Disclaimer: This essay has been written by a law student and not by our expert law writers. View examples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of LawTeacher.net. You should not treat any information in this essay as being authoritative.

History of Corrections System

Info: 5356 words (21 pages) Law Essay
Published: 8th Aug 2019

Reference this

Jurisdiction(s): UK Law

Due to the extensive history of the British penal system and its applicability to the countries in this paper, it’s pertinent to examine the system from the dawn of its beginnings up until the present day, as much of its background directly impacts on the other countries through its constitutional ties and hangover.

To begin this history with some of the more known and traceable history of the time, one has to examine the forms of justice used in medieval period, mainly that of drowning. By the 10th century one can see the British evolve their justice to another rather barbaric process, through the prolific use of hanging. Small children caught stealing food to survive were publically hanged, old people, pregnant women, and the mentally impaired, were all hanged for crimes as henous as begging and petty theft. A forward thinking move (in comparison to the other option) to house all the afore mentioned populations in prisons together, was taken in the 1300s. Prisons quickly became unsanitary places, overcrowded, dangerous and totally inhumane by even the most puritan standpoint. Prisoners paid guards to unlock, feed, unshackle and finally, release them. The obvious problem this presented, was that the aristocracy were seldom found in such places and the undeserving poor of the time, all to frequently. An interesting link between the initial concept of the prisoner paying their way through their sentence (from money family would give to the guards) is still seen in a form of the work ethic that is encouraged today within the system. Guards at this time were not employed by the state, but literally by the prisoners. By the late

1700s the overcrowding in prisons and move from public executions as being still the most favored form of justice seen the emergence of the prison ships and later the deportation of convicts to the New World. Australia was populated by many of those who were deemed to be criminal, America had their fair share with those repatriated in to the British Army and many other far flung countries of the time were bestowed with those who had the choice of deportation or death.

A humanitarian approach to corrections began its infancy in the late 1700s through the work of John Howard and his Quaker peers. An interesting point in the historical context  of the period was the revolution in France giving a direct and open warning to the monarchy of the time that the proletariat would and could overthrow the crown should they so desire and should their mistreatment from the state continue, this would be a real and open possibility. Moving on in to the 1800s saw the emergence of Jailers who were paid for their services by the state, thus alleviating miss treatment of prisoners to the extent that was previously apparent. Also, the beginnings of the middle class, post industrial revolution seen a greater understanding of the needs for the working classes to be dealt with in fair and honest manners, with a justice system that was supposed to reflect equality for all. An objective still strived for today.(CITE)            Moving on in to the 20th Century, the prison system in England was directly affected by the political parties that were in power at the time. The Conservatives were known for their tough approach to law and order and had a greater amount of incarceration be carried whenever they were in government, thus being known as the party of law in order. However, the 1970s seen the Labour party take control and with this came a different approach to incarceration. A greater focus on the rehabilitation of offenders was adopted under labour and a move away from the concept of incarceration.

Moving on in to the 20th Century, the prison system in England was directly affected by the political parties that were in power at the time. 1922 seen a move away from bread and water regimes (CITE) and a move toward a degree of humanization of prisoners. The Conservatives were known for their tough approach to law and order and had a greater amount of incarceration whenever they were in government, thus being known as the party of law in order. However, the  1970s seen the Labour party take control and with this, came a different approach to incarceration. A greater focus on the rehabilitation of offenders was adopted under labour and a move away from the concept of incarceration and a direct move towards programs that could be seen to be of use in the rehabilitation of offenders was embraced. The Labour party was known as the party of the people, with a strong need for the working class votes of the time, this was mirrored one again from the late 90s through to the present day. Introductions of the “bracelet” used for the tracking of offenders, the high use of deferred sentences and investment in prisoner education were all carried out under Labour governments. Interestingly though, even though these concentrations on the empowerment of offenders to make choices not to offend, by addressing substance abuse, offending behavior, anger management and the like, there was still a high amount of incarceration and further to this recidivism. There are numerous ideas regarding the lack of efficacy within these approaches, ranging from a lack in adequate funding, follow through of services and a booming population in the UK, with a great amount of non English speaking prisoners joining the population.

England is now under a new Conservative and Liberal coalition government and this has already seen, a month in to office, promises of a tougher approach to law in order, even though the prison system in England is regularly at capacity. It is difficult t to research just what has happened within the corrections system of England, due to the Category D Notices that are regularly put out to media to abstain from reporting on extensive rioting and loss of control of British prisons. (CITE interview with ex prison staff). These notices are from the Home Office of the United Kingdom, media corporations reporting on these events face strict fines and constriction of license, resulting in a prison system that traditionally is not transparent, populations that are known for rioting and presenting danger to staff and inmates and a professional staff who are often under trained and overworked.

