Penal System By Anna hernandez

Punishments are a crucial system that every society has, they can range from execution to jail time, but one thing is for sure, they are meant to correct the bad. Throughout the Victorian Era, the penal system was used as a way of punishing people based on the crime they committed, attempting to regulate crime, as well as focusing on basic human rights for accused people. However the reformation of the penal system began to create a curiosity for understanding the mentality of criminals.

Punishments took into account the severity of the crime and were not always justifiable. “If you committed a crime in Victorian times which involved violence you could be legally horsewhipped- publicly.” (“Justice System” Par.2). This shows that the Victorian punishments were more based on an eye for an eye ideology. “Based on the Westminster system, which separates legislative, executive and judicial powers, they would go where their crime falls. “ (“Justice System’ Par.5). This proves that Britain’s state laws were separated from actual punishment, meaning it could be different and unfair for everyone. Britain commonly used an almost medieval-like punishment system called public punishment which was more or less aimed to humiliate the criminal as well as shame their family.

Public punishment was used as an insurance that there would be less crime because authorities believed people would fear the law. “The power of the law consists in its terrors; if you wholly cease to hang, the common people will have no fear; therefore hang one now and then.” (Edward Gibbon Wakefield “Punishment of Death” 172). This shows the Victorian penal system was similar to that of the Mongolians, who had harsh punishments to invoke fear and make sure the citizens would not rebel. Authorities believed that by punishing people publicly they would drastically eliminate the crime and make people be too afraid to commit an offense. “Whoever will undergo the pain of witnessing the destruction of a fellow-creature's life in London, must be perfectly satisfied that, in the great mass of spectators, the effect of the punishment is to excite sympathy for the criminal and hatred of the law.” (Edward Gibbon Wakefield “Punishment of Death” 175). Wakefield points out the flaws in public execution as it makes people less inclined to respect the law and creates a common hatred for it which might cause an uprising. “ --The sight of an execution is considered a treat by most habitual criminals of the metropolis; and that there is hardly a thief in London, who has not frequently gone out of his way to be present at executions.” (Edward Gibbon Wakefield “Punishment of Death” 176). This suggests that public executions are encouraging crime and having the opposite effect on people by making them begin to enjoy the excitement of executions rather than fear them. Though the punishments were considered inhumane, we also see a change in punishments tactics.

Justice for criminals was more of an issue because people began to have a change in morals. “The death penalty for most crimes was abolished for instance (it used to be that you could be hanged for something as trivial as stealing quite a small amount of money or property for instance).” (“Justice System” Par.5). Though the punishment fit the crime, it was a turning point as the punishments became more humane in some ways. “Even though we admit that it is better ten guilty should escape than one innocent person be convicted.” (Edward Gibbon Wakefield “Punishment of Death” 24). This shows how the punishment system was flawed because of morals. Victorian police's mindset believed it was worse to convict an innocent person so they only arrested people on their convenience. Along with this change in morals, the Victorian people also began looking for a cure to their society’s crime issue.

Capital punishment became less of an issue as doctors and psychiatrists began to focus on curing criminal mentality. “Various experiments were tried in the treatment of prisoners. During the 1830s and 1840s attempts were made to enforce regimes of silence and/or isolation.” (Clive Emsley “Penal Policies” Par.2). The attempt to lower the crime rate in England influenced psychological experiments to cure criminals of their desire to commit atrocities. “If the problem was a moral one then, leaving offenders alone with their thoughts and their bibles, requiring them to work (thus learning of work's virtues), and providing them with occasional visits by the chaplain, was perceived as the way to their reformation.” (Clive Emsley “Penal Policies” Par.3). People believed in salvation for those morally impaired and that it was possible that even criminals could be saved from damnation. “By the end of the century, as the understanding of the criminal changed, the doctor and the psychiatrist had become at least as important as the chaplain.” (Clive Emsley “Penal Policies” Par.3). People began to focus on understanding the psychosis of criminals and what influenced one to commit a crime.

Though Victorian punishments would be considered harsh and unfair nowadays, and the corruption of law enforcement was undeniable, it is certain that the penal system was much more evolved than that of the rest of the world.


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