Prison Reform in Nineteenth-Century British-India
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
By the beginning of the nineteenth century imprisonment was slowly becoming the favoured form of punishment for criminals in Britain and wider Europe. The nineteenth century was therefore a time when penal institutions were coming under scrutiny. In British-India, the Prison Discipline Committee of 1838 and the 1864 Inquiry Committee attempted to address a number of issues within the colonial Indian jails ranging from discipline and administration to health, labour and rehabilitation. There are important questions that need to be more thoroughly explored in relation to these periods of reform: What were the different points of emphasis of the proposed reforms in each period? What continuity or change can be observed between 1838 and 1864 and what accounted for it? The prison reform of this period in India reflected the various and fluctuating ideas on punishment and criminality that also characterised Britain, America and Europe. However, the approach of the 1838 Prison Discipline Committee and the 1864 Inquiry Committee often attested to the British preoccupation with “progress” and asserting control over the Indian population rather than addressing the needs of the prisoners. Furthermore, the conceptualization of Indian criminals by the British impacted upon ideas relating to convict rehabilitation. Although work has been done in this area of British-India’s history, there is a need to draw together the various threads of reform to create a clearer picture of the overall character and development of prison reform in nineteenth-century British-India.