Under the influence of Michel Foucault and others, histories of punishment have seen the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries as transformational. Punishment, it is claimed, moved from being directed at the body through corporal punishments to being directed at the mind and soul through the carceral. Like much established wisdom this is repeated as common sense without any need to refer back to the primary sources. But is it correct?
In a paper published earlier this year I explore the period 1780-1850 in one jurisdiction, England and Wales. I found that rather than a simple transformation from corporal to carceral that the period first saw an expansion in all modes of punishment. More people were sentenced to death, more people were transported, more people were whipped, and more people were imprisoned and that the ‘offences’ which attracted these punishments remained fundamentally the same. This expanded economy of punishment was highly problematic. There was a limit to how many could be hung and of potential destinations for those transported. These crises ultimately lead to the introduction of the use of imprisonment for felons as other options (particularly for transportation) failed to meet demand. But this occurred after 1850.
My paper is available here: Expansion, Crisis, and Transformation: Changing Economies of Punishment in England, 1780–1850
It is behind a paywall. If you can’t access please shout.