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The Creation of Prisons, Essay Example

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Discuss what cultural developments contributed to the creation of prisons as an alternative to corporal punishments

The creation of prisons can be seen as a radical break from historical forms of punishment. In the academic literature on the subject, two of the primary cultural developments which contributed to this shift include, firstly, a de-emphasis on the punishment of the body, and, secondly, legal changes which reserved confinement for criminals. In the case of the former, arguably a new anthropology informed the emergence of the prison. The punishment of the body was, in one sense, not deemed sufficient, but rather a restriction of one’s liberty also constituted the punishment process. This is perhaps consistent with growing liberal models of thought, which posited the individual and his liberty as the fundamental unit of society. According to this world-view, a sufficient punishment must include some stripping of individual liberty. In the case of the latter, the emergence of prisons is a symptom of how social stratification changed. Lower social classes were no longer placed in confinement and the prison became exclusively a site for those who had been convicted as criminals or were awaiting trial. Hence, the prison develops in conjunction with the emergence of the “criminal” as a distinct social class, although one that occupied the lowest levels of society, hence, not even deemed worthy to be conferred the liberty which shaped the anthropological world-view in which prisons appeared.

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