convict leasing agreements, and few white people were sent to the chain gangs that followed convict leasing into the middle of the 20 th century. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 565-66 Lichtenstein, “Good Roads and Chain Gangs,” 1993, 94 & 102 and Raza, “Legacies of the Racialization of Incarceration,” 2011, 162-65. By assigning black people to work in the fields and on government works, the state-sanctioned punishment of black people was visible to the public, while white punishment was obscured behind prison walls. By many accounts, conditions under the convict leasing system were harsher than they had been under slavery, as these private companies no longer had an ownership interest in the longevity of their laborers, who could be easily replaced at low cost by the state. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery,” 1983, 562-66 and Raza, “Legacies of the Racialization of Incarceration,” 2011, 162-65. Although the incarcerated people subjected to this treatment sought redress from the courts, they found little relief. For a discussion of the narrow interpretation of the 13 th , 14 th , and 15 th Amendments from 1865 to 1939 and the subsequent expansion of federal jurisdiction over exploitative work conditions as contrary to civil rights in the 1940s, see Goluboff, “The Thirteenth Amendment,” 2001, 1615 & 1637-44. Time and again, the courts approved of this abusive use of convict labor, confirming the Virginia Supreme Court’s declaration in 1871 that an incarcerated person was, in effect, a “slave of the state.” Prior to the 1960s, the prevailing view in the United States was that a person in prison “has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being the slave of the state.” Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. 790, 796 (1871).

Prison in the North: 1920-1960

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, 2010 Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness, 2010, 7.

21st Century Prisons

At the end of 2010, about 5% of state prison inmates and 12% of federal prison inmates were housed in private prisons. Overcrowding continues to be a critical issue, though new prisons are being built every day. In 2000 alone, 24 new prisons opened with over 18,000 new beds.

State prison populations have recently decreased but only slightly. At the end of 2013, 17 states were operating prison systems over capacity. Both Illinois and North Dakota were operating at 150% of capacity or more.

Despite overcrowding, 21st century prison conditions are much improved over years past. Inmates have access to health care, including some mental health treatment. There are numerous prison classes and programs available with offender rehabilitation in mind. These include drug treatment, faith-based programs, job training and educational classes.

Welcome to the Washington Prison History Project

The Washington Prison History Project is a multimedia effort to document the history of prisoner activism and policy in our state. The site features a robust collection of prisoner-produced newspapers from the late 20th century oral histories and testimonials about the Washington state prison system research on local histories of punishment and a text-adventure computer game designed inside a maximum security prison.

Throughout its history, Washington state has been a national leader in both punitive policy and prison reform. By highlighting the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated people, the project provides a fuller understanding of what prison means and how it has changed over time. Explore highlights from the archive on this site, or v isit our complete archive at

We are regularly adding new material. Please explore the site now and check back again soon!

The History of Corrections in America

The United States government established the prison system in 1891. The Three Prison Act established funding for Leavenworth, McNeil Island and UPS Atlanta. It appears the first Federal prison was Leavenworth in Kansas. It started housing prisoners in 1906 however, prior to it opening federal prisoners were held at Fort Leavenworth military prison. Prisoners were used to build the facility.

Before the U.S. government passed the Three Prison Act, federal prisoners were held in state prisons. Today the Federal Bureau of Prisons houses inmates convicted of federal crimes. As of today the total number of inmates held in BOP operated facilities is 183,820 in 122 institutions, 27 residential reentry management offices and 11 privately managed facilities.

