A Brief History of Prisons and Prison Education

Prisons were used in Europe as early as the 12th century, but they were not originally considered necessary by the founders of the United States. In 1787, concerned citizens in Pennsylvania founded the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The Correctional Education Movement also started in Pennsylvania, at the Philadelphia Walnut Street Jail, where clergyman William Rogers first offered instruction to inmates.

David Snedden and other prominent, WWI-era, urban school reformers were originally interested in reformatory schools as compulsory attendance “laboratories.” Soon after, reformers found additional reasons to study correctional education programs. Snedden reported on models of vocational, physical, and military education in his 1907 book, Administration and Educational Work of American Juvenile Reform Schools, and summarized how educators in public schools could learn from correctional educators. Snedden’s work was based on the principles he observed in practice in reformatory schools. He further investigated juvenile correctional education to identify additional models for use in school settings.

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