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Prisons have existed in human society for thousands of years. A prison is any institution or device that holds a captive in custody. Among the most common types are jails, or closed structures that detain persons for shorter periods, often while they await trial, and state prisons or penitentiaries that hold persons serving sentences for crime. Other forms of imprisonment dating from antiquity have included slavery and involuntary servitude, both as a punishment for crime and as a form of exploitation. For as long as wars have occurred, some vanquished persons usually have been held as captives instead of being killed. History has included all of these forms of imprisonment and more. Prisons have not simply been used as a recent punishment for crime.
and usually fatal. Actual prisons truly served as a holding place for those condemned to die. Occasionally one might be detained to await trial, but usually those awaiting trial were encouraged to go into voluntary exile. Those awaiting trial were called "carcer" or "publica vincula." That is how the term “incarceration”, which means imprisonment, came into being. There were houses of detention for slaves. In the country, a villa might have two areas to keep problem slaves, one for those shackled and one for those allowed a bit more freedom. Roman citizens were chained to soldiers by their wrists before suffering savage punishments by the Roman Law. Underground cisterns were used as prisons in the early times. For example, the Mamertine Prison in Rome.
Mamertine Prison, Rome Romans did not use prisons as we do. The wealthy accused were kept under house arrest. The poor found justice swift
A cell in Mamertine
The Prison was constructed around 640616 BC, by Ancus Marcius. It was
originally created as a cistern for a spring in the floor of the second lower level.
Mamertine prison, Rome. Now a pilgrimage site
Modern steps lead down to the upper level of the prison, which is at the original ground level of ancient Rome. The doorway is modern. The upper room of the prison is trapezoidal in shape and dates from the 2nd century BC. The walls are made of blocks of tufa. The lower room, the Tullianum, is circular and made of blocks of peperino held together without mortar. This was the most inner and secret part of the larger complex, and here the condemned were thrown and usually strangled. The lower room was originally accessed through a round opening in the floor of the upper room, which is now covered with a grate. Today, access is by means of a modern staircase on the left. Bastille, France In the early 17th century, the Bastille was converted from a medieval fortress to a state prison for the upper class, though prisoners had been confined there long before. But at the end of the 17th century
Ground floor plan of the Bastille
During the Medieval times a lot of castle keeps or fortresses were converted to prisons. A very famous example of this type of a prison is the Bastille in France. Yedikule Hisari in modern-day Istanbul, Castle of Spielberg, Venetian Ducal Palace are more examples of this type.
this began to change as more common were
Elevation of the Bastille
incarcerated; Living conditions declined as this new class of criminal became the majority. There was a marked difference in the treatment of upper class and lower class prisoners. Torture and exacution was a very well known trait of Bastille. The prison Bastille was purposely cloaked in mystery to instill horror by its
very name. However, the reality of the Bastille was far less cruel than other such medieval prisons of the time.
8.5m x 5.0m, and 2.4m in height. They had cement floors, boarded walls and a toilet bucket. Windows had only iron grills and no glazing. There was no provision for heating
Yedikule Hisari (Seven Towers Dungeon), Istanbul A seven-towered fortress, it was initially built to protect the kingdom‟s treasury. But when the treasury was
rooms in winter. Other chambers were used for school, church, dining, administration and punishment. The idea of segregation of men and women in prison came from the Dutch in 1593.
relocated, it began to be used as dungeons for
Seven Towers dungeon, Istanbul
Country Gaols and Bridewells in England
incarceration. The place of imprisonment of many foreign
Gaols were for safe custody of debtors and others awaiting trial or sentence. Bridewells had small rooms, no chimneys, glass shutters, court, water or employment. They were discontinued in the 18th century.
ambassadors and Ottoman statesman, as well as a place of execution for some, the fortress was last used as a prison in 1831.
Tudor period – Beggars and vagrants would be provided with compulsory employment. In a bridewell in Holland, there were 9 rooms housing 4-12 prisoners each. A room being 5.2m x 3.2m, larger ones were
Women‟s wards were unusual in gaols. Buildings were usually two or three storied structures arranged in a haphazard way to enclose one or more courts, which were used for exercise.
Often these were never designed to house prisoners in the first place and many rooms and buildings quickly developed
into fetid dens where men, women and children were confined brutally.
concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all prisoners without the
Prison reforms were first initiated by the Roman Catholic Church and the Quakers in America in 1650. The first cellular prison in support of these reforms was St. Michael‟s prison built by the Roman Catholic Church in 1704. The separation was done, to encourage each prisoner to reflect on his misdeeds in solitude All the cells had a view of the Altar Examples: House of Correction, Milan and Newgate Prison
incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched. Here, tiered cells were arranged in a centralised
configuration, at the hub of which was positioned the guard‟s viewing tower. The design precept was to facilitate absolute observation with minimum staff supervision. This type of prison building has inspired many modern-day correctional facilities like Stateville Correctional Centre and the Twin Towers Correctional facility, both in the USA.
