Prison and Mental Institution Reform By: Greg Abraham, Michael Brownewell, Jennifer Zavala, Hitonshu Desai



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Prison and Mental Institution Reform


Prison Reform

  • Around the 1840s, state legislatures began abolishing debtor’s prisons.

  • Capitol offenses were reduced.

  • Brutal punishment, such as whipping and branding was slowly eliminated.



New idea: prisons should “reform” as well as punish (which is why they were sometimes called reformatories and penitentiaries) to reverse tendency to create “hardened criminals”.

  • New idea: prisons should “reform” as well as punish (which is why they were sometimes called reformatories and penitentiaries) to reverse tendency to create “hardened criminals”.

  • Some people, such as Dorothea Dix proposed that children should be taught at an earlier age about discipline and consequences.

  • Prisons specifically for women were created.

  • The most important prison reform leaders were Dorothea Dix and Elizabeth Fry.



Insane Asylum Reform

  • Dorothea Dix was the main reform leader for Mental Institutions.

  • At an early age she decided that she wanted to teach.

  • She opened her own dame school (a school for girls because they could not attend public school).

  • She became ill and was forced to close her school in 1836. She decided to travel to England for medicinal remedies.

  • There she met Elizabeth Fry and Samuel Tuke who were involved in prison and insane asylum reform. Dorothea learned new theories of caring for the insane, such as moral treatment, seclusion from family and society, less use of mechanical restraints, and useful tasks to keep the patients busy.



On March 28, 1841, Dorothea volunteered to teach female inmates at the Cambridge, Massachusetts jail. Afterwards she toured the rest of the jail and was appalled at the conditions. She saw insane men and women chained naked to walls and locked into cages. Most were malnourished, brutalized, given no heat, and sleeping on stone floors.

  • On March 28, 1841, Dorothea volunteered to teach female inmates at the Cambridge, Massachusetts jail. Afterwards she toured the rest of the jail and was appalled at the conditions. She saw insane men and women chained naked to walls and locked into cages. Most were malnourished, brutalized, given no heat, and sleeping on stone floors.

  • This visit caused Dix to begin her campaign to reform conditions for the mentally ill. She first tried to get stoves placed in cells and to have the inmates fully clothed.

  • Later she made a report to the Massachusetts state legislature to make reforms regarding the mentally ill.

  • She traveled to other states as well causing them to make improvements in the care for the insane.

  • She established hospitals and improved life for the mentally ill.



When the Civil War began in 1860, Dorothea volunteered to form the Army Nurses Corps. She was later made Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army.

  • When the Civil War began in 1860, Dorothea volunteered to form the Army Nurses Corps. She was later made Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army.

  • After the war, she traveled the south, helping to reform and repair damage that had been done during the many battles.

  • In 1881, she was stricken by an illness. This left her bedridden.

  • In 1887, she died at Trenton Hospital in New Jersey, a hospital that she established.



  • It is only through the sacrifices of individuals like Dorothea Dix, that the mentally ill receive the care and attention they do, rather than being locked up. But the battle is not over. There are still many mentally ill people who receive no care, who are homeless, and who do not benefit from the many programs available in American society today.



Others were Samuel Tuke, who was a reformer in England but the came to America. (Samuel Howe, Thomas Kirkbride, and Alexis de Tocqueville were other reformers for the mentally ill)

  • Others were Samuel Tuke, who was a reformer in England but the came to America. (Samuel Howe, Thomas Kirkbride, and Alexis de Tocqueville were other reformers for the mentally ill)

  • Investigated and reported treatment of insane and led to humane institutions

  • She called the asylums museums of madness because of the horrible things she witnessed

  • She found mentally ill women kept in the same prison cells as male criminals

  • Both her mother and grandmother were mentally ill (this is probably why she was interested in reform of these mental institutions).

  • ------websites-----

  • https://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/17456/105859

  • http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/mhddsas/DIX/dorothea.html

  • http://shs.westport.k12.ct.us/socialreform/asy.htm

  • http://websrv.utica.edu/faculty/tbrown/times/obits/dix.htm








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