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February 26, 2014

Scheduling "tours" of Eastern State Penitentiary and related prison history

As mentioned in class, I am very eager to get as many folks as possible to watch the video about Eastern State Penitentiary and to learn more generally about the history of American prisons through that means.  Ergo, I hope folks will use the comments below to identify afternoon times on Thursday and Friday afternoons (2/27 and 2/28) when they could give an hour to watch this video. 

I am going to proposed a 4pm showing on Thursday and a 3pm showing on Friday (with me buying drinks after both showings).   I hope folks will say if/when they can make one of the showing (which will be in our usual classroom unless otherwise reported in this space).

In addition, I realized I could facilitated learning more about Eastern State by encouraging folks to check out this terrific website (and especially the pages linked here).    Moreover, as the ESP video highlights, there are lots of stories about lots of (in)famous prisons that tell lots of stories about not only American crime and punishment, but also about America.  A number of notable Ohio-centric stories to be found within in this history, as documented by a relatively recent book entitled "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons."  Here is a snippet from the book:

With the opening of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1896, the state legislature had put in place "the most complete prison system, in theory, which exists in the United States."  The reformatory joined the Ohio Penitentiary and the Boys Industrial School, also central-Ohio institutions, to form the first instance of "graded prisons; with the reform farm on one side of the new prison, for juvenile offenders, and the penitentiary on the other, for all the more hardened and incorrigible class."  However, even as the concept was being replicated throughout the country, the staffs of the institutions were faced with the day-to-day struggle of actually making the system work.

Excerpts from this book can be accessed at this link.  The Ohio State Reformatory referenced in this passage is located in Mansfield, and is now an historic site (and also where the great movie The Shawshank Redemption was shot).  I urge everyone to take a virtual tour via this huge photo gallery.

And especially if you are looking for some weekend web-surfing fun, check out these additional links to some good sites about some of the United States' most famous or most interesting prisons and jails:

UPDATE I was very pleased six fine students found time to take the ESP tour on Thursday afternoon (and even more pleased that two of us got free beers when we migrated over to Eddie George's thereafter).  I hope a few more folks might be able to make it Friday at 3pm, and I will loan out the DVD thereafter to whomever might want to watch it on their own time.

February 26, 2014 in Class activities | Permalink


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3p Friday

Posted by: Dan Inscore | Feb 26, 2014 6:10:52 PM

Could we do 3 pm on Thursday instead of 4 pm? Judge Sargus teaches a class that I'm in starting at 4:45 and I work until 4 pm on Friday. If not, can I borrow the movie please?

Posted by: Katie W. | Feb 26, 2014 7:14:48 PM

Can we do 3 pm on Thursday instead of 4 pm? Judge Sargus teaches a class that I am in at 4:45 and I work on Fridays until 4. If not, may I borrow the movie please?

Posted by: Katie W. | Feb 26, 2014 7:16:22 PM

Both will work for me.

Posted by: Yaeko | Feb 26, 2014 7:24:32 PM

I can come at 4 on Thursday.

Posted by: Adam P. | Feb 26, 2014 9:32:16 PM

Both times work for me.

Posted by: Jessica M. | Feb 26, 2014 10:03:13 PM

3pm Friday works for me.

Posted by: R. Joe Varvel | Feb 26, 2014 10:05:57 PM

Thursday works best for me.

Posted by: Kandra R. | Feb 27, 2014 10:15:30 AM

Thanks, all. I will keep the 4pm time for Thursday (and Katie should be able to see 75% of the movie before her 4:45pm class).

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 27, 2014 10:23:59 AM

3 p.m. Friday

Posted by: Gus L. | Feb 27, 2014 11:30:55 AM

Professor Merritt sent out a Columbus Dispatch article to the Criminal Defense Clinic and I thought it was pretty interesting. It can be found here:


The gist of it is that Ohio wants to lower the minimum standards in Ohio jails. The lowering of standards would mean less training for jail employees and less work: inmates would only get two meals a day instead of three, they would only shower every other day, and visiting hours would be cut. From what I understand, they hope to decrease the number of lawsuits claiming improper treatment of inmates by decreasing the standards that they must meet.

I think the part of the article that hit me the most was this example of an inmate death at our very own county jail:

"The death of Edward Peterson on Sept. 4, 2011, at the Franklin County jail on Jackson Pike shows why jail standards matter.
Peterson, 48, a mentally ill Columbus man who suffered from heart problems, died in an isolation cell described in a jail memo as “a mass of putrid filth.” He did not have a mattress. Trash and feces were so bad that Columbus paramedics called to the scene declared a “bio alert” and had to be decontaminated.
“Updated rules would be great, but if the ones that are already in place are not followed, it's fair to say that the new ones will not be either,” said Columbus lawyer Joseph Russell, who filed a wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of Peterson’s family.
Although Franklin County sheriff’s officials declined to comment, Maj. Douglas Edgington, commander of the Jackson Pike jail, accused the jail staff in an internal memo shortly after Peterson’s death of “deliberate indifference and deceptive practice.”
He also said it was “painfully evident in that our staff failed to provide this inmate that which is required in accordance (with) the minimum standards for jails in Ohio.”"

Posted by: Katie W. | Mar 2, 2014 3:35:45 PM

After looking at the links above to the various famous prisons across the United States, two things came to mind: First, that these websites didn't at all address the conditions of the prisons, and Second, should prison conditions be considered as a part of sentencing?

I guess it is no surprise that the organizations running these prisons today do not want to advertise the potential horrific treatment the prisoners suffered at the hands of the government. It also seems that this is not something that would attract visitors to these prisons. But, of course, many visitors must be aware that prison conditions used to be, and arguably still are, inhumane.

Notably in the "History" section of these websites you can see details of various riots that occurred at these prisons. The reasons that these riots occurred, however, are not explained in detail. Is it the fault of society that we choose to ignore things like this? Possibly to avoid looking into the current state of American prisons?

As to my next thought, there are inherently some prisons that provide better conditions for inmates than others. Regardless of what the legislature (and society) has determined is the minimum level of treatment required, not all prisons will have the same conditions.

Should judges consider the conditions of the prison the Defendant in front of them will go to? "Prison" is a pretty abstract idea for most of us, but it is "home" to over 2 millions people (in 2011). When a judge sentences someone to "prison," it necessarily comes with more than just restriction of movement and freedom.

Some poor prison conditions result from prison overcrowding and lack of an appropriate budget, while others come from prison guard abuse. These conditions can result in the degradation of health, safety and human dignity of the inmates.

It seems that this argument plays to the idea of equalized justice. Is it fair for one individual to be subjected to far worse prison conditions when his crime was less serious that another individual?

Of course, I don't think it is necessarily plausible for judges to take prison conditions in consideration when determining sentences, but I think it is an interesting idea that should encourage a more in depth look into prison conditions in America.

Posted by: Sarah H. | Mar 2, 2014 6:54:58 PM

In the passage above, I noticed that the Ohio State Reformatory opened in 1896.

Where did the State of Ohio place females before the Ohio Reformatory for Women (founded 20 years later, in 1916 http://www.drc.state.oh.us/public/orw.htm) ?

Posted by: Cheyenne C. | Mar 2, 2014 10:27:23 PM

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