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Over time English officials and reformers came to see the workhouse as a more general system for rehabilitating criminals of all kinds.
Common wisdom in the England of the 1500s attributed property crime to idleness.
"Idleness" had been a status crime since Parliament enacted the Statute of Laborers in the mid-fourteenth century.
In the decades that followed, "houses of correction" or "workhouses" like the Bridewell became a fixture of towns across England—a change made permanent when Parliament began requiring every county in the realm to build a workhouse in 1576.
Since 1973, the number of incarcerated persons in the United States has increased five-fold, and in a given year 7,000,000 people were under the supervision or control of correctional services in the United States.
These periods of prison construction and reform produced major changes in the structure of prison systems and their missions, the responsibilities of federal and state agencies for administering and supervising them, as well as the legal and political status of prisoners themselves.
The English workhouse, an intellectual forerunner of early United States penitentiaries, was first developed as a "cure" for the idleness of the poor.
A commission appointed by King James I in 1622 to reprieve felons condemned to death with banishment to the American colonies was also given authority to sentence offenders "to toyle in some such heavie and painful manuall workes and labors here at home and be kept in chains in the house of correction or other places," until the King or his ministers decided otherwise.
The first began during the Jacksonian Era and led to widespread use of imprisonment and rehabilitative labor as the primary penalty for most crimes in nearly all states by the time of the American Civil War.
The second began after the Civil War and gained momentum during the Progressive Era, bringing a number of new mechanisms—such as parole, probation, and indeterminate sentencing—into the mainstream of American penal practice.