Sean- Eastern State Penitentiary Director of Public Programming

“We grouped the 3 basic mechanisms for what came of legislation that was being passed as The War on Crime which came out in the 60’s but its influence wasn’t really felt until the 70’s. A lot of people will tell you this was a reaction against the Civil Right Movement. The federal Government began to push huge volumes of money into local policing and into local law enforcement. Little tiny police departments suddenly had 3 times the staff and suddenly the courts had more money and this whole mechanism became available through federal funding at the local level. Suddenly police forces could be much more aggressive and had the resources to really clamp down in a way that they hadn’t had the resources to do before because it was all coming out of the federal government. Courtesy of the Johnson Administration. He sort of a hero of a lot of us who follow Civil Rights history.

War on Crime, the War on Drugs. That big, big jump in the 80’s and early 90’s is the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs might be the single biggest contributor. But the reclassification of certain class of drugs as being felony offenses, and extremely aggressive policing particularly in poor communities just led to this massive massive ballooning of the prison population. But finally in the 90’s it was the 3 strikes your out policies. And mandatory minimum sentencing policies that stuff all came in in the 90’s. A lot of this was pushed by the Clinton Administration. So people ask if this is political and it was Johnson, Nixon and Clinton, are the 3 Presidents that really oversaw and made policy initiatives. so 2 of them democrats. This country had a lot of money in the 90’s and they used it to build prisons. And now that they are built they are going to stay filled. ”

Sean Kelley: Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. works to preserve and restore the architecture of Eastern State Penitentiary; to make the Penitentiary accessible to the public; to explain and interpret its complex history; to place current issues of corrections and justice in an historical framework; and to provide a public forum where these issues are discussed. While the interpretive program advocates no specific position on the state of the American justice system, the program is built on the belief that the problems facing Eastern State Penitentiary’s architects have not yet been solved, and that the issues these early prison reformers addressed remain of central importance to our nation.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, December 1999

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