European History, 2
December 9, 2013
Second Quarter Research Paper
A) Plan of the Investigation
Topic: How were the conditions in English prisons improved in the 19th century reformation?
Prior to the reformation of the prison systems in Europe in the 19th century, there were no standards for the treatment of prisoners. They were treated like animals, and nobody gave it a second thought. After observing these conditions, several prominent figures emerged and dedicated their lives to the betterment of the conditions in prisons. Reformers such as John Howard (1726-1790) and Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) exposed the horrible conditions in prisons. This paper will cover the horrendous conditions of the prisons which necessitated reform, the outdated methods of punishment, and the new standards for prisons after the reforms. Books on the observations of the reformers, and accounts of their lives will be used as the primary evidence in this investigation. Word count: 114
B) Summary of evidence
Before to the 19th century, there was little regulation on the methods of punishment. Cruel and unusual punishments were used with regularity. Some southern European countries employed one of the more heinous punishments. These nations sentenced prisoners to prison ships, or hulks (ships propelled by rowers). On these ships, prisoners were forced to row until they were released, or, in most cases, until they died. Once reserved as a severe form of punishment, the hulks became a method for housing ordinary prisoners as well (vcp.e2bn.org).
Another widely used method of punishment was transportation. The British used transportation as an alternative to capital punishment for the most serious offenders. Prisoners were sent to the British colony of New South Wales in Australia. Some prisoners were even transported to the British colonies in America. This did not last long, however, as it was interrupted by the American war for independence (www.e2bn.com). Transportation was used until the mid-19th century when the colonies began to object to receiving all of the British outcasts. From that point on, the British Government housed serious offenders in public works prisons. After the end of Transportation in 1868, more than 162,000 men and women had been transported on 806 ships (www.Australia.gov).
Before the reformation, most, if not all prisons were badly run and in terrible condition. They were small, overcrowded, and unsanitary (vcp.e2bn.org). In addition to the conditions of the prison, the jailers employed there were very corrupt (BBC.com). Most jailers were not paid a salary by the prisons. As a result of this, jailers took almost all of the money paid by prisoners for food and bedding as their salary. Since these most of these fees went to the jailers, almost no money was spent to benefit the prisoners, worsening the conditions. The poorest prisoners lived in even worse conditions, as they could not afford the fees. “Many Jailers demanded payment before prisoners were released, meaning that some stayed in jail even if they were innocent or had served their sentences” (BBC.com) Men, women, and children were kept in the same areas. People guilty of the most minor offenses were kept in the same room with those guilty of the most serious offenders.
One of the more influential prison reformers was Elizabeth Fry. She made strides of great historical significance in the area of female prison reform. It was Fry who first introduced the idea of having separate buildings, or even separate prisons from the male prisoners (Fry 31). According to her, this served two purposes. First, a safer environment would be created for the more vulnerable women, and secondly, it would add to the severity of the punishment: “At the same time that an invincible barrier to all communication between the sexes would greatly tend to order and sobriety among the inmates of a prison, and as greatly facilitate the duties of the officers, it would...
Cited: "John Howard (1726 - 1790)." BBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
Howard, John. The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. London: Warrington,
“Elizabeth Fry.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO. 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.
Fry, Elizabeth. Observations on the Visiting, Superintendence, and Government of Female Prisoners. Piccadilly: Hatchard and Son, 1827. Print.
australia.gov.au. N.p., 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
E2BN. East of England Broadcast Network, 2006. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
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