The Failure of Millbank Penitentiary and its Influence on the 1877 Prisons Act

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Isabel Gheytanchi
Brianna Leavitt-Alcantara


By Isabel Gheytanchi, History

Advisor: Brianna Leavitt-Alcantara

Presentation ID: 252

Abstract: Existing scholarship on the development of the British prison system into the nineteenth century, although few in number, ignores the role of Millbank Penitentiary in the larger scheme of prison development. This makes Millbank appear as an anomaly; a great failure disconnected from the larger success the British Prison system would one day become. Most historians would agree that the initial stages of prison development were riddled with failures, yet the prison system continued to grow and thrive. While historians may disagree on the reasons for which prisons created such success, the initial missteps and humiliations are no secret. Despite this common historical consensus, Millbank Penitentiary is largely left out of these conversations despite being the first nationalized penitentiary and perhaps the biggest failure. My research builds upon this conversation by looking specifically at Millbank Penitentiary and its failures as a catalyst for the subsequent success of the British prison system. Looking specifically at Arthur Griffiths' Memorials at Millbank (1875) and the works of British Home Secretary Edmund Du Crane I am able to gain better understanding of the causes of Millbank's failures, as well as the perception of Millbank in the eyes of British Parliament, the general public, and the prison population. The comparison between Millbank's failures and Du Crane's plan for legitimizing the prison system illustrates how impactful the Millbank's failures were in preparing for a new wave of national penitentiaries, thus demonstrating the significance of Millbank Penitentiary in the history of British punishment.

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Category: Social (In)Justice