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development of the prison system

Prisons were virtually non existent before the 1700s; prison was not considered a serious punishment for crime, and was seldom used. Instead, governments imprisoned people who were awaiting trial or punishment whereupon they would receive the more common capital or corporal types of punishment. Common punishments at that time included branding, imposing fines, whipping and the death penalty (capital punishment). The authorities punished most offenders in public in order to discourage people from breaking the law; this falls under the theory of deterrence. Some prisoners were punished by being made to row the oars on ships called galleys.

However, English and French rulers kept their political enemies imprisoned in such prisons as the Tower of London and the Bastille in Paris. In addition, people who owed money were held in debtors' prisons. In many such cases, offenders' families could stay with them and come and ago as they pleased. But the debtors had to stay in prison until their debts were settled. Despite these two exceptions, these 'early prisons' bore virtually no exception to the modern prison system.

During the 1700s, many people criticised the use of executions, mutilations and other harsh punishments. This was the beginning of the early prison reform. These critics included the British judge Sir William Blackstone. As a result, governments turned more and more to imprisonment as a serious form of punishment.

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