Institution of Prison: Evolution of the Prison System

institution of prison

One who has visited prisons in different countries will find that the problems of the prisons are almost similar. These problems include overcrowding, issues related to prisoners awaiting trial, as well as challenges concerning women and juvenile prisoners.

Additionally, one will observe problems related to maintaining the standard of accommodation, creating a healthy environment inside the prison, managing the relationship between staff and prisoners, and allocating financial resources to the prisons.

The main difference one will notice among countries is that some countries acknowledge the existing difficulties and are willing to take action to minimize them, while others maintain secrecy and are unwilling to recognize the issues and improve the situation.

History of Prison

Before British rule in the Indian subcontinent, village panchayats looked after the law and order situation in villages. Urban centers had their indigenous system of Kotwal, entrusted with maintaining peace and tranquility in the cities.

The British rulers enacted the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Evidence Act. After the independence of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, any changes made were influenced by the developments in penological thought in the UK and the USA.

Among these three countries, India’s situation is far better than that of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The ancient law of crimes in the UK was not truly a law of crimes; it was, in fact, the law of torts. When any person committed a crime, they had to provide compensation to the victim.

Subsequently, the criminal had to compensate the crown, which was an important source of revenue. It was around the twelfth century that the crown took over the administration of criminal justice.

Offenders had to pay a fine, or they were imprisoned during the period between arrest and trial or between the conviction for a capital offense and its execution.

In the early days, torture, mutilation, and ostracism were common modes of punishment. Offenders were detained in cellars, gatehouses, and towers. All types of criminals, debtors, and the insane were placed together in those detention houses.

There was no division of inmates and no separate arrangements for women. Private parties, not the state, maintained those gaols commercially. Inmates had to pay for accommodation, food, clothing, as well as liquor and companionship.

In the words of Lionel W. Fox, the gaols were dens of lechery, debauchery, moral corruption, and pestilence.

Incarceration was not extensively used because of the increased use of capital punishment and the transportation of serious criminals to far-off places.

One can assume the rigor with which the death sentence was used from the fact that capital offenses increased from fifty in 1688 to around two hundred by the end of the eighteenth century. The abolition of transportation resulted in a further increase in capital punishment.

During this period, criminal law was rigorously executed, and criminals received brutal and inhumane treatment. The time when brutality reached its peak also experienced the ‘enlightenment’ era in England and Europe, which ultimately led to a more humane approach towards criminals. The ‘enlightenment’ era took a strong stand in favor of the dignity of all human beings.

The writers of the ‘enlightenment’ era believed in the natural rights of every human being and held that nobody could take away these rights except in accordance with the law.

Among them, John Locke (1632-1704), David Hume (1711-1756), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), Voltaire (1694-1728), and Montesquieu (1689-1775) are famous for their writings. They wrote for the reformation of the then-existing criminal justice system.

Because of their writings, criminal law, its execution, and the entire criminal justice system were humanized. The ideas reflected in the writings of the ‘enlightenment’ era had a great impact on the mindset of the middle-class people.

This middle class emerged as a result of the socio-economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The middle class formed from a lower socio-economic position.

As a result, they were moved by the sufferings of children, the poor, the incapable, the insane, and prisoners. The middle class was easily influenced by the writings of the ‘enlightenment’ era.

This middle class, then, demanded the reformation of the then-existing criminal justice system, which ultimately led to improving prisons and introducing probation, parole, and juvenile courts.

Some researchers argued that the middle class became vocal because they were not getting the service of cheap labor due to the imprisonment and execution of lower-class people. It was not just their feelings but also their economic interests that moved them to advocate for the reformation of the criminal justice system.

Whatever the consideration, the fact is that the ideas advocated by the writers had a profound influence on the people of England and Europe.

Transportation of convicts to far-off places fell into disuse, and the number of capital offenses gradually reduced. In this context, imprisonment became the principal mode of punishment.

John Howard was a pioneer in the prison reform movement in England. He believed that the purpose of imprisonment should be the correction of the personal character of prisoners.

He was appointed as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. He tried to implement his beliefs and continued his activities until his death in 1790.

He endeavored to improve the unsanitary conditions of prisons and made separate arrangements for prisoners of different sexes. He emphasized the significance of religious and ethical teaching and the learning of trades and crafts in prison.

After release, this technical learning helped prisoners find employment and reintegrate into society. During that time, Romilly continuously advocated in parliament to effect reforms in the existing prisons.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, prisoners were treated brutally. The condition of prisons in England during the eighteenth century was inhuman and barbaric, as described by John Howard in his famous book “The State of Prisons.” He described prisons as damp and vermin-infested, full of corruption, sexual indulgence, and all types of vices.

