McCormack, Ernest. Inmate #25401, Missouri Department of Corrections, 1/8/1923
Photo: Missouri State Archives


In 1880, at the seventh annual meeting of the Conference of Charities and Corrections, F.B. Sanborn reported: Governors of States and ministers of religion sit together; public spirited men and earnest women, now that penitentiary science is 100 years old, are beginning to study crime in the person of the perpetrator, and in the interests of society.”  This section details some early history of corrections utilizing presentations and reports from annual meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, among other sources.


  • American Prison Association: ConstitutionThe American Correctional Association has championed the cause of corrections and correctional effectiveness for over 140 years. Founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, ACA is the oldest association developed specifically for practitioners in the correctional profession. During the first organizational meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, the assembly elected then-Ohio Governor and future President Rutherford B. Hayes as the first President of the Association.
  • Brockway, Zebulon ReedIn the Detroit institution, Mr. Brockway introduced unusual reformatory measures. Educational and moral impressions were called upon and successfully applied. The prisoners were allowed the experiment of profit-sharing in the labor, and a successful experiment was made of admitting selected female prisoners to family life in the auxiliary House of Shelter outside of the prison enclosure. Male and female prisoners were employed in subordinate positions in the government of the House of Correction, and during this period was born at Detroit, the principles of the indeterminate sentence (limited)
  • Corrections: Part I -- Penal and Prison ReformOurs is an age of innovation; it is not long since personal liberty was secured, not long since judges were independent, not long since torture and religious persecutions were abolished.Overlooked for centuries, and abandoned to the hangman or to slavery, the case of the prisoner is at last coming under the consideration of philanthropy and science. Conferences of correction associate in name with Conferences of charity, and deliberate in the same hall.Governors of States and ministers of religion sit together; public spirited men and earnest women, now that penitentiary science is 100 years old, are beginning to study crime in the person of the perpetrator, and in the interests of society.
  • Corrections: Part II - Background and Jails 1878" It is said that separate confinement is cruel; and, under the influence of such clamor, officers hesitate to adopt and enforce it, even where jails are constructed for the purpose. But what outrage is so inexcusable as turning a young man, or woman, or boy, into the halls of a jail, knowing, as we do, that the result must necessarily be, with rarely an exception, the destruction of character and hope of reformation? In a brief separate confinement, there is hope that a person, especially if charged with a first offence, may come to himself, and resolve on amendment of life. No good citizen, choosing for his own child, would hesitate to ask for separate confinement, rather than run the hazard of the vile associations of a common jail. We can have no radical reformation of our jails, without such separation of the inmate."
  • Corrections: Part III -- A Model Prison System 1878 The adult Reformatory at Elmira, organized under the Act of 1877…is an advanced experiment for reformative ends. Felons, first offenders, between sixteen and thirty years of age, are, in the discretion of the courts, committed to this reformatory until discharged by the manager thereof; but not to be detained longer than the maximum term fixed by law for punishment of the offence for which they are convicted. Thus one convicted of grand larceny or burglary in the third degree, ordinarily sentenced for one or two years, may be detained in the reformatory for five years at most, or, if his improvement warrants it, may be released at any time before that. The managers have authority also to parole prisoners, upon such conditions as they may affix in each case, and to re-arrest and re-commit if the parole is violated….
  • Corrections: Part IV - Reformation As An End In Prison DisciplineWe desire to call attention to the wording of the title of the Committee, " Reformation as an End "- not the only end, nor even the chief end, but an end - "in Prison Discipline." It is asking very little of prison officers, of legislatures, and of the public, when they are called upon to admit that one object of the imprisonment of offenders against the criminal law is the purpose to secure their amendment and rehabilitation, if possible; and that prisons should be organized and conducted with this end in view. We do not claim, and no sensible person will ever claim, that all prisoners can be reformed. The influences of heredity, of early associations and training, and of acquired habits, are, in very many instances, too strong to encourage any reasonable expectation that they can be successfully counteracted and overcome in prison. Nor do we pretend to assert that it is possible to know in advance how many of them are susceptible of reformation by any system of prison control and training yet devised. We do contend, however, that the experience of prison officers does not warrant the assertion that efforts for their reformation are hopeless.
  • Corrections: Part V - Progress: 1873-1893The National Conference of Charities and Correction originated with the State boards of charities and correction in existence in 1873; and growth has been due mainly to the increase in the number of these boards, which now includes one-third of the States of the Union, and it is to their influence very largely that the progress made in dealing with the criminal classes is due…. Wherever a State board of charities and correction or its equivalent exists, there progress has been the greatest, and during the period under consideration there is no fact more evident; and therefore to the extension of these or similar organizations we must look in the main for progress in the future.
  • Corrections: Part VI - The Treatment of The Criminal: 1904Why does the law punish crime? The first crude answer to this question is, "Because it deserves to be punished." There is a sense, undoubtedly, in which this is true. Crime is an antisocial act. As such it is subject to the universal law of nature, which declares that action and reaction are equal and contrary. The reaction against crime which assumes, in extreme cases and under certain social conditions, the form of lynch law or mob violence can not be said to be unnatural. The spectacle of outrageous and brutal crime inevitably awakens a sentiment of horror and repulsion, which must and does find vent in action, either by legal or illegal methods. If the law fails to give expression to this popular sentiment, the public takes the law into its own hands. But the essentially immoral character which attaches to crime, and which leads many persons to confound sin, which is the violation of the divine law, with crime, which is the contravention of a purely human code more or less perfectly embodying true ethical conceptions, is not a safe or sound basis upon which to construct a criminal code, as the experience of many centuries has proved. For the maintenance of social order it becomes necessary to prescribe penalties for acts which are not essentially immoral, and there are acts grossly immoral or irreligious, with which it does not fall within the scope of human legislation to deal.
