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‘The inevitable end of a discredited system’? The Origins of the Gladstone Committee Report on Prisons, 1895

  • Christopher Harding (a1)
Extract

According to several contemporary observers, the British prison system at the end of the nineteenth century was in a savage and deplorable state. A series of articles in The Daily Chronicle in January 1894 referred to these prisons as ‘our dark places’. They were managed by a man a few years later accredited with a ‘barbaric philosophy’. The severity of this prison system was said to be legendary even in Russia. This school of observation then developed the view that the penal system was rescued by the recommendations of an influential home office report published in 1895. Named after its chairman, the then under secretary at the home office, Herbert Gladstone, this report was welcomed as ‘the beginning of a beneficient revolution’. Upon its publication, the man vilified in The Daily Chronicle, the chairman of the prison commissioners, Sir Edmund Du Cane, resigned his post; the newspaper greeted this event as ‘the inevitable end of a discredited system’. How correct was this perception of the late nineteenth-century British prison system?

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1 Leslie, Shane, Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise: a memoir (London, 1938), p. 90.

2 By Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise, quoted in Fox, Lionel, The English prison and Borstal systems (London, 1952), p. 51.

3 Sidney, and Webb, Beatrice, English prisons under local government (London, 1922), p. 220.

4 The Daily Chronicle, leading article, 15 April 1895.

5 Report from the departmental committee, c. 7702. See I.U.P. British Parliamentary Papers, Crime and punishment, Prisons, 19 (hereafter, the Gladstone report).

6 Fairn, Duncan, in Klare, H. J. (ed.), Changing concepts of crime and its treatment (London, 1966), p. 160.

7 Thomas, J. E., The English prison officer since 1850 (London, 1972), p. 117.

8 Ignatieff, Michael, ‘State, civil society and total institutions: a critique of recent social histories of punishment’, in Tonry, Michael and Morris, Norval (eds.), Crime and justice: an annual review of research, III (1981), 154.

9 For one of the first critical accounts, see Thomas, , The English prison officer, especially p. 118 where he remarks that the committee's report ‘sowed the seeds of organizational confusion’ within the prison service.

10 The view put forward by writers such as Foucault, Michel, Discipline and punish (Paris, 1975 and Harmonds worth, 1977), Ignatieff, Michael, A just measure of pain: the penitentiary in the industrial revolution, 1750–1850 (New York, 1978) and Garland, David, Punishment and welfare (Aldershot, 1985).

11 See, for example, Stephen Humphries' study of juvenile delinquency and related questions in the period 1889 to 1939, Hooligans or rebels? An oral history of working class children and youth (Oxford, 1981) and his comment on p. 238: ‘…the reformatory must be seen as the ultimate weapon deployed by the middle class and the state to contain and control those elements within working class youth culture which most threatened their continued domination.’

12 See Forsyth, William James, The reform of prisoners 1830–1900 (London, 1987), pp. 141–66.

13 Report from the select committee of the house of lords on the present state of discipline in gaols and houses of correction, 1863, H.L. 499.

14 See Radzinowicz, Leon and Hood, Roger, A history of English criminal law, V (London, 1986), 1120.

15 For a summary of the nationalization of the prisons, see Harding, C., Hines, B., Ireland, R. and Rawlings, P., Imprisonment in England and Wales, a concise history (London, 1985), pp. 191–2.

16 Gladstone report, para. 5.

17 See, for example the view of Morrison, W. D., in Juvenile offenders (London, 1896), at p. 273.

18 See, for example, the discussion at the Royal Statistical Society in 1896 following the paper delivered by Morrison, W. D.: Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, LX (1897), 126.

19 Gladstone report, para. 15.

20 Gladstone report, minutes of evidence, questions II,559–62.

21 Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, pp. 10–11.

22 Gladstone report, para. 14.

23 Criminal registrar's report for 1893, p. 80.

24 Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, p. 15.

25 See the discussion in Gatrell's, V. A. C. paper, ‘The decline of theft and violence in Victorian and Edwardian England’, in Gatrell, V. A. C., Lenman, Bruce and Parker, Geoffrey (eds.), Crime and the law: the social history of crime in western Europe since 1500 (London, 1980), pp. 261–84.

26 Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, pp. 103–4.

27 Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, pp. 25–6.

28 Gladstone report, minutes of evidence, question II,568.

29 Gatrell, , ‘The decline of theft and violence’, p. 240.

30 Ibid. p. 251.

31 Report, p. 13.

32 Gatrell, , ‘The decline of theft and violence’, pp. 284333.

33 Ibid. p. 333.

34 Gladstone report, minutes of evidence, question II,568.

35 For a brief discussion of Tarde's work and views, see the account by Vine, Margaret S. Wilson in Mannheim, H. (ed.), Pioneers in criminology (London, 1960), ch. 10.

