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The Early History of Correctional Thought and Practice

From the Middle Ages to the American Revolution - galley slavery, imprisonment, transportation, corporal punishment. On the eve of reform. The age of reason and correctional reform.

Legal Bases of punishment

Lex talionis - law of retaliation, punishment should correspond in degree & kind to the offense, eye for an eye tooth for a tooth. Secular law (middle ages) - law of civil society (vs church law) developed along feudal system, feudal lords went to war over each others transgressions. Wergild (man money) - money paid to relatives of a murdered person, or to a crime victim as compensation, to prevent blood feuds, carried view that punishment should involve participation of public

benefit of clergy

religion - early source of leniency. members of clergy could be tried in ecclesiastical court, where punishments less severe than in civil court. Became available from 1200-1827 to anyone who could read Psalm 54 in court. Common thugs would memorize the verse, known as "neck verse"

punishments in transition:from old world penitentiary

corporal punishment (varies means) death (varies means). England contributed transportation (banishment), galley slavery and imprisonment

Vagrancy Act of 1597 (England)

by 1772: 60% male English felons: banished, Virginia (1606) - convicts were given overto companies that had shipped them to colonies & sold their services. Australia & New S. Wales (after revolution) - felons served Crown/designee for # of years, then, freed (via pardon or "ticket of leave"), could then choose place of work.

early jails = product of social upheaval of 16th century England

manufacturing economy (not agrarian), breakup of feudalism (serfs, lords, manor), 1,000's rural poor (wandering country), urbanization (movement to cities), consequences: poverty, homelessness, helplessness, idleness, illness, beggars, prostitution, crime. jails = melting pot of dysfunctional population

early jails = bad!

combination: workhouse, poorhouse, jail. mixed men, women, children. conditions = abysmal! reform "house of correction" - combined elements of all three institutions, emphasis: put idle poor to work!

Bridewell House1st house of correction (1553)

objective: "to instill a habit of industry more conducive to an honest livelihood", strategies: discipline + work!, products to be sold on open market, facility to be self sufficient. failure...- facilities filled w/criminals physically deteriorated, not profitable

Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832)

father of utilitarianism, English advocate of prison reform, applied utilitarian theory to law & punishment, founder of "panopticon"prison design


doctrine that the aim of all action should be the greatest possible balance of pleasure over pain. This will create the "greatest good for the greatest number."

"hedonic calculus"

pleasure/pain principle - key concept in utilitarianism, rational persons behave in ways to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, law should assure that offender will derive more pain from punishment than pleasure from crime

John Howard (1726 -1790)

The State of Prisons in England & Wales, 1777, (major) English penal reformer - middle class, country squire, social activist, appointed Sheriff of Bedford shire,1773; but unique: took active interest, visited local facilities; shocked by conditions, visited hulks, houses of corr. in Eng/Eur

Penitentiary Act of 1779

drafted by John Howard, secure & sanitary structure, systematic inspection, abolition of fees, reformatory regimen, solitary cells at night, hard labor in common rooms by day; aim --> Drudgery!, religious instruction & reflection

effect of Howard's work:

slow to catch on in England, colonies much more susceptible, new ways of thinking in America - Declaration of Independence & US Constitution championed

Penitentiary: an idea with universal appeal

leagists (deter crime), philanthropists (save humanity), conservatives (save money), politicians (solution to disquieting prison situation), industrialists (new way of disciplining/training new working class to serve industrial society

emergence of the penitentiary in America

reform ideas didn't materialize in England until 1842: Pentonville, North London, but, quickly took root in colonies and laid groundwork for look & operation of American penitentiary

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