'Associated' and 'Separate' Systems

Jun 15, 2018 0 comments
Until 1903, all the female prisons in Queensland had been run according to the ‘associated’ system, in which the women slept in large communal wards. This allowed ‘hardened’ prisoners such as murderers and habitual criminals to associate freely with young newcomers. The 1887 'Inquiry into Queensland Gaols' reported that association:
“…leads to insubordination, to conspiracies, to discontent, to vices of the most revolting nature. It contaminates prisoners not wholly bad, it… manufactures criminals.”
In this context, 'Vices of the most revolting nature' is a coded reference to homosexuality.

Associated prison ward, London, circa 1860s. (Mayhew and Binny, The Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life, 1862)
It was recommended that in future, all prisons be built according to the ‘separation’ system, in which prisoners were kept in individual cells and different classes of prisoners used different yards. Boggo Road Gaol was built with this in mind, and as such was Queensland’s first purpose-built modern prison for women.

The separate system is a form of prison management based on the principle of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement. When first introduced in the early 19th century, the objective of such a prison or "penitentiary" was that of penance by the prisoners through silent reflection upon their crimes and behavior, as much as that of prison security. More commonly however, the term "separate system" is used to refer to a specific type of prison architecture built to support such a system.

The first prison built according to the separate system was the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. Its design was later copied by more than 300 prisons worldwide. Its revolutionary system of incarceration, dubbed the "Pennsylvania System" or separate system, originated and encouraged separation of inmates from one another as a form of rehabilitation.

Common features of a separate system prison include a central hall, with several (from four to eight) radiating wings of prison blocks, separated from the hall and from each other by large metal bars. While all the prison blocks are visible to the prison staff positioned at the centre, individual cells cannot be seen unless the staff enter individual prison blocks. This is in contrast to the panopticon prisons.

The spaces between the prison blocks and the prison wall are used as exercise yards. When the separate system was first introduced, prisoners were required to be in solitary confinement even during exercise; as a result panopticon-style structures were erected inside these yards, in which a guard post was surrounded by tiny, cell-like, one-person exercise "yards". By the end of the 19th century, these structures were removed in favour of more open - if communal - exercise yards. However, in certain prisons such as Pentonville, in London, prisoners were required to wear masks in silent isolation, even during communal exercise.

Many of these separate-system prisons from the 19th century continue to house prisoners to this day; moreover, the separate system continues to influence modern prison architecture.

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