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Explain why Prisons were reformed in the early 19th century.

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Introduction

Explain why Prisons were reformed in the early 19th century. There were many reasons as to why prisons were reformed in early nineteenth century England. These reasons fall into four main groups; overcrowding, poor conditions, reformers and changes in laws. One of the reasons for prisons being reformed was that they were overcrowded. Around and during the nineteenth century there was a population explosion in Britain. In 1750 the population was a mere 11 million, which grew to 16 million in 1800 and then increased to a massive 27 million in 1850. In the space of 100 years the population in Britain had more than doubled. The Industrial Revolution also led to a change in population density, as there were more jobs available in the ever-growing industrial cities. People migrated to cities such as Manchester and Liverpool from rural communities as the emphasis changed from agricultural to industrial and manufacturing industries. To cope with the volume required, small cramped housing was built. More people per square kilometre meant that there were more opportunities to commit petty crime. ...read more.

Middle

The downgrading of capital punishment led to more live convicted criminals to be housed in gaols. An alternative to imprisonment in Britain was transportation to one of the colonies such as America and later, Australia. The U.S.A. achieved independent status in 1776 and refused to accept criminals as immigrants and whilst Australia offered a solution from 1778, it was a short term one. Some considered the transportation barbaric as many died en route and low grade criminals were separated from families and support but compared with the conditions in the prisons in Britain, some may view transportation as a luck escape. Prison conditions were appalling. They were usually converted castles and old out-dated buildings. They were dark, damp and rife with infectious diseases. Gaol fever killed many inmates before their sentence dates and when judges and juries were also infected in 1577 there was some improvement but no attempts at rehabilitation were considered. Accommodation was mixed with no consideration given to privacy or protection for the woman against male inmates. Prisons were run as in-house businesses and more often corrupt with warders charging for food and favourable conditions. ...read more.

Conclusion

She had a high profile for her bravery in entering such situations and was invited to discuss the issue with Queen Victoria. Her ideas featured in Sir Robert Peel's Gaol Act of 1823. Peel's Act however was often ignored and Fry felt didn't go far enough. She was aware that proper measures would be costly. It is important to note that the changes in law followed pressure from Reformers not government initiatives. Overall prisons were reformed because of overcrowding, poor conditions, reformers and laws. There were too many prisoners in overcrowded conditions. The number of prisoners had increased as industrialisation had allowed a growth of population centred on cities. City life brought new crimes and new opportunities for crime so industrialisation led to inflated crime. The abolition of the Bloody Code meant more live sentenced prisoners and alternatives had to be found such as Transportation. This short-term solution ceased, as colonies became independent. The prison conditions were damp, overcrowded with disease and corrupt with no effort made to rehabilitate. However it took reformers such as John Howard, Elizabeth Fry and Sir George Paul to pressurise government for changes in laws that led to the necessary reform. GCSE Schools' History Project Coursework ...read more.

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