Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2013
This chapter aims to develop a periodization of the history of solitary confinement in Germany (with emphasis on Prussia) and hazards a look into the future of this particular institution as well as that of confinement in prisons in general.
There have always been swifter, cheaper, and much more impressive punishments than those that imply some kind of confinement. Over most periods of history and in most corners of the world imprisonment was therefore not regarded as a logical answer to crime. But confinement also contains or at least promises some advantages over other sanctions. It provides, for instance, not only a temporary “incapacitation” of the offender, but is also often considered conducive to his “moral reform.” Moreover, it allows a fine differentiation of degrees of punishment (by years, months, weeks, and even days of imprisonment) as well as a reversibility of the sanction, which is lacking in all sanctions that imply physical elimination or mutilation. After monasteries and medieval cities had become aware of these advantages, it took until the “Great Transformation,” approximately 1760-1840, before imprisonment was finally being recognized as a suitable response to criminal offenses. From the onset, though, confinement had been organized in either of two forms, the more usual one being collective, and the extraordinary one individual. Collective confinement separated the individual from the outside world, but it did not erect barriers between detainees, thereby allowing the formation of an intramural “society of captives.”