Neil Davie :”Emancipation behind bars? British prison reform and the chimera of reformative isolation, 1820-1865″

The period between 1820 and 1865 coincided with a vigorous – and sometimes heated – debate in Britain about the role of the prison in the country’s criminal justice system. It was during these years that incarceration emerged as the central response of the country’s legislators and policymakers to punish convicted criminals. The emergence of the prison did not go unchallenged, however; nor was there agreement among reformers on just what these new institutions should look like. Indeed, a considerable source of the heat noted above came from rivalry between different groups of reformers concerning how the new prisons should function. Today’s paper focuses on one of those rival factions within the prison reform movement, which favoured what was known as “the separate system”. For the supporters of separate confinement, many of them fired by evangelical Christianity, penal isolation – and the introspection seen as its concomitant – was a formidable tool of reform, allowing prisoners, in time, to be stripped of their delinquent propensities and re-shaped as useful, upright members of the community. In short, prison had the power to bring emancipation. A study of three leading “separators” of the period will reveal that while some remained blind to the mounting evidence of the mental and physical cost for prisoners of prolonged cellular isolation, others struggled to reconcile these dangers with the purported benefits. The results of these debates would have a profound impact on the experience of imprisonment in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Neil Davie est Professeur d’histoire et de civilisation britanniques à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2 et membre du Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône Alpes (LARHRA). Sa recherche a principalement pour objet l’Histoire des prisons et des politiques carcérales en Grande-Bretagne entre la fin du XVIIIe siècle et le début du XXe siècle. Il a travaillé également sur l’histoire des sciences et l’histoire des femmes. Il a publié entre autres : Tracing the Criminal : The Rise of Scientific Criminology in Britain, 1860-1918 (Bardwell Press, 2005) ; The Penitentiary Ten : The Transformation of the English Prison, 1770-1850 (Bardwell Press, 2017) (Accessit, prix de la recherche AFEA/SAES, 2018) ; et French and American Prisoners of War at Dartmoor Prison, 1805-1816 : The Strangest Experiment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Il travaille actuellement sur un nouveau projet de livre, pour Routledge, sur les prisonnières de guerre détenues en Grande-Bretagne lors des guerres napoléoniennes et la Guerre anglo-américaine de 1812.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
Alice Braun (10 mai 2023). Neil Davie :”Emancipation behind bars? British prison reform and the chimera of reformative isolation, 1820-1865″ Aliénation/Émancipation. Consulté le 21 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

Auteur/autrice : Alice Braun

Maîtresse de conférences en anglais à l’université Paris Nanterre/Senior lecturer in English at the Paris Nanterre university.

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