History in oxford practice prison punishment society western

This was not the case. Ultimately, rehabilitation is meant to ensure the criminal is returned to society as a reformed and functional member of it but solitary confinement ensures the opposite result. Deterrence has been a goal and result of punishment throughout most punishment systems, Pennsylvania not excluded.

Punishment and Control in Historical Perspective | H. Johnston | Palgrave Macmillan

Indeed, the Pennsylvania system emerged in a time when one goal of punishment was deterrence Meskell, Certainly it is conceivable that recidivism was reduced, at least somewhat, for persons who had committed crimes and endured the loneliness of the Pennsylvania system. Perhaps the awfulness of solitary confinement for months or even years ensured that prisoners never wanted to go back to prison, which in turn stopped them from committing crimes again.

Whether or not the Pennsylvania system deterred the general public general deterrence from committing crimes is more difficult to determine. As Miethe and Lu discuss, people may simply have no interest or need to commit a crime and therefore do not; as such, the threat of imprisonment is not what stops people from deviant behavior That is, though the threat of prison may stop some people from committing crimes, there are other reasons why a person does not engage in criminal activity.

In short, the Pennsylvania system promoted some amount of deterrence for both former prisoners and the general populous as a whole.

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Seeing as the Pennsylvania system was a prison and moreover one which initially housed inmates in single cells, incapacitation was certainly accomplished. The only harm that a prisoner could do to someone was himself, and even that option was limited. Prisoners were readily restrained as need be in an already solitary state. This system was perhaps incapacitation at its most potent, having prisoners removed from society, restrained from physical and verbal contact with humans, and in some cases immobilized so as to stop them from causing harm to themselves.

In this sense, retribution helps the victim s feel a sense of justice or perhaps even revenge. However, the Pennsylvania system treated every prisoner virtually the same — solitude in imprisonment. It is likely that some among the deviant suffered less because of the prison, but some may have suffered more; a number of prisoners who previously would have been shamed before their neighbors and then left to resume their lives instead spent years in a cell.

Ultimately, retribution was not a factor when punishing criminals in the Pennsylvania system. Most received some amount of solitary prison time, and concern was not with the victims. Despite the stated goal of rehabilitation, the Pennsylvania prison system was less than what its creators hoped it would be.

Incapacitating and a deterrent, certainly, but not rehabilitative.


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Nor was this system retributive or restorative. And this analysis is based on the early years of the Pennsylvania system.


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  • These factors combined to make imprisonment a well-established element of criminal justice by the end of the early modern period. But imprisonment was not yet totally dominant as a form of punishment. For example, transportation was still very popular in England, both in the 18th century to the America, and in the following century to Australia.

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    Furthermore, prisons were not yet what we refer to under that name today. As Randall McGowen points out in his account of the English prison, "the contrast between a prison in and one in could scarcely have been greater" p. In the 18th century, the debtors and remand prisoners in the local jails often mingled together with petty offenders who were sent to the workhouse. In the prisons there was little sign of authority, it was noisy and smelly, and some prisoners were gambling while others were drinking beer sold by the jailors.

    The inmates were also relatively free to mingle with friends and family. All this was to change at the end of the eighteenth century. In a period which saw the temporary end to transportation and an apparent increase of crime after the American Revolution, the discussion about confinement was renewed. Religiously inspired, the reformers attacked the contemporary disorder in the prison and aimed at methods which would reform the prisoner. Yet, despite the continuation of the debate about the state of prisons in the early 19th century, prisons in England in the s generally still operated on the basis of informality.

    It was the influence of penal experiments in America that led to the most sustained effort in England to reconstruct the prison in the following decades.

    As David J. Rothman argues in his chapter on the US prison system, the s and 30s in the States were characterised by widespread fears about the supposed disintegration of society and the family. It was in this context that reformers discovered the prison as a place to teach order and discipline to the offenders, who were perceived as a fundamental threat to the stability of society.

    The basic idea was to hold prisoners in solitude in order to shield them from the supposed contaminating influence of other convicts. Being left in completely silence with only the company of one's conscience and the Bible was to bring about the spiritual renewal of the offender. Also, a strict diet of work and military discipline would help to turn them into law-abiding citizens.

    Prison building flourished until the s, aimed at transforming the prison from a physically and morally filthy place of confinement into a clean and rationally functioning reform-machine.

