Sociology Index


Penitentiary may have two meanings or definitions. Penitentiary may be a federal prison or a judgment session overseen by a cardinal dealing with questions of conscience. Prisons as penitentiary were built in the early part of the 19th century and embodied the principle of solitary confinement as punishment for a criminal offense. Early advocates of the penitentiary, such as John Howard, were influenced by their Christian faith and equated crime with sin. Penitentiary model provided a philosophy of punishment and also shaped Anglo-European penology by assuming that criminal offenders would be reformed or rehabilitated by confining them in a penitentiary. The first penitentiary in North America was at Auburn, New York, built in 1816-25, and came to be known as the silent system.

Offenders were confined in solitary cells at night and worked in congregate, and in silence during the day. Eastern State Penitentiary, built at Cherry Hill, Pennsylvania in 1829, embodied the solitary system, as offenders were confined to solitary cells for the entire period of confinement. The Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia was the last stop for many murderers, rapists, and thieves. It was where the worst of the worst were left to rot, die, or be murdered by fellow inmates. The last man hanged at the penitentiary in 1959 was inmate Bud Peterson from Logan County.

Peterson’s family, like many, refused his body and it went on to be buried at the penitentiary cemetery with the rest of the unclaimed corpses. As suggested by the name, penitentiaries had a strong Christian influence. A penitent is one who repents of sins, or feels pain or sorrow for offenses. Also one who is admitted to penance, which is the sacrament consisting in repentance or contrition for sins.

Penitentiary and the terms jail, prison, and correction facilities are not the same. Jail is the mildest detaining room of them all. jail is the place where the convict is placed while waiting for his trial. In the earlier times the federal prison was accepted as penitentiary.