History Of the American Corrections System

The history of American corrections has a rich and historical fabric. The evolution of the American correctional system in its own right, did not begin until just before the revolutionary war. (FIND YEAR) Previously to this, the American penal system highly reflected characteristics of the British system due to America’s colonization at that time.

The most integral part of the development of the United States own, independent, penal system, is that of the Pennsylvanian Auburn prison models. These two models are the basic building blocks for the prison systems that are in place today.  In 1718 the Pennsylvanian system replaced archaic “punishment of the body,” (FOCC) with labor that was productive.  (CITE)

1891 seen the inception of the first federal prisons within the U.S, these prisons alleviated some of the pressures on state prisons. There is some discourse regarding the rational behind this decision which points towards a the government wanting a greater control over their prisons. (CITE)

The next pointed step within the U.S corrections system, was that of the creation of the federal bureau of prisons in the 1930, which put all federal prisons under one arm of control, this move was made in order to centralize the control of the prison system within the U.S.Between the 1930s and early 1970s, the U.S could be seen as being somewhat progressive in its approach to its corrections ethos. In 1974 however, a piece by Robert Merton, by the name of “Nothing Works” was published in the U.S, this alone brought any progressive approaches of the time, to a standstill. In actual fact, the U.S regressed to a more archaic ideology of offender management, focusing on punishment and retribution rather than rehabilitation. This philosophy, is highly reflective of the U.S correctional system today. A simple reflection of this approach of pro incarceration and anti rehabilitation, would be the statistic of 1% of the population having been incarcerated and a recidivism rate being amongst the very highest in the western world.

History Of The Canadian Corrections System

Corrections in Canada before the 1800s mirrored that of the French and English penal system. In very early Canada, criminals were dealt with in true English fashion, public executions, burnings, marking, executions and banishment were all used in place of incarceration. It wasn’t until close until the 19th century that Canada began to examine different ways to deal with its criminal population. In 1835, Canada built its first penitentiary, in Kingston, Ontario, based upon the Auburn system (a system based upon the U.S early prison model). This was soon followed by a handful of other penitentiaries throughout Canada. It’s also relevant to note that torture was still present in this time.

By the time of the 1920s Canada began to explore different modalities of prison use.  As  a direct result of these new found approaches of prison reform, a committee was created, The Biggar-Nickle-Draper Committee. The committee introduced approaches and recommendations regarding paying inmates for work, the improvement of educational facilities and a relaxation of how they were to spend their time within the regime.

After world war II the  prison reform movement continued in Canada with the introduction of the first prison commissioner, Major General R.B Gibson. The major implemented more that a 100 different recommendations that arose from the Archambault report, a report carried out on the effectiveness of prisons ( a report directly ordered post one of the many riots at Kingston Penitentiary). Some of the recommendations were inclusive of, young men being separated and housed in facilities seperate from the male population, radios stations run by inmates, formal training for prison and the introduction of recreational activities.

1958 saw the introduction of Canada’s first full time psychiatrist to work with inmates who were mentally ill, by 1973 regional psychiatric centers were opened in Canada . It would be pertinent to note that before 1973 there were still psychiatric facilities that housed the criminally insane or mentally who were in fact serving jail sentences. The 1970s also seen the end of corporal punishment as a direct result of another riot within Kingston Pententiary.

The 1990s brought a philosophies brought new philosophies regarding the approach take with women, aboriginal and youth offenders. These new philosophies can be directly attributed to new and forward thinking research, a humanistic approach being taken on an international basis towards offenders and a greater focus on rehabilitation/reintegration.

South Africa:

The history of South Africa is an extensive and contentious one. Before European settlers, the way in which crimes were dealt were tribal and often, with regards to serious crimes resulted in banishment from the tribe. European ideals towards prisons and incarceration took foothold in what is today known as South Africa in 1652 when it became occupied by the Dutch and the punishment choose was that of (citation: a brief history of prisons in South Africa) “punishment of the body” (Foucault) (citation: Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal) This type of punishment included but, but was not limited to public executions: firing squads, crucifixions, torture, flogging and suchlike. It is also important to note the use of thn deportation of prisoners was also used at this point, and imprisonment was not used. In 1795 the move away from the use of punishment of the body began to take hold in South Africa, as it was then that it came began under British occupation. The ideas held by the British penal system began to be implemented. These ideas included incarceration rather than torture although executions were still prevalent. (Citation: a brief history of prisons in South Africa) Corporal punishment was still used as a way of punishment, with the exclusion of the white population. (Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal) This type of punishment continued to the mid-1990s in South Africa towards indigenous populations citation: Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal)

