History of Prisons Essay

Submitted By anissaclarke
Words: 2115
Pages: 9

Anissa Clarke
Research Essay

The Rejuvenated Soul:
European Prisons of the 17th and 18th Centuries

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November 28th 2012________
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This essay focuses on the development of European prison architecture during the 17th and 18th centuries. More specifically, I will argue that these developments occurred with the overt functions of deterrence, restitution, and rehabilitation, but have used knowledge of human mind and behavior to serve the latent function of power and discipline. The paper will begin by examining how criminals were prosecuted prior to the emergence of the penitentiary through anecdotes and references then continue to explain how John Howard’s philosophies and Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon design revolutionized the prison system and its architecture. I examine theories of Michel Foucault, Jeremy Bentham and Erving Goffman who argue why prison architecture developed in the manner that it did and what the subsequent consequences are for inmates, prison staff and society. In the last section I will deliberate my own opinions based on my findings.
Early Punishments Prior to imprisonment being the popular means of disciplining criminals, public torture and executions were the preferred means of retribution and punishment. Some of the methods used to punish criminals include disembodiment, scaffolding and the guillotine (Foucault, 1995). Michel Foucault recalls a horrendous story in his book Discipline and Punish of Robert-Francois Damiens, a condemned man who was publically quartered by tying his arms and legs to horses after numerous failed attempts to saw through his dense and muscular limbs. As Damiens was publically executed many of the spectators found themselves shaped by the demonstration, while some were horrified at the gruesome act and Damiens’ cries for help, others pitied him and prayed for his reach to heaven (Foucault, 1995) and this sort of reaction agitated both monarchs and law enforcement who’s intent was to make an example of criminals rather than glorifying them (Oxford, 1998). In the early 1700’s public executions were often met with astounded and stagnant crowds who conceivably came to fear committing crimes after viewing these spectacles, however, as time progressed the submissive crowd grew into a rowdy one that would protest or even begin to cheer for convicts and offer them drinks, making a mockery of the law and authorities. The responses of the crowds were instigated by the fact that the lower-class were being indicted for lower-class matters (such as tax evasion or theft) and were arraigned before their equals who did not view these actions as crimes. The Church, one of the many institutions allowed to exercise justice, was also against corporal punishment as it incited a more callous society and instead wished to focus on rehabilitation (Oxford, 1998). In 1789 the chancellery summed up the general views of torture and executions, “Let penalties be regulated and proportioned to the offences, let the death sentence be passed only on those convicted of murder, and let the tortures that revolt humanity be abolished” (Foucault, 1995, p.73). As the consensus grew, prisons become increasingly popular and the spectacle of public executions declined.
The Prison Environment Prisons existed