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Crime and PunishmentPrisons in the 20th century Return to the main page
Case Study 2 - What should prisons be like? Task Glossary

After the tough régimes of Victorian prisons, (See Gallery Crime 1750-1900), the pendulum swung the other way for most of the 20th century, towards reform. This move actually began in 1895, when the Gladstone Report said that prisons should turn their inmates out better people than they went in. These views were implemented by two successive reformers, Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise and Sir Alexander Paterson.
Some reforms were designed to make prisons less brutal places, to give prisoners some self-respect. These included allowing ordinary haircuts and clothing (as opposed to shaven heads and the broad-arrow uniform). More visits from the prisoner's family were allowed, and under less restrictive circumstances. Flogging was finally abolished in 1948.
The aim of many of these reforms was to prepare the prisoner to lead a law-abiding life on release. One of the most important ways of achieving this was to provide more opportunities to work, and to make that work more realistic. Proper workshops were built. Tasks requiring (and developing) no particular skill, such as sewing mailbags, were phased out. Prisoners were allowed to earn some money to tide them over when they were released. New prisons were built where these ideas could be put into effect more easily than in Victorian prisons designed to be run very differently.

The rise in crime from the 1960s (See Gallery Crime in the 20th Century) led to a swing back to more punitive prison régimes in the latter part of the 20th century. More offenders and longer sentences led to an increase in the prison population. This brought tremendous over-crowding, a worsening of conditions and less opportunity for education, workshop time and family visits. This situation contributed to serious prison riots in the 1970s and at Strangeways Prison, Manchester in 1990. There was also a return to privately-run prisons, a system phased out in the early 19th century.

Case Studies
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