“He Must Die or Go Mad in This Place”: Prisoners, Insanity, and the Pentonville Model Prison Experiment, 1842–52

AHP readers may be interested in an article in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

““He Must Die or Go Mad in This Place”: Prisoners, Insanity, and the Pentonville Model Prison Experiment, 1842–52,” by Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland. Abstract:

The relationship between prisons and mental illness has preoccupied prison administrators, physicians, and reformers from the establishment of the modern prison service in the nineteenth century to the current day. Here we take the case of Pentonville Model Prison, established in 1842 with the aim of reforming convicts through religious exhortation, rigorous discipline and training, and the imposition of separate confinement in its most extreme form. Our article demonstrates how following the introduction of separate confinement, the prison chaplains rather than the medical officers took a lead role in managing the minds of convicts. However, instead of reforming and improving prisoners’ minds, Pentonville became associated with high rates of mental disorder, challenging the institution’s regime and reputation. We explore the role of chaplains, doctors, and other prison officers in debating, disputing, and managing cases of mental breakdown and the dismantling of separate confinement in the face of mounting criticism.

 

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.