prisons

Places of involuntary detention. In ancient Jerusalem there were three prisons, in Athens two, and in Rome one, the Mamertine. In the first centuries the accused and convicted of both sexes mingled. The Church became interested in prisons when innocent Christians were persecuted. Deacons and deaconesses were ordered to bring them food, clothing, and the comforts of religion. The Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Synod of Orleans in 549 ordered deacons to visit culprits, to administer to their religious needs, and to care for their temporal wants. In the 4th century it was a practise and a duty of bishops to intercede for criminals, and by substituting voluntary penance to convert them, and to restore them amended to the state and repentant to God. Culprits naturally sought and, by consent of Emperor Constantine and his successors, found asylum in the Church. At the prayers of bishops the emperor pardoned all lesser culprits at Easter (indulgentia paschalis). From the 3rd to the 7th century the Church had no prisons, nor did she punish with imprisonment, but from the 8th to the 16th century she had her own prisons, episcopal and monastic. They were a preparation or substitute for public penances. Heretics were considered a menace to both the Church and State. The Church inquisitors, having found a heretic guilty, would imprison him, even for life, but only the civil authority could impose the death sentence. The prisons of the Inquisition were unsanitary and the treatment miserable. In the Middle Ages the Church founded the religious orders of the Trinitarians and Mathurins for the redemption of prisoners, and societies in Italy, France, and Spain to help the unfortunates. Saint Charles Borromeo in the 16th century reconstructed the entire prison system of his diocese upon most humane principles.

In spite of all that the Church and Popes did to improve the prison system in the earlier centuries, prisoners generally suffered from lack of food and clothing, from bad quarters, and cruel treatment. In the 16th century Pope Paul V, Pope Innocent X, and Pope Clement XI exercised wholesome influence over prisons for men and women, and Pope Clement XII is considered the creator of the modern prison system. In 1774 John Howard visited the main prisons of the world and described their horror, while he praised the prisons of the pope as models. Europe and America gradually followed Howard'e suggestion of reform. In the United States arose the Pennsylvania or separate system, in New York the Auburn or silent system, in Elmira the classification system, which were soon imitated to some degree in other states. In England and other European countries appeared the progressive system, which allowed prisoners to merit better treatment and a reduction of their time; while in Belgium the much praised cellular system developed. Out of England's progressive system grew the conditional liberation or parole system, and this led to the systematic care of liberated prisoners. As a preventive, the probation system was developed; in some places this employs the Big Brothers and Big Sisters. National and international prison reform associations convened and suggested improved methods. Since Goring has disproved Lombroso's statement that there is a definite criminal type, study of individuals is recommended; while prisons should deter from crime they should also aim to reform criminals. Religion theoretically is acknowledged as a power of reform.

Ecclestiastical prisons were of the same character as those of the civil government, since the Church was considered equal to the State, and claimed for her clergy an independent jurisdiction, then generally acknowledged. At first criminal clerics were detained in monasteries; but later diocesan prisons were established, as an English synod in 1261 prescribed. The Holy Office had its own prison. Monasteries had their prison cells, still to be seen in some of the convents. Sometimes fasting was added to imprisonment. Incarceration was chiefly inflicted on incorrigible delinquents to prevent further harm and to bring them to repentance. The Code of Canon Law mentions only detention in a house of penance.

New Catholic Dictionary

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