(redirected from penitentiaries)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.


A prison or place of confinement where persons convicted of felonies serve their term of imprisonment.



West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. a state or federal prison in which convicts are held for commission of major crimes (felonies).

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

PENITENTIARY. A prison for the punishment of convicts.
     2. There are two systems of penitentiaries in the United States, each of which is claimed to be the best by its partisans: the Pennsylvania system and the New York system. By the former, convicts are lodged in separate, well lighted, and well ventilated cells, where they are required to work, during stated hours. During the whole time of their confinement, they are never permitted to see or speak with each other. Their usual employments are shoemaking, weaving, winding yarn, picking wool, and such like business. The only punishments to which convicts are subject, are the privation of food for short periods, and confinement without labor in dark, but well aired cells; this discipline has been found sufficient to keep perfect order; the whip and all other corporal punishments are prohibited. The advantages of the plan are numerous. Men cannot long remain in solitude without labor convicts, when deprived of it, ask it as a favor, and in order to retain it, use, generally, their best exertions to do their work well; being entirely secluded, they are of course unknown to their fellow prisoners, and can form no combination to escape while in prison, or associations to prey upon society when they are out; being treated with kindness, and afforded books for their instruction and amusement, they become satisfied that society does not make war upon them, and, more disposed to return to it, which they are not prevented from doing by the exposure of their fellow prisoners, when in a strange place; the labor of the convicts tends greatly to defray the expenses of the prison. The disadvantages which were anticipated have been found, to be groundless.; Among these were, that the prisoners would be unhealthy; experience has proved the contrary; that they would become insane, this has also been found to be otherwise; that solitude is incompatible with the performance of business; that obedience to the discipline of the prison could not be enforced. These and all other objections to this system are, by its friends, believed to be without force.
     3. The New York system, adopted at Auburn, which was probably copied from the penitentiary at Ghent, in the Netherlands, called La Maison de Force, is founded on the system of isolation and separation, as well as that of Pennsylvania, but with this difference, that in the former the prisoners are confined to their separate cells during the night only; during the working hours in the day time they labor together in work shops appropriated to their use. They cat their meals together, but in such a manner as not to be able to speak with each other. Silence is also imposed upon them at their labor. They perform the labor of carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers, tailors, coopers, gardeners, wood sawyers, &c. The discipline of the prison is enforced by stripes, inflicted by the assistant keepers, on the backs of the prisoners, though this punishment is rarely exercised. The advantages of this plan are, that the convicts are in solitary confinement during the night; that their labor, by being joint, is more productive; that, inasmuch as a clergyman is employed to preach to the prisoners, the system affords an, opportunity for mental and moral improvements. Among the objections made to it are, that the prisoners have opportunities of communicating with each other, and of forming plans of escape, and when they are out of prison, of associating together in consequence of their previous acquaintance, to the detriment of those who wish to return to virtue, and to the danger of the public; that the discipline is degrading, and that it engenders bitter resentment in the mind of the convict. Vide, generally, on the subject of penitentiaries, Report of the Commissioners (Messrs. King, Shaler, and Wharton,) on the Penal Code of Pennsylvania; De Beaumont and De Toqueville, on the Penitentiary System of the United States; Mease on the Penitentiary System of Pennsylvania; Carey on ditto; Reports of the Boston Prison Discipline Society; Livingston's excellent Introductory Report to the Code of Reform and Prison Discipline, prepared for the state of Louisiana; Encycl. Americ. art. Prison Discipline; De. I'Etat Actuel des Prisons en France, par L. M. More au Christophe; Dalloz, Dict. mot Peine, Sec. 1, n. 3, and Supplem. mots Prisons et Bagnes.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
Butler's outstanding recent work, Gendered Justice in the American West: Women Prisoners in Men's Penitentiaries (Urbana, 1997), provides the only comprehensive study of women committed to men's penitentiaries between 1865 and 1915.
Foreign observers such as Gustave de Beaumont, Alexis de Tocqueville, and William Crawford were surprised at the low numbers of women they found in American penitentiaries. In contrast, in the first half of the nineteenth century women were twenty percent of the prison population in England and Wales, thirty percent in Scotland, and ranged from fourteen to twenty percent in France (see Dobash, Dobash, and Gutteridge, 86.) Women also represented one-quarter to one-third of all prisoners transported from Britain to Australia and New Zealand.
By the 1850s England had two national penitentiaries for women that housed six and four hundred prisoners each.
For the fact remains that the demand was there: sisterhood penitentiaries were developed in response to lack of accommodation in the existing institutions, and throughout the century women were routinely turned away for lack of room.
It is possible that those who entered penitentiaries chose to leave the streets early as a result of feelings of guilt, or after finding it more distasteful than they had anticipated.
Sisterhood penitentiaries offered several practical advantages unavailable in the workhouse: most important was the opportunity to train for the higher levels of domestic service or for nursing.
While some did enter penitentiaries in a sincere attempt to make a fresh start, others used them as a convenient rest home before resuming their profession.
Unlike the prisons also known as penitentiaries, female penitentiaries were always open institutions.
Unlike some secular penitentiaries, where penitents were taught to read but not to write, the Community of St.
The sisterhood penitentiaries were unable, given the limitations on women's occupations in the nineteenth century, to offer their penitents a sure means of escape from the cycle of service and 'sin.'
This was in marked contrast to secular penitentiaries, where paid matrons were exempt from the regulations they imposed on the penitents.
Despite the intense religious faith of the sisters themselves, many penitentiaries tended to downplay religious practice among the penitents.