Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: IMPRISONMENT. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law)
Return to Title Page for The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER IV.: IMPRISONMENT. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Imprisonment makes a much more extensive figure than any other kind of hardship that can be inflicted in the way of punishment. Every other kind of hardship (death alone excepted) may be inflicted for two purposes—punishment and compulsion. Imprisonment, besides these two purposes, may be employed for another—safe custody. When thus employed, it is not a punishment, properly so called; it is intended only to insure the forthcomingness of an individual suspected of having committed an offence, that he may be present to undergo the punishment appointed for that offence, if he be found guilty. When thus employed, it ought not to be more severe than is necessary to insure forthcomingness. Whatever exceeds this, is so much misery in waste.
When imprisonment is intended to operate as a punishment, it may be rendered more or less severe, according to the nature of the offence and the condition of the offender. It may be accompanied by forced labour, which may be imposed upon all; but it ought not to be so imposed without reference to the age, the rank, the sex, and the physical powers of the individuals. Other punishments, which may be employed in addition to hard labour, and of which we shall have occasion to speak in a future chapter, are—diet, solitude, and darkness.
When imprisonment is inflicted for the purpose of compulsion, the severer it is the better, and that for various reasons.
When it is protracted, but slight, the danger is, that the prisoner may come by degrees to accommodate himself to it, till at last it ceases, in a manner, to operate upon him. This is found not uncommonly to be the case with insolvent debtors. In many of our gaols there are so many comforts to be had by those who have money to purchase them, that many a prisoner becomes in time tolerably well reconciled to his situation. When this is the case, the imprisonment can no longer be of use in any view.
The severer it is—I mean all along in point of intensity—the less of it, in point of magnitude, will be consumed upon the whole; that is, in point of intensity and duration taken together; the more favourable, in short, will it be to the sufferer: it will produce its effects at a cheaper rate. The same quantity of painful sensations, which, under the milder imprisonment, are diffused through a large mass of sensations, indifferent or pleasurable, being, in the severer imprisonment, brought together, will act with collected force, and produce a stronger impression: the same quantity of pain will therefore go farther this way than in any other. Add to this, that in this way the same quantity of suffering will not have so pernicious an influence on his future life. In the course of a tedious confinement, his mental faculties are debilitated, his habits of industry are weakened, his business runs into other channels, and many of those casual opportunities which might have afforded the means of improving his fortune, had he been at liberty to embrace them, are irrecoverably gone. These evils, which, though they may come eventually to be felt, are too distant and contingent to contribute anything beforehand to the impression it is intended to produce, are saved by placing the magnitude of the punishment in intensity rather than in duration.
By the fundamental constitution of man’s nature, without anything being done by any one to produce a change in his situation, if left to himself, in a situation in which he is debarred from exercising the faculty of locomotion, he will in a short time become a prey to various evils, to the action of various causes producing various organical pains, which, sooner or later, are sure to end ultimately in death. If duration and neglect be added to imprisonment, it necessarily becomes a capital punishment. Since, therefore, it is followed by an infinite variety of evils which the individual is unable himself to guard against, and against which precautions must be taken by others to preserve him, it follows, that to form a just notion of imprisonment, it must be considered, not simply by itself, but in connexion with its different modes and consequences. We shall then see that, under the same name, very different punishments may be inflicted. Under a name which presents to the mind only the single circumstance of confinement in a particular place, imprisonment may include every possible evil; from those which necessarily follow in its train, rising from one degree of rigour to another, from one degree of atrocity to another, till it terminates in a most cruel death; and this without being intended by the legislator, but altogether arising from absolute negligence—negligence as easy to be explained, as it is difficult to be palliated.
We shall class under three heads the penal circumstances which result from this condition:—1. Necessary inconveniences, which arise from the condition of a prisoner, and which form the essence of imprisonment: 2. Accessory inconveniences, which do not necessarily, but which very frequently follow in its train: 3. Inconveniences arising from abuses.
Negative Evils, inseparable from Imprisonment.
1. Privation of the pleasures which belong to the sight, arising from the diversity of objects in town and country.
2. Privation of the liberty of taking pleasurable exercises that require a large space, such as riding on horseback or in a carriage, hunting, shooting, &c.
3. Privation of those excursions which may be necessary even for health.
4. Privation of the liberty of partaking of public diversions.
5. Abridgment of the liberty of going out to enjoy agreeable society, as of relations, friends, or acquaintance, although they should be permitted to come to him.
6. Privation of the liberty, in some cases, of carrying on business for a livelihood, and abridgment of such liberty in all cases.
