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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: January 2021

2 - Born of Conflict: The Struggle to Authorize the Pennsylvania System

from Part I - Becoming the Deviant Prison: Establishing The Conditions for Personal Institutionalization


America's early prisons—first the proto-prisons built after the American Revolution and the modern prisons built in the 1820s and later—failed repeatedly and dramatically. These failures and the debates they precipitated gave modern prisons a perennial air of uncertainty. Would they solve the problems endemic to the proto-prisons—and serve the prison's original purpose? Moreover, news of penal failures like Auburn often had sudden and unpredictable impacts on the penal imagination and what commentators believed to be acceptable design choices for the new prisons. In the resulting atmosphere, deviations from the norm seemed even more risky and penal actors routinely sought assurance that they were on the right path. Thus, it is only by understanding this tumultuous, unstable beginning—when reformers repeatedly experimented with variations of prison and failed—that we can begin to understand how Eastern became a deviant prison and how the Pennsylvania System could become personally institutionalized at Eastern in the decades to follow.