From the formation of our country until today, not much has changed in the sense of achieving real penal reform. Within reason, the level of punishment must fit the level of crime, thus, the question of what �within reason� means is relatively up for grabs. The fact of the matter is that law is not a remote entity. Law changes by following the three guiding principles: concrete political groups, current emotion and real economic interest. As a result, crime and punishment follows closely behind since law will inevitably be broken.
In the late 18th-early 19th century, punishment was intended to reform, to create penitence (hence the penitentiary system), and to make example of sinners. This system of punishment was a result of Calvinist/Puritanical beliefs within the tightly knit colonial system. As the United States grew bigger so did the jurisdiction of small local courts, the amount of interaction between and amongst other colonial groups, and the types of ...view middle of the document...
This shift from 1850 to 1900 saw many changes in the tactics of society to maintain order. Sinning in itself was not necessarily a punishable offense in the legal sense. Where punishment was once the job of the local culture, or vigilante group, increasing legislation brought the need for a more stable and visible force. The Victorian Age is a perfect example where this blending of vigilante groups and police forces occur. This time period also saw a significant increase in the amount of legislation, and thus the amount of laws. The more laws there were the more there were to be broken
As the United States started to rise up and eventually become the world system leader the ideas of crime and punishment took a new route. Morals laws essentially replaced the idea of being punished for a wrong against God, but a wrong against
society. Criminal and civil law also took dramatic turns from each other. The methods of punishment have also changed. No longer victims of stoning, one must wonder if a petty criminal would rather be stoned than spend 30 days in jail. Though corporal punishment has historically been an issue, the idea of where civil rights and corporal punishment interact has primarily been a mid-20th century issue. 20th century penal reform has also taken a shift from legislation as a means to a particular end, but more of an end to a particular means. By this, I mean that 19th legislation was created to establish order, and in the 20th century legislation is a result to maintain order. Today there is also more focus on constitutionality and fundamental rights rather than on core religious ideologies.
One overwhelming theme, no matter what time period, is the ancient Roman desire to move back to the �golden age.� When exactly, this golden age of the United States occurred (or if it even has occurred yet) varies from generation to generation. The attempt at penal reform is a type of social reform, that changes as the ideologies of the American people change. Attempting to go back to the �good ol� days� is often the motivation for lawmakers and citizens. Nevertheless, crime and punishment remain to be a controversial subject in American politics. This essentially means that until there is no crime there is no true �real penal reform.