The British Parliament passed the Act of 1778, marking the beginning of prison reforms in England. The new system allowed prisoners to work during the day and placed them in solitary cells at night.

By 1833, inmates were able to meet their friends and relatives regularly at fixed intervals.

From that time, authorities permitted visitors who went into the prisons and heard the complaints of the inmates. During the latter half of the 19th century, prisoners were released on “Ticket on Leave,” with the condition that they would not engage in criminal activity.

The Act of 1877 transferred the authority of prison administration from municipal authorities to the national government. This was a historic change in the prison administration of England.

In 1894, the Gladstone Committee suggested abolishing unproductive labor in prisons.

The Committee emphasized the need to work in groups and properly classify inmates. The Committee advocated for establishing separate reformatories for juvenile offenders.

Accordingly, the Prison Act was passed in 1898, followed by the Children Act in 1908.

During the eighteenth century, a large number of war captives and political offenders were placed in British prisons.

To reduce pressure on prisons, thousands of prisoners were transported to American colonies and later to Australian colonies. Due to the high cost and conflicts between prisoners and free settlers, the transportation of prisoners from England to Australia was abandoned.

Sir Lionel Fox’s name is worth mentioning as he was a great prison reformer of the last century. He held the position of Secretary of the Prison Commission from 1925 to 1934 and Chairman of the same from 1942 to 1960.

He was first eager to ensure that people were kept informed about the inside situation of the prison. To achieve this goal, he emphasized extensive reporting and regular visits by journalists and social workers inside the prison.

Sir Lionel established a prison service Journal in 1960. Second, he wanted the prison administration to reconcile the contradictory purposes of deterrence and reformation.

The English prison system, according to Sir Lionel, pursued deterrence and reformation simultaneously according to principles set out by the Gladstone Committee. The paradox could

only be resolved, according to Sir Lionel, by the certainty of detection and punishment, not by the severity of punishment.

Being placed within the boundaries of the prison itself was sufficient punishment; the severity of the prison regime was considered an unnecessary burden on the prisoners. The Criminal Justice Act of 1948 incorporated all these objectives.

Because of Sir Lionel’s continuous efforts, open prisons were established. During his tenure, the number of open institutions increased from one to thirteen, including three for women.

He established fifteen Borstals, thirteen for boys and two for girls. In 1953, he introduced the ‘Hostel System’ for preventive detainees, who worked in the city throughout the day and returned to the hostel after work. The ‘Hostel System’ was extended to long-term prisoners in 1958.

Penal reforms by Sir Lionel were incorporated into the penal and prison systems of countries with Anglo-American heritage. Under the Criminal Justice Act of 1982, a liberalized parole system was introduced to reduce pressure on prisons.

The present prison institutions in England are based on several principles. Prisoners are stratified into different classes through a method of Group Therapy.

In prison, inmates receive educational and vocational training to elevate their physical, moral, and mental faculties. The rectification of prisoners is achieved within the community.

After-care institutions and voluntary social service organizations take care of the rehabilitation of prisoners after their release. Basic rights of prisoners are ensured within the prisons of England.

The American Prison System

Institution of Prison: Evolution of the Prison System

During the medieval period, imprisonment was used in rare cases. Punishment inside the prison was brutal and inhumane. Due to public opinion, Penn’s Charter was passed in 1862, aiming to reform the prison administration.

The Charter, among other things, provided that;

  1. the system of releasing prisoners on bail should be introduced;
  2. compensation should be given to wrongfully imprisoned individuals;
  3. prisoners should be permitted some choice in their food and lodging to some extent;
  4. punishing offenders in public places needed to be repealed forever.

Philadelphia Prison was remodeled in 1775 on a new pattern due to a movement of a religious sect. The prisoners were categorized into two main classes:

  1. incorrigible or hardened criminals;
  2. corrigible criminals.

Incorrigible prisoners were placed in isolated cells without any labor. The corrigible were kept together in rooms, and they worked in shops during the daytime.

The Philadelphian Prison functioned on the basis of two broad principles, namely, work during the day and humanitarian treatment of prisoners. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the condition of the Philadelphian Prison was degraded due to overcrowding and maladministration.

This underscored the necessity of constructing new model prisons, which gave rise to the establishment of two model prisons, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Auburn.

The Pennsylvania System

In 1790, the Pennsylvania system began functioning at the Walnut Street Prison in Philadelphia.

The prisoners were incarcerated in isolated cells both during the day and night, to bring about prompt reformation of the prisoners as it was considered to have an extremely deterrent effect. Because of the solitary confinement, the prisoners had to endure untold suffering.

