In 1842 a women named Dorothea Dix agreed to teach Sunday school at a jail. What she witnessed changed her life forever.
Please don't! I'm sorry!
Dorothea was horrified to see children and adults bound in chains and locked in cages. Children accused of minor thefts were jailed with adult criminals and conditions this bad were everywhere.
I come as the advocate for the helpless, forgotten, insane....
While visiting hundreds of jails and prisons throughout Massachusetts Dix visited debtors' prison. Dix discovered that most of the thousands of Americans in debtor's prisons owed less than 20 dollars. But while they were locked up, they could not earn money and therefor they were unable to repay their debt. As a result, they remained imprisoned for years.
Dix was most shocked by the way that the mentally ill were treated. Most were locked up in dirty cells and were whipped if they had misbehaved. Dix believed that the mentally ill needed care and treatment, not punishment.
After two years of gathering information Dix prepared a detailed report for the Massachusetts state legislature. Here speech sounded similar to this. "I come a an advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane... men and women. I proceed to call to your attention the present state of insane persons,confined... in cages, closets, cellars, stalls,pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods and ashed into obedience.
After Dix's speech lawmakers were shocked and they voted to create public asylum for the mentally ill along with a few other states that Dix had visited. By the time Dix died in 1887, state governments no longer put debtors in prison. Most states had created special justice systems for children in trouble and many had outlawed cruel punishments, such as branding people with hot irons.