Alexander Paterson (penologist)

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Sir Alexander (Alec) Henry Paterson MC (20 November 1884 – 7 November 1947) was a British penologist who, as Commissioner of Prisons, introduced reforms that would provide a humane regime in penal institutions and encourage rehabilitation among inmates.

Paterson was born in Bowdon, near Altrincham, Cheshire. He attended school in Manchester and later studied at University College, Oxford where he obtained an honours degree in Greats.[1] During his time at Oxford, he joined the Church of England, which he preferred to his former denomination, Unitarianism. Not long after he graduated, Paterson went to work with the Oxford Medical Mission, a Christian charity which dealt with underprivileged youth in Bermondsey, South London.[1] He recounted his experiences there in his 1911 book, Across the Bridges. Later, he became the first chairman of the charity, Toc H.[1]

Paterson served in the East Surrey Regiment during World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and receiving a Military Cross.[1] In 1922, he was appointed Commissioner of Prisons and Director of Convict Prisons, a position he held until his retirement in 1946.[1]

During his period as Commissioner of Prisons, Paterson used Wakefield Prison as a testing ground for his reforms, such as establishing a farm within the prison in which inmates could learn agricultural skills. Prisoners were also allowed to earn small sums working, attend training courses and participate in games.

Paterson was knighted in 1947[1] and died shortly afterwards in London at the age of 62.


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