The Prison Reform Movement

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  • I didn't do anything! I'm only a kid!
  • 1841
  • How much money do you owe?
  • Only 20 dollars, but I will be imprisoned for years because I won't be able to earn any money while I'm locked up.
  • In 1841, Dorothea Dix visited a jail to teach Sunday school. What she witnessed changed her view on jail forever. She was horrified to see prisoners bound in chains and locked in cages. She found out that children who were accused of minor thefts were jailed with adult criminals. Dix wanted to know if conditions were this bad everywhere.
  • We appreciate your time. We have decided to create public asylums for the mentally ill.
  • I demand that the mentally ill be treated better!
  • Dorothea was determined to find out if prison conditions were as bad as they were where she taught Sunday school. She visited hundreds of jails and prisons throughout Massachusetts. She even visited debtors' prisons. She found out that thousands of Americans in debtors' prisons owed less than 20 dollars. Because they couldn't earn money to repay their debts while they were locked up, many were imprisoned for years.
  • Thanks again for sharing your reports with us. We will follow after Massachusetts by creating public asylums for the mentally ill.
  • Of course, I'm glad to have made a difference.
  • Dix was really shocked by the way the mentally ill were treated. They were locked in dirty, crowded prison cells. if the misbehaved, they were whipped. Dix believed what they needed was treatment, not punishment.  
  • All of the patients are in their own, clean rooms.
  • Yep, thanks to Dorothea!
  • By 1847...
  • Dix finally presented her information that she had gathered for two years to the Massachusetts state legislature. When she described all of the awful things she had seen, especially describing how awful the mentally ill had been treated. The lawmakers were shocked by Dix's report, so they voted to create public asylums for the mentally ill.
  • When Dix presented her reports to other states, they too created special mental hospitals. Because of Dix's continued effort and campaigning for prison reform, state governments were no longer putting debtors in prison. Many states outlawed cruel punishments and created special justice systems for children in trouble.
  • Dorothea Dix impacted our society in many ways. Because of her, we have outlawed cruel and unusual punishments, have better facilities to treat the mentally ill, have special justice systems for children, and most of all, she showed  us that it is possible to lead society to make significant changes.
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