  • Corrections: Part VII - Trends In Criminology - 1924I do not come with panaceas that will eliminate these evils which are of such importance in the whole judicio-penal philosophy and machinery. It is my hope merely to stimulate thought along the lines I have briefly and imperfectly discussed. This much, however, can be said about the problems raised: First, that the two difficulties, namely, the inherent inconsistency in the philosophy of criminal law and procedure, and the lack of co-ordination and unity of purpose that it leads to among the various public and private agencies concerned with criminality, are facts fundamental to any evaluation of modern trends in criminology, and must be dealt with in blazing the path for the new criminology; secondly, that as to the first problem of the conflict between rule and discretion-between the demand for safeguarding the individual rights on the one hand, and the need for a more individualized and scientific administration of criminal jurisprudence on the other-now is the time for constructive thought based upon careful research in this field, with a view to evolving a program and procedure that will sufficiently safeguard individual rights and liberties and yet make possible the application of modern scientific methods to the work of rehabilitation of the criminal and the decrease of recidivism.
  • Corrections: Part VIII - Racial and Migratory Causes of Crime -- 1924The conditions under which they live abroad are static. They and their ancestors before them have lived in the same community, in most cases the sons following the occupation of the father. These communities remain relatively the same for hundreds of years. The people know what they can do and what they cannot do. The influence of family tradition and a desire to perpetuate a good name keep them within the limits prescribed by law. When they come to this country everything is new. They do not know what they can do and what they cannot do because of ignorance of our laws and institutions. Moreover the social judgment is less keen in making them obedient to the laws. The family tradition and family name mean little or nothing to them in requiring them to live up to a certain standard. Under these circumstances it is much easier for them to become delinquent in America than it was in their homes abroad.
  • Friends (Quakers) in Prison ReformThis entry was in the files of Charles Richmond Henderson (1848 – 1915), a notable sociologist and prison reformer. The new note that it struck was its emphasis upon the fact that all the interests of society were affected by the existence of the depraved and unfortunate classes, and that therefore the work in their behalf was a social task which must be shared by the whole community.
  • Hodder, Jessie DonaldsonJessie Donaldson Hodder had some of her early training in social work at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she worked (ca. 1907-1911) with Dr. Richard C. Cabot at the MGH’s recently established social service clinic. While at the MGH she provided much needed assistance to unwed mothers and women suffering from venereal diseases. After leaving the MGH she continued her pioneering efforts as Superintendent of the Massachusetts Prison and Reformatory for Women (1911-1931).
  • Interview With Paul W. Keve, Corrections AuthorityPaul Keve is a leading authority on corrections administration and author of The History of Corrections in Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1986). He retired in 1993 from the Virginia Commonwealth University, where he taught corrections administration, and before that worked in every area of corrections administration, from probation and parole, to prisons and juvenile institutions.
  • Keve, Paul W.Paul Willard Keve was a pioneer in the field of criminal justice, particularly regarding a professional focus on the management and administration of correctional programs and as a professional writer on criminal justice issues.
  • Livingston, EdwardThe complete works of Mr. Livingston, consisting of systems of penal law for the state of Louisiana and for the United States of America were published by the National Prison Association in 1873. Dr. K. C. Wines, in a prefatory note to that edition, says: “The Association is happy in being made the organ of giving to the country and the world a new edition of the writings of an American jurist and philanthropist who has done so much to illustrate and advance his age in one of the highest and noblest departments of civilization.”
  • Pennsylvania Prison SocietyIn 1794 the Society succeeded in securing the abolition of the exaction of fees by the jailers as a condition of release, and a competent salary was authorized to be paid to the prison officials. About the same time it was decreed that capital punishment should be inflicted only for the crime of murder. Barbarous methods of punishment, such as the pillory, branding with hot irons, the whipping post, were soon dispensed with as reformatory measures.
  • Sanborn, Franklin BenjaminWhen the board of State Charities was organized in 1863, he was made its first secretary by the appointment of Governor John A. Andrew. So admirably did he fill that position that he was reappointed in various offices for nearly a quarter of a century. In connection with his work, he was instrumental along with Dr. S. G. Howe and others in establishing the Clarke School for the Deaf at Northhampton, of which he has been manager for forty-two years and which ranks as one of the best schools of the kind in the world.
  • Virginia Industrial School for Colored GirlsThe residents of the Industrial School were, for the most part, delinquent or dependent colored girls sentenced to prison by local judges and then paroled to the school. There were no foster homes for colored girls who needed care and jail or prison was the only alternative. It is reported that several of the girls were “feeble minded” and a few arrived with contagious diseases. Regardless of the circumstances, the goal of the school was to teach self-direction and character building with the expectation that, when ready, a girl could be “paroled” to a private family in the Richmond area and work for normal wages.