Houses for the poor

Continental European prisons

Authored by: Vincenzo Ruggiero

Handbook on Prisons

Print publication date:  February  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415745659
eBook ISBN: 9781315797779
Adobe ISBN:


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It would be an act of honesty to rename prison institutions as houses for the poor. The renaming would describe in a nutshell recent developments in penality and incarceration in several European countries, in those where growing punitive harshness is found as well as those apparently displaying no visible growing punitiveness. A proviso, however, should be borne in mind: while the old houses for the poor, established during the course of the eighteenth century in England and Wales, hosted working paupers from whom many parishes expected to earn money, those ‘housed’ in European institutions today are officially regarded, and by many perceived, as largely unprofitable. One similarity, however, remains between the old and the new houses: they are both the result of philosophies regarding ‘poor relief’ as a distortion of market freedom. Malthus’s complaint that the Poor Laws interfered with the natural laws of supply and demand finds echoes in contemporary advocates of austerity for the disadvantaged and prosperity for those already prospering.

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