'The Victorian prison was a more 'civilized' method of punishment than hanging'

Essay by pinkeyedwolfUniversity, Bachelor's February 2006

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In this essay, an argument will be shown that will make it apparent that Victorian prisons were indeed a more civilized way of dealing with criminals, as opposed to subjecting them to a public hanging. There could have been better ways of dealing with Victorian prisoners, such as rehabilitation schemes and re-education schools, however a prison sentence was still a more humane option than the alternative of being publicly hanged and up to 1793 burned afterwards. Although the regimes inside Victorian prisons were harsh at times, they also offered the inmate a way to embrace the ethics of a hard days work, which was very much a part of the day-to-day lives of a worker in the new industrialised society of 19th century Britain. Tasks such as crank-labour and tread-wheel walking were designed to make a prisoner work to a set goal or time period and were monotonous and repetitious.

Another activity that was used in penal institutions was oakum picking, which required the prisoner to sit and pick apart a length of tarred naval rope into its various strands. The preciseness of this labour was so much so 'that the strands of the rope had to be pulled apart till they were as fine as silk' . The very aims of these tasks were to break the spirit of the convict and to reinforce the idea that this was a punishment. Although some tasks were monotonous and without point, other work projects such as weaving were done by the prisoners in their cells and would have allowed them to learn a trade, that if they wished, could be used to their advantage once released into the general population.

The main downside to hanging for a convicted felon is in its state of permanency. Convicts of the 19th century,