How Did Our Prisons Get That Way?

The penitentiary was invented in the United States as a more rational and humane way of punishing. It quickly ran into problems that still overwhelm us.

Prisons are a fact of life in America. However unsatisfactory and however well-concealed they may be, we cannot imagine doing without them. They remain such a fundamental bulwark against crime and criminals that we now keep a larger portion of our population in prisons than any other nation except the Soviet Union and South Africa, and for terms that are longer than in many countries. Furthermore, we Americans invented the prison. Read more »

Hard Looks at Hidden History

Hard Looks at Hidden History

One of the more unlikely results of the American Revolution was Australia. Most American colonists came here voluntarily, of course, but until 1776 we meekly accepted boatloads of His Majesty’s convicts as indentured servants.Read more »

Songs From The Yard: Sing Sing’s Lost Poet

During the spring of 1825 a handful of prisoners were landed on the shore of the Hudson River at Mt. Pleasant to begin construction of a new penitentiary. For six months they toiled under the wary eyes and ready muskets of their keepers, sleeping in tents and lean-tos. On November 26, the first convicts were safely locked up in the cells of what was to become known as Sing Sing prison. Read more »

The Paradox Of Dartmoor Prison

While some American captives languished, others conducted a flourishing market—and a huge black sailor organized everything

Stark, mist-enshrouded Dartmoor prison has long held a fascination for those interested in British crime. Since 1850 many of England’s most notorious criminals have been condemned to labor on the bleak Devonshire moor seventeen miles from Plymouth, and crime enthusiasts and novelists have found the cold, lonely prison an exotic subject. However, for the generation that lived through the War of 1812 Dartmoor held a far different reputation.Read more »