Historical perspectives: changes in jail and prison design.

Author:Wirkler, Norman E.

Throughout recorded history, many cultures and societies have used some type of building structure to detain prisoners for punishment or as they awaited trial. There are biblical references to various types of detention - from Daniel's captivity overnight in the lions' den (where it was not anticipated by the Persians that he would survive), to numerous references to the use of prisons by the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. The structures typically have been very functional, providing excellent examples of the architectural principle that "form follows function."

In 15th and 16th century Europe, punishment was usually corporal, ranging from whipping or time in stocks, to execution or enslavement. Detention was not a typical punishment, although the English and French did detain some individuals for life in the Tower of London and the Bastille in Paris in lieu of execution.

The type of facility used varied with the social attitudes of the time and their subsequent effect on the beliefs about crime and punishment. A look at the history of correctional attitudes, and the resulting facilities (prisons and jails), gives us insight into the problems faced by society in the past, many of which parallel problems faced today.

Queen Elizabeth Deals with Crowding

Queen Elizabeth I began to transport convicts to the British colonies in the 16th century to provide hard labor to help develop the colonies. This continued into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Australia became one of the most common destinations, probably because of its location on the other side of the earth and the barrier of the South Pacific and the remote Outback. As many as 160,000 criminals were sent to Australia, and more than 40,000 were sent to the New England colonies during this period. Facilities usually were built by the prisoners when they arrived.

In the 17th century, Europeans began holding in prisons persons convicted as debtors, misdemeanants and felons. The increased offender population and prison crowding led to measures such as holding prisoners on old sailing vessels anchored in the harbors. Interestingly, more than half of the prisons in England at the time were privately operated. These facilities generally were crowded and filthy, and reformers began to push for change during the 19th century.

Crime and Punishment In New England

Many of the British punishment practices were mandated to the colonies. The attitudes of the founders of the New England...

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