“The film, “Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls,” was an exciting part of our Law School’s recent symposium on criminal sentencing, and it became a real catalyst for a profound and spirited exchange between our audience of prosecutors, judges, and academics. The film would be well-received by any audience, but our symposium participants were subject-matter experts, and not afraid to speak their minds, and it is a real testament to the film that it was such a great hit with that group.”
Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls, a feature-length documentary, investigates one of the earliest attempts at prison reform in the United States. Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia opened its doors in 1829 and operated for 142 years. Hundreds of prisons internationally were influenced by the “Pennsylvania System of Reform,” which was based on the theory that criminals could be rehabilitated through solitary confinement. Visitors from around the world, including Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville, came to see the innovative architecture of the building that was designed to provide a safe place where inmates could reflect, repent and ultimately discover, through solitude, an alternative to a life of crime. The film explores how the revolutionary social experiment gave way to psychological and financial realities, as well as the ways in which our modern day prison system faces the same conflicting objectives of punishment and rehabilitation.
“Alosi explores key moral and ethical issues related to prison reform at Eastern State Penitentiary, one of first institutions designed for inmate rehabilitation. Intriguingly, that institution’s method of reform is grounded not in psychotherapeutic counseling (as might be expected), but in solitary confinement, originally considered a form of psychological torture but now doled out as punishment – making the penitentiary even more hotly-contested than it might otherwise be. More broadly, Alosi uses his subject to explore the concepts of punishment and reform per se and how they occasionally contradict, and occasionally complement each other behind prison walls.”
The film includes rare archival footage and photography and a never before seen 1929 silent film of prison life at Eastern State.
Run time: 76 minutes