The Failure of Reform:
The rise of bertillonage and increased interest in rates of criminal recidivism led to the realization by policy makers of the late 19th century that in many cases, reformation of criminals does not work. The Bertillon system, which found its origins in the studies of French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, focused on the measurement and recording of body parts as a means of identifying the criminal. The system helped create a profile that identified criminals based on their unchangeable physicalities, and could identify repeat offenders despite new tattoos or aliases they may use to mask their identity. It rose to popularity in an age before fingerprint analysis and shed light on the high rates of recidivism in American penitentiaries that policy makers had fallen ignorant to. “Recommitment rates” for Sing Sing prison, specifically, during the years 1817 and 1842 demonstrate that the likelihood of recidivism was far greater in the 19th century than reform. By classifying between first time and repeat offenders, the Bertillon system lent support to the idea that efforts to reform criminals in prison were failing, and cast serious doubt over phrenological ideas that the criminal man was someone who could be turned away from his propensity of lawlessness.