Italy’s prison system and the reforms of 1889-1891: a road to modernity?

Dondici, Danilo (2017) Italy’s prison system and the reforms of 1889-1891: a road to modernity? Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

[thumbnail of FINAL_APPROVED_THESIS_PhD-Danilo-Dondici-05-2017.pdf]
Download (2MB) | Preview


The present work explores the Italian penal system from a historical perspective. It focuses in particular on the period at the turn of the twentieth century. It is an attempt to understand punishment in penal institutions for adult male offenders following the reforms of 1889-1891. This is analysed within the broader social and political context of Umbertinian Italy and the beginnings of the Giolittian era. Unlike the legal-centred approach of most work done so far, the present study devotes special attention to the human element. Thus it makes extensive use of archival sources and brings to light fresh evidence of the experiences of thousands of people from both sides of the bars. Seeking a bottom-up view of the penal regime it explores the living conditions and health of inmates, and their reactions to discipline. Similarly, it carefully examines the lives and professional careers of the warders, who responded in their own ways to the reforms, and can provide an original interpretation of the liberal penal project. By integrating the well-established scholarship of Italian legal history with the vicissitudes of those who went through the penal regime, the present work casts new light on the history of punishment. In particular, it argues that despite the modernity of the new legislation, government and prison reformers could not relinquish their social and political prejudices. Their anxieties about the masses, together with the shortcomings of the state apparatus, led to the reshaping of a highly punitive system with no purpose or meaning outside the retribution-and-deterrence rationale. In order to understand such a system and the claim of its power to promote ‘moral reform’, the evidence of inmates and prison guards have proven to be illuminating and of fundamental importance. Ultimately, the analysis clarifies an important aspect of the process of modernisation of Liberal Italy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Jackie Webb
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2017 14:09
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2017 14:09


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item