The Public Domain Review

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The Silent Treatment: Solitary Confinement’s Unlikely Origins

Wednesday 25 October 2023 at 17:14

Characterised today by the noise of banging, buzzers, and the cries of inmates, solitary confinement was originally developed from Quaker ideas about the redemptive power of silence, envisioned as a humane alternative to the punitive violence of late-18th century jails. Revisiting Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, Jane Brox discovers the spiritual origins and reformist ambitions of solitary’s early advocates, and sees their supposedly progressive desires come to ruin by the 20th century.