The Unbelievable Solitary Confinement Prison in Jacksonland

This is Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, built in the 1820’s as a model prison. In keeping with the latest thinking in criminal justice reform, the prison was designed so that every single prisoner would be kept in solitary confinement for the entirety of his term. Each man had a windowless cell lit only by a skylight. It was believed, at the time, that this was far more humane than other punishments, and that solitary confinement would allow offenders time and space to contemplate their sins.

This prison is shown in Jacksonland in 1824. It is visited by the Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War and returned decades later to see the great nation he helped to create. Proud Philadelphians naturally took him to see the progressive wonder of their new prison, which was then under construction. According to an aide who traveled with Lafayette, the Frenchman could not restrain himself. Lafayette declared that he, himself, had been placed in solitary confinement after the French Revolution and that the experience had not reformed him in any way. To the contrary, solitary confinement was torture, known to drive men mad. Science later came to agree with Lafayette. In the early twenty-first century, after the September 11 attacks, the troubling techniques used by U.S. interrogators would include extreme isolation.