What impact have government attitudes had on the changes to punishment Essay

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Government attitudes towards crime and the causes of crime have had a direct effect on the changes to punishments. Although the word ‘government’ is quite a general term for whoever was running the country, it can be defined in three overall types spanning from the early 16th century to present day.

During the 16th and 17th century, the country was run as an absolute monarchy, with the monarch ruling through the Devine Right of kings. As the King was supposed to have been God’s representative on earth, any scepticism or criticism of their authority would be seen as heresy and even treason. The monarchy was very fearful of civil unrest, which may lead to revolt, and as the army was also a thread and had to be disbanded, it could not be relied on to put down mass revolt. This is why any sign of insurrection, however insignificant, was dealt with harshly.

An example of this is Kett’s rebellion of 1549. Kett, who led a band of 16,000 farmers and workers protesting about enclosure outside Norwich, was executed along with 50 other and hanged in chains after the rebellion was put down despite having pledged allegiance to the King.

In Industrial Britain, the government, which was still a monarchy but with a parliament full of rich landowners making the laws, had three main purposes; to protect their power, to conduct foreign relations, and most importantly to prevent a revolution. After the French revolution and a succession of European revolutions, the government become increasingly fearful of revolution. Crime was also an important factor in the change of laws, as the literacy rate had increased, more and more people had become aware of crime and this lead to the Bloody Code. The government was under the impression that the bloodier the punishment, the more it will deter possible offenders. Many new and even petty crimes were added to the bloody code, which carried the sentence of death by execution or torture.

As the 20th century got under way, the government had developed into a constitutional monarchy, which gave the parliament the majority of power and effectively made Britain a democracy. The government now saw that it could play a more important and integrated role in the way people lived and could shape society’s views. It realised that prison could serve as a way to rehabilitate as well as punish offenders and began to control people’s view on racism and sexism, reducing the amount of crimes committed. Prison reform was a sign of this changing role. Thanks to reformers such as Elizabeth Fry and Sir Samuel Romilly, the government had gone from solitary confinement, pointless work, and the ‘silent system’ to community service, parole, and religious education.

This more involved role in society eased the government’s fear of revolution as it was now partly responsible for the way people lived and times were now stable with a more liberal attitude to religion and freedom of speech and the lack of civil war for about a century.

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