About the portraits on JPER’s homepage
by Thom Gehring, 2-12-‘18
John Howard (1726-1790) was appointed Sheriff of Bedford, England in 1773. Since he knew nothing about prisons, Howard toured institutions in other jurisdictions and countries to learn about best practices. Visiting in Holland in 1784, he found that attention was given to teaching moral and religious instruction and everyday courtesy in social situations. John Howard is known as the founder of the prison reform movement. His three most important recommendations were (1) salary jailers, so they do not have to live by collecting bribes and through other forms of exploitation, (2) separate prisoners, so jails will not function as schools for vice, and (3) classify prisoners, so they can be included in programs relevant to their needs.
Howard’s emphasis on salaries for institutional employees was what originally brought him into the limelight. A Parliament member named Mr. Popham introduced legislation in the House of Commons to abolish jailers’ fees on prisoners, replacing those fees with salaries funded with county taxes. Howard and Popham met and agreed on strategies to pursue together. As a result of this initiative, and throughout his career in prison reform, Howard’s recommendations were taken seriously by leaders who sought to make prisons responsive to community needs. These actions set off a chain reaction of great magnitude and international scope. (See the entry on Elizabeth Fry to follow subsequent events.)
Zebulon Brockway (1827-1920) began his career as a clerk at Connecticut’s Wethersfield Prison and was quickly promoted to deputy warden by the Pilsbury family. The Pilsburys controlled all the prisons in the Northeastern U.S. Brockway became a warden at age 27. After that he was always warden at whatever showcase institution the Pilsburys started. He separated young offenders from hardened criminals, established a points-based behavior system with progressive housing, and started education programs at a time when most prisons had none. Brockway’s experiments set the pace for prison education in the United States. In 1869 he wrote New York State’s Indeterminate Sentence Law. In 1870 he helped plan a conference at which a Declaration of Principles was written. Principle #10 was
Education is a vital force in the reformation of fallen men and women. Its tendency is to quicken the intellect, inspire self-respect, excite to higher aims, and afford a healthful substitute for low and vicious amusements. Education is therefore a matter of primary importance in prisons, and should be carried to the utmost extent consistent with the other purposes of such institutions. (Wines, E.C. [ed.]. (1871). Transactions of the National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline. Albany, New York: Argus. p. 542).
Brockway earned a reputation for combining prison reform and prison management. When Elmira Reformatory was established in 1876, the first adult reformatory for men in the U.S., Brockway was invited to be warden there by the first ever department of corrections, in New York State, under Louis Pilsbury. Brockway assigned the best teachers to work with the most difficult students. His 1912 autobiography, Fifty Years of Prison Service, was a masterpiece. Brockway was a genius at taking best practices and improving them through education, and the Elmira program set the pace in the areas of individualized, special, vocational, and physical education.
Janie Porter Barrett
Janie Porter Barrett (1865-1948) grew up in Macon, Georgia. Her mother sent her to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, which was established in Virginia by a coalition of Blacks and Whites as a self-help college for the education of former slaves. After graduating she attended Lucy Laney’s Haines Normal and Industrial School, in Georgia. There Barrett studied the work of Jane Addams’ Chicago Hull House. Applying what she had learned throughout her education, Barrett went back to Virginia, and in 1908 she helped found the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (VSFCWC)—she chaired that organization until 1932. Barrett watched as an eight-year-old girl was sentenced to an adult jail, and the impression of that injustice shaped the entire scope of her career. The VSFCWC supported her when she identified the need to establish an institution for wayward Black girls. In 1913 she persuaded some White women to help in the effort. By 1915 the VSFCWC bought some land north of Richmond and opened the new Industrial Home School for Colored Girls, with support from many Black and White women, the National Association of Colored Women, the Russell Sage Foundation (which was interested in women’s initiatives for social improvements), and eventually the Commonwealth (State) of Virginia. By 1920 the State took control of the Industrial Home School for Colored Girls. The best source on Barrett follows: (Muth, B., Gehring, T., Puffer, M., Mayers, C., Kamusikiri, S., and Pressley, G. [March, 2009]. Janie Porter Barrett [1865-1948]: Exemplary African American correctional educator. The Journal of Correctional Education, 60, pp. 31-51). All subsequent citations in this entry are from that article.
