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 People and Punishments

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Montage of images showing plan of Durham Prison, old Durham Gaol and a Calendar or Prisoners.

Montage of images showing plan of Durham Prison, old Durham Gaol and a Calendar or Prisoners.

 

What do you think of when we talk about punishments today? Try making a list of all the methods used to punish criminals in the early 21st century. The chances are it will include some, or all, of the following. A prison or other custodial sentence, community service, payment of a fine, imposition of a curfew or passing of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). Most of these punishments seem to have been in use for a long time but this is not the case. In fact, most are fairly modern inventions - even sending criminals to prison was not common until the Victorian era.

From the middle of the 17th century to the mid-19th century, the only people you would find in prison were debtors, minor criminals such as vagrants, people awaiting trial and those awaiting the hangman's noose. The law had a whole host of other methods of punishing criminals at its disposal, including whipping, sentencing offenders to hard labour, transportation and imposing the death sentence. Unlike today where considerable effort is made to reform the criminal, the underlying principle of 18th and 19th punishment was to punish the offender and demonstrate to others what would happen if they too broke the law.

In order to look more closely at the nature of punishment and how it changed over time, we're going to look at how people were punished in the 18th century, what differences there were by the mid-19th century and study one man's experience of prison in the latter part of the 19th century.

Find out more about punishments in 1786Find out more about punishments in 1836Find out more about Tommy Armstrong

 

 

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