The prisons

What could you expect after arrest? – a very gloomy future.

In the previous century Jeremy Bentham had dreamt up a novel idea for a prison construction: a 'Panopticon', built in a star shape with radiating wings, so that daylight and fresh air reached every cell and, more importantly, the warders could oversee every wing from a central core. They were certainly an improvement on the old medieval prisons. Bentham’s first creation, Millbank, had been built in 1821. Pentonville prison was built on the edge of the built‐up area of north London, on a semi‐circular radial plan, in 1842.

Every prisoner had a cell to himself, with adequate washing facilities, which present‐day inmates of overcrowded prisons might envy. But they would not envy the prison regime, known as the ‘separate system’. It involved depriving a prisoner of all human contact; shutting him up in his cell except for brief exercise periods, masking his face, and forbidding him to speak. This compulsory silence was believed to lead to moral regeneration as the wretched prisoner contemplated his moral failings. There were, it had to be admitted, quite a few suicides.

The prisons

Whitby Vandals Zoser