The Penitence Sentence


By C J OAKES

The term penitence is derived from the word repent; thus a penitentiary is, in reality, a form of moral punishment.





Throughout history, societies have struggled with attempts to control criminal behavior. Some believe that criminals should be eliminated whereas some believe that depending on the severity of the crime there should be intermediate steps short of that. Some believe that criminal behavior is a form of mental illness or defect that must be cured. Some cultures have used executions whereas others preferred exile.

Prisons are a relatively new phenomenon. Although captive cells existed prior to the first prisons, jailed captives were usually political prisoners of some sort. They were either held until execution or indefinitely if they could prove useful at a later date.

In the late 18th century the enlightened western world sought the most effective method for dealing with growing numbers of criminal subjects. Reformers promoted and attempted numerous concepts such as gaols and workhouses. In America, the Pennsylvania Quakers believed they had the solution with the penitentiary (Foster, 2006).

Penitence and Early Penitentiaries

The ideal penitentiary induces a captive person to repentance or penitence; it is a controlled behavior-modification environment. In the ideal, the penitentiary would see convicted individuals transformed into law-abiding, compliant citizens. Ideally, persons leaving the penitentiary would be radically different from those entering. Society would have ‘saved their souls.’

English: Convict workers at Parchman
English: Convict workers at Parchman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first penitentiaries were modeled loosely after monasteries. The idea was that serious criminals would enter a world of total isolation. There would be no contact with other humans, not seeing, touching, or even hearing the sound of another human voice. Amid total isolation and silence, provided with a Bible and one other book, the criminal would have time to ponder his situation, what led him there, and how best to live his life upon release. Forced introspection it was believed would produce law-abiding, compliant citizens (“Chapter 4: The First Penitentiaries: England and North America create the modern prison system 1780-1900,” 2007).

Across the water, the English had already added a wing to Wymondham Gaol that would greatly influence prisons as known today. With the goal of correction in mind, this early prison used isolation coupled with work programs. The work consisted of teaching the inmates crafts such as shoemaking with the intent that the work would add to introspection and correction. As time passed, the ideal of isolation would fall victim to the industrial revolution, bringing prison labor securely into the mix. Indeed, once it was found that convicts were more productive working in groups, isolation was abandoned except for use as an additional punishment (Goldsmith, 1999). Hard labor eventually became the norm and continued unabated until after World War II (Foster, 2006).



Penitence and Forced Labor

Prison labor fulfilled a dual-purpose in the system. First, by keeping the inmates busy and productive, trouble in the prison was greatly reduced and the laborers could learn a skill that would be useful in the outside world. Second and perhaps most important, the items produced could be sold on the open market with the proceeds going to support the prison. If the prison turned a profit so as to avoid becoming a burden on taxpayers, that was good (Foster, 2006).

English: Parchman Prison Rodeo "Inmates p...
English: Parchman Prison Rodeo “Inmates participate in one of the annual prison rodeos that use(sic) to be held at the Mississippi State Penitentiary” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After World War II, the world was in a state of rapid recovery. America had become an industrial powerhouse but the influx of soldiers returning from overseas was still too much on the economy. Prison labor came to be seen as unfairly competitive and many sought to end this element of reform. At the same time, psychology had formed the idea that crime was an illness that could be cured. Prisons began to develop along many and varied designs according to modern theory and evidence. Prison labor as it was then known all but disappeared (Foster, 2006).

To be sure, the demise of prison labor began before the outbreak of the Second World War as a result of the Great Depression. This was an era of high unemployment levels and prison laborers were seen as taking jobs from the average man. Many were outspoken in their ridicule of the system and a series of Federal laws were enacted in such a way that the industry would naturally phase itself out (Foster, 2006).

Prison labor during World War II is noteworthy. Prisoners labored in the production of necessary basic goods used by soldiers overseas. In most cases, the convict labor groups worked more or better than was expected and even held contests. Most prison labor groups took pride in their contribution to the war effort (Foster, 2006). The underlying motivations should be studied more closely for these could reveal much about how better to rehabilitate criminal-minded individuals.

 

The Elimination of Forced Labor as a Means of Inducing Penitence

Nevertheless, after World War II, prison labor virtually disappeared from the national scene. It can be found in limited scope around the nation today as local corrections facilities often use trustees for highway cleanup and maintenance while some communities still operate prison farms. In the case of prison farms, the food produced is not sold on the open market, but rather used for consumption within the prison. This is done primarily to provide cost reductions to local facilities (Foster, 2006).