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    The optimistic belief in the new prison based on uniformity and impersonality was widespread. One prison chaplain insisted: "'Could we all be put on prison fare, for the space of two or three generations, the world would ultimately be the better for it'" p. The interesting theoretical issue concerning the emergence of the prison is how the authors interpret the development away from the brutal sanctions against the body to imprisonment. It was long maintained in the literature on punishment that this shift ought to be seen as a logical step in the ever-continuing progress of humanity.

    This consensus was attacked most forcefully by Michel Foucault in his "Discipline and Punish", where he described the prison as part of a larger attempt by bourgeois society to discipline and dominate, and to punish the slightest deviation from what it prescribed as normative behaviour. Foucault's ideas crop up a number of times in one way or another in the "Oxford History of the Prison", as do the theories of other writers on the history of punishment like Norbert Elias, Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer. As the book is directed at readers without any prior in-depth knowledge of the subject, it is regrettable that the editors did not chose to include a chapter on the different methodological approaches to punishment.

    The general thrust of the articles in the "Oxford History of the Prison" is to describe the emergence of the prison neither as a glorious humanitarian effort, nor as a totalitarian project aimed at social or class control.

    Rather, they point to the contradiction between what the reformers intended and the cruel system of isolation and de- personalisation which was ultimately created. So had the life of inmates improved by the 19th century? No clear answer emerges. To be sure, prisons were cleaner places, and the cruel spectacle of public corporal punishments had largely ended. But while in earlier times only a fraction of offenders had been ritually punished, now an ever increasing number were sent to prison, for longer stretches of time. However, as Lucia Zedner points out in her insightful chapter on women and the prison, the 19th century reform movement was definitely welcomed by the small number of female prisoners.

    Women were finally separated from male prisoners, which put an end to their constant exploitation.

    For example, the governors of the London Bridewell had in previous centuries run their prison as a lucrative brothel, forcing female inmates into providing sexual services - an "unorthodox form of prison employment" p. The following chapters also show that while simplistic doctrines about the development of punishment may offer easy explanations, they often have little historical validity. For once, it is a fallacy to assume that "punishment of the body" was more or less overnight replaced by "punishment of the soul". Corporal punishments continued as a disciplinary measure inside the prison walls well into the 20th century.

    The last whipping in Delaware's prisons took place in , and in England flogging as punishment was abolished as late as Furthermore, as emerges from Sean McConville's account of the English prison system from the midth to the midth century, hard labour in Victorian prisons was very much directed at the body.

    Administrators believed that the mere denial of freedom was not punishment enough and thought up various ways of intensifying the pains of imprisonment. Their industriousness made the hand crank and the treadwheel common features in prisons of the second half of the 19th century. The latter was an especially cruel device, constructed of a series of steps on a huge wheel which was to be turned around by the prisoner's climbing motion.

    Not only was the work physically exhausting, but it was also mentally gruelling for the prisoners as it produced absolutely nothing. The only justification of this, in McConville's words "scarcely veiled torture" p. A medical and scientific committee was set up in the s to determine the amount of labour that could be expected from the prisoners, and after rational deliberation the experts concluded that prisoners sentenced to hard labour were to ascend 8, feet per day.

    The impact of the medical profession on the prison, the medicalisation of crime and punishment, gathered increasing momentum in the following decades, and in the 20th century eugenic justifications were invoked to incarcerate those who were supposed to present a risk to the future health of the nation. On the whole, this aspect is slightly neglected in Morris and Rothman's volume.

    The belief that the supposedly objective methods of criminal-biology or psychiatry were the key to solving all problems associated with criminality was widespread. These disciplines seemed to provide a way of scientifically determining who was destined to offend again, and thus to be locked away for ever. Psychiatry and psychology also had an impact on life in American prisons, as Edgardo Rotman shows in his chapter on the US penal system in the 19th and 20th century. However, attempts to fully implement the therapeutic model of the prison failed time and again because of over-crowding and under-funding.

    A prison report of concluded that "life in many institutions is at best barren and futile, at worst unspeakably brutal and degrading" p. Compared to the worst excesses of the 19th century, life inside has today improved in some ways. Ventilation and sanitation have changed the prison infrastructure, recreational options like sports, libraries and TV's have grown and prisoners have at last acquired some legal status.

    Yet, order and discipline is still prioritised over individual treatment.