Due to the unbearable monotony of prison life, many inmates died, and many lost their mental balance.

o mitigate the rigors of solitary confinement, prisoners were allowed to work in segregated cells.

Their faces were covered with hoods designed to prevent them from seeing each other while they were transported from one place to another. Wardens, chaplains, and representatives of social welfare organizations were allowed to visit the prison and meet the inmates.

During their prison life, their friends, relatives, and other inmates did not have any access to the prisoners, who, however, were allowed to perform their prayers.

Overcrowding, lack of productive labor, and savagery were the main drawbacks of the Pennsylvania system, which fell into disuse in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Finally, it was replaced by the Auburn System.

The Auburn System

A new prison was constructed in Auburn, New York, in 1818-19, in line with the model of Pennsylvania. The prisoners, under this system, worked in shops in an environment of complete silence.

Hardened criminals were initially brought to this prison and subjected to solitary confinement. Its severe impact caused psychological disorders among the prisoners, and many of them committed suicide.

In 1823, a large number of prisoners were pardoned and released. After 1823, this prison adopted a new system known as the Auburn system.

Under this system, hardened criminals were kept in solitary confinement, but corrigible prisoners were allowed to work in shops during the day and were kept in separate cells at night.

At all times, they had to maintain silence. If any prisoner broke the rule, he/she was flogged. Hard labor during the day kept the prisoners physically fit, and enforced silence was a form of punishment for them. The Auburn system had little impact on reforming the character of the prisoners.

Under both the Pennsylvania and Auburn systems, prisoners could not communicate with each other. They worked during the day and were kept in solitary confinement at night.

The only difference is that under the Pennsylvania system, the prisoners worked and lived in isolated cells, while in the Auburn system, the prisoners worked in congregate shops during the daytime.

The Elmira Reformatory

The authorities tried to reform the prisoners through religious sermons under both the Pennsylvania and Auburn systems until 1870. In New York, the Elmira Reformatory was established, which provided for indeterminate sentences, parole, and probation.

American prison history experienced an era of reformation during the next thirty years. The inmates were classified as corrigible and incorrigible for the purpose of their treatment. The prisons began to be utilized as training centers for developing prisoners into skilled laborers. At first, it assisted in their rehabilitation.

Secondly, continuous work and training kept the prisoners physically and mentally fit, enabling them to return to society as functional members after their release. It was around 1930 that the aim of punishment became the individualization of prisoners.

From that time on, prisoners were classified according to their personal needs and possibilities of rehabilitation, not on the basis of their age, sex, or dangerousness.

The American prison system witnessed an era of reformation in 1933 when a Reception Centre was established in Illinois. The cells were well-ventilated and constructed to allow sufficient air and light. They were equipped with improved sanitation, promoting good health. Inmates were permitted to read, write, and attend schools.

Sufficient arrangements were made for physical exercise and recreation for inmates. The prisoners took their meals together and met their friends and relatives at certain intervals. Solitary confinement was repealed forever. The incumbents tried to narrow down the gap between prison life and the outside life of society.

Despite reforms, American prisons are still encountering difficulties. The prisons are overcrowded, and more than half of the prisoners return there sooner or later after their release. Beating up, extortion, blackmail, and sexual assaults are common incidents in American prisons.

Though there are problems, the rights of American prisoners, nevertheless, are well-protected. They receive humane treatment as it is entrenched in their system.

The private profit economy and discrimination are causes of ever-increasing criminality in America, creating problems for the law enforcers and prison staff of America.

The use of imprisonment as a direct punishment is a relatively modern phenomenon, with its origins in Western Europe and North America. Imprisonment started functioning in those countries around 250 years ago. It has now spread to almost all countries in the world.

Imprisonment is not indigenous to countries like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. These countries had other ways of dealing with perpetrators.

Purpose of Imprisonment: How Prisons Worldwide Are Failing at Rehabilitation

What is the purpose of imprisonment? Why are people sent to prison? People are sent, for various reasons, for retribution, deterrence, or reformation.

Interestingly, there is no strong evidence that incarcerating people in prison makes them more law-abiding or better citizens. In 1990, a White Paper was published by the UK government stating that imprisonment “can be an expensive way of making bad people worse.”

If any reform is to happen to an individual, it cannot be brought about by keeping that person within the bars of the prison but rather by keeping them in open society.

The arguments put forward in favor of the deterrent value of imprisonment are not strong. Many people commit crimes because of the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the deterrent principle does not apply to them.

The truth is that the high or low rate of imprisonment has little impact on the crime level of any community.

