Prison Systems in London

Aubrey DeBraal and Kaci Hiebner

Victorian Era

Londoners were very worried about crime. However, when Queen Victoria took the throne the amount of crimes that would earn the death penalty were reduced. More people spent time in gaols or were transported and weren't hanged. People sent to prison were usually awaiting trial. Those with a death sentence were often transported, some with minor offenses were transported too.




Transportation was when the prisoners were taken to the colonies or Australia to serve their sentences there. Many criminals with sentences longer than seven years were transported. As towns in colonies grew and there was more crime, people worried about how to keep the criminals under control. A lot of colonies told Britain to stop sending prisoners there. This led to Penal Servitude.


Penal Servitude usually consisted of hard labor. Most prisons had a treadmill. The prisoner would have to walk in the wheel for a long period of time for punishment. Penal servitude was usually sentences of three years to life. Transportation was still used, but not as often. After the sentence was served, those transported could return to London.


As towns grew, more and more townspeople were worried about the containment of dangerous criminals. The crime rate was growing and there was no way all of the criminals could be transported so imprisonment became popular. There were county, shires, and convict gaols.


Conditions on transportation ships were really bad. There were outbreaks of disease like cholera. Many of the prisoners were unable to serve their sentences because they died of unsanitary conditions or they became infected with disease. Prisoners were chained to their beds at night to prevent them from going on shore. Prisoners had to provide their own food, and they didn't have much access to water. They also had to pay the jailor for everything, even for putting them in handcuffs. If the prisoners caused trouble they were often shackled and whipped. Many felt that the reason that the prisons were so bad so they would scare people into behaving well.


Gaols were often unruly and had many prisoners misbehaving in them. Men, women, and children were all together in cells. Prisoners had to pay for being in gaol so those who were needy had to beg to people passing by the gaol.


People were arrested by Peelers who were police officers. Most prosecutions were not carried out by the police though, usually the victims of the crime would take the suspect to court.


Most prisoners with the death sentence were hanged. During the 18th century, about 200 crimes could get you the death sentence. Pickpocketing was among those offenses. In 1823 the amount of offenses that would get the death penalty were dropped to 100. Hanging was often done in public in thought that it would deter other criminals. However it didn't deter crime, it actually made it easier for criminals to pickpocket spectators at the event.