Sen. Kissel Tours Worlds First Penitentiary

August 4, 2009

Tours Penitentiary Designed To Inspire “Penitence” In The Hearts Of Criminals

State Senator John A. Kissel toured the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 22, 2009 after speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Cost Cutting in Corrections forum. Sen. Kissel, who has six prisons in his district, housing over 8,000 inmates, welcomed the opportunity to tour the world’s first penitentiary. Sen. Kissel Tours Worlds First Penitentiary

“This was by far one of the most impressive historical sites I’ve ever seen”, said Sen. Kissel. “The look of the building alone is overwhelming, never mind actually walking through the halls that were home to prisoners for nearly 150 years. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about the history of institutionalizing criminals.”

The first prisoner was admitted to Eastern State in October of 1829 and the institution served as a fully functioning prison until 1971. The penitentiary housed Al Capone from 1929-1930, though he was treated better than other prisoners and given a radio and table lamp (picture attached). After time, like so many prisons, Eastern became over crowded in the 1920s and 30s, but only a minimal number of escapes occurred in those two decades.

“Not only was this institution groundbreaking in regards to corrections, the new technology needed to keep prisoners locked up inside played a huge role in many of the innovations we take for granted every day,” said Sen. Kissel. “Engineers had to design indoor toilets at a time when no one had indoor toilets, which required running water. Each cell was also equipped with a skylight, which were virtually unheard of at the time. As a person very interested in history, I was fascinated by not only the sight of this building, built to look like a castle in order to keep people away, but the rich history contained inside.”

“One of the main features of the penitentiary was a philosophy that prisoners should be kept silent as to create a truly ‘penitent’ criminal. The silence drove some early prisoners crazy, but like all things, the corrections philosophy of that day evolved in to what we have today,” said Sen. Kissel. “Seeing how far we’ve come in the last 150 years, I have great hope for the future of correctional systems and their ability to impact society.”