PRISONS; The American Prison: from the beginning . . . A pictorial history. Executive director/editor-in-chief, Anthony P. Travisono. American Correctional Association, Suite L-208, Hartwick Road, College Park, Md. 20740. 262 pages.

Something has to give: * Since 1983 the US prison population has been increasing by 222 inmates per day.

* By the end of 1984 some 200 new correction facilities will be built or under construction.

* The cost of a new prison ranges from $35,000 to $100,000 per bed depending on the region.

For some states - New York, New Jersey, and Florida, for example - hiring people to keep other people locked up is one of the few ''growth'' areas in an otherwise static public-employment picture. In many states more money will be spent on new prisons than on new schools. Starting pay of correction officers, now, is often higher than the starting pay of teachers.

Few institutions are more controversial than prisons. And most recent discussions of penal institutions frequently end up with a sense of frustration and apathy - as if indifference were the only reasonable response short of despair.

Reading this book produces opposite results. The publication of ''The American Prison: from the beginning . . . '' both pricks and salves the conscience.

The historical photos in this pictorial history take the reader inside the walls and behind the bars of a broad spectrum of penal institutions. The book also serves as a corrections primer for the uninitiated - and as a valuable reference source for the high school student working on a civics assignment on criminal justice.

Detailing the often sorry record of prisons from Colonial days to the present , it highlights the policies that created the types of penal institutions we now have. Frank, cogent, yet nonsentimentally compassionate in the treatment of what is often a brutish subject, this publication by the American Correctional Association provides a much-needed perspective. Construction - to build or not to build?

The debate on whether to build or not to build prisons, and then simultaneously on how to reform them once they've been built, has been going on since the Quakers tried to redesign a wing of the first correctional institution in America, the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia in 1790.

Since that time, two constants have paralleled each other: Resources have been in short supply, making overcrowding inevitable; and there has been an absence of well-thought-out public policy to justify the existence of penal institutions. Nevertheless, a pattern of constructive change can be traced - proving that continued reform is possible, albeit with great effort.

Separate confinement - that is, one person per cell - has been the goal of virtually every prison system in the United States, including the original Auburn and Pennsylvania models of the early 19th century, prototypes for correctional institutions today. The former sought a ''penitent'' reformation of the inmate's character through solitary confinement. The latter sought a similar reformation of character, but combined solitary confinement at night with fruitful labor during the day.

Then as now, however, state legislatures were reluctant to provide the capital and operating budgets to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of prisoners. Almost all prison cells were designed for single inhabitants, with dining, work, education, and recreational facilities corresponding to the fixed number of cells.

But once the prison was built and overcrowding forced correction officials to double-bunk (place two inmates in a cell), there was no way to tack on additional work, dining, or education areas short of major and costly renovation. Often, these community areas were converted into cellblocks - further eroding programs and activities for inmates. Blacks and women in US prisons

The end of the Civil War transformed Southern penology. The status of black slaves - half the population in the South - was changed. The correctional system was overwhelmed: Instead of being punished on plantations, former slaves convicted of crimes were jammed into overcrowded, run-down facilities. The underlying philosophy for establishing prison farms in the largely agrarian South was the same as for the North's industrial prisons: profit for the state.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, women's prisons were usually no more than wings or attics on men's prisons. Because of lack of space, women were simply lumped together in one area regardless of offense, age, background, health, or maternal status. ''To be a woman in prison was worse than death,'' Chaplain B. C. Smith of Auburn Penitentiary said in 1832.

The period from 1884 to 1932 saw many of the first female superintendents of prisons. Often well educated, they tended to come from backgrounds in social work and Christian reform. A little-known fact in the history of corrections, but one that's not surprising, is that many of the major humanizing innovations originated in women's prisons, including education classes, libraries, art and music programs, work release, recreation, vocational training, and classification by age, offense, and length of sentence.

Because female offenders were considered ''naturally passive,'' the administrators of women's institutions had more latitude in how they ran them. The first institution for women was the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls, opened in 1873.

In the relatively affluent 1920s, poor blacks migrating from the rural South joined with wave after wave of immigrants from Europe - which sent the prison population in the industrialized North soaring. But by 1930 the idea of classification - segregating inmates by age and type of crime - had expanded to include specialized screening coupled with some individualized treatment for all inmates. A major reform in its day, such action is taken for granted now. Prison administrators - the challenge today

Over the years the lot of correctional administrators has changed as much as that of prisoners. At the beginning of the 19th century, wardens were responsible for the ''penitent'' reformation of the felons under their charge. Then for almost half a century after the Civil War they were judged on the ability of their institution to ''pump goods out and keep prisoners in - custodial, punitive, and productive,'' as the caption on one of the many compelling photos states.

Prison jobs produced income for the state while it helped wardens control inmates by providing meaningful activity. Teaching job skills, while not a stated objective of early prison work, was nevertheless a consequence.

Unfortunately, prison industries - which cultivated work habits in inmates which they took with them when they left prison - were sharply curtailed during the depression. High unemployment prompted 33 states to pass laws prohibiting the public sale of convict-made goods.

Such prohibitions resulted in wardens losing a significant source of revenue to run their prisons. More than ever, they became dependent on state legislatures for funds. And without meaningful work, a day that was already measured by too much time with nothing to do became even longer for inmates, a recurrent theme that Warren Burger, chief justice of the United States, makes in his efforts to change prison work laws.

Before World War II most prisons were in remote, rural areas far from the cities that spawn the majority of convicts. An ''out of sight, out of mind'' attitude prevailed. Today, rural areas are still the favored sites for new construction, although there is greater sensitivity to trying to place prisons near urban centers, thus keeping an inmate in closer contact with family and friends.

In the 1970s, prison reform took a new twist. Lawsuits were initiated by inmates for inmates. No longer content to sit passively in their cells and let external forces correct overcrowded living conditions, inmates'-rights groups sought redress through the courts.

Prison officials had to learn to live with court-ordered regulations. These same corrections officials had to guarantee due-process rights to inmates in the application of internal prison discipline.

Unions for correction officers also played a major role in prison reform in the '70s. If overcrowding was a threat to inmates, as the courts decreed and riots proved, the corollary was that there existed a threat to guards as well. The keeper and the kept had a strong common interest either to reduce the numbers of inmates or to expand the facilities.

In a democracy, when the judicial system puts somebody behind bars, we quite literally become our brother's keeper. With this publication, the American Correctional Association tells us how well and how poorly we've handled that responsibility.

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