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What were conditions like in prisons in the 18th Century - with particular reference to Berwick?

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What were conditions like in prisons in the 18th Century- with particular reference to Berwick? Eighteenth century prisons had appalling conditions. The conditions in every aspect were horrendous, the cells were bare, empty rooms except for a bed and if you were lucky a fireplace with overcrowding in most prisons affecting conditions, prison was not the best place to be living unless you were rich. Most conditions were due to the fact that no one tried or attempted to rehabilitate the prisoners, prisons were just built to hold people until they were either hung or had paid off their debt. Some prisons didn't even segregate prisoners according to their crime, age or sex. This led to young children being influenced by the older more 'experienced' prisoners. As I said prisons were only built to hold not rehabilitate so conditions were bad. This was not just one or two prisons this was all prisons up and down the country. A quote from 'a description of a prison at Southwell, Nottinghamshire 1806' will back up my claims as it describes a prison at southwell. It reads as follows ' they all us e the same room for every purpose, nearly 18 foot 6 inches square; of ...read more.


The prison is quite secure with large strong doors as shown in fig three. There was a large bolt lock at the top and at the bottom with a peephole to check the prisoners and a middle lock for extra security. The windows had no glass just the metal bars shown in figure four. The layout and overall design of this prison is excellent. This is a very secure prison except for the fact of the overall prisons situation. The prison is in the centre of the town and if a prisoner were to escape they could easily hide in this town, especially as they didn't even wear uniform. The next point is about the jailor, who at Berwick actually ran a public house, so this suggests that he will not have spent a lot of time at the prison. There was one jailor, two beadles who were just people that assisted the jailor, and they would work on a weekly shift rota. The jobs that the beadles would do would consist of cleaning and emptying the toilets/buckets and maybe very occasionally excising the prisoners. ...read more.


The system is greatly affected by the fact that prison officers were not paid, segregation was quite rare and there was a lack of rules in the prisons of which all contributed to an appalling prison service. Also there were no laws at this time to say what had to appen in prisons and how it was to happen. So as there were no laws no one had anything to follow so prisoners could be tret the way seen fit by the jailor. But the root of the problem lies with what prisons were built for which was to hold/detain prisoners until they had paid their debts, been transported or hung. The purpose of prisons has to change for the other factors to change. Also the government needs to bring out laws to protect and help prisoners. If you change the root you will change the rest and the way forward has to be to detain people until they had served a sentence. Berwick is a prime example and it has helped me see why this prison and others are in such a state. It all boils down to what prisons were built for and that the government at this time did not care. Mathew Atkinson 10B History Coursework -1- ...read more.

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