36 Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, p. 21.

37 Gatrell, makes this point in ‘The decline of theft and violence’, p. 296.

38 See Gatrell's conclusions in ibid. pp. 335ff.

39 Gladstone report, p. 11.

40 Ibid., minutes of evidence, questions II,592–11, 601.

41 Ibid., minutes of evidence, question II,596

42 Gladstone report, para. 28.

43 See Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, pp. 261ff.

44 Ibid. p. 264.

45 Ibid. p. 231.

46 Ibid. p. 84.

47 In Punishment and welfare: a history of penal strategies (Aldershot, 1985).

48 Report of the inter-departmental committee on physical deterioration (Cd. 2175), 1904.

49 The English prison and Borstal systems (London, 1952), p. 51.

50 Punishment and welfare, p. 59.

51 The disciplinary role of imprisonment has been brought to light especially in the work of Foucault, Michel, and is the central thesis of his Discipline and punish (1977).

52 See generally the account in Rose, Gordon, Schools for young offenders (London, 1967), ch. I and in Radzinowicz and Hood, History of English criminal law, chs. 6 and 7.

53 See in particuular Bochel, Dorothy, Probation and after-care: its development in England and Wales (Edinburgh, 1976), ch. I.

54 Of the contemporary resistance to the establishment of inebriate reformatories, a new form of institution, and judicial reluctance to commit to such institutions: Radzinowicz and Hood, History of English criminal law, ch. 9.

55 Quoted in Grunhüt, Max, Penal reform (Oxford, 1948), p. 91.

56 Punishment and welfare, ch. 6.

57 Gladstone report, para. 5.

58 See Thomas, , The English prison officer, pp. 107–8.

59 See page 1 of the report, where it was said that the limitations inherent in the terms of reference were found to be ‘impossible to make’.

60 See generally Pellew, Jill, The home office, 1848–1914: from clerks to bureaucrats (London, 1982).

61 See Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, p. 268.

62 Punishment, prison and the public (London, 1971), pp. 28–9.

63 Thomas, , The English prison officer, p. 126.

64 Pellew, Jill, The home office, p. 74; Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, p. 576.

65 Gladstone report, para. 25, and in minutes of evidence, question II,482.

66 Nineteenth Century, XXXI (1892), 950.

67 Ibid, XXXIII (1893), 480.

68 See the erratum in Shane Leslie, Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise.

69 Ibid. pp. 86–7.

70 The decrease in crime’, Nineteenth Century, XXXIII (1893); discussion at Royal Statistical Society, as in n. 18 above.

71 The increase in crime’, Nineteenth Century, XXXIII (1893); and see the comment in Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, p. 87, on Morrison's use of statistics.

72 For instance, by the Webbs and Sir Lionel Fox; and note the comment by Thomas, , in The English prison officer, p. 126: ‘Later writers have been careful to select from Ruggles-Brise's account only the least commendable of Du Cane's characteristics.’

73 Sir Rupert Cross, in Punishment, prison and the public is even-handed in his account; but see in particular Tibber, Peter, ‘Edmund Du Cane and the Prison Act 1877’, Howard Journal of Penology and Crime Prevention, XIX (1980), 9.

74 The English prison officer, p. 28.

75 Ibid. p. 126.

76 See Tibber, n. 73 above, pp. 10 ff.

77 Ibid. p. 11.

78 Thomas, , The English prison officer, p. 28; and see the character sketch provided by Radzinowicz, and Hood, , History of English criminal law, p. 257.

79 Forsyth, William James, The reform of prisoners, pp. 195–7.

80 Ruck, S. K. (ed.), Paterson on prisons (London, 1951), p. 11.

81 Hobhouse, Stephenand Brockway, A. Fenner, English prisons today: being the report of the prison system enquiry committee (London, 1922).

82 Gladstone report, minutes of evidence, questions II,394.

83 See, e.g. Morrison's paper, Prison reform: prisons and prisoners’, Fortnightly Review, LXIX (1898), 782.

84 The English prison and Borstal systems, p. 52.

85 SirRuggles-Brise, Evelyn, the English prison system, (London, 1921), p. 77.

86 ‘Prison reform: prisons and prisoners’.

87 See his preface to The English prison system.

88 Punishment, prison and the public, p. 17.

89 Punishment and welfare, p. 5.

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