1834 seen slavery abolished. In order to deal with this issues that arose from this the government of South Africa began to write repressive laws towards the indigenous population (blacks) so they would still be able to have a have a labor force. At this point in history South Africa’s penal system began to look at being separated on racial lines (did not happen in all prisons but some were crated). citation: Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal) it should be noted that the colonial rulers, tried many attempts to end the use of corporal punishment against indigenous population as a form of punishment citation: Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal) it was not successful, as the belief that black individuals were innately insuperior, therefore the concept that they could be rehabilitated or changed was in high dispute.: Flogging, Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial Natal) 1871 (and the Great Depression) seen an increasing demand for labor, the creation of the mining compounds resulted in them being nothing more than work camps for indigenous prisoner populations and gave mine owners free labor (citation: a brief history of prisons in South Africa) The introduction of training in 1905 for white prisoners so they were able to find work upon release Fear and Food: Punishment and Race in Colonial National)

Canadian Corrections System Programming.

The treatments available within the Canadian corrections system are based around the concept that rehabilitation is at the very core of the system itself. The treatments available are so, due to positive empirical and observational evidence, although there are still some that are being pioneered and rolled out across the country to deal with the changing underlying factors of crimogenics and offender needs. To meet the goals, of the highest possible outcomes for offender treatment, a great onus is put upon the focus being placed on the individuals recidivism risk, and the addressing of the reasoning behind their offences that originally occurred. The security risk, that the offender presents, will determine the matching of the program to the offender. Any program that presents a success that is deemed to be above the average expected, will in fact be kept in place and continue to be funded until this changes. Canada Corrections is has a focus on the humanist side of treatment and regards the individual as a whole, and presents programs that incorporate treatments from a biopsychosocial perspectives. It’s also seen to be an important factor, that the individual is matched accurately with regards to their cognitive ability and unique characteristics. It is worth noting at this point, that those who are in treatment programs meet DSM IV diagnostic criteria for mental illness, personality disorders and a huge proportion do so, for dual diagnosis.

The Canadian Corrections system does have a strong focus on furnishing the offender with skills that will make them employable, empower them to make decisions that are not crime related and that address the core needs of the individual. Some of these programs include, but are not limited to: cognitive skills, emotional skills, anger management, family violence, family relationships and mental health awareness. Programs are encouraged to go on after release and in to the community. It would be pertinent to note, that the programs offered within Canadians systems are broad and wide spectrum, however, they are specific as programs offered to the Aboriginal populations and to female sex offenders, as once again, to address these populations in such a tailored manner is thought to address recidivism and further enhance rehabilitation.

America Treatment Programs

The focus on treatment programs that the American penal system holds, is in the main, based around employability and upskilling offenders. The variety of programs that are offered is not as wide as one may think for the once superpower of the world,  they incorporate but do not only include, family violence, anger management, offending  behaviors and general education. The greatest onus seen in these programs is that of the changing of the offender in to not necessarily rehabilitated individuals, but a productive one.

Programming in England

The information available on programming in England, is limited and at times challenging to find. Through interviews and general information gathered, it has become apparent that the programming very much depends on the government in power at the time. All education/programming was sub-contracted out throughout HMP (Her Majesty’s Prisons) in 2004, to private companies who were huge benefactors to the the then, Labour Government. These private companies were primarily concerned with profit and reduced programming considerably, where they could. The onus seen within the system, is that of incarceration and rehabilitation. Programs offered include, work shops that upskill the individual to learn skills such as decorating, car mechanics and suchlike, with qualifications available to them as they go.

Education takes a huge part of programming, with business studies courses, media studies, home economics, arts and interpersonal skills all being related to qualifications that can be obtained and achieved by the offender. For those who are serving long sentences, further education is also available. The most common program offered throughout the whole is system is that of literacy and numeracy classes as the government, when it first entered office, committed to upskilling a certain proportion of the population, to raise it’s then dismal literacy levels, what was never mentioned was that this would be achieved by the recruitment of prisoners on to programs, through incentive schemes for attending education. HMP service, has been under a great deal of fire from the British press for investing too much money in making prisons “playgrounds”, from this criticism, It is believed that due to the mass riots that have occurred at times (because of  the poor facilities and overcrowding) a polar opposite stance was later created in order to avert dangers of further rioting, through the softly softly approaches represented within the media.  It is noted that the new Conservative government are already proposing a harder and less rehabilitative focus on the British penal system, from the indulged and highly rewarding one that can be seen today. It is pertinent to note, that the engagement with programs is in fact necessary for most offenders as these programs have been written within the offender plan. Should parole/ early release become available and no engagement has taken place from the offender, then it’s quite normal for early release to be denied.

