Ancient times[ edit ] The use of prisons can be traced back to the rise of the state as a form of social organization. Corresponding with the advent of the state was the development of written language , which enabled the creation of formalized legal codes as official guidelines for society. The best known of these early legal codes is the Code of Hammurabi , written in Babylon around BC. The penalties for violations of the laws in Hammurabi's Code were almost exclusively centered on the concept of lex talionis "the law of retaliation" , whereby people were punished as a form of vengeance, often by the victims themselves.
This notion of punishment as vengeance or retaliation can also be found in many other legal codes from early civilizations, including the ancient Sumerian codes, the Indian Manama Dharma Astra , the Hermes Trismegistus of Egypt, and the Israelite Mosaic Law. Some Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato , began to develop ideas of using punishment to reform offenders instead of simply using it as retribution.
Imprisonment as a penalty was used initially for those who could not afford to pay their fines. Eventually, since impoverished Athenians could not pay their fines, leading to indefinite periods of imprisonment, time limits were set instead. A variety of existing structures were used to house prisoners, such as metal cages, basements of public buildings, and quarries. One of the most notable Roman prisons was the Mamertine Prison , established around B.
The Mamertine Prison was located within a sewer system beneath ancient Rome and contained a large network of dungeons where prisoners were held in squalid conditions,  contaminated with human waste. Forced labor on public works projects was also a common form of punishment. In many cases, citizens were sentenced to slavery , often in ergastula a primitive form of prison where unruly slaves were chained to workbenches and performed hard labor.
The possession of the right and the capability to imprison citizens, however, granted an air of legitimacy to officials at all levels of government, from kings to regional courts to city councils ; and the ability to have someone imprisoned or killed served as a signifier of who in society possessed power or authority over others. However, the concept of the modern prison largely remained unknown until the early 19th-century. Punishment usually consisted of physical forms of punishment, including capital punishment, mutilation , flagellation whipping , branding , and non-physical punishments, such as public shaming rituals like the stocks.
However, an important innovation at the time was the Bridewell House of Corrections, located at Bridewell Palace in London, which resulted in the building of other houses of correction. These houses held mostly petty offenders, vagrants, and the disorderly local poor. In these facilities, inmates were given jobs, and through prison labor they were taught how to work for a living. By the end of the 17th century, houses of correction were absorbed into local prison facilities under the control of the local justice of the peace.
Castellania Valletta From the late 17th century and during the 18th century, popular resistance to public execution and torture became more widespread both in Europe and in the United States. Particularly under the Bloody Code , with few sentencing alternatives, imposition of the death penalty for petty crimes, such as theft, was proving increasingly unpopular with the public; many jurors were refusing to convict defendants of petty crimes when they knew the defendants would be sentenced to death.
Rulers began looking for means to punish and control their subjects in a way that did not cause people to associate them with spectacles of tyrannical and sadistic violence. They developed systems of mass incarceration , often with hard labor, as a solution. The first was based in Enlightenment ideas of utilitarianism and rationalism , and suggested that prisons should simply be used as a more effective substitute for public corporal punishments such as whipping, hanging, etc.
This theory, referred to as deterrence , claims that the primary purpose of prisons is to be so harsh and terrifying that they deter people from committing crimes out of fear of going to prison.
The second theory, which saw prisons as a form of rehabilitation or moral reform, was based on religious ideas that equated crime with sin, and saw prisons as a place to instruct prisoners in Christian morality, obedience and proper behavior. These later reformers believed that prisons could be constructed as humane institutions of moral instruction, and that prisoners' behavior could be "corrected" so that when they were released, they would be model members of society.
England used penal transportation of convicted criminals and others generally young and poor for a term of indentured servitude within the general population of British America between the s and The Transportation Act made this option available for lesser crimes, or offered it by discretion as a longer-term alternative to the death penalty, which could theoretically be imposed for the growing number of offenses. The substantial expansion of transportation was the first major innovation in eighteenth-century British penal practice.
While sentencing to transportation continued, the act instituted a punishment policy of hard labour instead. The suspension of transport also prompted the use of prisons for punishment and the initial start of a prison building program.
Gaols at the time were run as business ventures, and contained both felons and debtors; the latter were often housed with their wives and younger children.
The gaolers made their money by charging the inmates for food, drink, and other services, and the system was generally corruptible. It was the first facility to make any medical services available to prisoners. With the widely used alternative of penal transportation halted in the s, the immediate need for additional penal accommodations emerged.
