Prisons without walls: prison camps and penal change in Australia, c.1913 - c.1975

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Copyright: Taylor, Benedict
This dissertation is the first account of an important episode in Australian penal history. It documents the emergence of minimum security prison camps in the early twentieth-century, and their development through to the 1970s. In the Australian historiography, penal change is a poorly delineated phenomenon. This dissertation seeks a more nuanced understanding of this process, using the camps as a case study. Based on a national survey of official publications, archival material, newspapers, and prison memoir, it charts the origins of the camps, and how the penological ideas on which they were based were translated into practice. A number of problems that emerged in the process are also examined. The camps have been seen as evidence of a progressive, benevolent approach to criminal justice, but penal change moves in more complicated ways, and is connected to other public projects. The camps’ origins lie in the politics of labour, the problems posed by penal architecture inherited from earlier generations of reformers, and in powerfully linked ideas about environmental transformation and human redemption. The penology on which the camps was based was also profoundly affected by the ways in which reformers and administrators imagine the future and past of the penal system. The narrative presented here emphasises the importance of local specificities, but also connects the camps to broader cycles of penal history, both in Australia and elsewhere. The camps were hailed as a breakthrough in rehabilitative penology. They were certainly humane prisons, but they were ultimately more successful at rehabilitating the reputation of the prisons than they were at turning criminals into law-abiding citizens. This dissertation also suggests that the importance of escape rates has been overstated, and that the success or failure of reform hinges on custodial staff to a much greater extent than has generally been recognised. Finally, while the camps never lived up to their founders’ grandest hopes, their history offers some promising suggestions for contemporary policymakers.
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Taylor, Benedict
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PhD Doctorate
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