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: 5436 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 14th Aug 2019

Reference this

Jurisdiction / Tag(s): US LawUK LawSouth African LawCanadian Law


This paper aims to compare and contrast Canadian, American, South African and English corrections systems. The areas that will be examined will be the common areas that are discussed when considering the progressiveness, effectiveness and understanding of human rights within corrections systems. Overcrowding, programming, the treatment of the mentally ill, recidivism rates and rehabilitation are just some of the themes that are covered in this report.

The choices behind the countries featured in the report, were based upon the intricate history these countries share, due to their colonization and the resulting removal of themselves from British rule, with of course, the exception being, England, itself. This report will highlight throughout, the consistent mirroring of common themes, such as the over representation of the minorities of each country in the prison populations, the overcrowding and pro incarceration approaches that have been so apparent in all and the persistent search for panaceas regarding the recidivism rates that are so essential to all 4 countries governments to reduce, in order to appear effective and gain confidence from the voters.

This report will aim to demonstrate that although the four countries have had dramatically different twists and turns within their evolution as independent nations and governors of penal systems, the history of the countries runs deep and no matter how far they may try and evolve a system, that at its very heart is a poor solution to a persistent problem, England, Canada, South Africa and America will remain to have the same ideologies due to their entrenched colonial roots.

A Brief History Of The British Penal System.

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 (BBC News, 2006) . 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(BBC News, 2006). The obvious problem this presented was that the aristocracy were seldom found in such places and the undeserving poor of the time, all too 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(BBC News, 2006). By the late 1700s the overcrowding in prisons and move from public executions as being still the most favoured 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(BBC News, 2006).

A humanitarian approach to corrections began its infancy in the late 1700s through the work of John Howard and his Quaker peers(Correctional services of Canada, 2005)(BBC News, 2006). 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(BBC News, 2006). 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(BBC News, 2006). 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 (Jackson, 2007) (Correctional services of Canada, 2005). 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 (Jackson, 2007).

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 and a move toward a degree of humanization of prisoners(Correctional services of Canada, 2005)(Jackson, 2007). 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 (Michelle Derbich, 2010). However, the 1970s seen the Labour party take control and with this, came a different approach to incarceration(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010).

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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010).

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 1763(Brinkley, 2004)(Correctional services of Canada, 2005). Previously to this, the American penal system highly reflected characteristics of the British system due to America’s colonization at that time(Correctional services of Canada, 2005).

The most integral part of the development of the United States own, independent, penal system, is that of the Pennsylvanian Auburn prison models (Depersis, & Lewis,2008). 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,”( Foucault, 1995). With labor that was productive(Depersis, & Lewis,2008).

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 rationale behind this decision which points towards a the government wanting a greater control over their prisons (Depersis, & Lewis,2008).

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 (Depersis, & Lewis,2008). In 1974 however, a piece by Robert Martinson, 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 highest in the western world (Department of Corrections, (n.d)(Mauer,2003).

History Of The Canadian Corrections System

Corrections in Canada before the 1800s mirrored that of the French and English penal system (Correctional services Canada, 2010) (Correctional services Canada, 2005). 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(Correctional services Canada, 2010). It was not 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) (Correctional services Canada, 2010) (Correctional services Canada, 2005). 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(Correctional services Canada, 2010).

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(Correctional services Canada, 2010). 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(Correctional services Canada, 2010).

After world war II the  prison reform movement continued in Canada with the introduction of the first prison commissioner, Major General R.B Gibson(Correctional services Canada, 2010). 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)(Correctional services Canada, 2010) (Correctional services Canada, 2005). Some of the recommendations were inclusive of, young men being separated and housed in facilities separate from the male population, radios stations run by inmates, formal training for prison and the introduction of recreational activities(Correctional services Canada, 2010).

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(Correctional services Canada, 2010). 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(Correctional services Canada, 2010). The 1970s also seen the end of corporal punishment as a direct result of another riot within Kingston Penitentiary(Correctional services Canada, 2010).

The 1990s brought a philosophies brought new philosophies regarding the approach take with women, aboriginal and youth offenders(Correctional services Canada, 2010). 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(Correctional services Canada, 2010).

