Methods of Punishment

Methods of Punishment

Early Middle Ages (c.500-1066)

  • Punishments were often related to the severity of the crime and the offender’s status in society.
  • Physical violence and retribution were common, including mutilation or death.
  • Evidence of compensation fines known as wergild - this was paid to the victim or their family as a form of recompense.
  • Public punishments were used to humiliate the offender and deter others from committing similar crimes.

Late Middle Ages (1066-1500)

  • Punishments became more extensive and systematic with the influence of Norman law.
  • Introduction of the Ordeal by Fire and Ordeal by Water for determining guilt - this was based on the belief that God’s intervention would reveal the truth.
  • Punishments for serious crimes included hanging, drawing and quartering.
  • Pilgrimages, a religious journey to a sacred place, could be imposed as a form of punishment for certain crimes.

Early Modern Period (1500-1700)

  • Punishment for witchcraft often involved public executions by burning.
  • Crimes against the state such as treason were met with harsh punishments like being hanged, drawn and quartered.
  • Lesser crimes, such as theft or vagrancy, could result in time in the stocks or pillory for public humiliation.
  • Indentured servitude, or transportation to the colonies, emerged as a form of punishment for various crimes.

Industrial Revolution (1700-1900)

  • Capital punishments or death penalty was still applied for serious crimes like murder and treason.
  • Transportation to Australia became a common punishment for convicted criminals.
  • Introduction of prison sentences and the idea of reform through punishment.
  • End of public punishments and begins the period of prison expansion.

20th Century Present (1900-Present)

  • Abolition of capital punishment for murder in 1965.
  • Shift towards rehabilitative measures and away from harsh, punitive methods.
  • Introduce of community service and probation as alternatives to imprisonment.
  • Restorative justice programs increasingly recognised as a form of punishment and reconciliation process between offenders and victims.
  • Increasing use of technology in punishments, such as electronic tagging, and surveillance in prisons.