Penitentiary Act

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The Penitentiary Act (19 Geo. III, c.74)[1] was a British Act of Parliament passed in 1779 which introduced state prisons for the first time. The Act was drafted by the prison reformer John Howard and the jurist William Blackstone and recommended imprisonment as an alternative sentence to death or transportation.[2]

The prison population in England and Wales had risen following the United States Declaration of Independence as the American Colonies had been used as the destination for transported criminals. Also, Howard had produced a report to a House of Commons select committee in 1777 which had identified appalling conditions in most of the prisons he had inspected.

The purpose of the Act had therefore been to create a network of state-operated prisons but, after passage through Parliament, the end result was that only two prisons in London were created.


  1. ^ "PENITENTIARY ACT, 1779". The National Archives. Retrieved 2016-06-11. 
  2. ^ Clark, Robert (28 October 2000). "Penitentiary Act; Panopticon.". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 2007-09-03.