7. Privation of the liberty of exercising public offices of honour or trust.
8. Privation of accidental opportunities of advancing his fortune, obtaining patrons, forming friendships, obtaining a situation, or forming matrimonial alliances for himself or children.
Although these evils may in the first instance be purely negative, that is to say, privation of pleasures, it is evident that they bring in their train of consequences positive evils, such as the impairing of the health, and the impoverishment of the circumstances.
Accessory Evils, commonly attendant on the Condition of a Prisoner.
1. Confinement to disagreeable diet. The want of sufficient food for the purpose of nourishment, is a distinct mischief, which will come under another head.
2. Want of comfortable accommodations for repose—hard bedding, or straw, or nothing but the bare ground. This hardship alone has been thought to have been productive, in some instances, of disease, and even death.
3. Want of light—by the exclusion of the natural light of the sun by day, and the not furnishing or not permitting the introduction of any artificial means of producing light by night.
4. Total exclusion from society. This evil is carried to its height when a prisoner is not permitted to see his friends, his parents, his wife, or his children.
5. Forced obligation of mixing with a promiscuous assemblage of his fellow-prisoners.*
6. Privation of the implements of writing, for the purposes of correspondence: a useless severity, since everything which is written by a prisoner may be properly submitted to inspection. If ever this privation be justifiable, it is in cases of treason and other party crimes.
7. Forced idleness, by the refusal of all means of necessary occupation: as of the brushes of a painter, the tools of a watchmaker, or of books, &c. This has sometimes been carried to such a degree of rigour as to deprive prisoners of all amusement.
These different evils, which are so many positive evils in addition to the necessary evils of simple imprisonment, may be useful in penal and penitential imprisonment. We shall hereafter show in what manner they ought to be used. But with respect to the fifth evil, the forced obligation of mixing with a promiscuous assemblage of prisoners, it is always an evil, and an evil which cannot be obviated without a change in the system and construction of prisons.
We proceed to the consideration of evils purely abusive: of those which exist only by the negligence of the magistrates, but which necessarily exist, where precautions have not been taken to prevent their existence. We shall present two catalogues: one, of the evils, the other, of their remedies:—
Pains of hunger and thirst: general debility—death.
Sensation of cold in various degrees of intensity: stoppage of the circulation—mortification of the extremities† —death.
Sensation of heat: habitual debility—death.
Sensation of damp and wetness: fevers and other disorders—death.
Noisome smells, collections of putrifiable matter: habitual debility—falling off of the members by gangrene—gaol-fever—contagious diseases—death.
Pain or uneasiness resulting from the bites of vermin: cutaneous diseases—want of sleep—debility—inflammation—fever—death.
Painful sensations arising from indelicate practices.
Tumultuous noises—indecent practices—indelicate conversations.
Evils resulting from the religious sanction—from the non-exercise of the ceremonies prescribed by it.
Sufficient clothing, adapted to the climate and the season—fire.
Shelter from the sun in hot weather—fresh air.
The ground everywhere covered with boards, or bricks, or stone—fresh air—tubes for conveying heated air.
Fresh air—change of clothes—water and other implements of washing—fumigations—whitewashing the walls—medicines and medical assistance.
Chemical applications to destroy them—cleanliness—a person with proper implements for their destruction and removal.
Medicines and medical advice.
Partitions to keep the prisoners separate during the hour of rest, at least those of the one sex from those of the other.
Keepers to be directed to punish those guilty of such practices. The punishment to be made known to the prisoners by being fixed up in the prison.
In Protestant countries, a chaplain to perform divine service. In Roman Catholic countries, a priest to perform mass, and to confess the prisoners, &c.*
[* ]This inconvenience would be apt to be attended with effects of the most serious nature in the case of an Hindoo of any of the superior castes; an association, however involuntary, with persons of an inferior rank, or contaminated character, causing a forfeiture of caste, which, among the Hindoos, is productive of the same afflictions as excommunication at its first institution was intended to produce amongst Christians—extreme infamy, and an utter exclusion from all society but that of persons marked with the same stigma. It has been said, I hope without truth, that by some unhappy neglect, when the Rajah Nuncomar, a man of the first rank in Bengal, was in custody for the forgery for which he was afterwards tried under the laws of Great Britain, and executed, proper care was not taken to protect him from this ideal contamination. If this be true, before he was proved guilty he was made to suffer a punishment greater perhaps than that to which he was afterwards sentenced.
[† ]Howard, p. 39.
[* ]It was mentioned as a circumstance of peculiar distress attending the fate of many of the numerous state prisoners confined in Portugal during the Marquis of Pombal’s administration, their being deparred, during a course of years, the comforts or confession. When this circumstance was brought to light, it produced a considerable degree of public indignation.