Pub. date: 2005 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952514 | Print ISBN: 9780761927310 | Online ISBN: 9781412952514| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Robert P. Weiss
Prison labor as a form of penal servitude originated in 1790 as one of the defining features of the “penitentiary house” in Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail. Prior to the 18th century, prisons were used mainly for pretrial detention or for those awaiting execution of their corporal or capital sentences. Substituting productive labor for cruel and degrading punishments dramatically changed penal practice. Over the course of two centuries, prison labor came to serve various, often conflicting, objectives: (1) as a punitive element in detention and, conversely, as (2) a reward for good conduct, (3) a source of profit for entrepreneurs and revenue for state coffers, and (4) a form of rehabilitation. Although the profit motive subsequently overcame the humanitarian potential of prison labor, prison industry provided a rationale and a means of rehabilitation. For better or worse, penal labor regimes also connected penology to the development of the America's industrial policy ...