What were the different prison systems of the 19th century?
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By 1840 the British government recognised that it had to provide more prisons and several new ones were built or modified, including Millbank (1841) and Pentonville (1842) They had: A radial design that is a central hub from which a number of wings radiated. From here the warden could see everything. Separate cells. Punishment sheds (housing treadmills and oakum picking booths). By 1850 two new prison ‘regimes’ had become adopted in British prisons: The separate system: This was an American idea where the inmate was kept in solitary confinement at the start of his sentence. The theory was that the criminal would think about his crimes and realise that he had to change his ways. He would eventually break down and be willing to have his character reformed by the prison chaplain. This system was opposed by many people at the time as it sent many prisoners insane and in London they would be sent to Bethlehem Mental Hospital. The system actually led to two cases of suicide. However, for criminals who were reformed, they did learn things like gardening and woodwork. It was later condemned as cruel by the late nineteenth century. The silent system: Here prisoners were forbidden to talk to each other under any circumstances. This was supposed to stop criminals from passing on criminal tendencies to each other. Prisoners were set monotonous tasks such as the treadmill and turning the crank handle. The treadmill was particularly tiring and combined with a poor diet led to many prisoners fainting. This style of punishment was meant to stop people from repeating crimes.
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