|With the construction of single cells, Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail becomes what is considered America’s first prison, for “reflection and repentance.”
|After the Civil War, many Southern states rent out formerly enslaved Black prisoners to private companies, forcing them to work on plantations, railways and mines without pay. The convict leasing system, which lasts until the 1930s, essentially enslaves Black people convicted of petty crimes such as breaking curfew and vagrancy.
|The ruling in Ruffin v. Commonwealth establishes that an incarcerated person “is for the time being the slave of the State.” For nearly a century, this means prisoners are denied basic constitutional rights and have little access to the courts.
|The federal prison system is established.
|Two landmark rulings establish the right of incarcerated people to challenge the legality and conditions of their imprisonment and their entitlement to civil rights protections. The decisions allow incarcerated people to file grievances.
|Prisoners at Attica Correctional Facility in New York take control of the facility following the killing of Black political activist and author George Jackson. After days of fruitless negotiations with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, state troopers storm the prison, killing 39 people.
|The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on behalf of four prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary who had filed a lawsuit arguing that officials racially segregated prisoners, discriminated against Muslims and provided inadequate medical care. A series of reforms are established at the prison.
|In Turner v. Safley, the Supreme Court rules that incarcerated people have the right to marry and cannot be wholly prevented from exercising their First Amendment rights.
|The Violent Crime Control Act, commonly known as the 1994 crime bill, bans Pell Grants for people in prison. College programs dwindle.
|The Prison Litigation Reform Act makes it harder for prisoners to file federal lawsuits and sue the state by requiring them to first try to resolve any complaints through the prison’s grievance procedures.
|Nearly 30,000 incarcerated people in California participate in a hunger strike to protest the state’s use of long-term solitary confinement, some for more than a decade.
|The Obama administration launches the Second Chance Pell Program, offering grants to 67 colleges and universities programs in prisons. There are now 130 programs across the country.
|Incarcerated people organize a national prison strike to raise awareness about prison conditions. Among the demands: reestablishing Pell Grants for prisoners and repealing the Prison Litigation Reform Act.