Programs South Africa

South Africa had a “needs based” approach since 1996. There are assessment techniques to place within South Africa to balance the needs of the offender with the programs they are placed within. A strong onus is placed on the reconstruction of the moral reasoning of the offender, without this, the government views, that programs are pointless and recidivism will occur at high rates. Education, social belonging, family dynamics, life skills and work based skills are all included within programming. Like most other developed countries, there is an onus on the offender to choose to engage with the programs, rather than mandatory requirements. However, some prisoners who are deemed to need specific participation within certain programming, will indeed have to attend, should they wish to ever get to a release date based upon early release. South Africa prides itself within the international community as having a prison system that offers a vast array of programs that empower prisoners and address offending behaviors.

Death penalty


The move towards the abolishment of the death penalty in Canada was an evolving force that began in 1914. At this point there was little done by those in power to move towards the abolishment. It wasn’t until 1961 during Diefenbaker’s reign as prime minister, that the dismantling of the death penalty began to move forward with the creation of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Coincidentally, a new form of classifications began to be used within the criminal code in Canada in relation to murder during this period. The 1960s, seen a large percentage of death penalty being commuted to other sentences, most often life imprisonment. It wasn’t until 1966, that there was debate of the death penalty within the House of Commons. In response to this debate Lester B. Pearson’s government, in 1967 passed a moratorium on the death penalty, except in cases where police officers or prison guards were killed in the course of their duty. (during this trial period, all best senses of murder automatically commuted) (not paraphrased) In 1973 the more moratorium was extended for another five years. Trudeau introduced bills C – 84 which looked at the abolishment of the death penalty completely. After a debate within the House of Commons, Parliament passed the abolishment of the death penalty on July 26, 1976 and this held in place until 1987, where again, there was a move towards reinstating the death penalty but the vote did not pass. (http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/rht-drt/08-eng.shtml)

United States:

the United States and other it has a color history in regards to use of the death penalty although there were many attempts within the United States by certain groups to abolish the death penalty in certain parts it wasn’t until 1846 when Michigan abolished the use of death penalty was in its state except for in cases of treason (it is also important to note at this point in history in the United States and not just states had the power to execute but also did municipalities e.g. cities) in 1907 to 1917 there was a large movement within the United States to remove the death penalty as a form of punishment but it gained very too little ground the only changes that were really made at any time in regards to the death penalty in most states the United States was that of the way in which individuals were executed and that began around early to mid 1900s (the most favourite ways to kill people were hanging, electrocution, poisonous gas during and after World War II) it is also important to note that is as late as? the mid-1900s the United States was still executing children as young as nine years old post World War II saw another move towards the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States with the creation of the ACLU NAACP and also a move within other country Western countries around the world to abolish the death penalty for example England during the 1930s 1940s in 1976 the Supreme Court of the United States made it so that you do use of death penalty was okay but the death penalty and could not be used for mandatory minimum sentence. In 1976 as well the United States Supreme Court ruled that the deaths penalty is not a violation of their eighth amendment within their constitution and that it was lawful for states and federal judiciaries to hand down death sentences. In 1977 United States bring court ruled that he uses death sentence was not a legitimate use unless the incident results in a death other than that it is not proportionate as it violated the eighth amendment of the Constitution as it fell under it was cruel and unusual punishment (although I cannot find anything about whether they ruled that espionage and treason fell under that ruling) in 1977 the first state began to use lethal injection as the mode of execution. It wasn’t until 1987 that united states bring court ruled that death sentences should cannot be imposed on individuals under the age of 50 even if it was the commission of there. 1989 United States bring court ruled that it is okay to execute individual 16 years or older who commit murder. As of March 2005 United States Supreme Court ruled that executing convicted murderers beat between the ages of 16 and 17 years was now considered cruel and unusual punishment no longer be allowed within the United States(http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/timeline.htm ) As of April 1, 2008, the Death Penalty was authorized by 37 states, the Federal Government, and the U.S. Military.


