Prisons and Punishment in American History

Are prisons primarily for punishing those convicted of crimes, rehabilitating them to rejoin society, or deterring criminal activity? How are America’s prisons different in the 21st century than they were in colonial America? This course will look at how the purposes of prisons, the methods of punishment, the population and conditions of prisoners, and the public’s attitudes toward incarceration have changed over the course of American history. As we study the history of prisons and punishment we will explore a variety of topics including convict labor, solitary confinement, prisoners’ rights movements, capital punishment, rehabilitation, for-profit prisons, and prison reform.