Following is the Table of Contents for a special issue of the
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 143.3. pmhb.pennpress.org
In this special issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, we bring together tischolars working on Pennsylvania’s unique legacy in the history of punishment in the US. The essays speak to a range of urgent questions in the field of carceral studies, including modes of resistance to carceral authorities, the tremendous and often unfettered violence of carceral authorities against people, the role of whiteness in granting a degree of protection for some inmates, and the persistent attempt to classify, organize, and segregate people as a form of punishment. The essays featured here take a fresh look at topics that have long engaged scholars of Pennsylvania’s legendary carceral practices. Of special interest is the focus on institutions that we simply know less about: Arch Street Prison, Western State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory, and Rockview.
“Severe punishment for their misfortunes and poverty”: Philadelphia’s Arch Street Prison, 1804–37
This article is a case study of the intersections between poverty, disease, and nineteenth-century criminal justice and penal policy, focusing on the Arch Street Prison, which operated in Philadelphia from the 1810s until the 1830s. In this prison, poor “strangers,” “wanderers,” and people experiencing homelessness were incarcerated for vagrancy, alongside debtors and untried prisoners. Philadelphia prison managers classified prisoners according to their socioeconomic class, which they viewed as linked to the crimes that these prisoners committed, distinguishing inmate populations across the carceral facilities in the city. During the 1832 cholera epidemic, approximately a third of the prison’s inmates died. Records documenting the epidemic reveal the experiences of Arch Street’s inmates, contemporaries’ perception of links between poverty, race, and disease, and the unique position of this prison in Philadelphia’s carceral history.
The Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory (PIR) at Huntington, established on the principles of rehabilitative incarceration that underpinned the new penology of the late nineteenth century, was supposed to be one of the most modern, humane, and enlightened prisons of its day. Yet sensational charges of abuse and mistreatment of inmates within three years of the prison’s opening spurred a months-long investigation in 1892 that attracted national attention. This investigation uncovered the details of daily interactions between inmates, administrators, and guards at PIR, revealing the existence of an inmate culture rooted in institutionalization and state policies gone awry and exposing a wide gap between the theory and the practice of the era’s new penology. The results of the PIR investigation, however, ultimately circumscribed the possibility of systemic reform and helped to further entrench and normalize a punitive punishment regime that prioritized discipline over rehabilitation.
Since the late eighteenth century, Pennsylvania’s penal reformers believed the primary goals of corrections were punishment and protection, ensured by custodial personnel who impose the strict discipline of people with histories of criminal behavior in an environment that restricts privacy and personal freedom. In 1953, correctional officers faced threats, assaults, and even being taken hostage during a riot at Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, a facility with a long history of unrest. The Western uprising was historically significant because it led to a specially appointed commission of penologists and other professionals who investigated the riot and what caused it. More notably, in the spirit of Pennsylvania’s earlier reformers, the commission also made numerous recommendations that dramatically transformed and improved the state correctional system and are still evident in 2019.
This essay examines the anticarceral protest and lifestyle politics of the MOVE organization in 1970s Philadelphia. MOVE is a group of mostly Black radical naturalists who formed a collective in West Philadelphia in 1972. Between 1972 and 1978, the organization engaged in varying forms of anticarceral resistance and directly confronted the emerging carceral landscape in Philadelphia, characterized by not only prisons but also police violence, housing segregation, surveillance, and counter-insurgency. This work offers an account of how MOVE members challenged racialized and gendered police violence, prisons, and housing inequality during the early years of the group’s existence in order to demonstrate that the 1978 raid on their home in Powelton Village was part of the city’s systematic repression of Philadelphia Black radicalism. This work charts MOVE’s changing use of protest politics and unconventional lifestyle practices as tools for resistance. This article unearths early MOVE philosophy and practice while exploring the conditions of racialized and gendered police violence that led to the ongoing incarceration of the MOVE 9 political prisoners.
THE LIBRARY OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY holds three admission books that provide a personal biography of each inmate at the Eastern State Penitentiary. The books, covering the years 1830–50 (with a gap in the 1840s), contain information about each prisoner, including their name, age, the crimes for which they had been convicted, their sentence, and often a note on when they were freed (or died). Also included, though less consistently, is gender, race, and religious affiliation. Additionally, the penitentiary’s moral instructor, a religious authority figure, recorded a paragraph-length note on each inmate detailing their religious education and other biographical details.
Prison Life at Eastern State Penitentiary as Seen through Pardon Records
Jonathan W. White, Taylor Bagwell
THE US CONSTITUTION AUTHORIZES the president of the United States to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment.”1 Today, many Americans assume that this power is often wielded for partisan or personal reasons.2 Throughout American history, however, ordinary prisoners and their families wrote directly to presidents seeking clemency. This correspondence, which is organized into case files for each individual convicted of a crime, is housed in Record Group 204 (Records of the Office of the Pardon Attorney) at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Materials in these historic case files offer remarkable windows into the lives of prison inmates and their families, revealing new perspectives on the experiences of ordinary Americans who suffered during the separation caused by incarceration.
PHILADELPHIA’S EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY was the world’s first true penitentiary, a building designed to inspire penitence—or true regret—in the hearts of its inhabitants. It pioneered the practice of solitary confinement, and its influence spanned penal philosophy and design. An architectural marvel, the penitentiary had advanced plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems, and it inspired the floorplans of more than three hundred prisons around the world. Open from 1829– 1971, the prison was abandoned for twenty years before becoming a museum and historic site. Today, the site connects the past to the present and offers dialogue-based tours and exhibits about American criminal justice.
Illustrating Progressive-Era Reform in Pennsylvania: The Anna Wharton Morris Papers
“AS WE STOOD OUT on the pavement in the cool air, the smell that came from the jail door really frightened me.” Anna Wharton Morris gamely entered the jail at Scranton, Pennsylvania, on October 22, 1915. What she found inside confirmed her fears: a “young man lying on his bunk, blood-spattered & feverish, but receiving no attention. Each cell had a double bed for two prisoners; horrible!!”
DURING THE 1990S, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)/Philadelphia became increasingly involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in poor communities of color, even as chapters of the group declined nationwide. The Philadelphia chapter became concerned with intersections between HIV and incarceration, taking up the case of Greg Smith, a black gay man in New Jersey, “serving what may be a life sentence, solely for being HIV positive.”1 Smith’s story highlights two points of intersection between HIV and incarceration: the criminalization of people with HIV and the lack of adequate medical care in prison for people with HIV. ACT UP/Philadelphia’s involvement in Smith’s case points to the group’s interest in addressing the twin epidemics of HIV and mass incarceration.2
Preserving the Recent Past of Prisons
Anne E. Parsons
ON A HOT SUMMER DAY in 2018, Tyler Stump, an accessioning and outreach archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives, traveled to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (SCI-Camp Hill) to gather historical documents from Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections. Instead of going to an office building, he went to an old horse barn, a surplus space that held over a thousand boxes. Stump dug through the boxes for noteworthy archival materials alongside his intern, Department of Corrections staff, two guards, and several imprisoned people. They struck gold when they found the Press Secretary Papers, an extensive collection that documented the prison system from 1970 to 2010.1 The discovery and preservation of these materials reflects an important first step for the Pennsylvania State Archives because, until recently, the agency has had few items about the prison system from the 1980s to today. This silence in the records is deafening because the late twentieth century ushered in a new era of mass incarceration in Pennsylvania and across the country, as the number of people in prisons skyrocketed during these decades.2 Historical records like the ones found in the old barn are invaluable to chronicling the rise of mass incarceration in the United States.
Submitted by Paul Chase, Penn Press Journals