Monasteries Led Implementation of Punitive Isolation

face of a prisoner

The French Benedictine monk and scholar Jean Mabillon in the seventeenth-century described vade in pace (“go in peace”) punitive isolation of monks as having occurred in the twelfth century.^ Peter the Venerable, a twelfth-century abbot in France, stated that Matthew, Prior of Saint Martin des Champs, employed this form of punishment.^

In prisons for lay persons, a policy of separate confinement at night and work in silence during the day dates from no latter than the mid-seventeenth century in the Amsterdam workhouse.^ Prisons for lay persons then provided much greater opportunities for communicating with prisoners than did monastic imprisonment.^ Suppressing prisoners communication became a prominent aspect of penal practice in the Auburn State Prison and the Eastern State Penitentiary in the early nineteenth-century United States.

Prison scholars have tended to separate ecclesiastical prisons from prisons for lay persons. The relationship between religious institutions and political institutions in popular governance in Europe has changed significantly over the past thousand years. The conceptual distinction between ecclesiastical and secular prisons, like that between church institutions and universities, should not be taken for granted historically.

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