Gaol Act 1823

The 1823 Act is significant for women in two ways: first, as an explicit identification of the needs of women within the criminal justice system, and secondly as an early example of women’s campaigning and support of other women.
Ruth Lamont

The ‘act for consolidating and amending the laws relating to the building, repairing and regulating of certain gaols and houses of correction in England and Wales’ – or ‘Gaol Act’ for short – attempted to regulate the management of gaols across England and Wales. It provided for regulations applying specifically to the circumstances of women prisoners. As such it is a small, and fascinating, element of the sweeping nineteenth century reforms affecting all aspects of the criminal justice system and marking a shift in developing national penal policy for the punishment of criminals.

Fry was willing to work with the outcast of nineteenth century society to effect social change.  She sought to ensure better and separate treatment for women prisoners, reflecting her religious and reformatory aim to rehabilitate ‘fallen’ women.

Fry’s humane reforms – while without doubt grounded in, and contributing to, the perception of criminal women as victims in need of moral reform – provided material and practical comfort to women.

The full version of this landmark is written by Ruth Lamont.

Learn More

Bank of England, ‘Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845’

John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales: With Preliminary Observations, and an Account of Some Foreign Prisons (Warrington: Printed by William Eyres, 1777)

Liza Picard, ‘Victorian Britain: Victorian Prisons and Punishments’ (British Library, 14 October 2009)

Matthew White, ‘Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain’ (British Library, 14 October 2009) 

Parliament, ‘Towards Central Control’ (Living Heritage: Police, Prisons and Penal Reform 

Parliament, ‘Police, Prisons and Penal Reform’ (Living Heritage: Police, Prisons and Penal Reform