An increase or decrease in the number of individuals punished does not significantly influence the frequency of crime in any society. This reality is common in almost all countries.

If incarcerating people had a substantial impact on the crime rate, the USA would be the most law-abiding country in the world. More than one and a half million people are imprisoned in the USA, with 550 people per 100,000 of the population being prisoners, far in excess of any other country.

Crime prevention is not something that involves only the criminal justice system.

We need to ponder over the matter from its very root. If people have a place to live, a means of livelihood, and a personal support system, they are less likely to commit a crime. Therefore, people are sent to prison because the court has no alternative but to deprive them of their freedom of movement.

In 1991, the Criminal Justice Act was promulgated in England and Wales.

The Act provided that an individual could be sent to prison only for one of two reasons: either because the offense is so heinous that there is no other appropriate penalty, or for the protection of the community.

Administration of Prison

The purpose of prison, as far as the administration of prison is concerned, is to prepare prisoners for reintegration into society as reformed individuals upon their release.

Three factors are very important: after release, they must have a place to live, a legitimate means of income, and support from family members, friends, and relatives. After release, support plays a key role in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

In April 1990, a dangerous riot took place in Strangeways Prison in Manchester, and riots occurred in several other prisons in the UK at the same time. The government appointed Lord Justice Woolf to inquire into the commotions in the prisons.

The report prepared by Woolf provided guidelines on how a prison should be administered. A stable prison system, Woolf concluded, is founded on three pillars: security, control, and justice.

Security connotes the responsibility of the prison authority to ensure that prisoners cannot escape, thereby protecting the community from those incarcerated within the prison walls.

On the contrary, prisoners expect the prison to be a safe place for them. The prison authority must have sufficient control over the prisoners to maintain order within the prison.

A prisoner cannot be deprived of all rights and civic amenities simply because they are incarcerated. A prisoner must be treated with humanity and fairness and be prepared for successful reintegration into the community. Woolf considered this notion as justice.

There are universal norms and guidelines regarding how a prison should be administered and how prisoners should be treated.

These include the;

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
  • the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and other Cruel,
  • Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
  • the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,
  • the Basic Principles for the Protection of all Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and specific norms for groups like juveniles, such as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice,
  • the Principles of Medical Ethics Applying to Doctors who work with Detained People, and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

Very often, the rights of prisoners are overlooked. Many people perceive that human rights apply only to free individuals, which is incorrect.

Both citizens and prisoners require basic rights and privileges to sustain their lives. Sometimes, prisoners require even more rights and privileges than free individuals because they have lost their significant right to freedom of movement.

Prisoners should be provided with basic necessities and other privileges required to lead a meaningful life and be trained in a way that can prepare them to adjust to society after their release.

Prison as an Alternative

Community penalties may be a good alternative to imprisonment. Imprisonment should only be imposed when community penalties are not sufficient. In recent years, the British government conducted a survey that concluded that crime levels are not significantly related to punishment.

Economic factors have a major impact on both property and personal crime. The frequency of crime is related to factors such as good street lighting, sufficient transport facilities, levels of indiscipline at home and at school, unemployment, and living conditions.

If the relation between crime and punishment is not strong, the expenditure and use of prison must be reduced. Imprisonment ought to be replaced by community-based penalties.

Instead of locking more and more people in prison, offenders may be offered reformation programs by keeping them in the community. Traditional forms of community justice in the Indian subcontinent, without following the Western model of sending people to prison, may work miracles in rehabilitating offenders.

The demand for alternatives to imprisonment has been echoed from across the world. Prison is, by nature, a coercive method, with the level of coercion varying from country to country. Many cultures are not acquainted with the concept of imprisonment.

It is very expensive, and its use does not ensure a reduction in the frequency of crime. Imprisonment should only be utilized when there is no alternative.

The Role of Prison Staff

A good prison system largely depends on good prison officials for its administration. A prison is comprised of two types of individuals: prisoners and prison staff.

Prisoners, as isolated individuals, maintain their daily lives in association with the prison staff. The treatment by prison officials matters a lot in the daily life of the prisoners and also in their lives after release.

A reputed prison director in the United States of America once said, “If you give me the choice between a completely new prison with all the latest technology but a bad staff and a prison made of tents with a good staff, I will always choose the one with a good staff.”

A good prison system is inextricably related to its root-level staff, as they come into direct contact with the prisoners. The lower echelon of prison officials has great influence over the prisoners.

However, the difficulty in many countries is that prison officials receive a scanty amount of salary and enjoy low status in society. People who failed to find better jobs join the prison service.

