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Wednesday, 3 May 2017



Imprisonment as a penalty was used initially by the Ancient Greeks for those who could not afford to pay their fines. The prison in Ancient Athens was known as the desmoterion ("place of chains").

The Romans were among the first to use prisons as a form of punishment, rather than simply for detention. One of the most notable Roman prisons was the Mamertine Prison, established around 640 B.C. by Ancus Marcius,

A 13th century prison just south of the Thames in London was known as The Clink. Although situated in Surrey the liberty was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county's high sheriff and was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester.

The Clink was notorious for its brutal punishments. Prison inmates could be crushed under weights, burned with boiling oil or forced to stand in cold water until their feet rotted. The Bishop of Winchester earned good money from desperate prisoners who made payments to church coffers in order to buy their freedom.

Prison in 17th century Britain was indescribably harsh. Prisoners were shackled, sometimes hand and foot, and slept on bare stone and filthy straw in total darkness, 24 hours a day with no sanitation. They were regularly beaten, and if they were released they had to pay for their accommodation during their time in prison.

Until the late 18th century criminals were commonly sentenced to death, mutilation or transportation rather than imprisonment, so the growth of criminal prisons as opposed to places of detention for those awaiting trial was a late development.

William Hogarth A Rake's Progress prison scene 1732-33

The Non-conformist High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, John Howard, was shocked by the prison conditions throughout the UK, so he published in 1777 The State of the Prisons, a book which attracted attention and helps push reform forward.

The State of the Prisons was instrumental in obtaining the passage through Parliament of two penal reform acts that improve sanitary conditions and health care in prison.

The Prison Act of 1778 established in the UK the principle of separate confinement combined with work in an attempt at reform (it was eventually carried out when Pentonville prison was built in 1842).

After visiting a prison, Howard had to ride alone on a horseback as the prisons made his clothes smell too offensive to allow him to use a public carriage.

King George III's son Prince George was given land from his estates to build a prison for captives from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806 this became known as Dartmoor Prison and its nearest town, Princetown was named after him.

Dartmoor Prison in Princetown. By Nilfanion Wikipedia

In 1813 the Quaker Elizabeth Fry visited Newgate Prison in London to see what she could do for its female convicts. The sight of the women herded together in filthy conditions, with their children clinging to their mothers and watching as they hang from the gallows stunned her. She devoted the rest of her life to campaigning against the appalling conditions in prisons.

In 1828, Eastern State Penitentiary opened with a ground breaking agenda to rehabilitate prisoners. Prisoners had a cell each, and were comforted with central heating and flush toilets, something which even the White House didn't have at that time.

One of the most brutal prisons in the US was Angola, Louisiana, which was run like a plantation. In the 1930s, hardened prisoners broke down upon learning of their sentence there. At one point, 10% of Angola prisoners were stabbed.

A borstal was a corrective institution introduced in 1902 as an alternative to prison for young offenders (aged 15–20). The name derives from the first of the kind, at Borstal in Kent.

The borstal corrective institutions were used throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. However. the Criminal Justice Act 1982 officially abolished the borstal system in the UK, introducing detention centers, which were subsequently renamed young offender institutions.

In India, such young offender corrective institutions are  known as borstal schools. As of 31 December 2014, there were 20 functioning borstal schools in India, with a combined total capacity of 2,108 inmates.

The first US federal penitentiary building was completed at Leavenworth, Kansas in 1906. Prior to its construction, federal prisoners were held at state prisons.

United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth. By Americasroof  Wikipedia

Alcatraz was the first US Federal prison to offer hot showers to inmates – on the logic that they'd get used to the hot water and wouldn't be able to handle the freezing swim off the island when attempting to escape.

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, there was a prison camp, named S-21 that had a death rate of 99.96%. S-21 was directed by a former mathematics teacher who ordered "living autopsies," had prisoners' blood completely drained for use in hospitals, and used a "baby-smashing tree" to kill children.

La Catedral was a prison overlooking the city of Medellín, in Colombia. The prison was built to specifications ordered by drug lord Pablo Escobar, under a 1991 agreement with the Colombian government in which Escobar would surrender to authorities and serve a maximum term of five years, and the Colombian government would not extradite him to the United State. The prison featured a soccer field, a giant doll house, a bar, a jacuzzi and a waterfall.


The U.S. prison population topped 1 million for the first time in American history on October 27, 1994.

World map showing number of prisoners per 100,000 citizens, by country

Prisons in Brazil offer their inmates the chance to reduce their prison sentence by four days (up to a maximum of 48 days per year) for every book they read and write a report on.

The phrase "To send someone up the river," meaning to imprison, originally referred to SingSing Prison, on the Hudson River, 30 miles north of New York City.

The Muhanga Prison in Rwanda has been described as "the worst prison in the world"—it has a capacity of 500, but houses 7,000 people.

Thailand used to have a prison built in the late 1800s called "Khuk Khi Kai," or "Chicken poop prison." The first floor of the prison contained Thai rebels of Chanthaburi who rebelled against the French occupation, and the second floor was a large chicken coop. The grated floor ensured that prisoners were constantly subjected to chicken poop.

The country with the smallest prison population is San Marino, a tiny state on the Italian peninsula—It has just one jail with six cells.

In 2001, Brazil’s Dutra Ladeira prison became the first jail to run a pizza delivery service.

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