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 (Oppler, 1998). “punishment of the body” (Foucault , 1995) (Pete, 2005) 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 deportation of prisoners was also used at this point, and imprisonment was not used (Pete, 2005). In 1795 the move away from the use of “punishment of the body” (Foucault , 1995) 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(Oppler,1998). Corporal punishment was still used as a way of punishment, with the exclusion of the white population (Pete, 2005). This type of punishment continued to the mid-1990s in South Africa towards indigenous populations Pete, 2005).

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 Pete, 2005). 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) Pete, 2005). 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 (Pete, 2005). 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 (Pete, 2005). 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(Oppler, 1998). The introduction of training in 1905 for white prisoners so they were able to find work upon release(Pete, 2005).

England has a colorful history in regards to how it dealt with its offenders within its society – a history which is completely different to Canada, the United States, and South Africa. Before colonial conquest these three countries operated from a tribal form of justice; England operated from a more European basis as in Canada, the United States South Africa people lived in very small communities and justice was handed down in a more personal basis. In contrast, in England it wasn’t the community as much as a monarch who set punishments through the use of agents.

The history of all four countries share commonalities in their roots as they all share some form of British rule throughout their history. These countries histories began to take different shapes at different times in history, for example the United States began to move away from colonial rule in the late 1700s, where South Africa continued to have colonial oversight until colonial oversight was pushed out of the country and at this time it begun to form its own penal practices. This is also quite pertinent when looking at the United States and its formation to an independent form of penal practice. Although the two countries still do share some of the basic fundamentals held by their colonial heritage in regards to penal practices. There has been a shift in South Africa, to a more unique way of treating its prisoner population from that of Canada and England and the United States. South Africa once moved back towards the use of corporal punishment and torture as a form of discipline as Canada and England and the United States began to move away from this form of penal practice. This is evident in the creation of a programs of1920s, within Canadian penal system and the creation of programs within England’s penal system within the 1940s. The 1940s also coincide heavily with the United States move towards a more rehabilitative approach towards corrections. South Africa on the other hand continued to use of more archaic form of penal practices.

Canada South Africa and the United States all at one point were deportation destinations for prisoners from England until they gained some form of self governance whether through violent revolt in the case of the United States and South Africa or in the case of Canada where it was given more independence.

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 (Kennedy, & Serin, 2008). 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(Kennedy, & Serin, 2008). 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(Kennedy, & Serin, 2008). The security risk, that the offender presents, will determine the matching of the program to the offender(Kennedy, & Serin, 2008). 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 bio-psycho-social perspectives(Kennedy, & Serin, 2008). 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-TR diagnostic criteria for mental illness, personality disorders and a huge proportion do so, for dual diagnosis(American psychiatric Association, 2002)(Kennedy, & Serin, 2008).

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 (Integrated program division, 2009). Programs are encouraged to go on after release and in to the community(Integrated program division, 2009). 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(Integrated program division, 2009).

America Programming

The focus on treatment programs that the American penal system holds, is in the main, based around employability and up skilling offenders (Federal Bureau of prisons, n.d.) ( Norman, 2010). 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 not necessarily rehabilitated individuals, but a productive one (Federal Bureau of prisons, n.d.)( Norman, 2010).

England programming

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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). All education/programming was sub-contracted out throughout HMP (Her Majesty’s Prisons) in 2004, to private companies who were huge benefactors to the then, Labour Government(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). Programs offered include, workshops that up skill the individual to learn skills such as decorating, car mechanics and suchlike, with qualifications available to them as they go(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). For those who are serving long sentences, further education is also available (Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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 approaches represented within the media(Michelle Derbich, 2010).  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(Michelle Derbich, 2010). 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(Michelle Derbich, 2010).

South Africa programming

South Africa had a “needs based” approach since 1996 (Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2003). 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 (Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2003). Education, social belonging, family dynamics, life skills and work based skills are all included within programming(Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2010). Like most other developed countries, there is an onus on the offender to choose to engage with the programs, rather than mandatory requirements(Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2003). 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(Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2003). 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(Department of correctional services for public of South Africa, 2010).

