Eastern State Penitentiary, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a historic prison that was designed to reform prisoners through isolation and reflection. It was the world’s first true “penitentiary” and was built in 1829. Eastern State’s revolutionary system of incarceration, known as the Pennsylvania system, encouraged separate confinement as a form of rehabilitation.
The building itself was an architectural wonder and is considered to be one of the most remarkable structures in the United States. It was designed by John Haviland, who was inspired by the idea that prisoners could be reformed through solitary confinement and reflection. The prison’s design was meant to be intimidating and awe-inspiring, with its high walls and gothic architecture. Eastern State was a model for prison design and management, and its influence can still be seen in modern prisons today.
Despite its initial success, the Pennsylvania system was eventually criticized for being too harsh and inhumane. The prison was closed in 1971, but it has since been restored and opened to the public as a historic site. Today, visitors can tour the prison and learn about its history, architecture, and the lives of the prisoners who were once confined there.
Establishment of Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1829. It was the world’s first true penitentiary, designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Eastern State was a revolutionary prison system that aimed to reform inmates through a strict regime of total isolation.
Planning and Construction
The idea for Eastern State Penitentiary was first proposed by the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons in 1787. The society believed that prisons should be designed to reform inmates rather than just punish them. The prison was designed by architect John Haviland in a radial plan, with a central hub that allowed guards to monitor all the cell blocks from a single location.
Construction of Eastern State Penitentiary began in 1822 and took seven years to complete. The prison was built using cutting-edge technology and was considered an architectural wonder of its time. The walls were 30 feet high and 12 feet thick, and the cells were designed to hold a single inmate.
Opening to Inmates
Eastern State Penitentiary opened its doors to inmates in 1829. The prison was designed to enforce a strict regime of total isolation, with each inmate confined to a single cell for 23 hours a day. The only time an inmate was allowed out of their cell was for exercise in a small individual yard.
The prison’s system of total isolation was known as the Pennsylvania system or separate system. The goal was to reform inmates through reflection and penitence, with the hope that they would emerge from their confinement as productive members of society.
In conclusion, Eastern State Penitentiary was the world’s first true penitentiary, designed to reform inmates through a strict regime of total isolation. The prison was built using cutting-edge technology and was considered an architectural wonder of its time. Eastern State’s system of total isolation aimed to reform inmates through reflection and penitence, with the hope that they would emerge from their confinement as productive members of society.
Penitentiary System Philosophy
Eastern State Penitentiary was designed to be a penitentiary, a place for criminals to experience penitence, or true regret, for their crimes. This was a radical departure from the previous prison system, which was focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation.
The penitentiary system philosophy was based on the Quaker belief that solitude and reflection could lead to spiritual transformation. In this system, prisoners were kept in individual cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of exercise in a walled courtyard. They were not allowed to speak to other prisoners or even see them, and they were encouraged to spend their time in contemplation and prayer.
The penitentiary system philosophy was also influenced by the Enlightenment idea of rationality and the belief that humans could be reformed through education and self-improvement. The penitentiary was seen as a place where prisoners could be taught useful skills and trades, such as weaving or shoemaking, that would help them reintegrate into society upon release.
The penitentiary system philosophy was controversial from the beginning, with some critics arguing that it was too harsh and others arguing that it was too lenient. Some believed that the isolation and lack of human contact would drive prisoners insane, while others believed that the focus on rehabilitation was a waste of resources and that punishment was the only effective deterrent for crime.
Despite the controversy, the penitentiary system philosophy had a profound impact on the development of the modern prison system. The Eastern State Penitentiary model was copied in cities around the world, and the idea of rehabilitation and education as a means of reducing crime remains an important part of criminal justice philosophy today.
The building was designed to be imposing and intimidating, with high walls and guard towers. It was constructed in a radial design, with cell blocks radiating out from a central hub. This allowed for efficient monitoring of the prisoners and ensured that they were always under the watchful eye of the guards.
The cells themselves were small, measuring only 8 feet by 12 feet, and were designed to be austere and minimalistic. They were built with thick walls and heavy doors, which were meant to keep the prisoners isolated from each other and from the outside world. The only light that entered the cells came from a small skylight in the ceiling, which was covered with a metal grate to prevent escape attempts.
One of the most unique features of Eastern State was the system of pipes that ran through the building. The pipes were used to transport food, water, and other necessities to the cells without the need for human interaction. This was done to further isolate the prisoners and prevent them from communicating with each other.
Overall, the architectural design of Eastern State Penitentiary was a reflection of the strict discipline and punishment that was the hallmark of the prison system of the time. While it was undoubtedly an impressive feat of engineering and design, it was also a reminder of the harsh realities of life behind bars.
Life Inside the Prison
Eastern State Penitentiary was designed to be a place of penitence and reformation, not punishment. Inmates were supposed to reflect on their crimes and repent, leading to a better life after their release. However, life inside the prison was far from easy.
Inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary had a strict daily routine. They woke up at 5:30 am and spent the first hour of their day in meditation and prayer. After that, they were given breakfast and then spent the rest of the day working or in solitary confinement.
Inmates were not allowed to speak to each other, and they ate their meals alone in their cells. They were only allowed to leave their cells for two hours a day for exercise in a small yard. The rest of the day was spent in their cells, which were small and cramped.
Prison labor was an important part of life inside Eastern State Penitentiary. Inmates were put to work making shoes, weaving cloth, and performing other tasks. The prison was designed to be self-sufficient, and the labor of the inmates was essential for its operation.
Inmates were paid for their work, but the wages were very low. They were also required to pay for their own food and clothing. This meant that most inmates were unable to save any money, making it difficult for them to start a new life after their release.