It is not surprising that the prisons of today in no way resemble the early penitentiaries. With drastic increases in prison populations the ideal scenario of isolated prisoners serving time in silence so as to attain penitence is no longer practical. Additionally, issues of separation of church and state would likely pose problems if anyone posited the notion of forcing repentance on criminals. It should be possible, however, to return to the ideal in a secularized manner. The only thing limiting society from doing so is the will to make it happen. In the current climate, there appears to be a very different attitude toward the criminal element in society. Rather than a belief that individuals can turn their lives around so as to live productive lives there appears to be the opposite notion. As a result, America today locks up more people for more crimes and for more time than any other industrialized nation (Foster, 2006).

Although the ideal of the penitentiary or Penitence Sentence may be finished, the prison is here to stay.

References

  • Chapter 4: The First Penitentiaries: England and North America create the modern prison system 1780-1900. (2007). History of Incarceration, (), 56-71.
  • Foster, B. (2006). Corrections: The Fundamentals. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis-Hall.
  • Goldsmith, L. (1999). “To profit by his skill and to traffic on his crime”: Prison Labor in Early 19th Century Massachusetts. Labor History, 40(4), 439-457.




3 thoughts on “The Penitence Sentence

  1. When it comes to a physical crime scene and the relusting forensics, investigators can ascertain that a crime took place and gather the necessary evidence. When it comes to digital crime, the evidence is often at the byte level, deep in the magnetics of digital media, initially invisible from the human eye. That is just one of the challenges of digital forensics, where it is easy to destroy crucial evidence, and often difficult to preserve correctly.For those looking for an authoritative guide, Digital Evidence and Computer Crime is an invaluable book that can be used to ensure that any digital investigation is done in a formal manner, that can ultimately be used to determine what happened, and if needed, used as evidence in court.Written by Eoghan Casey, a leader in the field of digital forensics, in collaboration with 10 other experts, the book’s 24 chapters and nearly 800 pages provide an all-encompassing reference. Every relevant topic in digital forensics is dealt with in this extraordinary book. Its breadth makes it relevant to an extremely large reading audience: system and security administrators, incident responders, forensic analysts, law enforcement, lawyers and more.In the introduction, Casey writes that one of the challenges of digital forensics is that the fundamental aspects of the field are still in development. Be it the terminology, tools, definitions, standards, ethics and more, there is a lot of debate amongst professionals about these areas. One of the book’s goals is to assist the reader in tackling these areas and to advance the field. To that end, it achieves its goals and more.Chapter 1 is appropriately titled Foundation of Digital Forensics, and provides a fantastic overview and introduction to the topic. Two of the superlative features in the book are the hundreds of case examples and practitioners’ tips. The book magnificently integrates the theoretical aspects of forensics with real-world examples to make it an extremely decipherable guide.Casey notes that one of the most important advances in the history of digital forensics took place in 2008 when the American Academy of Forensic Sciences created a new section devoted to digital and multimedia sciences. That development advanced digital forensics as a scientific discipline and provided a common ground for the varied members of the forensic science community to share knowledge and address current challenges.In chapter 3 Digital Evidence in the Courtroom Casey notes that the most common mistake that prevents digital evidence from being admitted in court is that it is obtained without authorization. Generally, a warrant is required to search and seize evidence. This and other chapters go into detail on how to ensure that evidence gathered is ultimately usable in court.Chapter 6 Conducting Digital Investigations is one of the best chapters in the book. Much of this chapter details how to apply the scientific method to digital investigations. The chapter is especially rich with tips and examples, which are crucial, for if an investigation is not conducted in a formal and consistent manner, a defense attorney will attempt to get the evidence dismissed.Chapter 6 and other chapters reference the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Good Practice Guide for Computer-Based Electronic Evidence as one of the most mature and practical documents to use when handling digital crime scenes. The focus of the guide is to help digital investigators handle the most common forms of digital evidence, including desktops, laptops and mobile devices. The Good Practice Guide is important in that digital evidence comes in many forms, including audit trails, application, badge reader and ISP and IDS logs, biometric data, application metadata, and much more. The investigator needs to understand how all of these work and interoperate to ensure that they are collecting and interpreting the evidence correctly.Chapter 9 Modus Operandi by Brent Turvey is a fascinating overview of how and why criminals commit crimes. He writes that while technologies and tools change, the underlying psychological needs and motives of the offenders and their associated criminal behavior has not changed through the ages.Chapter 10 Violent Crime and Digital Evidence is another extremely fascinating and insightful chapter. Casey writes that whatever the circumstances of a violent crime, information is key to determining and thereby understanding the victim-offender relationship, and to developing an ongoing investigative strategy. Any details gleaned from digital evidence can be important, and digital investigators must develop the ability to prioritize what can be overwhelming amounts of evidence.Chapter 13 Forensic Preservation of Volatile Data deals with the age-old forensic issue: to shut down or not to

Leave a Reply