As Canada and England in the 1970s continue to move closer towards a more efficient and humane way in which prisoners were treated. The United States began to regress to an older form of punishment after the writing of “nothing works “which was interpreted by those in charge of the penal system in the United States as programs did not work so that individuals in charge of the United States penal system began to form in the idea of “what’s the point of implementing and using programs” if they had no effect on the recidivism of its offender population. Then the United States began to systematically dismantle its program infrastructure within its corrections system. South Africa on the other hand, is interesting as it did begin to create programs for only its white incarceration population but for all others the old form of correctional practices continued to be steadfast within its penal system until about the mid 1990s.

Death penalty


The move towards the abolishment of the death penalty in Canada was an evolving force that began in 1914(Correctional Service Canada, 2009). 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(Correctional Service Canada, 2009). 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(Correctional Service Canada, 2009). 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(Correctional Service Canada, 2009). During this time, all murder convictions were automatically commuted to life. In 1973 the moratorium was extended for another five years. Trudeau introduced “bills C – 84″ which looked at the abolishment of the death penalty completely(Correctional Service Canada, 2009). 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(Correctional Service Canada, 2009).


Although in England goes as far back as Roman law Reggio, M.H. (2010). From the fifth the death penalty and law surrounding it were separated based on social status whether the individual was a slave a free man or of noble blood Reggio, M.H. (2010). Almost all crimes at this time were punished by execution including blasphemy and the creation of insulting songs, inflammatory publications against the ruling elite, and causing disturbances at night while in the city (Reggio, 2010). Death was often carried out in a cruel manner through the use of “drowning, buried alive, crucifixion or being beaten to death” (Reggio, 2010). The law surrounding this continued until about the Middle Ages where executions began to also include torture, this new way in dealing with criminals continued tell about the 10th century A.D. at which time William the Conqueror imposed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in England (Reggio, 2010). This did not last long (Reggio, 2010). In the 12th century the use of the death penalty was back in full bloom under Edward I (Reggio, 2010). The 1500s is when the use of boiling a human being to death was introduced as the mode of execution by Henry VIII (Reggio, 2010). In the 16th century it is estimated that over 72,000 people were executed on behalf of the Crown the main mode of execution at this time was “hanging, beheading drowning, burnt at the stake or boils alive” (Reggio, 2010). By the 1700s there were over 200 crimes that were punishable by death in England include stealing, cutting down a tree or hunting without permission from the Crown (Reggio, 2010). In the 1800s the death penalty began to be removed for a large portion of crimes, the reason for this shift was that juries began to become less inclined to use the death penalty for crimes that they consider the death penalty not be proportionate to the offences.(The death penalty information Center, 2010). A good example of this would be in 1834 the English Parliament removed the use of death penalty for shoplifting and stealing letters for example (it is important to note at this time in history public displays of the body was still in full swing) (The death penalty information Center, 2010). The mode of execution at this time was the use of this duration was: “quartering, beheading, and hanging the menus of the death penalty were for crimes of murder, arson, piracy and treason” (The death penalty information Center, 2010). It was not until the early stages of the 1900s that the English House of Commons began to move towards the abolishment of capital punishment, a good example of this is in 1908 the House of Commons no longer used capital punishment for individuals under the age of 16 (The death penalty information Center, 2010). In 1933 the use of the death penalty was no longer allowed for individuals under the age of 18 (The death penalty information Center, 2010). In 1948 the Labour and Conservative government created the” Royal commission on death penalty” it help introduces a less restrictive approach to the use of the death penalty in it recommended the removal of mandatory minimum punishments for things such as murder, this was called the “Homicide Act 1957″ (The death penalty information Center, 2010). This report of this commission help lead the abolishment of capital punishment in England (The death penalty information Center, 2010). In 1965 there was a moratorium put on capital punishment for five years (The death penalty information Center, 2010). And then in 1967 the full abolishment of capital punishment was introduced in England (The death penalty information Center, 2010).

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

Related Content

Jurisdictions / Tags

Content relating to: "Canadian Law"

Canada's legal system is based on a combination of common law and civil law. This selection of law papers is relevant to law students within Canada or for those studying Canadian law from outside of Canada,

Related Articles

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: