The modern prison system

The report contains a detailed discussion of the historical origins and development of the modern prison system. It gives an account of conditions in prisons and the lifestyles experienced by inmates during the era of 'Enlightenment' and the era of 'The Bloody Code' of Victorian Britain. The reformative changes in penal ideas, punishments and practices that have impacted upon the treatment of prisoners will be included in the discussion.

Reference is also made to the methods of punishment used prior to the era of 'Enlightenment' and how the changes, introduced as a result of a more reformist approach to punishment have shaped the prisons of today. 1. 1. Origins of Reformation Era of Enlightenment During the 1600's, society embraced a system of belief in science and rationality. This period is known as the era of 'Enlightenment'.

Social, religious and legal areas of society were hugely impacted by this new way of thinking. Before this scientific advancement, Foucault (1991) was of the view that law and punishment was largely concerned with severe physical torture and public displays of death. Cesar Beccaria (1764) published 'On Crimes and Punishment', portrayed itself as a modern development that moved beyond the classical view of punishment.

He encouraged the theory of 'Rational Thought' and incarceration as punishment for crimes committed that broke the 'Social Contract' that every citizen enters into when belonging to a society. He condemned the use of the death penalty as a form of crime prevention and that punishment should be predictable, rational and proportionate to the offence ( Haralambos et al, 1995).

The enlightenment principles were gradually enforced by the liberal 'Whigs' who were of the view that society needed to understand the reason for deviation in order to reform a criminal. These Liberal approaches to crime and punishment were presented by Jeremy Bentham (1778), who formulated the principles of Utilitarianism, which is defined by any view that holds that action, rules and institutions should be evaluated on the basis of the benefits and costs that they impose on society (McLaughlin et al, 2001).

History of 'Prisons' 17th and 18th century Criminals of the 17th and 18th century were punished by way of either transportation enforced by the Transportation Act of 1717 to America or incarceration in locally run gaols also termed as 'houses of correction', ran by gaolers who's wages were paid by the prisoners themselves for board. Conditions were dire and the lack of local authority supervision, gave way to widespread corruption (Bunting, 2001).

The lack of a fully functional prison system resulted in the use of transportation of criminals as a method of relieving the problem of overcrowding in local gaols (Bunting, 2001). This practice was halted as a result of the American war of independence during 1776. The only other means of housing vast amounts of prisoners was in Hulk ships, mourned on the banks of the river Thames. A more permanent form of institution was required. In 1779; the Penitentiary Act introduced the punishment of hard labour within the Hulk ships such as the crank and tread wheel.

1. 3 Penal Reform John Howard The nature of penal reform originated from the more humane approaches of John Howard (1774), an English philanthropist who was responsible for inspecting the county prison and upon his appalling findings suggested that gaolers be paid a salary. John Howard continued with inspections on other prisons and found that the situation in other prisons was very similar to that of Bedford gaol. He then presented his findings to the House of Commons (Edwards et al, 1982).

This resulted in the Gaol Act of 1774, which abolished gaoler's fees and provided recommendations for ways of improving sanitation. Upon a second inspection of prisons he discovered that little of his recommendations had been implemented. Upon this, Howard published his findings, 'The State of Prisons in England and Wales,' which sought to bring about reforms in gaols to improve living conditions for prisoners (Edwards et al, 1982). 2. The development of prisons The 1823 gaols Act

Elizabeth Fry (1813), an English born philanthropist, also became involved in issues of penal reform and continued with Howard's vision of a reformed prison system by establishing the 'Association for the improvement of the female Prisoners of Newgate' (Mclauglin et al, 2001) . Like Howard, she campaigned for improvements in the moral and physical welfare of women and children and tried to tackle the issue of overcrowding. She approached Sir Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary with her ideas of introducing educational aspects of incarceration.

Sir Robert Peel persuaded parliament to pass the 1823 Gaol Act which included reformative measures, such as:-  regular visits by prison chaplains  imposed a standard of uniformity the classification and separation of men from women 2. 1. The Bloody Code The Du Cane era The true foundations of the modern day prison system were established during 'The Bloody Code' era (see Appendix 1). Although many legislative measures had been implemented resulting from the work of 'Whig' reformists, prisons conditions remained relatively unimproved and reformation declined.

In 1877 legislation was passed that transferred the responsibility of the prison system from the local justices to the Home secretary who established a Prison Commission which appointed a body of five members to oversee the administration of the system. Sir Edmund Du Cane's, Chairman of the Prison Commission from 1877 – 1895, main objective was to introduce a uniform regime across the whole of the prison system (Edwards et al, 1982).