Journal of Urban History
New York City's Halls of Justice, better known as “the Tombs,” was the physical representation of nineteenth-century criminal justice. Considered by many to be the most famous prison on the continent, the Tombs contained the entire corpus of criminal law: judges, juries, magistrates, attorneys, courtrooms, and cells of incarceration. The daily operation, living conditions, and organization of the Tombs departed sharply from nineteenth-century ideas of penal reform. The Tombs embodied an ideology more reminiscent of older, preindustrial forms of punishment—the absence of penal routine and labor; the lack of special diets; few prisoners locked in separate cells; and easy access to family, friends, games, and recreation. The treatment of the incarcerated depended less on penal ideology and more on informal procedures and personal relationships between law enforcement authorities and inmates. The Tombs ultimately symbolized the inadequacies of nineteenth-century urban criminal justice: the abuse of bail, “pigeonholed” indictments, and a corrupt fee system. Rather than the state imposing the conditions of punishment, inmates negotiated with a variety of officials regarding not only prison conditions but sometimes their legal status.
Gilfoyle, Timothy J.. “America's Greatest Criminal Barracks”: The Tombs and the Experience of Criminal Justice in New York City, 1838-1897. Journal of Urban History, 29, 5: 525-554, 2003. Retrieved from Loyola eCommons, History: Faculty Publications and Other Works, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0096144203029005002
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