Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9781780232836 Published April 2014 For sale in North and South America only
An e-book edition will be published.

Pain and Retribution

A Short History of British Prisons 1066 to the Present

David Wilson

Pain and Retribution

David Wilson

Distributed for Reaktion Books

240 pages | 15 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9781780232836 Published April 2014 For sale in North and South America only
E-book $35.00 ISBN: 9781780233239 Published March 2014
Today, the Tower of London is a tourist site, home only to the crown jewels, but not long ago the imposing structure held traitors, political prisoners, and more, often on their way to the chopping block. Even outside of this famous building, prisons have changed radically since the Norman Conquest in 1066. In the first book on the history of prisons in Britain, former prison governor and professor of criminology David Wilson offers unrivaled insight into the penal system in England, Scotland, and Wales, charting the rise and fall of forms of punishments that take place behind their walls.
Pain and Retribution explores prisons as an institution and examines how they are designed, organized, and managed. Wilson reveals that prisons have to satisfy the demands of three interested parties: the public, from politicians and media commentators to everyday citizens; the prison staff; and the prisoners themselves. He shows how prevailing concerns and issues of the times allow one faction or another to have more power at varying points in history, and he considers how prisons are unable to satisfy all three at the same time—leading to the system being seen as a failure, despite rising numbers of prisoners and growing funds invested in keeping them incarcerated. With intriguing comparisons between the prisons of New York City and Britain and searching questions about the purposes of the current penal system, Pain and Retribution provides unparalleled access to prison landings, staffs, and the people behind the locked doors.


1. Grand Castles and Thieves’ Holes

2. Prisons, Penitentiaries and the Origins of the Penal System

3. The Prisons Act of 1877 and the Gladstone Report of 1895

4. Decarceration and the Interwar Years

5. From World War to World Cup, 1945-1966

6. Custody, Security, Order and Control, 1967-1991

7. Politicians, the Public and Privatization, 1992-2010

Endings and Beginnings; Beginnings and Endings




Photo Acknowledgements


Review Quotes
“Criminologist and prison reformer Wilson has written a fascinating, multisided view of prisons as they have developed over the centuries, including the Tower of London, Newgate, and Millbank and their successors. . . . Wilson’s treatment is a broad one, and he uses writings of officials, prisoners, and guards, and even describes the effects of reality TV shows on public awareness. It is not a happy story, but Wilson sees hope in a serious commitment to rehabilitation as evidenced by the successful ‘drug courts’ he visited in Brooklyn. An interesting book that will have broad appeal.”
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