Prison Was A Serious Punishment For Crime

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Prisons were virtually non-existent before the 1700’s because prison was not considered a serious punishment for crime. Instead, the government imprisoned those who were awaiting trial where they would receive a more appropriate punishment. Many punishments at the time included branding, extreme fines, whipping, and the death penalty or capital punishment. Most offenders when caught, received their punishment in public. This was done to try and discourage criminal activity and falls under the theory of deterrence.
It is difficult to pin an exact date on when the general beginning of imprisonment as punishment for crime was started. However, it is known that at the beginning of the eighteenth century imprisonment was unusual except when applied to religious or political offenders. The eighteenth century was the time of transition from corporal punishment to imprisonment and although the most rapid time of change was after 1775, the general movement was in progress throughout the entire period.
Early prisons were not what they are today. They were dark, dirty, overcrowded, and unhygienic. There was no separation for prisoners when they were locked up so this meant that men, women and children, plus dangerous criminals, debtors and the clinically insane could all be together. British reformer John Howard toured Europe to observe prison conditions. His book, the State of the Prisons in England and Wales, influenced the passage of a law that led to the construction of the first
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