“[R]eports reveal Barrett’s voice as she struggled, schemed, cajoled and otherwise marshaled support and resources for her school, despite, at times, overwhelming odds” (p. 38). “All activities were aimed at building agricultural and household skills, and cleanliness” (p. 37). “The Industrial School program was steeped in the mutual aid and self-help traditions that evolved from the late 19th century Social Settlement Movement” (p. 43). In addition, a very democratic model was applied in Barrett’s institution. Students organized themselves into clubs, and those clubs administered many aspects of institutional management. This was a shared responsibility function, in which students shared authority with Barrett. They applied a mentoring capability to help each other.
So many things that used to have to come before the officers are managed by the girls though their clubs. They serve two purposes: they give an opportunity to the girls to practice the social virtues taught through the moral instruction given; and they are most effective in teaching the girls to obey each other, which simplifies the discipline wonderfully. There are two clubs. The Friendly Girls’ Club is made up of honor girls only and its object is, first, to obey the rules, and, second, to be helpful to the officers and to each girl in the school, especially the new girls. If one of their members violates a rule or does anything unbecoming she is handled by the club, a thing they very much dread. I heard a girl crying one day as if her heart would break. When I asked her what the trouble was, she said that she had been turned out of the club for speaking rudely to the girls when she passed the coats. I asked her if they would not take her back when she got to be polite. She said yes, but that it was a terrible disgrace to be turned out. The True Blue Club, I think, takes its name from the blue uniforms. It is made up of the uniform girls who devote their entire energies to self-improvement so that they can become honor girls. Every uniform girl has to be a member of the True Blue Club until she becomes an honor girl, and then her highest ambition is to belong to the Friendly Girls’ Club. (Barrett, in Muth, et al., p. 45).
By any standard, this was a nuanced, community-oriented approach, one in which students nurtured each other. Barrett’s work was especially sophisticated when considered within the context of correctional education in the American Jim Crow South.
Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig
Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, usually known as N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), was Danish, and extremely accomplished in many fields. Prison educators are often most attracted to his work as a teacher and philosopher. He thought secondary and postsecondary education should be organized as the School for Life (which emerged in 1844 as the first folk high school in Denmark), and the School for Passion (university). Both are based on the theory of child development, the idea that students experience a natural unfolding of their personalities as they grow and develop and move through life’s tasks, “from womb to tomb.” In this approach, the teacher’s role is to help guide and facilitate that learning. Although folk high schools vary somewhat in different nations, they usually follow child development ideas. They tend to focus on self-development, with a very large number of courses and no final exams (Grundtvig focused on rewards instead of punishments); some courses are short and some are long; there are minimal entrance exams, and there is maximal teacher freedom.
The European Prison Education Association, indeed, European prison educators in general, tend to identify with many of the principles of the folk high school movement. Within the European Commission’s network of support for education, the Grundtvig Programme is dedicated to lifelong education (including adult education). This same pattern of professional identification is, in part, why European prison educators find great merit in adult education in all its glory (that is, without being reduced to basic academic skills only). When reading the European Prison Rules, this pattern of identification is put forth clearly in the guidelines and aspirations of the Council of Europe regarding prison education. Good adult education in prison should be structured according to those Rules, in what is called Council of Europe Recommendation No. R(89)12 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Education in Prison. While many of Grundtvig’s ideas and philosophy were extremely controversial and social class oriented, his lasting contributions to adult education—and their subsequent application to prison education—have stood the test of time. Appreciation of the folk high school movement, and of adult education in its full scope, is aligned with the European prison management ideal of normalization of “inside” schools with those “outside.” In other words, some of Grundtvig’s contributions to education have had a strong influence on European prison education theory, practice, and aspirations.
Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a middle class and well connected English Quaker. She began organizing educational activities at London’s Newgate Prison in 1817. She was especially interested in literacy and work programs. Fry’s education program at Newgate was staffed by Londoners, including ladies, and was implemented according to the monitorial system. People from the outside community taught basic skills to prisoners, who in turn taught their peers while being monitored, or guided, by the people who had originally taught them. Alongside a portrait of Fry, her Newgate school was portrayed in a 2002 £5 note from the Bank of England; a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is on the other side of the note. Fry always traveled with two wagons—one filled with Bibles and the other with blankets. The Bible served as a literacy text. The blankets were because prisoners were incarcerated in the clothes they were wearing to their trials; when those clothes rotted off their bodies, they went without. This was a particular problem for confined women. Fabrics were contraband, but blankets were not. Women prisoners could make clothes out of the blankets Fry brought to them.
