How did Beccaria, Bentham, and John Howard contribute to penal reform?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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These philosophers made different contributions, but all aimed at establishing a prison system that was more humane, and that focused on reform as well as punishment. Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishment, published in 1764, argued forcefully against capital punishment and torture, and opposed the "cruel and unusual" treatment often administered to people who had committed even minor crimes. John Howard toured prisons and asylums in England in the late eighteenth century, writing a series of accounts of the horrors he saw there, especially the almost total lack of sanitation and the treatment given to women and people who were clearly mentally ill. Bentham proposed a prison system that focused on reforming the morals of prisoners. His famed "panopticon," a plan of architecture that would place all prisoners within sight of a centrally-located surveillance tower, was intended to assist in this process. 

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mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, and John Howard all made contributions to the topic of penal reform. Cesare Beccaria, an Italian philosopher, wrote a document titled On Crimes and Punishment in 1764. In this document, Beccaria argued against the death penalty. He said that what will deter people from committing crimes is the certainty of the punishment, not the severity of it.

John Howard was the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. He visited a prison and couldn’t believe what he saw. He saw prisoners living in horrible conditions. He saw that those who worked in the jails were not paid by the government but by the prisoners. He also saw that some prisoners had completed their jail term but weren’t released because they couldn’t pay the fees to be released. He worked to have prisoners be treated better and to have the release fees eliminated.

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, wanted to design a prison in such a way that all inmates could be watched in a common area. This prison, however, was never constructed.

All three men had ideas on how to bring about penal reform.

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