The Evolution of Prisons- A View from the Biblical Era

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The philosophical foundations of penology aids one to uncover how to deal with the institutionalisation of an offender, his behaviour modification and estimating his future behaviour. These foundations are insightful and can be used by those working in correctional systems as channels to determine the significance of those institutionalised; how to treat them and assist them in becoming valuable persons in society. To work successfully in a prison, one has to astutely analyse the role of the prison by learning its foundations and relating those with the current situations. It is the responsibility of those working in correctional systems to learn about criminal behaviour in order to protect society. The reason for this as Cilliers (2000, pp. 8-9) highlights links to the six important aims of the correctional system, which are: to add to the community’s standards, norms and values that have an influence on daily life; to shield society against long and short-term threats created by offenders; to ensure a safe and stable working environment for correctional officers through management of offenders in a fruitful way; to protect the prison population; to include the victims of crime in the correctional world; and lastly, to develop all human resources to the benefit of the system. If a correctional officer understands the aims of the correctional system, then it will be easy for him [or her] to protect society. Corrections personnel tolerate a lot of unacceptable behaviours from offenders, and therefore it is essential that they strengthen their power by understanding the fundamentals of human behaviour on a general basis.
Whether one believes in rehabilitation or not, the main reason for working with those that are institutionalised is to ensure that they are protected against themselves and those incarcerated with them(that is, other offenders)(Craig & Rausch, 1994, p. 72). The role of the correctional officer has, throughout history been depicted as that of great supremacy and value even though in the researchers’ view, it was cruel and brutal.
As Bartollas (2004, p. 3) in his book, “Becoming a Model Warden” asserts;
From the birth of the penitentiary in Pennsylvania until the years following World War II, institutional wardens were sovereign. As long as they kept in favour with the governor’s office, their word was law. Believing that no one else could run their organisations, these autocratic wardens took total responsibility for planning, controlling, and staffing the institution. The worst of these autocrats refused to accept either staff or inmate resistance and prisoners, like slaves were denied nearly every human right beyond survival. These wardens mixed terror, incentives and favouritism to keep their subjects fearful but not desperate, hopeful but always uncertain. Guards were subject to their absolute power and depended on their favour for their security and promotion”.
In this chapter the researcher will be looking at the philosophical foundations of penology. This will be done through an attempt to highlight the role of the correctional officer and his value to the corrections system. This review will be composed of the origins of prisons stemming from the Biblical era, the Middle Ages right through to the development of prisons in America. An outline study will be made on the great philosophers of penology and those that have contributed in the shaping of the corrections system; an emphasis on their role in the administration and facilitation of corrections throughout the ages will be looked at. The English influence on the development of prisons and the transportation of offenders to other states will in addition be discussed. The philosophy of punishment and its impact on shaping the penological ideologies will as well be looked at


