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Neil Davie, ‘Business as Usual'? Britain’s First Women’s Convict Prison, Brixton 1853-1869, 37-52

Article

Published onMar 01, 2010
Neil Davie, ‘Business as Usual'? Britain’s First Women’s Convict Prison, Brixton 1853-1869, 37-52

Abstract
This article concerns the 16 year penal experiment at Brixton, Britain’s first convict prison for women (1853-1869). From the start, the regime at Brixton was seen by Home Office officials and prison staff alike as a second-best solution, since contemporary views on „appropriate‟ women’s work ruled out the hard physical labour of the men’s public works prisons, felt to bring salutary effects to both body and mind. The emphasis was placed instead on inculcating those domestic, „womanly‟ values felt to be under threat from the social forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. However, a combination of the enforced sedentary lifestyle, together with women’s supposedly „impulsive‟ and „excitable‟ natures, were blamed for creating an unexpected problem of discipline in the prison. Despite removing some of the worst cases to Millbank for a dose of separate confinement, the prison authorities felt continually frustrated and powerless in the face of persistent rule-breaking at Brixton. Caught between the conflicting demands of the reformatory project and calls from outside to tighten the penal screw, and clearly divided on the question of just what punishments were suitable for women prisoners, they saw no solution except to build a new prison and try again.

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