workhouse | Definition

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

A workhouse is a type of correctional institution, typically used in the 18th and 19th centuries, where prisoners were required to perform manual labor as part of their punishment.

Workhouses were first established in England in the 17th century as a way to address poverty and unemployment. However, over time, workhouses came to be used as a form of punishment for criminal offenders as well. In the United States, workhouses were commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.

Workhouses were typically large, institutional facilities where prisoners were required to perform manual labor, such as breaking rocks or making shoes. The idea behind workhouses was to provide a form of punishment that would also serve a productive purpose, such as improving public infrastructure or providing goods and services to the community.

While workhouses were often touted as a more humane form of punishment than traditional forms of imprisonment, they were also criticized for their harsh conditions and lack of rehabilitation programs. Many workhouses were overcrowded and unsanitary, with little regard for the well-being of prisoners.

In the United States, workhouses began to fall out of favor in the late 19th century as prison reformers called for more humane and rehabilitative forms of punishment. Today, workhouses are no longer used as a primary form of correctional institution in the United States, although some states still use the term “workhouse” to describe certain types of correctional facilities.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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