A study in American prisons. Even in America, there are those who don’t follow the rules of society, and find themselves in trouble with the law. More precisely, they go to a penitentiary, rather than capital punishment. Our French visitors go to Sing Sing to talk to the warden about the new conventional wisdom that men can be reformed. They just need a place for penitence, not to be simply tossed into prison.
More investigation into the hopeful system turns up mixed results. Early, strict penitentiaries kept inmates in virtual solitary confinement, and not allowed to speak. Living the life of a virtual monk. The whip being the means for punishment in breaking the rules. Even so, wardens realize that not every man can be reformed, and share their doubts. Is it because the inmates learn a trade that men reform? Why do men who behave well in prison, soon revert to their old ways. Quaker prisons are run like monasteries, with a vow of silence, and religious teaching. Does it reform… or break spirits… It only seems to add resentment, and to harbor dedication to not get caught again? Interviews with inmates reveal more glimpses at the failings of this new way of punishing crime.
Though philanthropists of the day want it to work, and are optimistic about it, cracks in the system are clear. At this point in history, only time will tell, but our Frenchmen don’t think its much better than the judicial system in the old country. I think they’re right.