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Week 1: Introduction to Corrections

April 4, 2021
Brenda I. Belcher

Week 1: Introduction to Corrections

After a criminal offender is arrested by a law enforcement officer and sentenced by a judge or jury, he or she enters the correctional system. Today’s correctional system is a network of agencies designed to carry out court-ordered punishments, rehabilitate criminal offenders, and, if necessary, ensure that the worst criminal offenders remain separated from the rest of society. The responsibility to carry out the most severe punishments, such as life in prison or the death penalty, while maintaining control over incarcerated offenders is challenging and not without controversy.

This week, you will begin your exploration of the correctional system by considering the history and evolution of two important topics: punishments and prison conditions.    

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Summarize the historical origins and evolution of prison conditions and punishments
  • Evaluate the constitutionality of historical and contemporary prison conditions and punishments

Learning Resources

Required Readings

Hanser, R. D. (2017). Introduction to corrections (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.Chapter 1, “Early History of Punishment and the Development of Prisons in the United States” (pp. xxviii–27)Introduction to Corrections, 2nd Edition by Hanser, R. Copyright 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Inc via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Braatz, E. E. (2016). The Eighth Amendment’s milieu: Penal reform in the late eighteenth century. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 106(3), 405–472.Reiter, K. (2016). Reclaiming the power to punish: Legislating and administrating the California supermax, 1982–1989. Law & Society Review, 50(2), 484–518.


Discussion: Prison Conditions and Punishments

The first prison in the United States opened in 1790. Shortly thereafter, in 1791, the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution was established, which includes a clause against the use of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court’s interpretation of this clause has evolved over time, just as punishments and prison conditions have evolved. Some punishments and prison conditions have been deemed “cruel and unusual” while others have not.

For this Discussion, select one of the following topics to discuss in terms of its history and evolution within the correctional system and the degree to which the Eighth Amendment applies:

  • Prison conditions (access to fresh air, light, and medical care, sanitation and hygiene, and overcrowding)
  • Punishments (hard labor, corporal punishment, solitary confinement, capital punishment)

By Day 3

Post a response that addresses the following:

  • Summarize briefly the historical origins and evolution of the topic you selected (prison conditions or punishments).
  • Would any of the conditions or punishments you described violate the Eighth Amendment’s clause of cruel and unusual punishment? Why or why not?
  • Support your argument with evidence from the Learning Resources. You may also incorporate relevant professional experience.

By Day 5

Respond to at least two colleagues:

  • Respond to colleagues who chose a different topic than you did.
  • Respectfully agree or disagree with their argument regarding violations of the Eighth Amendment.    

Submission and Grading Information

Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 1 Discussion Rubric

Post by Day 3 and Respond by Day 5

To participate in this Discussion:Week 1 Discussion


Week in Review

This week, you began your exploration of the correctional system by considering the history and evolution of two important topics: punishments and prison conditions.

Next week, you broaden your focus by considering the full history of corrections, how it has evolved, and how it has influenced the contemporary correctional practices.

Next Week

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