For 20 years after her first work at Newgate, Fry organized ladies’ prison committees to carry on and expand the work throughout England. In 1837 these separate committees combined to form a nationwide organization, the London Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline. The Society initiated standards—largely aligned with John Howard’s findings (see the entry on him above)—and visited (inspected) them. That same Society periodically published its findings, thereby initiating an informal and indirect system of making prison management and staff feel responsible to the public. Fry’s reputation grew steadily throughout Europe. Heads of state wanted the prisons in their countries to live up to the Society’s standards, and to be acknowledged for that, so they sought out and listened to her advice. The best book on Elizabeth Fry follows: Fry, K., and Cresswell, R.E. (1974/1848). Memoir of Elizabeth Fry: With extracts from Her Journal and Letters. Montclair, New Jersey: Patterson Smith.
A problem, however, emerged precisely because of Fry’s success. The Walnut Street Jail, the first modern penitentiary was founded by Quakers in Philadelphia in 1773. Before modern prisons, criminal justice was addressed through a controversial, cruel, and ugly system of torture, executions, horrible mutilations, public humiliations, and debilitating fines. Philadelphia’s Quaker community actually established the penitentiary in order to reform this terrible system and replace it with simple confinement. News of their innovation reverberated across the Atlantic, between the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania and England. Their reform-oriented sentiment was reinforced by John Howard’s recommendation to separate prisoners, so prisons would not become schools for vice. But it did not take long for the Philadelphia Quaker community to realize what a monster of an institution they had begun; in 1787 they established the Philadelphia Society for the Alleviation of the Miseries of Public Prisons. Walnut Street Jail was entirely dedicated to solitary confinement, which caused prisoners to get unthinkable mental, emotional, and even physical illnesses. In the U.S., an alternative system of prison discipline emerged in which prisoners were allowed to congregate at work and at meals, but always in enforced silence, in order to be consistent with Howard’s recommendation. Within a few decades the original system, the Philadelphia (or Pennsylvania) system was phased out in all the American states. But in Europe it flourished for many decades. In summary, Elizabeth Fry had the best intentions; she was a wonderful community organizer who brought education and hope to many prisoners, in many nations. However, her widespread influence inadvertently continued a very flawed system, which might have otherwise been corrected.
Thomas Mott Osborne
Thomas Mott Osborne (1859-1926) was voluntarily locked up for a week in 1913 at New York’s infamous Auburn Prison, with the warden’s permission. He called himself a forger, and was known as Tom Brown, inmate #3164 (some later reported his inmate number was 33333X), worked in the knit shop making socks, and spent a day and a night in a solitary confinement dark cell. Soon after this episode the Auburn inmates, with the warden’s permission, organized themselves into what became known as the Mutual Welfare League (MWL), which managed every institutional program, including discipline. Prisoners were elected from each prison shop, and those representatives met together periodically as a prison legislature, with the warden’s permission. Osborne was subsequently assigned as warden of Sing Sing, where he helped establish another MWL. The New York State Department of Prisons, through the Westchester County District Attorney, brought Osborne to court on a series of fabricated charges, and the MWL established an outside branch to help pay for his legal defense. This meant there were three MWLs: one at Auburn, one at Sing Sing, and another outside. All three were in regular communication; they had established a democratic movement in prisons. Osborne was acquitted of all charges and reinstated as warden at Sing Sing. The inmates there, as well as a number who had already been released and their families, held a great celebration upon his return as warden in 1915, with a large banner that read “Greetings: Our Friend, Our Pal, Tom Brown.” During World War II, Osborne became the warden of the U.S. Navy Prison in Portsmouth, New Hampshire—where yet another MWL was established. During his Yale lectures for the outside branch of the Mutual Welfare League, Osborne commented on a conversation a prisoner had initiated with him earlier, during his tenure at Sing Sing:
It is not merely that vice has been materially diminished,—the matter goes far deeper than that; the very standards of conduct have undergone reconstruction. One of the men, as he was about to leave Sing Sing at the expiration of his term, came to say good-bye to the warden. 'Do you realize what it is that the League has done here?' said he. 'Let me tell you. It has started the men discussing the right and wrong of things, every day, from one end of the yard to the other.' If this be true,—if a prison can contain a sort of large class in social ethics— freely and naturally discussing the right and wrong of everyday happenings, is not that the most important thing of all? Because therein lies precisely that exercise of the conscience—just that practice in discrimination between right and wrong, between wise and foolish, that is necessary for those who have committed sin and need to cleanse their souls and patiently form new standards. (Osborne, T.M. (1975/1916). Society and prisons: Some suggestions for a new penology. Montclair, New Jersey: Patterson Smith, p. 229.)
