Rehabilitation, Asylum Movement, Prison reform, and Indian reservations.


In the 1820s, the reform movement in America birthed a new interest in rehabilitation. Criminals, mentally ill, and debtors--who were previously crowded into prisons--were now given an opportunity for reform. Cities across the country set up new "penitentiaries" with the intent of assisting ostracized members of society in regaining their sanity. Although this movement soon lost the idea of reforming individuals and became simply another prison sentence, it led to the modern study of mental illnessesand drug rehab.

Asylum Movement

In the early 1800s, individuals began raising social awareness of the mentally ill and the conditions they lived in. Criminals of all kinds, debtors unable to pay debts, the mentally insane, etc were all crowded into prisons and jails indiscriminately. Beginning in the 1820s, many states replaced these facilities with new penitentiaries and mental institutions for a proper environment for inmates. New York was the first to build a penitentiary at Auburn in 1821. In Massachussets, Dorothea Dix, a reformer, began a national movement for new, improved methods of treating the mentally insane. As a result of the movement, imprisonment of those in debt gradually disappeared, as well as traditional practices like legal public hangings. They were meant to give prisoners the oppurtunity to think over their wrongdoings. In many cases, these conditions were terrible, so the Kirkbride Plan was devised. This plan called for facilities to house the mentally ill. The Asylum Movement sparked in interest in studying and treating mental illnesses.

Dorothea Dix, a major figure in the Asylummovement. She began a reform for new,
improved methods for treating the mentally insane
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The New York penitentiary built at Auburn in 1821.
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Prison Reforms

The creation of the asylums was not only to reduce abuses of the old system, but to reform and rehabilitate the imprisoned as well. They were meant to give prisoners the oppurtunity to think over their wrongdoings. Such methods as solitary confinement and imposition of silence on work crews were used to do so. Unfortunately, many asylums and mental hospitals became overcrowded, fading the original reform ideal. Because of this, many prisons degenerated into merely warehouses for criminals lacking emphasis on rehabilitation. The asylum movement was not limited to only criminals and those mentally unfit, but also brought on the idea that a properly structured institution could prevent the decline of morals or help individuals facing failure and despair, helping to spawn the creation of new orphanages as educational institutions. Overall, the prison reforms led to the idea that institutions could "fix" people so they could rejoin society as a moral and productive member of the masses.

Indian Reservations

The beliefs of the prison reform inevitably led to new reforms from 1840 to 1850 similar which were directed towards Native Americans - reservations. For many years, the main policy of the US toward Indians in white settlement had been relocation for the primary goal of getting the tribes ouf ot the way for relocation. There was a secondary goal, however, which was to move the Indians to a place protected from whites at which they could development to great enough extent so that assimilation could be possible. Just as the prisons, asylums, and orphanages would provide society with an oppurtunity to shape misfits to fit with society, the reservations would shape Indians to fit with society. Reformers argued that Native Americans on reservations would learn the ways of civilization in a protected setting.

A Sioux village in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.  Taken in 1891.
A Sioux village in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Taken in 1891.