  • 1891 - Federal Prison System Established
  • Congress passes the "Three Prisons Act," which established the Federal Prison System (FPS). The first three prisons – USP Leavenworth,USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island – are operated with limited oversight by the Department of Justice.
  • Pursuant to Pub. L. No. 71-218, 46 Stat. 325 (1930), the Bureau of Prisons was established within the Department of Justice and charged with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions." This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 Federal prisons in operation at the time.
  • USP Leavenworth was one of three first generation federal prisons which were built in the early 1900s. Prior to its construction, federal prisoners were held at state prisons. In 1895, Congress authorized the construction of the federal prison system.[5] From an article at this link: Leavenworth
  • The other two were Atlanta and McNeil Island (although McNeil dates to the 1870s the major expansion did not occur until the early 1900s)
  • 1896 June 10: the Congress authorized a new federal penitentiary.
  • 1897 March: Warden French marched prisoners every morning two and one-half miles (4 km) from Ft. Leavenworth to the new site of the federal penitentiary. Work went on for two and one-half decades.
  • 1906 February 1: All prisoners had been transferred to the new facility, and the War Department appreciatively accepted the return of its prison.
    This medium-security prison for men opened in 1902 after President William McKinley signed off on the construction of a new federal prison in Atlanta. Along with USP Leavenworth and McNeil Island, it is one of the oldest federal prisons in the United States. From United States Penitentiary, Atlanta

Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America

Nellis, Ashley, and Jean Chung. The Sentencing Project, 2013
“This analysis documents long-term trends in the use of life imprisonment as well as providing empirical details for the offenses that comprise the life-sentenced population” (p. 1). An appendix provides a graph for each state showing their trends in the use of life sentences.
Document ID: 027635

1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary Prison Riot

BBC (London, England), 2009
This video documentary covers the February 2 and 3, 1980 riot at the New Mexico State Penitentiary.During this riot, the worst in the history of corrections in the United States, 33 inmates were killed with over 200 injured, and seven of the 12 officers taken hostage hurt.
Document ID: 026908

Correctional Photo Archives

Eastern Kentucky University, Special Collections and Archives
Access to the American Prison Society Photographic Archive collected by William Bain is provided at this website include: about the collection access the collection access the inventory search this site other links other resources and contact information.

New York Correction History Society

This website serves to pursue, preserve, and promote the history of Correction Services in New York. Areas covered include Probation, Parole, Juvenile Justice, Alternatives to Incarceration, and Transitional Services.

A Brief History of Alcatraz - Federal Bureau of Prisons

Federal Bureau of Prisons
Describes before the prison was built, the rock, birdman, escape attempts, and the closure of the facility. Compiled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Brief History and Interesting Facts

As our civilization rose from the ashes of the world population started prehistoric times and to rise, concept of prisons became more and more used by ancient civilizations. Slowly, as those civilization rose and fell, use of prisons shifted from the usual holding areas for slaves and death row prisoners to the dedicated holding facilities that served its prisoners with accordance to the common law and trying to rehabilitate them if possible.

After many centuries of stagnation of prison environment (with the possible exclusion of the prison in ancient Greece which used the concept of “open prison”, where inmates could roam freely inside it walls and receive constant help from their families), first seeds of the modern prison system became introduced in the medieval England. Under the leadership of Henry II in 12th century and King John in 13th century, prisons in England started implementing strict law which told that no person can be incarcerated without fair trial. During that time the famous Tower of London started holding first of its prisoners. However, as the centuries went on, increased population and sudden wave of crime and unemployment brought the situation inside English prisons to the tipping point. As it was obvious that overcrowded prisons could not effectively hold every inmate for long before they died either from riots, malnourishment and diseases, another prison reform was implemented. Many prisoners choose to accept military pardon, and large quantities of prisoners from England and France were shipped to the distant prison colonies in Americas (such as Devil's Island), Africa and Australia.

During the 19th century, English prison system received major improvements which slowly brought it to the line of the current prison state that we know today – implementation of rehabilitation, government control of every facility, removal of mandatory solitary confinement. During the early years of 20th century, rise of criminal in United States brought the creation of “supermax” prison. These prisons were made exclusively to hold the worst criminals and repeated offenders, and after successful run of the famous supermax prison Alcatraz, this concept spread across entire United States.

Today, many famous prisons are remembered either for their notoriety (Hoa Loa Prison, Devils Island), stories of their impressive defensive capabilities (such as Alcatraz and Château d'If), or by escape attempts of brave inmates who risked their lives to find freedom either in daring plans (The Great Escape, Alcatraz Escape, The Long Walk) or by using brutal force (escape from Maze Prison).

Watch the video: When Young Kids Do Hard Time. Full Prison Documentary