Anton Makerenko (1888-1939) was born in the Ukraine, studied to be a teacher, and was soon a principal. After World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, civil war, and famines, many children became war orphans and delinquents. In 1920 the Ukrainian education commissar told Makarenko to start a new institution. He established three facilities for children criminals; each was self-governing and nearly self-supporting. Similar institutions in the U.S.S.R. were known as Makarenko Colonies, but he named his Gorky Colonies after his mentor, the famous author Maxim Gorky. Makarenko wrote a trilogy of books on social education, another with advice to parents on how to avoid spoiling their children, and a third with stories about young prisoners. Soviets studied his books to learn about education, but also as fine literature. When local villages requested police services, Makarenko armed prisoners and sent them out to provide those services. When inmates put on a play about World War I, Makarenko gave them explosives for special effects. He won an argument with education authorities about teaching in the new Communist society. Bolsheviks favored John Dewey’s American philosophy of education, but Makarenko said that was too individualistic—a new collectivist approach was needed. He won the argument and in other countries became known as the John Dewey of the U.S.S.R. Russian local schools sought to be as good as his prison schools and his picture was displayed in most classrooms. In 1928 Dewey visited Makarenko and his prison schools. Dewey and Makarenko made a film together and named it after Makarenko’s book trilogy, The Road to Life. In 1933 Dewey suggested that America and Europe could learn much from Makarenko. By 1935 Party chairman Joseph Stalin said that, in matters educational, Makarenko spoke for him. Makarenko’s fame grew and even the secret police constructed buildings for Gorky Colony programs. When the Bolsheviks were getting ready to pass anti-family laws based on their understanding of Karl Marx’s philosophy, Makarenko said families were social collectives that supported the state, so Soviet policy shifted to support families. In 1929, Dewey reported on his visit to a Gorky Colony that was established by the secret police, near what we now call St. Petersburg:
. . . In Peterhof—up the Neva . . . The place marks the nearest approach of the White [anti-Bolshevik] Armies to Leningrad [during the Civil War]; the buildings were more or less ruined in the warfare . . . not yet wholly restored, since the teachers and children must do the work; there is still need in some quarters for hot water and whitewash. Two-thirds of the children are former ‘wild children,’ orphans, refugees, etc., taken from the streets . . . I have never seen . . . such a large proportion of intelligently occupied children. They were not lined up for inspection. We . . . found them engaged in their various summer occupations, gardening, bee-keeping, repairing buildings, growing flowers in a conservatory (built and now managed by a group of particularly tough boys who began by destroying everything in sight), making simple tools and agricultural implements, etc. . . . their manner and attitude is . . . what stays with me—I cannot convey it; I lack the necessary literary skill. But the net impression will always remain. If the children had come from the most advantageously situated families, the scene would have been a remarkable one, unprecedented . . . When their almost unimaginable earlier history and background were taken into account, the effect was to leave me with . . .admiration for the capacities of the people from which they sprang . . . an unshakable belief in what they can accomplish. (Dewey, J. . Impressions of Soviet Russia and the revolutionary world. New York: New Republic, Inc.. pp. 27-29).
As a student in 1915, Austin MacCormick (1893-1979) visited Thomas Mott Osborne to get information for a paper he was writing on prison reform. That began their collaboration. Osborne and MacCormick were voluntarily incarcerated in Maine State Prison for a month and wrote a report exposing conditions there. Later MacCormick was associate warden at a U.S. Naval Prison when Osborne served as warden. When Osborne left in 1921, MacCormick became warden. In 1927-1928 he visited 110 of the 114 prisons in the country on a trip funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the American Library Association, so he could write on prison libraries and education. The result was his The Education of Adult Prisoners (1931)—still the definitive volume on that subject. In 1930 MacCormick was the first deputy director of the new Federal Bureau of Prisons, focusing on education and libraries. That same year he started the American Prison Association’s Standing Committee on Education. In 1935 MacCormick participated as a non-alcoholic member in the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Until his death he was always on the nationwide AA board. He was known for going to New York City’s Bowery to help by buying lunches for alcoholics. In 1938 MacCormick started the Journal of Correctional Education. Franklin Roosevelt awarded him the Presidential Medal of Honor for his prison work in Asia during World War II. One of the schools at New York City’s Rikers Island Jail is named the Austin MacCormick Academy. MacCormick was awarded the prestigious American Correctional Association’s ER Cass Award for his lifelong consultancies in many states. He led the Osborne Association, Inc., the nation’s premier prison reform organization. MacCormick later headed up the committee that investigated the Attica riot.