As society attaches some stigma to their job, prison officials do not tell other people about their job, and they mainly associate with their colleagues. They do not receive proper training on how to treat prisoners, and they often treat prisoners brutally.

Providing reasonable wages to prison officials, imparting proper training, and ensuring social recognition are key factors in developing a good prison system. Motivating prison officials is very important, and we need to distinguish between static security and dynamic security.

Static security means walls, fences, locks, and bolts, which are physical devices used to prevent the escape of prisoners.

Dynamic security, on the other hand, comes from wary staff who have very good interaction with the prisoners. They are friendly with the prisoners and can sense trouble before it starts. Static security is not as valuable as dynamic security unless it is ensured by motivated staff.

Prisoners should be kept occupied with constructive activities, which is an integral part of good security. Constructive regimes and security are complementary to each other.

If a prisoner is physically and mentally preoccupied, they have hardly any time to work out plans for escape or disturbances. A positive attitude among the staff is key to progressing any prison system.

Reality of Incarcerated Life

Academic discussion about prison life is not enough to understand the reality of incarcerated life. A brief sketch needs to be delineated to visualize how prisoners lead their lives within the high walls of prison. Brixton prison in the UK may be taken as a case study.

As the successor of Newgate and the Fleet prisons, Brixton prison was established in 1819.

A man sent to Brixton prison from court is taken to the reception area. He has to remove his clothes and take a shower. He is given a set of prison uniform and a number. This number is more important than his name. From now on, he will be called by his number.

Each evening, many prisoners are received into prison during a “two-hour period.” The environment is crowded and impersonal.

Many men become scared as it is their first experience of losing their liberty. They are confused and hapless. In this alien atmosphere, there is hardly any scope to alleviate the fears of newcomers.

In England and Wales, around 25 percent of the people accused of committing crimes are remanded in custody.

Of the under-trial prisoners who have been remanded in custody, 19 percent are eventually acquitted, 39 percent are given a non-custodial sentence, and the rest (42 percent) receive a custodial sentence. In England and Wales, around 23 percent of all people in prison are on remand.

The criminal population varies from country to country. In India, it is 22 per 100,000 of the population. The world average is over 100 per 100,000.

An unfortunate feature of the Indian prison system is that over 60 percent of the prison population are awaiting trial. A significant number of men and women are confined in Indian prisons for more than two years. This deprives a significant number of people of their liberty and incurs a huge expenditure from the Public Exchequer.

Impact of Incarceration on a Family

The sufferings of the family members of a prisoner have often been overshadowed by the fact that the prisoner has been convicted of a crime, and thus all matters related to them are overlooked or not taken into judicious consideration.

The reality is that the wife and children of a prisoner serve a sentence along with their husband or father. In most cases, the breadwinner is incarcerated, and the wife has to bear the responsibility of the family if the state does not provide the family with minimum support.

Moreover, many societies attach stigma to the prisoner, which extends to his family members. The community treats them as if they were criminals.

They encounter hardships in their daily lives. The wife at her workplace and the children at their schools are treated differently because their husband and father is a prisoner.

Even when they go to meet their husband or father, they receive ill-treatment from the prison staff. The innocent family members are mistreated because of the stigma attached to the prisoner.

International Standard

A number of international instruments have provided standards for the treatment of prisoners. Among these, the most important is the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

This Standard Minimum Rules were adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders held in Geneva. It was approved by the Economic and Social Council through its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977.

These Standard Minimum Rules require the authority of every prison to maintain a bound Register where the detailed particulars of the prisoners will be recorded.

They impose an obligation to keep different types of prisoners in different parts of the prison, taking into account their sex, age, and criminal record. They require the prison authority to keep untried prisoners separate from convicted prisoners, women from men, and young prisoners from adults.

All sleeping accommodations, as per the provisions of the Standard Minimum Rules, shall meet all the requirements for health, with due regard being paid to climatic conditions, especially in relation to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating, and ventilation.

The windows shall be large enough to enable prisoners to read or work by natural light. The sanitary installations shall be adequate to enable every prisoner to comply with the needs of nature when necessary and cleanly and decently.

Prisoners shall be provided with water and necessary toilet articles for health and cleanliness. Every prisoner shall be provided with clothing suitable for the climate and adequate to maintain good health, along with a separate bed.

Prisoners shall be provided with food at the usual hours, of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality, and well-prepared and served.

The Standard Minimum Rules further provide that prisoners shall be allowed, under necessary supervision, to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.

The Rules enjoin the prison authority to establish a library for the use of all categories of prisoners and ensure arrangements for prisoners to perform their religious prayers.