Penitentiary Systems

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Penitentiary Systems


in the capitalist countries, a form of punishment for crime that consists in loss of freedom. The first modern penitentiary system appeared in the USA in the 18th century, in Pennsylvania. Called the Pennsylvania system, it was based on a combination of solitary confinement and religious exhortation and eliminated any contact between convicts and the outside. K. Marx described the system as “the isolation of the man and his sons from the outer world, the combination of legal punishment and theological torture” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 203).

In the early 19th century the Auburn system was developed in Auburn, N. Y. Under this system, convicts were to be confined separately only at night, but were required to observe absolute silence in the daytime while working or eating together.

The developed capitalist countries now use the so-called progressive system of incarceration. Under this system, a sentence is divided into several stages, which have different conditions of confinement. These conditions range from more severe to more privileged with respect to such factors as the extent to which immates are confined separately or are permitted meetings with relatives. Changes in the conditions of confinement are entirely at the discretion of the prison administration. First developed in Great Britain in the mid-19th century, this system rejected the extremes of earlier penitentiary systems but preserved many of the characteristics, giving the prison system as a whole externally humane and liberal forms that satisfied the principles of bourgeois democracy. There are several varieties of the progressive system of penal servitude in the capitalist countries, including the English, Irish, and French types. All envision from three to five stages in serving the sentence: solitary confinement, separation of convicts at night, a transitional period when the convicts are permitted to work for hire outside the prison, and finally parole or early release.

A variation of the progressive penitentiary system is the reformatory system. Reformatories are intended for convicted persons aged 16 to 30. For reformatory sentences the court only pronounces the type of punishment but does not specify a precise term. The administration is authorized to keep the inmate in custody until rehabilitation but not longer than the maximum sentence stipulated by law for the particular crime.

Despite its outwardly humane character, the progressive penitentiary system, like the entire capitalist system of criminal punishment, is aimed at diminishing human dignity and does not seek to reeducate convicts and prepare them for life at liberty.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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