Suppressing Prisoners’ Communication in Late 18th Century Philadelphia

face of a prisoner

In 1790, Pennsylvania moved to hold in communicative isolation some prisoners in Philadelphia’s Walnut Street jail . The law that the Pennsylvania legislature passed on April 5, 1790, ordered:

a suitable number of cells to be constructed in the yard of the gaol of the said county, each of which cells shall be six feet in width, eight feet in length, and nine feet in height, and shall be constructed of brick or stone, upon such plan as will best prevent danger from fire; and the said cells shall be separated from the common yard, by walls of such height, as without unnecessary exclusion of air and light, will prevent all external communication, for the purpose of confining therein, the more hardened and atrocious offenders^

Penitentiaries subsequently constructed in New York in the 1810s and Pennsylvania in the 1820s made communicative isolation a fundamental aspect of incarceration for all the prisoners in the penitentiary.

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