Prevention History of Corrections—Punishment or Rehabilitation? - Medieval Times
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As in ancient times, medieval Europe had very harsh punishments. Torture and death were commonly administered. From the depths of the "Dark Ages" came cruel instruments that tortured as they killed. For example, the rack stretched its victims until their bodies were torn apart. The Iron Maiden—a box thickly set with sharp spikes inside and on the inner side of its door—pierced its victims from front and back as it closed. People came to watch public executions to see the convicts burn, be hanged, or be beheaded.
Those arrested were usually confined (imprisoned) until they confessed to the crime and their physical punishment occurred. The medieval church sometimes used long-term incarceration to replace executions. Some wealthy landowners built private prisons to enhance their own power, imprisoning those who dared dispute their pursuit of power or oppose their whims. With the enactment of King Henry II's set of ordinances, called the Assize of Clarendon (England, 1166), many crimes were classified as offenses against the "king's peace" and were punished by the state and not by the church, the lord, or the victim's extended family. At this time the first prisons designed solely for incarceration were constructed.
The only comfort prisoners had in the cold, damp, filthy, rat- and roach-infested prisons of medieval Europe was what they could—or rather were required to—buy. The prison-keeper charged for blankets, mattresses, food, and even the manacles (chains). The prisoner had to pay for the privilege of being both booked (charged) and released. Wealthy prisoners could pay for plush quarters but most suffered in terrible conditions, often dying from malnutrition, disease, or victimization by other prisoners.