California Prison System Essay

1200 words - 5 pages

The California prison system was created in response to the increased amount of criminal activity that sparked during the Gold Rush years. Prior to the Gold Rush, California had prided itself on being a land of health, beauty, and opportunity (Bookspan, xviii). However, immigration and population growth surged, especially amongst foreign convicts and “aliens”, resulting in increased crime. At first, it was decided that punishment for small crimes would be a beating by whip while punishment for serious crimes, like robbery or murder, would be hanging (Kidport).After becoming a state in 1850, the California governor John McDougal reacted to this method of punishment by beginning what is known as the California Prison System. The first prison within California was San Quentin, which began to receive inmates in 1854, next was Folsom State Prison in 1880, then California Correctional Institution in 1933, California Institution for Men in 1941, and California Institute for Women in 1952 as well as multiple California state prisons that have opened since then in cities such as San Diego, Sacramento, Chowchilla, Avenal, Corcoran, Susanville, Vacaville, Crescent City, and many more (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation). The early California prison systems were very much influenced by the Auburn prison system, from the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York. This system imposed solitary confinement to silence prisoners and promote meditations, but still provided congregate dining and labor with other inmates (Bookspan, xiv). However, in 1944, new Governor Earl Warren decided the California prison system needed a change. He set up his own committee to investigate Folsom, San Quentin, Chino, and Tehachapi prisons, which would lead to the Prison Reorganization Act of 1944. The committee’s findings determined that racial segregation within the prisons needed to end, the quality of food for inmates needed to improve, and places of worship for inmates needed to be provided (Block). The act ultimately “stripped the State Board of Prison Directors of its authority over prison management and placed that authority in a Department of Corrections” (Bookspan 116), which would result in more discipline within prisons as well as improved conditions. This set a whole new view to the California prison system to integrate their criminals back into the larger society, which is a goal that remains today.
San Quentin prison is one of the most notorious and recognizable prisons in California, next to Alcatraz Prison. It began construction in 1852 at, what was known as, Quentin Point and was built mainly by its own inmates, who slept on the prison ship at night then continued construction during the day (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation). It housed men and women until 1933, in which women were then moved to California Institute for Women at Tehachapi. California’s initial goal for prisons was punishment; however, over time,...

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