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Hard Time: Reforming the Penitentiary in Nineteenth-Century Canada

Hard Time: Reforming the Penitentiary in Nineteenth-Century Canada (Paperback)

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Prisons have always existed in a climate of crisis. The penitentiary

emerged in the early decades of the nineteenth century as an

enlightened alternative to brute punishment, one that would focus on

rehabilitation and the inculcation of mainstream social values. Central

to this goal was physical labour. The penitentiary was constructed

according to a plan that would harness the energies of the prison

population for economic profit. As such, the institution became central

to the development of industrial capitalist society. In the 1830s,

politicians in Upper Canada embraced the idea of the penitentiary, and

the first federal prison, Kingston Penitentiary, opened in 1835. It was

not long, however, before the government of Upper Canada was compelled

to acknowledge that the penitentiary had not only failed to reduce

crime but was plagued by insolvency, corruption, and violence. Thus

began a lengthy program of prison reform.

Tracing the rise and evolution of Canadian penitentiaries in the

nineteenth century, Hard Time examines the concepts of

criminality and rehabilitation, the role of labour in penal regimes,

and the problem of violence. Linking the lives of prisoners to the

political economy and to movements for social change, McCoy depicts a

history of oppression in which prisoners paid dearly for the reciprocal

failures of the institution and of the reform vision. Revealing a

deeply problematic institution entrenched in the landscape of Western

society, McCoy redraws the boundaries within which we understand the

penitentiary's influence.

Ted McCoy teaches at the University of Calgary. His research focuses on punishment and incarceration.

More books by Ted McCoy

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