Sir, by a circular of the Prison Association of New York… [Circular of the Prison Association of New York reporting on a prison reform meeting]. The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.
Sir, by a circular of the Prison Association of New York… [Circular of the Prison Association of New York reporting on a prison reform meeting].

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Sir, by a circular of the Prison Association of New York… [Circular of the Prison Association of New York reporting on a prison reform meeting].

Philadelphia, April 28th, 1848. 8vo circular (9.875” x 7.875”), on bifolium, 2 pp.

An unrecorded circular produced by the Philadelphia Prison Society reporting on an 1848 prison-reform convention in New York City held by the Prison Association of New York and promoting a subsequent such convention to be held in Philadelphia later that year.

The “period of reform from the 1820s to the Civil War can be characterized as an era of moral terrorism" (Sullivan). In the early 19th century, the populations of cities had grown rapidly, leading to increases not only in the number of poor but also in criminality and the prison population. Advocates for prisoners and prison reform during this era optimistically believed deviants could change and that imprisonment could have a positive effect (yet prisoners were often no better off, or even worse off, for their incarceration). Thus, many prison reformers during this period often counterintuitively supported the use of stern and rigid discipline in prisons. The Prison Association of New York was founded in 1844 by Isaac T. Hopper, a Quaker, abolitionist, and bookseller. Three years later, in 1847, a new constitution was adopted by New York State, its most significant reform provision being the abolition of whipping as a form of punishment. Reports of prisoners dying from whippings had led to an investigation of an Auburn, NY prison in 1839. The new state constitution also necessitated the wholesale revision of numerous state laws including criminal laws.

This circular reports on a convention held by the Prison Association of New York in Oct. 1848 in New York City, attended by "Friends of Prison Discipline throughout the Union," its purpose being to take “into consideration the criminal laws of the different States, the length of sentences, the method of appointing prison officers, the improvement of prison systems, and such other matters in relation to prisons, as may seem expedient." Some forty persons met and a committee was appointed to report on the convention which included inspectors and a chaplain of Pennsylvania penitentiaries, a delegate of the Philadelphia Prison Society, and others. The committee reported on fifteen points dealing with prison-reform subjects, including the gathering of prison statistics; supplying prisoners with food and clothing; proper length of sentences; prison labour and its effects on prisoners; appointing prison officers and the proper tenure of their offices; comparing the criminal laws of different states (“and the best means of securing uniformity therein”); the discipline of prisons and the treatment of prisoners; hygiene and reform of prisoners; proper treatment of discharged prisoners, and so forth.

These subjects were to be reported on at a convention held in Philadelphia in June 1848 and organized by the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (AKA the Philadelphia Prison Society), which was founded in 1787. Listed here are the individuals comprising the next convention (Governors and Secretaries of different States, Judges of Criminal Courts, Attorney Generals, et al.). Those attending were to include “such distinguished persons feeling an interest in prison discipline, as the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons may deem it expedient to invite.” European prison-reform societies were also invited to send delegates. It is noted that the improvement of America’s penal systems has been “retarded” “by the want of a general inter-change of opinion” and “of a combined action on the part of friends of reform.” The circular concludes by addressing the need for prison reform and makes an appeal to social justice: “Everywhere persons interested in the revisal of criminal codes, and in the improvement of systems of prison discipline, have felt the need of an enlightened public opinion to sustain their efforts. … To citizens of every class it must be interesting to secure such a union of counsels as shall result in the establishment of consistent and uniform codes of penal law, and an administration conformed to the claims of humanity as well as to the exigencies of public justice.”

A pro-prison reform circular documenting the collaboration between New York and Philadelphia prison-reform societies.

No copies recorded in OCLC.

REFERENCES: Sullivan, Larry E. The Prison Reform Movement: Forlorn Hope. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990; The Prison Reform Movement at encyclopedia.com; Legislative Reforms of 1847 at correctionhistory.org; Prison and Asylum Reform at ushistory.org

CONDITION: Very good, short separation along old horizontal fold; tiny blue ink stain on page one.

Item #7135

Price: $350.00