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Johnston (Helen), Punishment and control in historical perspective

Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008, 269 pp. , ISBN 9 780230 549333.
Pieter Spierenburg
p. 107-108
Référence(s) :

Johnston (Helen), Punishment and control in historical perspective, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008, 269 pp. , ISBN 9 780230 549333.

Texte intégral

1It is tempting to compare this collection to the book by Rebecca McLennan that I also reviewed for CHS. On agreeableness of length the Johnston volume, with 240 pages of text, wins, because the other book has twice as many. For the rest, the advantages of a single-authored study over the average edited collection are obvious. This is the more so, since the very first chapter in the volume under review has Sing Sing for its subject, so that it is made superfluous by McLennan’s study. As if the author, Michael Fiddler, wanted to underline this, he finds inspiration in the completely outdated works by Rusche/ Kirchheimer and Melossi/ Pavarini. All other contributions refer to England, which, as well as the focus on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, should have been acknowledged in the volume’s title. Anette Ballinger examines the case of a woman who shot her husband in 1945 and got away with a nine day sentence. The killer successfully posed as the « more sinned against than sinning » type, despite much evidence to the contrary. Instead of explaining why judge, jury and even prosecutor so eagerly wanted to believe this, Ballinger chides them for doing so, because they helped one woman at the expense of upholding a stereotype detrimental to all women. Tony Ward mixes a discussion of historical cases related to the insanity defense with comments on Foucault’s views. The editor contributes with an article on prison officers as a category relatively neglected up to now. She shows that even by the mid-nineteenth century there was little social distance between them and the inmates, so that the prisons of that time fitted only imperfectly into Goffman’s model of the total institution. Moreover, prison officers suffered under extremely long working hours. It is good to hear, from Jamie Bennett, that my sort-of-countrymen once imprisoned Winston Churchill (during the Boer War), even though he was a hero for Dutchmen that lived through World War II. The British also remember him as a prison reformer in 1910 and Bennett places this episode in context.

2John P. Locker contributes with an interesting chapter on perceptions of white collar crime in the nineteenth century. The public and the media perceived fraudulent middle-class men as a kind of anomalies, because they challenged contemporary categorizations centering around respectability. Of one white-collar criminal, for example, known as a philanthropist, many did not want to believe he was guilty. In addition, middle-class defendants failed to conform to the physical image that was thought to characterize the born criminal. Bronwyn Morrison examines inebriate institutions: prisons for habitual drinkers that were in operation in England between 1879 and 1923. Although women constituted a small minority among those convicted for drunkenness offenses, they were overrepresented in the inebriate institutions. According to Morrison, drunken women were seen as more of a problem than drunken men in late-Victorian England. She also shows that the institutions in question had a much harsher regime than previous scholars have acknowledged. Heather Shore shows more or less the same for the various institutions for juveniles in the nineteenth century. Sarah Anderson and John Pratt examine prisoner memoirs from the second half of the nineteenth century. The prisoners in question complained about many things, including the size of their cells, absence of a mattress, unhygienic conditions, hunger and bad food, while many suffered from mental anguish. Prison authorities usually denied the charges, designating complaining inmates, especially if they were Irish, as troublemakers. Alyson Brown compares the prison riots at Chatham in 1861 and Dartmoor in 1932. The contribution by Abigail Wills is the only one that falls outside the volume’s time frame. She presents a portion of her research on juvenile delinquents in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing this time on resistance by the inmates of juvenile institutions.

3The editor has written a brief introduction as well as some concluding remarks. Despite a few relatively weak contributions, the volume as a whole has enough to offer for scholars interested in crime and punishment in nineteenth-century­England.

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Référence papier

Pieter Spierenburg, « Johnston (Helen), Punishment and control in historical perspective », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 14, n°1 | 2010, 107-108.

Référence électronique

Pieter Spierenburg, « Johnston (Helen), Punishment and control in historical perspective », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 14, n°1 | 2010, mis en ligne le 07 juin 2010, consulté le 20 juin 2018. URL :

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Pieter Spierenburg

Erasmus Universiteit (Rotterdam)

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