You would not have enjoyed spending time in a Victorian prison, as Philip Priestley's beautifully written and genuinely terrifying study demonstrates. Synthesising a wide range of actual individual experiences, Priestley takes us through all the stages of incarceration, from 'The Cell' and 'The Daily Round' to 'Discipline', 'The Scaffold' (gulp) and, for those lucky enough to make it, 'Release'. The accounts he builds on range from the prison autobiographies of celebrated forgers like Austin Bidwell to accounts written under shamefaced pseudonyms (so potent was the stigma) such as 'One-Who-Has-Suffered'. And suffer they did, a suffering made worse by the fact that it was inflicted by the self-righteous in the name of justice. There is a point to Priestley's meticulously gathered, vividly presented material: an anti-prison point. He is never preachy about this, but in an elegant preface he points out how ineffective prisons are at reducing criminal behaviour. He thinks that the prison as idea and reality could vanish in the near future. This is an arresting thought: as he says, "the lunatic asylum and the workhouse, institutional contemporaries of the penitentiary, have both disappeared into historical oblivion. They sprang from the same sources of Enlightenment thought, were found not to work, and have been abandoned". Could prisons go the same way? --Adam Roberts
About the Author
Philip Priestly has worked for more than thirty years in and around the English criminal justice system - campaigning for victims' right, drawing attention to inequalities in sentencing, and advocating effective alternatives to prison. He is the author or co-author of twelve books, including Community of Scapegoats (1980), Offending Behaviour (1985) and Jail Journeys (1990). He has made thirty broadcast documentaries, including a BAFTA- nominated 'Cutting Edge' on neighbours' quarrels, and a study of victim-offender mediation which won a Royal Television Society award. In 1997, for a series on archaeology, he commissioned the research which established a 9,000-year-old DNA link between the skeleton of 'Cheddar Man' and Adrian Targett, a local history teacher.