The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social Bentham theorist Jeremy in 1791. The
Pennsylvania or Philadelphia System
Two centuries ago, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania became the centre of prison reform worldwide. The system of 24-hour separation of
each prisoner coupled with in-cell feeding, work, and vocational instruction, came to be known as the
Auburn System/New York System
The Auburn system is a
Pennsylvania System or Separate System. The system and its unusual architecture - a central hub and radiating cellblocks – were seldom imitated in other states. Example: Eastern State Penitentiary One of the
a penal method established in 1817, in which persons worked during the day in groups and were kept
in solitary confinement at night, with enforced silence at all times. It was so named, as it evolved in the Auburn Prison, New York.
This type of prison structure involves single rooms in a linear form, and the cells are back to back, creating an absolutely divided space. This forms single cells (sometimes as small as 0.75m x 1.8m) in inner lines, and can be developed into wings or around
largest structures in the country at the time and far exceeding estimates. Each prisoner was to be provided with a cell from cost
which they would rarely leave and each cell had to be large enough to be a workplace and have attached a small individual exercise yard Cutting edge technology of the time was used to
Penal method developed about 1840 by Alexander
Maconochie at the English penal colony of Norfolk Island, east of Australia.
install conveniences unmatched in other public buildings like central heating, a flush toilet in each cell and shower baths.
Instead of requiring convicts to serve
devised by Sir Walter Crofton.
their sentences with no hope of release until the full
To test the moral character of the convict and to see if he was
fit for liberty, he was compelled to reside six months in the prison at Lusk, Wyoming, USA, a prison without walls, bars, or bolts, where the culprits were employed as free workmen in agriculture or a trade.
sentence had been served, a convict could earn freedom by hard work and good behaviour in the prison. The earned marks could be used to purchase either goods or a reduction in sentence. Prisoners had to pass through a series of stages beginning with strict imprisonment through conditional release to final freedom. Movement through the stages was dependent upon the number of marks accredited. This is also the origin of the Parole System which is followed till date.
American Reformatory Prison System
This system of „protection‟ in place of punishment was devised by Zebulon Reed Brockway (1876). Its purpose was, the rehabilitation of inmates rather than their intimidation by restraint. Example:Elmira
Reformatory, New York
This system of
Open Prison System
As prison reform continued further, the closed prison led to open prison, or „prison without bars‟.
conditional liberty was
The inmates were required to carry out agrarian activities, keeping them busy, and teaching them agricultural skills. The produce from these activities would be used for consumption by the inmates.
Unfortunately, on the inside there were many hard-tomonitor corners and other places that were ideal for stabbings, beatings and other forms of violence.
Example: Fresnes Prison, Paris - The prison was
constructed between 1895 and 1898 according to a design devised by architect, Henri the
The first open prison was established in
in 1891 and was the vision Kellerhals. of Otto
Telephone Pole System
They had a central corridor linking a series of rectangular cell houses at right angles to the corridor Designed specifically to control prison violence. They were built like fortresses that appeared to be quite secure.
It comprises a large men's jail of about 1200 cells, a smaller one for women and a penitentiary hospital.
- All cells were planned along the outside walls and were
approximately 3.9m x 2.4m and 3m in height .
Indian Prison System
According to the Prison Statistics Report 2000, India has about 2,48,115 prisoners in total to the available capacity of 2,11,720. Prisons in India are still governed by the century old Prisons Act 1894 and the Prisoners Act 1900. The application of a century old law in the changed socio-political scenario is absolutely bizarre, and is out of tune with the entirely transformed picture of human society. During the past some decades several organisations, intellectuals and committees set up for jail reforms have expressed their views on the importance of reviewing the Act which is not comprehensive. The new thinking on prisons has been duly summarised by the dictum that convicted persons go to prison as punishment and not for punishment. The condition of a substantially large number of prisons continues to be bad and dehumanising of the residuary rights of inmates. There has been a plethora of recommendations for the improvement of these conditions both from recommendatory bodies and from the apex judiciary but a large chunk of these recommendations has not seen the light of the day.
Overcrowding is the greatest practical hindrance to efforts of reforming the Indian prison system. Some prisons house as much as three times more inmates than their capacity. Prisons in general are housed in dilapidated age-old buildings with its management in the hands of an untrained, disgruntled, over-worked and insufficient staff. Constraints of inappropriate working conditions weigh over opportunities for correctional work.
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