(Note: more people of color are likely to be executed in the United States than white)


South Africa:

The South African death penalty gains its roots from 1652 and the emergence of the Roman Dutch law. The use of the death penalty was for most crimes, a usual situation throughout the world. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that governments and courts within South Africa began to restrict the use of the death penalty. From here on, it was used for crimes such as murder rate and treason, 1917 seen the “criminal procedure and evidence act”. This was an act that passed, which stated what crimes could be construed as deserving the death penalty. This act made the use of the death penalty mandatory for murder, although it did exclude youths under the age of 16 from having the death penalty imposed upon them. 1935 brought about the “General Law Amendment Act 46″. The General Law Amendment Act was the backbone of capital punishment laws until the mid-1990s. This act repealed the mandatory use of a death sentence for murder, this act also introduced the mandatory use of judicial review for all capital murder cases and gave more power to the appellate court to overturn lower court’s decision in regards to capital murder cases. Throughout the time of apartheid, the death penalty offered a means of controlling the black majority population. The statistics of 1983, regarding the death penalty in South Africa, reflects the huge disproportionate use of the death penalty. 81 blacks were convicted of murdering whites. Of the 81, 38 were hung. This was in comparison to the 52 white individuals convicted of murdering other white people, only one of those 52 were hung. Where whites were convicted of killing blacks there was no death sentence passed. With regards to the 2208 blacks who were convicted of killing other blacks, only 55 were given the death sentence. It would be safe to assert, that outright prejudice was the biggest factor in decisions relating to the death penalty when one considers this trend. In 1993, the South African government passed the “Interim Constitution act of 1993″which included their Bill of Rights and as the high court of the land began interpreting the Bill of Rights in regards to the death penalty, they did not find the death penalty unconstitutional, based on its restriction of human rights; In fact, the death penalty was found unconstitutional because it was a form of cruel, unusual and degrading punishment. 1995 seen the full abolishment of the death penalty. 1996 saw the creation of the “new constitution and Bill of Rights”, a creation that mirrored the changing face of South Africa’s political climate. (http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/UN/UNPAN005172.pdf) 1995 time also brought about the abolishment of capital punishment in South Africa. (http://www.isrcl.org/Papers/LeRoux.pdf)

Population per capita:

When looking at the inmate population per 100,000, Canada falls within the 150 range, the United States falls with the 732, England is at the 116 and south Africa falls within 331 per one hundred thousand. When considering these statistics in relation to per capita incarceration rates, one can see that the United States incarceration rates more than double that of any other of the three nations. South Africa comes in second, with half of that of the United States. Canada has half of that of South Africa and England is very similar to what Canada has in regards to its per capita incarceration population.

Costs per day, per inmate:

It is prudent to look at the amount of money each country spends on inmates per day as this relates to the amount of investment each countries is willing to put in place regarding its inmate population. Canada’s prisons invest around $385.91 per inmate per day; in stark contrast to the United States who only spend $54 per day. England spends about $140.45 per day and South Africa investment is at this moment, presenting an issue to locate through research. When one considers this information it becomes quite apparent that Canada spends the double that of what England spends on its inmate population. The United States spends a third of that England.

I believe there is no direct reflection between recidivism rates within these four countries and their spend on prisoners. One could easily argue that high spending only works if the money being spent in an efficient and responsible manner. Canada’s recidivism rate is at 44% where

England sits at 45% and the United States recidivism rate is at 67.5% and south Africa is recidivism rate is at 80% 80%, and although there is no research available to me at the moment with an exact moment, many other sources tell state that South Africa has invested greatly in its corrections system. And it is doing all it can to move forward and address the problems through the use of more funding (use white paper report for citation hear). Recidivism rates are not only effected by the investment governments make in their correction, but in the follow through support within the community, addiction, mental health issues and general sociological issues that the individual in question or cohorts will face upon release.


When looking at the occupancy level of the four correctional systems it becomes quite apparent that that all but Canada’s correctional system is overcrowded so when we look at Canada’s levels it can be seen that Canada is at 91.3% of its occupancy level where the United States is at 110.1% its occupancy level England is not too far behind the United States with 102% but South Africa sits above all of them within occupancy level of 139.53% of capacity.

Incarceration Trends:

The offender Population makeup of all four countries shows that there is a large disposition between minority groups and the dominant groups in regards to incarceration rates. A good example of this is in Canada where aboriginal people make up 3% of the overall Canadian population yet make up a huge 18% of the incarcerated prop population. This type of discrepancy is not shown through all minority groups in Canada, maybe not to the same extent maybe, but certainly Asians and blacks are relatively proportionately represented within corrections the same as Caucasians. When one considers the makeup of the English correctional system population they will notice that Afro Caribbean/Blacks are six times more represented within corrections than in the general population.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on LawTeacher.net then please: