About This Chapter
In his writing on the history of the modern French prison system, Christian Carlier, frames the nineteenth century debates (held not just in France, but internationally) about the nature and purpose of penal institutions and the subsequent architecture and practices that should guide the building and administration of prisons in terms of two opposing schools of thought represented by the philanthropes on the one hand, and the doctrinaires on the other.
Broadly speaking it can be said that the philanthropes favored the more traditional religious approaches and attitudes toward prisons and prisoners that had characterized the last years of the Ancien Régime and the period of the Restoration. In this view, prisoners were to be the recipients of a level of charitable care and spiritual concern that always recognized their true, if flawed, humanity. Incarceration and the deprivation of liberty were seen in themselves to be sufficient punishment for criminal and anti-social behavior, and effective deterrents that would prevent most recidivism. The conditions of incarceration were to be strict and Spartan but always fair, proportional, and as humane as possible. Since prisoners were at the absolute mercy of their jailers, special care always needed to be taken to ensure the protection of inmates.
It was thought that the creation of a religious atmosphere and space within a prison through the employment and spiritual activities of chaplains would help to sustain the redemptive, reformative, and protective functions of the institutions. It would also lead, eventually, to the employment of nuns within the prisons. During the nineteenth century, Saint-Lazare was “la prison la plus chère a la cœur des philanthropes. If indeed this is true, then it is just as true to say that Saint-Lazare as a prison des philanthropes was the prison most criticized and opposed by the doctrinaires.
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