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The second type of institution, the county and borough jail, ranged from being located in the dungeon of a medieval castle to little more than a strong-room above an inn. The diversity of the jail's architecture was mirrored in the distinctive status of the various categories of prisoners confined in them: debtors, those awaiting trial, those few felons sentenced to imprisonment, and those convicted and sentenced to transportation or death. Although in theory the different classes of prisoners were supposed to be kept separate from each other, actual practice resulted in the confusion of prisoner categories and the de facto sharing of privileges among prisoners to whom they were legally denied. In the eyes of the prison reformers of the 1780s this confusion was regarded as a major impediment to a rational system of discipline.5

The third institution of confinement was the house of correction, or bridewell, which had been in existence since the sixteenth century. The bridewell was developed to enforce the law against vagrancy, and its avowed purposes were to put the vagrant poor to work and to teach them the lessons of industry. The organization of penal labour around economic imperatives had been introduced at about the same time in Europe with the opening of the Rasphuis in Amsterdam.6

The theory behind the bridewell was that prisoners would earn their bread and upkeep by hard labour, and the county would recoup its expenses from the sale of prison goods made under the supervision of outside contractors. Like much of the correctional theory in the eighteenth century (and, as we will see, in the twentieth century), this bore little relation to what actually happened. Because many counties were unable to find contractors to put prisoners to work, the local magistrates were obliged to make some minimum dietary provision for the prisoners. Yet there were some bridewells in which no food was provided. It was not uncommon for vagrants brought in from the streets of London to die in prison of hunger. John Fielding, the London magistrate, remarked to an inquiry in 1770 that 'when the magistrate commits a man to [the Gate House in London] for assault he does not know that he commits him there to starve.'7

The efforts of the local authorities to limit their financial liability for bridewells, like the keepers' efforts to limit their overhead in running the debtors' prisons and local jails, resulted in a prison regime that relied upon easy access to the outside world. In some jails prisoners were allowed to beg for food and money through 'begging grates.' Visitors' privileges were liberal, since in many cases prisoners depended on aid from their relatives and friends to supplement the little provided by the state. According to Ignatieff, it was common for wives to appear daily at the prison gates with meals for their jailed husbands. They were permitted to remain In the prison from dawn until lock-up, and a bribe to the keeper ensured their continuing companionship by night.8

However, if the physical distance between the inside and the outside was not great, the administrative distance was. 'The authority of the Keeper was exercised largely without supervision or scrutiny from the outside. Although the worlds were bound together in symbiotic dependence over matters such ,as diet and sexual commerce, the prison, in matters of power and finance, was a state within a state.'9

In the eighteenth century, because of the decentralization of responsibility for prisons, there were no statutory provisions governing the duties of the keeper of a prison, and the local magistrates rarely placed any limitations on his power. Such basic matters as the program of work and the methods of discipline were left to the untramelled discretion of the keepers. Authority in the prison, 'unbounded by formal rule, was by definition arbitrary, personal and capricious.'10 In the minds of the prison reformers of the 1770s, the abuses of the prison system -cruelty, unsanitary conditions, inadequate dietary provisions, sexual promiscuity, and corrupt administrative practices -were explained by the absence of rules and the lack of supervision by outside authority.

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An 18th century English prison