Prisons and dungeons have been in existence for thousands of years, ‘but prior to the eighteenth century they were seldom used to incarcerate convicted offenders’. The word prison is widely used to signify ‘all places of restrain or detention of those either suspected or convicted of offenses contrary to law’(Barnes & Teeters, 1959, pp. 328-329).
The initial instance, for example, in the Bible-The Old TestamentGenesis: 39, on which we read of a prison, is in the history of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph’s master, Potipher, who was one of the king’s officers, arrested Joseph for allegedly trying to rape his [Potipher’s] wife. Potipher became extremely enraged on hearing this and had Joseph put in a place where the king’s prisoners were bound(Good News Bible: Today’s English Version, 2006, p. 44).
During his imprisonment, it is said that the Lord blessed him so that the jailer was pleased with him. The jailer (today referred to as the Correctional Officer) was indeed pleased, and to demonstrate his contentment he put Joseph to be responsible for everything that was done at the prison including being in charge of prisoners. This then led to the jailer not having any accountability for anything anymore as Joseph was answerable for everything at the prison (Genesis, 40: 45). In the past, correctional officers maintained control within prisons by manipulating inmate social systems.
The researcher is of the opinion that Joseph was liable for all the prison security (that isguarding) and administration. The administration at the time would have been limited to admission and release as well as ensuring that offenders paid their dues in accordance with their sentencing. As we know today, according to the South African Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998, and the International Standard Minimum Rules on the treatment of Prisoners, no prisoner is allowed to man any gate, handle the key or even handle administration of the prison. Even as early as 1865, The Prisons Act of 1865(which was enacted in London, England) was not in agreement with this kind of delegation of tasks.
It mentions in Schedule 1 (62):
No prisoner shall be employed as turnkey, assistant regulator turnkey, wardsman, yardsman, overseer, monitor, or schoolmaster, or in the discipline of the prison, or in the service of any officer thereof.
During this era(that is, the Biblical era), methods of punishment were varied and mostly brutal. Most punishments were reliant on how the king felt about a particular issue. In other instances however,the Bible depicts punishment as being reliant on what God commanded. These are cases where offenders “…were thought to have violated the covenant with God”, and they “…were sentenced to exile or death through lapidation, burning decapitation and beating”(Parlemo & White, 1998, p. 32). We read in Numbers 32-36(2006, pp. 153-154), wherein the Lord commanded that a man should be put to death for breaking the Sabbath day. This man was to be stoned to death by the whole community outside their camp.An illustration of such a ruling is also seen in Leviticus24: 10-15(2006, p. 130) about a Just and Fair punishment, where a man was accused of cursing God during a quarrel with another. This man was taken to Moses, who then put him under guard and waited for the Lord to tell them what to do with him. The Lord commanded that the whole community should stone him to death. The Lord then gave a further command, in the same chapter, Leviticus 24:16-21(2006, pp. 130- 131)and said:
“Then tell the people of Israel that anyone who curses God must suffer the consequences and be put to death. Any Israelite or any foreigner living in Israel who curses the Lord shall be stoned to death by the whole community. Anyone who commits murder shall be put to death, and anyone who kills an animal belonging to someone else must replace it. The principle is a life for a life. If anyone injures another person, whatever he has done shall be done to him. If he breaks a bone, one of his bones shall be broken, if he blinds him in one eye, one of his eyes shall be blinded, if he knocks out a tooth, one of his teeth shall be knocked out. Whatever injury he causes another person shall be done to him in return.
Whoever kills an animal shall replace it, but whoever kills a human being shall be put to death”.
Retaliation was normally accepted following the lex talionisrule, also known as the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’(Silverman & Vega, 1996, p. 48). The laws of Moses (the Ten Commandments) including ‘The Hammurabi Code’ made famous by the king of Babylon captured this rule and this later on in the years controlled the level of revenge during the blood-feuds era. The Code of Hammurabi is said to have 282 clauses and 50 of those relate to crime and punishment (Mays & Winfree, 2005, p. 28).
Pritikin (2006, pp. 715-716) in his article “Punishment, Prisons and the Bible” highlights that one of the sources frequently cited to support the retributive ideology and harsher sentencing practices is the Hebrew Bible, also known by some as the Old Testament.
The seemingly harsh criminal laws portrayed in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew bible) were never mostly applied literally by the society of its origin. Thus, “an eye for an eye”, as known ‘through the lens of the Oral Law, was never literally understood to mean the definite disfigurement of an offender. This rather meant that one will pay or give monetary compensation that will be of the same value as the victim’s eye.
In Jewish Law retribution was not seen as the primary purpose of punishment; instead restitution, rehabilitation and atonement (something similar to spiritual rehabilitation in Jewish philosophy) were seen as primary purposes for criminal punishment. In addition to that, prisons were practically never used as modes of punishment(Pritikin, 2006, pp. 716-717). Reid (1997, p. 542), points out that ‘confinement of offenders as a method of punishment is a relatively recent development’.
The Bible, just like any other historical source, says little about Correctional Officers and their primary role in prisons; instead it concentrates largely on punishment and imprisonment. The Correctional officer throughout the Bible is referred to as the jailer, the guard or military officer- as in Genesis 40: 3 (2006, p. 44)“… and put them in prison in the house of the captain of the guards” and, Leviticus 24:12 (2006, p. 130)“… he put him under guard, and waited for the Lord”. There is no mention of the guard’s primary role or that of him participating in any significant role in the restitution, rehabilitation or atonement of offenders. His most noteworthy role is depicted as that of guarding only.
From what has been cited above, it is clear that prisons in the Biblical era concentrated highly on harsh punishment and imprisonment. The role of the guard in the imprisonment of offenders was limited to the locking and unlocking of prison cells. Therefore there was no involvement of the guard in the physical management of the offenderwhatsoever



