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While John Howard and the other prison reformers of the 1770s drew support from European institutional models, they also owed much of their conceptual framework for a penitentiary regime to other reform movements in England. The broad common thrust of these movements was the need to institutionalize fundamental changes in the morality and behaviour of the poor. Thus, progressive doctors involved with the hygienic reform of hospitals saw their cause as a moral no less than a medical crusade. The sickness of the poor was interpreted as the outward sign of their inward want of discipline and morality. 'Since disease had moral as well as physical causes, hygienic rituals were designed to fulfil disciplinary functions. To teach the poor to be clean, it was necessary to teach them to be godly, tractable, and self-disciplined.'19 The clear association between the conceptual framework of the hospital and prison reformers is well described by Ignatieff.

Jonas Hanway [one of Howard's close associates] was arguing within [the doctors'] categories when he described crime as a disease 'which spreads disruption like pestilence and immorality as an epidemical disorder which diffuses its morbid qualities'. Like the doctors, he saw crime arising from the same source as disease, from the squalid, riotous and undisciplined quarters of the poor. Prisons, too, were breeding grounds of pestilence and crime alike. In the fetid and riotous wards of Newgate, the 'contagion' of criminal values was passed from hardened offender to novice, just as typhus spread from the 'old lags' to the recent arrivals. Like the hospital, the penitentiary was created to enforce a quarantine, both moral and medical. Behind its walls, the contagion of criminality would be isolated from the healthy, moral population outside. Within the prison itself the separate confinement of each offender in a cell would prevent the bacillus of vice from spreading from the hardened to the uninitiate.2O

In his proposals for reform of the prisons, Howard was insistent that punishment, in order to be effective, must maintain its moral legitimacy in the eyes of both the public and the offender. For Howard the most painful punishments and those that aroused the greatest guilt were those' that observed the strictest standards of justice and morality.

From such punishment there could be no psychological escape into contempt for the punisher, assertions of innocence, or protests against its cruelty. Nothing in the penalties' infliction would divert offenders from contemplating their own guilt. Once convinced of the justice of their sentence and the benevolent intentions of their captors, they could only surrender to the horrors of remorse.21

It is important to realize that Howard's concern to re-establish the legitimacy of punishment was not simply directed to the law-abiding public; it was equally applicable to the criminals who were subjected to that punishment. This is how Howard himself put it:

The notion that convicts are ungovernable is certainly erroneous. There is a mode of managing some of the most desperate with ease to yourself and advantage to them. Show them that you have humanity, and that you aim to make them useful members of society; and let them see and hear the rules and orders of the prison that they may be convinced that they are not defrauded in their provisions or clothes by contractors or gaolers. Such conduct would prevent mutiny in prisons and attempts to escape; which I am fully persuaded are often owing to prisoners being made desperate by profainness, inhumanity and ill-usage of their Keepers.22

Howard and the other leading reformers rejected the idea of punishment as an act of vengeance. In the words of Jeremy Bentham, the principal theoretician of utilitarianism, punishment was to be 'an act of calculation, disciplined by considerations of the social good and the offender's needs.'23 John Howard proposed that the 'gothic mode of correction' be replaced by 'the more rational plan of softening the mind in order to aid its amendment.'24 As another contemporary commentator put it, 'There are cords of love as well as fetters of iron.'25

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John Howard