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A Timeline

1717-1776 Over 30,000 people are transported to the colonies in the West Indies and America as punishment for crimes committed. The American victory in the War of Independence means that sending convicts to America is no longer an option.
1776 Prison ships, called hulks, are first used to house prisoners. The hulks are moored on the River Thames and, as part of the punishment, the prisoners are set to work at cleaning the river.
1777 John Howard publishes his highly critical survey of prisons in England and Wales.
1788 The 'First Fleet' of convict ships arrives in Port Jackson (now Sydney), Australia. The fleet consists of 1030 people, of whom 548 are male convicts and 188 are female convicts. Transportation becomes a well-used punishment. It has been estimated that about one-third of all convicted criminals were transported to Australia and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).
Early 1800s The number of offences carrying the death penalty reaches a high point. Over 200 offences are now classed as capital offences. This includes pick-pocketing anything worth more than 2s or stealing anything worth more than £2. Juries become reluctant to convict people on minor charges as they do not want to condemn a person to death. This becomes an increasing cause of concern for the authorities.
1808 The penalty for pick-pocketing is changed from hanging to transportation for life.
1810 Work starts on the building of a new prison in Durham. The new prison has 600 cells and takes it first prisoners in 1819.
1823 The Gaol Act was introduced to try and improve the system of criminal justice. The death sentence is lifted from 130 minor offences, it is ruled that jailers are to be paid wages rather than fees and attempts at improving conditions in prisons were made (including forbidding alcohol and ensuring that female prisoners were looked after by female guards).
1829 Sir Robert Peel establishes the Metropolitan Police Force in London. The 'Peelers' or 'Bobbies' wore blue uniforms and tall hats and carried truncheons in a deliberate attempt to look different to soldiers. The first recruits were of poor cailbre: out of the original 2800 policemen, only 600 kept their jobs. Many were sacked because they were drunk.
1829 The last hanging for forgery took place.
1833 The last hanging of a juvenile took place.
1834 The practice of hanging in chains or gibbet irons was formally abolished.
1836 The last hanging for arson took place.
1838 The first prison especially for juveniles, Parkhurst, was opened.
1842 Pentonville prison opened. This was a new style of prison, where prisoners were kept apart under the 'separate system'. It ushered in a new phase of prison-building: between 1842 and 1877 over 90 new prisons were built.
1847 Introduction of the Juvenile Offences Act. Under the terms of this legislation, children under the age of 14 (quickly raised to 16) had to be tried in a special court.
1853 The Penal Servitude Act makes imprisonment a form of punishment. Previously, prisons tended to be seen as places to hold prisoners awaiting trial.
1854 The first reformatory school for juvenile criminals was opened. Using harsh discipline, these schools tried to reform the behaviour of their inmates.
1856 Introduction of the County and Borough Police Act. Under the terms of this legislation any County or Borough had to form a police force if they had not already done so.
1857 Prison hulks stopped being used. Conditions on board the hulks had never been good and had become worse over time.
1859 The Reformatory Schools Act formalised the procedure for dealing with all offenders under the age of 21.
1860s Many prisons introduce the 'Silent System' which forbids prisoners to talk to one another and uses long, pointless labour as punishment.
1861 Introduction of the Offences Against the Person Act. This Act abolished the death penalty for everything but murder and high treason.
1862 The last public flogging took place.
1868 The last convict ship arrives in Australia. The use of transportation had declined dramatically from the early 1850s due to the increased use of imprisonment and in face of opposition from the settlers in Australia. In the period 1788-1868 over 160,000 people had been transported.
1868 The last public execution took place. Michael Barrett was hanged at Newgate for the Fenian bombing at Clerkenwell which had killed 7 people.
1870s All gaols, prisons and Houses of Correction were brought under central government control. By 1878 the Home Office was responsible for all prisons.
1899 Children could no longer be sent to an adult prison after this date.
1902 The use of the treadmill was banned.
1902 Newgate prison closed and Holloway became a women's prison.
1902 The first 'Borstal' school was opened in Kent. Borstals were used to house juvenile criminals for most of the 20th century. They were closed in 1982.
   

 

 

 

 

 

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