Given the undeveloped institutional facilities, old sailing vessels , termed hulks , were the most readily available and expandable choice to be used as places of temporary confinement. The turn of the 19th century would see the first movement toward Prison reform , and by the s, the first state prisons and correctional facilities were built, thereby inaugurating the modern prison facilities available today.
France also sent criminals to overseas penal colonies, including Louisiana , in the early 18th century. Katorga prisons were harsh work camps established in the 17th century in Russia , in remote underpopulated areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East , that had few towns or food sources.
Siberia quickly gained its fearful connotation of punishment. In the panopticon model, prisoners were housed in one-person cells arranged in a circular pattern, all facing towards a central observation tower in such a way that the guards could see into all of the cells from the observation tower, while the prisoners were unable to see the guards. He proposed wide-ranging reforms to the system, including the housing of each prisoner in a separate cell; the requirements that staff should be professional and paid by the government, that outside inspection of prisons should be imposed, and that prisoners should be provided with a healthy diet and reasonable living conditions.
The prison reform charity, the Howard League for Penal Reform , was established in by his admirers. This introduced solitary confinement, religious instruction, a labor regime, and proposed two state penitentiaries one for men and one for women. However, these were never built due to disagreements in the committee and pressures from wars with France , and gaols remained a local responsibility. But other measures passed in the next few years provided magistrates with the powers to implement many of these reforms, and eventually, in , gaol fees were abolished.
Elizabeth Fry documented the conditions that prevailed at Newgate prison , where the ladies' section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. The inmates did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw. In , Fry was able to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents.
She also began a system of supervision and required the women to sew and to read the Bible. Development of the modern prison[ edit ] The theory of the modern prison system was born in London, influenced by the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham.
Bentham's panopticon introduced the principle of observation and control that underpins the design of the modern prison. The notion of prisoners being incarcerated as part of their punishment and not simply as a holding state until trial or hanging, was at the time revolutionary.
His views influenced the establishment of the first prisons used as criminal rehabilitation centers. At a time when the implementation of capital punishment for a variety of relatively trivial offences was on the decline, the notion of incarceration as a form of punishment and correction held great appeal to reform-minded thinkers and politicians.
In the first half of the 19th century, capital punishment came to be regarded as inappropriate for many crimes that it had previously been carried out for, and by the midth century, imprisonment had replaced the death penalty for the most serious offenses except for murder.
By , 54 prisons had adopted the disciplinary system advocated by the SIPD. Pentonville prison opened in , beginning a trend of ever increasing incarceration rates and the use of prison as the primary form of crime punishment. In , the state of Pennsylvania passed a law which mandated that all convicts who had not been sentenced to death would be placed in penal servitude to do public works projects such as building roads , forts , and mines.
Besides the economic benefits of providing a free source of hard labor, the proponents of the new penal code also thought that this would deter criminal activity by making a conspicuous public example of consequences of breaking the law. However, what actually ended up happening was frequent spectacles of disorderly conduct by the convict work crews, and the generation of sympathetic feelings from the citizens who witnessed the mistreatment of the convicts.
The laws quickly drew criticism from a humanitarian perspective as cruel, exploitative and degrading and from a utilitarian perspective as failing to deter crime and delegitimizing the state in the eyes of the public. Reformers such as Benjamin Rush came up with a solution that would enable the continued used of forced labor, while keeping disorderly conduct and abuse out of the eyes of the public. They suggested that prisoners be sent to secluded "houses of repentance" where they would be subjected out of the view of the public to "bodily pain, labour, watchfulness, solitude, and silence This prison was modeled on what became known as the "Pennsylvania system" or "separate system" , and placed all prisoners into solitary cells with nothing other than religious literature, and forced them to be completely silent to reflect on their wrongs.
Prisoners picking oakum at Coldbath Fields Prison in London, c. But by faith in the efficacy of legal reform had declined as statutory changes had no discernible effect on the level of crime, and the prisons, where prisoners shared large rooms and booty including alcohol, had become riotous and prone to escapes.
The aim of this was rehabilitative: The system's fame spread and visitors to the U. After the unification of Italy in , the government reformed the repressive and arbitrary prison system they inherited, and modernized and secularized criminal punishment by emphasizing discipline and deterrence.