See What U.S. Prisons Used To Be Like In Philadelphia Penitentiary


Seeing how “penitence” got into the word “penitentiary” is one revelation that awaits a visitor to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s more unusual museums, reports the Washington Post. In the travel industry, prison museums are a growth sector. Eastern State “is not theme park. It’s not intended to amuse you,” says Michael Welch, a Rutgers University sociologist who wrote the book “Escape to Prison: Penal Tourism and the Pull of Punishment.”

One of the prison's innovations was its hub-and-spoke design, which is still used in many prisons. Cellblocks radiate from a central rotunda, where guards kept watch. Seven blocks are open to visitors, and hundreds of cells have been left as they were when their occupants moved out in 1971, down to tipped-over stools and open drawers. A 3-D infographic compares the U.S. imprisonment rate with that of other countries, and it also depicts the racial breakdown of the American prison population over time. The penitentiary is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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