{philadelphia} prison through the years

March 22, 2017

Hi all,

A couple weekends ago, I was finally able to make it to the Eastern State Penitentiary, a tourist attraction I had been meaning to check out since I moved here last August. The Eastern State Penitentiary, now a National Historic Landmark, was a functioning prison from 1829 to 1971. Eastern State held some of America’s most notorious criminals, including gangster Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton.

At the time of its opening, Eastern State was revolutionary in its approach; as it was designed to create genuine regret and penitence in every criminal’s heart, prisoners were kept strictly in single-occupancy cells and given only a Bible and honest work (shoemaking, weaving, etc.), supposedly leading them to genuine repentance. This model was later altered, but much of the architecture still reflects the original founders’ intent. The outside of the prison looks like a castle, but inside, the quarters are much more cold and grim. Take a look!

This is what a typical cell would have looked like through the 1800s.

A set of cell blocks – this particular cell block had two stories. The prison is designed so that there is a central rotunda, out of which extend each of the cell blocks. This was so a central warden could have a view of everything happening in each of the cell blocks by simply standing in the middle rotunda.

Eastern State also had an extensive special exhibit going on right now on the state of Prisons Today. As you can see from this visualization, U.S. rates of incarceration have skyrocketed in the past couple decades, often for petty offenses, but this has had little effect on crime rates. The U.S. also imprisons far more people than any other country in the world, at a rate of 730 per 100,000 citizens. This pace of incarceration is unsustainable!

Eastern State is definitely worth checking out if you ever find yourself in the City of Brotherly Love!

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One Response to “{philadelphia} prison through the years”

  1. annalice said

    wow this is cool! these prison cells seem much bigger and contain more commodities than they do now, like with a desk and side table?!

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