18th Century Prison Reforms

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During the Eighteenth century English justice used a wide variety of measures to punish crime, including fines, the pillory and whipping. Transportation to America was often offered, until 1776, as an alternative to the death penalty, which could be imposed for many offenses including pilfering. When they ran out of prisons in 1776 they used old sailing vessels which came to be called hulks as places of temporary confinement. Jails contained both felons and debtors - the latter were allowed to bring in wives and children. The jailer made his money by charging the inmates for food and drink and legal services and the whole system was corrupt. One reform of the sixteenth century had been the establishment of the London Bridewell as a house of correction for women and children. This was the only place any medical services were provided. One of the most notable reformer was John Howard who, having visited several hundred prisons across England and Europe, beginning when he was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, published The State of the Prisons in 1777. He was particularly appalled to discover prisoners who had been acquitted but were still confined because they couldn't pay the jailer's fees. He proposed that each prisoner should be in a separate cell with separate sections for women felons, men felons, young offenders and debtors. The prison reform charity, the Howard League for Penal Reform, takes its name from John Howard. John Howard is now widely regarded as the founding father of prison reform, having travelled extensively visiting prisons across Europe in the 1770s and 1780s. Also, the great social reformer Jonas Hanway promoted "solitude in imprisonment, with proper profitable labor and a spare diet." Indeed, this became the popular model in England for many decades. The Penitentiary Act which passed in 1779 following his agitation introduced solitary

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