Auburn System | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Corrections

The Auburn System was a nineteenth-century penal system in which inmates were forced to work in complete silence during the day, then were kept in solitary confinement at night.

Also known as the New York System and the Silent System.

The Auburn System was a penal system that emerged in the early 19th century and was named after the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York, where it was first implemented. This system was characterized by its use of enforced labor and strict discipline as a means of punishment and reform.

Under the Auburn System, prisoners were forced to work in complete silence during the day, usually in large workshops where they performed labor such as weaving, shoemaking, or blacksmithing. In some cases, prisoners were forced to work for up to 16 hours a day. The system was designed to be efficient and productive, with the goal of making prisons self-sufficient by using the labor of inmates to generate income.

In addition to enforced labor, the Auburn System also employed strict discipline as a means of punishment and reform. Prisoners were subject to strict rules, and any violation of these rules was met with harsh punishment, such as confinement in a dark cell or physical punishment. The system also employed a hierarchy of authority, with guards and prison officials exercising strict control over inmates.

At night, prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, often in small cells with little or no natural light. This isolation was intended to prevent communication among inmates and to ensure that they had time to reflect on their crimes and the consequences of their actions.

The Auburn System was not without controversy, and many criticized it for its harshness and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The system was also criticized for its emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation and for its lack of focus on addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.

Over time, the Auburn System fell out of favor, and many prisons began to adopt more reform-oriented approaches to incarceration. Today, most prisons focus on rehabilitation and offer a range of programs and services designed to help inmates prepare for their release and reintegration into society.

Despite its controversial legacy, the Auburn System remains an important chapter in the history of criminal justice and a reminder of the challenges that continue to face the criminal justice system today. While the system was intended to deter crime and punish offenders, it ultimately failed to address the root causes of criminal behavior and to provide meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation and reform.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/04/2023

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