Eleventh annual report of the board of managers of the Prison Discipline Society, Boston, May, 1836.
"We are almost sick of the experiment; it fails so much..."
8vo, wraps. 84pp + 20 plates, Contents complete but lacking rear wrap. Chipping/creasing to cover, light foxing throughout but generally still bright.
The Prison Discipline Society visited prisons and institutions across America to assess their conditions and efficacy, with subjects of inquiry including food, clothing, exercise, hospital, sanitation, vice, punishment, and moral resources. Founded by Rev. Louis Dwight in 1825 after he had witnessed horrid conditions during his time distributing Bibles to prisoners, although it was not the first prison reform society in America, it quickly became the most prominent and vocal. He was an adamant supporter of the Auburn System of confinement, wherein inmates labor communally during the day but are kept solitary at night, particularly in contrast to the Pennsylvania System (Philadelphia Prison, later known as Eastern State Penitentiary), which called for complete confinement, not seeing any other person's face, and silence. The latter penitentiary system was an expensive experiment which was still in its infancy at the time of this report, though its prospects never exceeded its poor estimations: "Another year's experience of the effects of solitary confinement, day and night, has been had in this institution. And it fails..." "The systems fails, too much, and too necessarily, in moral and religious instruction..." "We are almost sick of the experiment; it fails so much..."
Although the first inmate was received in 1829, construction on Eastern State Penitentiary wasn't complete until 1836, when this report was issued. At the time, it was the largest and most expensive public structure; it had indoor plumbing before the White House. The 11th annual report is distinguished by the extensive collection of architectural woodcuts at the end of the report, which do immense service in illustrating the limitations and benefits of each institution's layout and how it affects their daily operations and priorities. Many of the institutions in the report would see dramatic changes to their footprints in the following years as they shifted to accommodate changes and expansions. Dwight saw an insurmountable failing particularly in the preclusion of moral tending for the prisoners, who had no appointed chaplain (as had Auburn). It was not only the structure of the solitary system, but the physical "wagon wheel" architecture of the prison that made it acoustically inviable to have any kind of group worship, let alone Sunday school. Eastern State Penitentiary was under near constant construction--by the time original construction plans were completed in 1836, there were already threats from overcrowding that would defeat the format. Of course, by the time it closed in 1970, ESP had a mess of barracks and communal buildings tacked onto the original structure--but the brief moment that ESP fulfilled its original, idealized architecture, is momentarily preserved here, along with a host of other fascinating examples.
Other institutions in the report: Asylums for Poor Lunatics, including Upper Canada and Blackwell's Island, NY; Penitentiaries and State Prisons including the State and Femals Prisons at Sing Sing, NY; County Prisons and Houses of Refuge in New England, Philadelphia, New Orleans, etc. See photograph of Contents page for a complete list.