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Making the Case for Reform: Eastern State Penitentiary’s Impact on the Modern Penal System

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1CV024
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Al Capone's prison cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

Early 19th-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, all prisons in the United States except one had adopted the Auburn system: The exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary.

Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the most famous and expensive structures in the country when it was constructed. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, it was a radical departure from other prisons, pioneering a “separate system” meant to reform rather than intimidate its inmates. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held nearly 85,000 people over its long history. Using Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, prison scholar Ashley T. Rubin highlights the challenges of 19th-century prison administration that helped create the current U.S. penal system.

Rubin is a professor and social scientist specializing in the study of punishment as a social phenomenon.

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