Go to 4schools home pageGo to a glossaryGo to a Timeline Links to other useful websitesGo to an archive of additional sourcesGo to a Gallery of student's work

 The work of Elizabeth Fry and Joseph Gurney

Go to section on Crimes and Criminals

Go to section on Punishments

Go to section on Prison Reforms and Reformers

Go to section on the Bloody Code

Find out more about prison life

Go to section on the history of Durham Prison




It is an error much too prevalent amongst the many, who have never though accurately on the subject, that the final object of criminal jurisprudence, is the punishment of the guilty. Persons, who entertain this sentiment, are perfectly satisified if the criminal be but punished, without considering whether his punishment be of any advantage either to the individual himself ot to society at large. On their system, punishment is in fact nothing more than legal vengeance. It must indeed be acknowledged, that many of our own penal provisions, as they produce no other effect, appear to have no other end, than the punishment of the guilty. If for instance, a criminal be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, it too often happens that no good results from the proceeding either to the sufferer or to the public. The criminal gains nothing in prison but confirmation in the habits of depravity; and he us afterwards turned out again upon the public, fitted by the punishment of one crime, for the perpretation of others. Thus both parties are losers.

It will undoubtedly be evident to every reflective mind, that the end of criminal jurisprudence is not the punishment of the criminal, but the prevention of crime. Punishment, abstractedly considered, so far from being a desirable object, is a real evil:- but it is a necessary evil; it is an act of self-defence, by which every civilized society seeks a protection from those outrages, which would otherwise terminate in its destruction.

There are two ways, in which the punishment of offenders against society may operate as a prevention of crime. First, by the fear, which it is calculated to impress upon all those who, although they have not committed crime, are exposed to the temptations, which lead into criminality. This fear undoubtedly produces a very strong and a very general effect; and the more certainly crime is followed by punishment, the surer and more powerful does this effect become.

To ensure the certainty of punishment, two things appear necessary; - a vigorous and vigilant police, by which crime may be easily and immediately detected; and penal laws formed on the principles of true justice, and mild enough to be carried, without reserve, into constant execution.

The second method, by which punishment may act as the preventative of crime, is the reformation of criminals. The consideration will lead me immediately to the subject, on which I am now desirous of stating my sentiments; for the reformation of criminals is the true object of prison discipline.

Prisons ought to be conducted as to produce reform: they too often are so conducted, as to be the very seminaries of crime.

Close window


Home | Glossary | Timeline | Links | Archive | Gallery