Benjamin Rush on Communication During Punishment

face of a prisoner

In his essay An Enquiry into the Effects of Public Punishments upon Criminals, and upon Society, Benjamin Rush urged that punishment be administered in private. Rush argued that public punishments encouraged more crime both from the person punished and the spectators of the punishment. Rush noted that just talking about illicit sex could promote it:

It has been remarked, that a certain immorality has always kept pace with public admonitions in the churches in the eastern states. In proportion as this branch of ecclesiastical discipline has declined, fewer children have been born out of wedlock.^

Rush was a Founding Father of the United States. He read Enquiry in the the Effect of Public Punishments at a meeting at Benjamin Franklin’s house on March 9, 1787. Rush was a prime mover in the founding of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons on May 8, 1787.^ Rush and other Pennsylvania penal reformers envisioned great harms in uncontrolled communication with prisoners.^ These concerns led to the opening of the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829.

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