The great ‘Reading’ experiment: an examination of the role of education in the nineteenth-century gaol.
Crime, History and Societies, 16(1) pp. 47–72.
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This article explores the emergence of schemes for educating prisoners during the first half of the nineteenth century, focusing on the programme of instruction at Reading Gaol during the 1840s and 1850s. During this period, the enthusiastic prison chaplain, John Field, convinced the local authorities to rebuild the county gaol, impose the separate system of prison discipline, abolish hard labour, and devote prisoners’ time to the intensive study of the Scriptures and other related texts. Reading Gaol provides an insight into how educational methods and techniques were modified to suit a particular environment – the prison – and a particular student body – convicted criminals. When viewed in its educational and penal context, Reading Gaol also shows that although schemes for educating prisoners have often (and rightly) been associated with spiritual reformism, wider bases of support ensured the survival of at least elementary instruction for illiterate adult prisoners even when central authorities pressed for the adoption of hard labour, hard board and hard fare in local gaols.
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