In 1840, Alexander Maconochie, a privileged retired naval captain, became at his own request superintendent of two thousand twice-convicted prisoners on Norfolk Island, a thousand miles off the coast of Australia. In four years, Maconochie transformed what was one of the most brutal convict settlements in history into a controlled, stable, and productive environment that achieved such success that upon release his prisoners came to be called "Maconochie's Gentlemen".
Here Norval Morris, one of our most renowned criminologists, offers a highly inventive and engaging account of this early pioneer in penal reform, enhancing Maconochie's life story with a trenchant policy twist. Maconochie's life and efforts on Norfolk Island, Morris shows, provide a model with profound relevance to the running of correctional institutions today. Using a unique combination of fictionalized history and critical commentary, Morris gives this work a powerful policy impact lacking in most standard academic accounts.
In an era of "mass incarceration" that rivals that of the settlement of Australia, Morris injects the question of humane treatment back into the debate over prison reform. Maconochie and his "Marks system" played an influential role in the development of prisons; but for the last thirty years prison reform has been dominated by punitive and retributive sentiments, the conventional wisdom holding that we need 'supermax' prisons to control the 'worst of the worst' in solitary and harsh conditions. Norval Morris argues to the contrary, holding up the example of Alexander Maconochie as a clear-cut alternative to the "living hell" of prison systems today.
In this unique narrative of 19th-century penal reform, Morris, a law professor at the University of Chicago and editor of The Oxford History of the Prison, relates penal history to contemporary prison controversies. Morris gleans trenchant lessons from the work of Royal Navy Capt. Alexander Maconochie, superintendent of Norfolk Island, an Australian coastal settlement that in 1840 was a prison for the "worst of the worst." Maconochie, a man of unbending compassion, tested reform theories, combining scientific measurement of each prisoner's progress with increased privileges to elicit good behavior. All available accounts indicate that Maconochie transformed a hellish prison into a safe, well-run environment. Morris engagingly recounts Maconochie's four-year administration via four fictionalized voices: those of Maconochie himself, two better-adjusted prisoners (the prison librarian and a musician who formed an orchestra) and Maconochie's daughter, who became smitten with the musician-prisoner. Morris wonders whether Maconochie's success may have been due less to the marks system than to his honest communications with the prisoners; still, his system of privileges-for-conformity paid great dividends. While Maconochie's tenure allowed civil relations between prisoners and their soldier-keepers, his successors reverted to policies of gratuitous cruelty, resulting in deadly riots, shortly before the prison was closed. Unfortunately, Morris's deft re-creations of his principal characters' likely recollections overshadow three brief essays relating Maconochie's experiment to the perpetual penological clash between rehabilitation and punishment, a crucial component of the book given thepro-punishment camp's current successes. This lucid, novel (and novelistic) approach to a nearly forgotten chapter in penology deserves attention. 3 halftones and 3 maps. (Nov.) Forecasts: Scholars, prison activists and open-minded law enforcement professionals will appreciate this unusual book. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.