Concepts of Justice – Timeline

There are many definitions of justice and many ways to incorporate justice into our legal, social, and political systems. Among them are punitive justice, restorative justice, procedural justice, and social justice. This timeline introduces these concepts and some of the key dates that came up in research for Thieves & Vagabonds. We invite you to write to us with your questions and other dates you would like to see included. Email Dr. Mabel Rosenheck, Director of Education and Exhibition Planning, with your thoughts:

Punitive Justice

Punitive Justice emphasizes the punishment of criminals as the appropriate response to lawbreaking. Punishments come in many forms, from physical punishments to incarceration to the death penalty.

How do you think lawbreakers should be punished? What is the goal of these punishments? What do they accomplish? 

  • 1759: First execution takes place in Lancaster County. 
  • 1786: Pennsylvania discontinues use of the whipping post, a step toward ending corporal punishment. 
  • 1851: Lancaster County Prison opens on King Street, bringing the penitentiary system of incarceration to Lancaster County.
  • 1972-1980: First major renovations to the Lancaster County Prison since its opening over 120 years earlier. Plans for renovation had been under discussion since 1965. 
  • 1972: The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rules that the Commonwealth’s death penalty sentencing procedures are unconstitutional. 
  • 1992: Additional renovations to the Lancaster County Prison take place, expanding its official capacity from 350 to 650 beds.
  • 1999: The last execution in the state of Pennsylvania took place in 1999.s Only three executions have taken place since 1978 when capital punishment was reinstated. As of 2022: 128 individuals remainon death row. (Timeline from the Death Penalty Information Center.)
  • 2005: Lancaster County begins a voluntary Drug Court that offers programs to divert those convicted of drug-related crimes from prison through rehabilitation and other programs.
  • 2020s: Momentum grows for construction of a new prison in Lancaster County. The Lancaster County Commissioners made the final land purchases in 2022 and began bidding for design and construction in 2023.

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice emphasizes repairing the harm that is done to victims of crimes, rather than punishing criminals.

How would our criminal justice system be different if it focused on questions like: Who was harmed? What do they need? What were the causes of that harm and how can they be addressed?

  • 1722: After the murder of Sawantaeny by the Cartledge brothers, Indigenous tribes seek to repair the harm done to their relationship with European settlers rather than see the brothers executed.

Procedural Justice

Procedural Justice emphasizes fairness and impartiality in public institutions like police departments, courts, and prisons.

When you look at these systems, do you think they work fairly for everyone? What about them is good? How do you think they could work better?

  • 1790: William Augustus Atlee is appointed as the first President Judge of Lancaster County.
  • 1851: Henry Grimler Long is the first elected President Judge of Lancaster County. 
  • 1921: Women become eligible to serve on state juries. The jury law follows the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.  
  • 1968: The Pennsylvania Public Defender Act requires each county to provide a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. 
  • 2022: The American Civil Liberties Union sues Lancaster County judges for setting excessive bail in violation of the US Constitution.

Social Justice

Social Justice emphasizes reforming the law so as to address systemic inequalities and mistreatment.

What laws would you like to see change? Are there new laws that would help? Are there old laws that should be repealed or abolished?

  • 1776: The Declaration of Independence creates a new country. It declares that “all men are created equal,” but the laws of the new nation do not grant equal rights to women, enslaved people, and others who are not white, land-owning men.  
  • 1780: The Pennsylvania Legislature passes the Gradual Abolition Act to end slavery in the state. 
  • 1865: The states ratify the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, co-authored by Thaddeus Stevens, enshrining the right to equal protection under the law for all Americans.
  • 1963-64: Lawsuits and protests challenge segregation at swimming pools in Lancaster County, including at Rocky Springs Park. Locally, the pools close. Nationally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws segregation everywhere.
  • 1991: Lancaster City passes an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. Without the County’s support, enforcement is difficult.