The Middle Ages of European history (adjective for medieval) are explained as an epoch in history which remained for approximately a millennium. This era universally began from the descend of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the starting point of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century which is made distinct by the splitting up of the Reformation of Western Christianity, the Italian Renaissance and its emergence of humanism, and the infancy of European overseas development (Microsoft Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia). Mays and Winfree (2005, pp. 32-33) affirms the explanation and asserts that the Goths (which was one of the main groups of ancient German) had in 476 overthrown the last emperorof Rome, Romulus Augustulus. This fall of Rome marked the beginning of the Middle Ages which ended in the late fifteenth century with the re-unification of Spain, the discovery of the Americas, and the European Renaissance. But, Siegel (2006, p. 592) contends that the Middle Ages were said to have run from the fifth to the eleventh century.
For the duration of the Middle Ages, the law was drawn from two sources; namely the Roman Catholic church’s canon law and tribal laws, such as the Germanic lex salica.Although most legal principles during the medieval times considered a mixture of canon law, tribal law, and even the old Roman codes, the lex salica was mainly used as the customary law of the ancient Germanic people. TheGermanic law concerned itself mainly with penal sanctions and procedures. For the Germanic tribes, the law was deemed to be a personal affair, therefore it was authorized that those ruled by the German tribe (including Romans), apply the Germanic system of laws(Mays & Winfree, 2005, p. 32).
According to Birzer and Robertson, (2004, p. 26) throughout this period, little law or governmental control existed- individuals retaliated against one another and this was deeply supported. The support as Mays and Winfree (2005, p. 33) points out came from the Germanic tribal laws- as the laws “allowed for blood revenge”. The people in Europe, particularly the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles, had a tendency of combining the lex salica with their own cultural norms. This action later strongly led to blood ties-however, the Goths learned that blood revenge ultimately led to blood feuds.
If anyone committed any wrong against a person or his property, the best solution to solve this problem was through personal retaliation against the offender (Birzer & Roberson, 2004, p. 26). Families of the offended battled to get justice and settled disputes by blood feuds. Sometimes, in an attempt to lessen on the bloodshed, opponents would apply the Roman custom to straighten out disagreements by paying for a fine or exchanging property(Siegel, 2006, p. 592).
“Every sort of injury which one freeman could do to another was first of all atonable by bōt(a money compensation paid to the injured man or his relations). What this fine was depended firstly upon the nature and extent of the damage done, and secondly upon the rank and importance of the person injured. For every man had his class and value; and every form of aggression against a freeman, from a wound which killed him outright to a blow which deprived him of a single tooth, as well as the theft of anything he possessed, had its appointed fine according to his wer”(Ives, 1970, p. 3).
The feudal period (which was established in ninth-century Britain) brought about changes in the ways of punishment; after the eleventh century those who violated the law or did not conform to feudal obligations were required to surrender their lands and property. This gave birth to the word felony in the twelfth century, coming from ‘felonia-referred to a breach of faith with one’s feudal lord’(Siegel, 2006, p. 592).
The main concentration of the criminal law and punishment during this time rested on maintaining public order. Siegel (2006, p. 592) states that “If in the heat of passion or in a state of intoxication a person severely injured or killed a neighbour, free men in the area would gather to pronounce judgement and make the culprit to penance or make payment to the injured party called the wergild. The purpose of the wergild was to pacify the injured party and ensure that the conflict would not develop into a blood feud and anarchy”.The judgement was not standard as, “the tariffs varied with the different tribes. In Mercia the wergild of a king was fixed at 7200 shillings or 120 Mercian pounds of silver”(Ives, 1970, p. 4). The concept of the fines went two ways though; as (Birzer & Roberson, 2004, p. 26)explains it; the punishment in the form of the wergeld was payment to the victim and was supplemented with friedensgeld which was payment to the church or the crown. In those times, many believed that the commission of crime was also a sin against the church and the state.
This consequently led to the failure for lower- class offenders to pay a fine and ultimately resulted in the development of corporal and capital punishment. Offenders were whipped, branded, executed, mutilated, flogged and banished as an alternative for the fine(Siegel, 2006, pp. 592-593).
In 1166 Henry II (King of England) gave a directive that goals (pronounced jails) be constructed at the Assize in Claredon. This came about in the middle of the twelfth century when it was discovered that some countries were without public goals or prisoners cages. As a result of this directive, private prisons were built by prominent individuals who wanted to protect their political aspirations and personal desires. Brian Fitzcourt constructed a unique facility in 1128, called Cloere Brien to house William Martel. The same year, the Tower of London, originally built in 1066 by William the conqueror, as a fortress for the defence of London, saw its first prisoner by the name of Rennulf Flambard dying in this facility. More well-known private prisons were the Castle of Spielberg, the Conciergerie and Bastille in Paris, the pozzi or wells of the Ducal Palace in Venice, and the Seven Towers of Constantinople (Fox V. , 1985, pp. 11-12)

Chapter 1: Introduction to the study
Introduction and background to the study
Problem Analysis
Problem statement
A South African Application
Aim of the Research
Definition of Key Concepts
Correctional Officer
Correctional Centre
Research Methodology
Qualitative Research
Data Collection
Chapter Division
Chapter 2: The Historical Development of Prisons and Punishment 
The Evolution of Prisons- A View from the Biblical Era
The Early Prisons and Methods of Punishment (The Middle Ages)
The Transportation of Prisoners as a way of Punishment
The Hulks
Transportation to Australia
Alexander Maconochie
The Early Reformers
Jeremy Bentham
John Howard
Chapter 3: The Development of Prisons in South Africa .
The Origin and Development of Prisons in South Africa Prior 1910
The Cape
The End of the Dutch Occupation
John Montagu
Convict Labour after Montagu’s Departure and the impact of the Mining Industry
Chapter 4: Corrections as A Profession 
Professions Defined
Criterion for Professions
Belonging to an organization
Autonomy vice)
Chapter 5: The Principles of Rehabilitation .
The History of Offender Treatment- The Quaker Influence
The American Experience
The Reformatory Model
Reforms from Australia, to Ireland and then Cincinnati
Chapter 6: The Role of the Correctional Officer in Rehabilitation 
The Philosophical Underpinnings of Rehabilitation-What the Correctional Officer needs to know about the offender
Biological Theory
Psychological Theory
Sociological Theory
The Duty of the Correctional Officer
Current duties of the Correctional Officer in the South African Correctional Centres
Chapter 7: Research Conclusions and Findings 
Objective 1
Objective 2
Objective 3
Objective 4
Objective 5

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