SAGE Journal Articles

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Early Use of Imprisonment as Punishment
Description: Beneath Gothic arches and metal walkways, a place of torment has been reclaimed as a place of creative ferment. In 1895, celebrated writer Oscar Wilde — author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray — was convicted of homosexual activity and sentenced to two years, most of which he spent in the infamous Reading Gaol.

Abstract: This article explores the usages of imprisonment, both de facto and de jure, from its earliest recorded use 3,000 years ago down to recent times. Early scattered use, unreflected in the statutes, was followed by houses of correction for minor offenders and later, displacing capital punishment, for major crimes. Serious reform in England and Pennsylvania and the subsequent battle between two systems developed in Pennsylvania and New York states and their ultimate demise are described. The origins of special prisons for women, youth, and other categories are traced, and early prison labor and schooling are described.