Prisons and human rights

Past, present and future challenges

Authored by: Peter Scharff-Smith

The Routledge International Handbook of Criminology and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138931176
eBook ISBN: 9781315679891
Adobe ISBN: 9781317395553


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A free citizen in a democratic society can demand a long list of rights, but what happens when a citizen is taken into state custody and locked in a cell? In the western world, this question has been the subject of intense debate over the last more than 200 years. In the pre-modern prisons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries prisoner rights were not a consideration, but in the eighteenth century, and in the spirit of the Enlightenment, a process of reform began and the use of torture, the death penalty and corporal punishment was criticized. Very gradually this led to an increased use of imprisonment and shifted focus from corporal public punishment towards a utilitarian rehabilitative agenda focusing on the individual lawbreaker – illustrated, for example, by Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon and later by the modern penitentiary and its ideology of rehabilitation through isolation.

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