Life inside Eastern State Penitentiary was challenging and difficult. Inmates were isolated from the world and forced to live in cramped conditions. However, the strict routine and focus on penitence and reformation did lead to some positive outcomes for inmates.
Eastern State Penitentiary housed some of the most notorious criminals in American history. Here are a few of the most notable inmates:
Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, Chicago’s most famous mob boss, spent eight months at Eastern State in 1929-1930. Arrested for carrying a concealed, deadly weapon, this was Capone’s first prison sentence. While at Eastern State, Capone was given special treatment, including a cell with fine furniture, oriental rugs, and a radio. It is rumored that he even had a personal chef. Capone’s stay at Eastern State ended when he was transferred to another prison in Pennsylvania.
Willie Sutton was a notorious bank robber who spent time at Eastern State on two separate occasions. During his first stay from 1923-1933, Sutton became known for his numerous escape attempts, including one in which he used a smuggled gun to shoot his way out of the prison. Sutton was eventually recaptured and spent the next 17 years in solitary confinement. He was released in 1945 but returned to prison in 1952 after being caught robbing a bank. Sutton spent another six years at Eastern State before being transferred to another prison.
Pep the Cat-Murdering Dog
Eastern State Penitentiary was also home to some unusual inmates, including Pep the Cat-Murdering Dog. Pep was a stray dog who was sentenced to life in prison after killing the governor’s cat. Pep was given his own cell and became a favorite among the guards and inmates. He was eventually released after serving his sentence and lived out the rest of his days in a local animal shelter.
Eastern State Penitentiary’s most notorious inmates are just a few examples of the many criminals who passed through its walls. Despite its reputation as a “model” prison, Eastern State was home to some of the most dangerous and violent criminals of its time.
Reforms and Changes
End of Solitary Confinement
Eastern State Penitentiary was designed to use solitary confinement to encourage penitence in prisoners. However, the system was criticized for being inhumane and causing mental health issues in inmates. As a result, in the 1910s, Eastern State began to move away from the practice of solitary confinement.
In 1913, the prison began to allow inmates to work together in small groups. This change was part of a broader movement in the United States to move away from the idea of punishment and towards the idea of rehabilitation. The prison also began to offer educational and vocational programs to help inmates learn new skills and prepare for life after their release.
In the 1920s, Eastern State Penitentiary underwent a series of modernization efforts. The prison added new cell blocks and updated its infrastructure to include electricity and running water. The prison also began to use modern technology to improve security, including installing a new alarm system and using fingerprinting to identify inmates.
In the 1930s, Eastern State Penitentiary became one of the first prisons in the United States to use radio broadcasting to entertain inmates. The prison also began to allow inmates to participate in sporting events and other recreational activities.
Despite these changes, Eastern State Penitentiary continued to face criticism for its harsh conditions and the use of solitary confinement. In 1971, the prison was officially closed, and its remaining inmates were transferred to other facilities. Today, Eastern State Penitentiary is a museum that offers visitors a glimpse into the history of American prisons and the reforms that have shaped the modern criminal justice system.
Closure and Abandonment
Eastern State Penitentiary closed its doors in 1971 after 142 years of operation. The prison was originally designed to hold 250 prisoners, but by the time it closed, it was overcrowded with more than 1,700 inmates. The prison was known for its strict discipline, but it had become a symbol of cruelty and inhumanity to many.
After the prison was closed, it sat abandoned for more than two decades. The city of Philadelphia struggled to find a new use for the site, and the prison fell into disrepair. The buildings were vandalized, and the once-grand architecture began to crumble.
In 1988, a group of concerned citizens formed the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force to save the prison from demolition. The group worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the prison’s historical significance and to secure funding for its restoration.
Finally, in 1994, Eastern State Penitentiary reopened as a museum. The restoration project was a massive undertaking, and it took more than a decade to complete. Today, visitors can tour the prison and learn about its history and the lives of the inmates who were once held there.
Present Day: A Historic Site
Eastern State Penitentiary, once a notorious prison, is now a historic site and museum that draws visitors from around the world. The prison’s imposing Gothic architecture and its unique history make it a popular destination for those interested in criminal justice, architecture, and history.
Since Eastern State Penitentiary ceased operations in 1971, several restoration efforts have taken place to preserve the prison’s unique architecture and history. The prison’s main cellblock, which is over 1,000 feet long, has undergone extensive renovations to ensure its structural integrity. The restoration work has also included the installation of a new roof, repairs to the cell doors, and the creation of a new entrance for visitors.
Eastern State Penitentiary is open to the public for tours, which take visitors through the prison’s cellblocks, yards, and guard towers. The tours are led by experienced guides who provide visitors with a wealth of information about the prison’s history and its unique architecture. Visitors can also take an audio tour, which provides a more self-guided experience.
The prison’s exhibits showcase the lives of the prisoners who lived within its walls, including infamous inmates such as Al Capone and Willie Sutton. Visitors can also learn about the prison’s innovative system of rehabilitation, which focused on solitary confinement and reflection. Eastern State Penitentiary also hosts special events throughout the year, including Halloween-themed tours and art installations.
Overall, Eastern State Penitentiary is a fascinating destination for those interested in criminal justice, architecture, and history. Its restoration efforts and public tours provide visitors with a unique glimpse into the past and an opportunity to reflect on the present and future of the criminal justice system.
Eastern State Penitentiary is a significant part of American history and the development of the modern prison system. While it was once a symbol of harsh punishment and inhumane treatment, it has since been transformed into a museum and historic site that offers visitors a chance to learn about its unique architecture, innovative system of rehabilitation, and the lives of the inmates who were once held there. The restoration efforts and public tours of Eastern State Penitentiary provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on the past and consider the future of criminal justice.