On Thursday, June 28th, Sociology AS students went to The Clink in central London, in preparation for their A2 Crime and Deviance module. We learnt that the Clink was a prison for criminals (including what was then referred to as harlots, vagabonds and traitors) from 1144 to1780. It was furthermore the first women’s prison. Prisoners had to pay for their own food and rent through work, often going into debt. From a sociological perspective, it was interesting to explore the methods used to ensure justice, and to compare them to the methods of today. Medieval punishment often involved torture, which included using hanging and branding as well as ‘the rack’ and ‘the ducking stool’. Bribery was common between wealthy prisoners and keepers for freedoms and food which was scarce. These greatly contrast with today’s methods, where torture is illegal and human rights are prioritised, regardless of inmates’ status or wealth. As the monarchs changed, so did, following the Reformation, the religion of the country. As a consequence, heretics were frequently confined in the Clink, which further contrasts with the religious freedoms all British citizens have today, even those imprisoned. Most of the factors responsible for the human rights we take for granted today were brought about by the Enlightenment, and include democracy, industrialisation and secularisation. The Clink was burnt down in the 1780 Gordon Riots by Protestants, paving the way towards the current, humane and ethical, British justice system, which is focused on human rights and rehabilitation rather than vengeance.
Helen Fellerman, Lower Sixth Student