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Prisons and prison laws in Old Testament times?

Prisons and prison laws in Old Testament times?

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Prisons where evidently known to Israelites quite early (see the story of Joseph). Nevertheless, I could find no legislation in the Torah on imprisonment - it seems that this form of punishment was not used at all. I guess the reason for that is that prisons require a more centralized government and are not suited for a nomadic or rural society.

Later we find that Jeremiah was imprisoned, but it seems like an exception rather than some regular form of punishment.

My question: which countries in the ancient world had prisons, and how were they used? Were there regular laws concerning imprisonment (conditions, length of detainment)? Where were prisons invented?

Prisons, as we understand them today serve the purpose of depriving an individual of their liberty; that idea of liberty did not exist at the time that you refer to. The liberty of an individual to live their life as they see fit within the restraints of the law is a modern concept, therefor the idea of punishing a person by depriving them of something of which they were not in possession of did not arise.

In addition it would be hard to conceive as punishment a regime whereby offenders were taken to a place, fed, clothed and housed all at the states expense when such largesse on the part of the state was not offered to those in society who had committed no crime.

Where such institutions as we might describe as prisons existed, to be incarcerated in such a place was not, in itself, the punishment. People in such places would be held there in order that they could fulfil their role as slaves or forced labourers or until such time as some other appropriate punishment could be carried out. Ancient law as based up the notion of 'an eye for an eye', that is retribution, where that retribution should seek to redress the loss felt by the victim of the crime. An eye for an eye can just as well be understood as, 'a sheep for a sheep' if a sheep has been stolen or 'a son for a son' if a person has been found guilty of murder. The act of cutting of a limb in the cases of theft is as much to do with preventing any future theft on the part of the guilty as it is with any sense of punishment. Such practises were the expedient and pragmatic approach to justice by a society that did not conceive of and therefor value liberty such that any loss of it could be considered punishment.

A prison is expensive: you have to build the installation with all the necessary security precautions (fixed costs), and then feed and cloth the inmates and guards (variable costs). This is completely unaffordable for a subsistence society (IOW, before feudal castles provides dungeons).

The Biblical law provides for 3 kinds of penalties: death, flogging (at most 39 strikes), and fine ("[the cost of] an eye [as the compensation] for [the loss of] an eye"). When the convict is unable to pay the fine, the law provides for "slavery" (which should be more accurately translated as indentured servitude - because it ends after 7 years or at Jubilee, whichever comes first) as a way to recoup the fine (imposed as the punishment for economic - non-violent - crimes, such as theft or damages). Such a "slave" would work, earning his keep and paying off the court-imposed fine.

So, one could consider "slavery" as the precursor to "labor prison camps".

The ancient Romans had prisons, such as Mamertime Prison, but imprisonment was just a temporary measure before trial or execution, not a punishment in itself.

The English Houses of Correction introduced a more modern system of mass incarceration, with hard labor.


Since Ancient Times forcing an offender to leave his home and go abroad or to another region either permanently or for a fixed period of time has been used as a punishment.

Bastinado was beating a person on the soles of their feet with a stick. Because the soles of the feet are vulnerable it was very painful. Bastinado was commonly used in parts of Asia.

Beheading is another ancient method of punishment. Beheading with a sword or an axe may have been more merciful than hanging but that was not always the case. Sometimes several blows were needed to sever the person’s head. In England, beheading was normally reserved for the high-born. The last person to be beheaded in England was Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat in 1747.

This punishment meant beating a person across the backside with a bundle of twigs. Once a common punishment in schools it could also be imposed by the courts for minor offenses. Birching as a punishment for minor crimes was abolished in Britain in 1948. However, it was still used in prisons. The birch was last used in a British prison in 1962.

In England a law of 1531 allowed poisoners to be boiled alive. In 1531 a cook called Richard Roose was boiled alive. A woman in Kings Lynn who poisoned her employer suffered the same fate in the same year, 1531. And in 1542 a woman called Margaret Davy was boiled alive. However, the law was repealed in 1547.

Branding people with red-hot irons is a very old punishment. In Britain branding was abolished in 1829.

This was a punishment especially common in France and Germany although it was also used in other parts of Europe. The condemned man was tied to a wheel and the executioner then used an iron bar or hammer to break each arm and leg in several places.

Sometimes a blow to the chest or strangulation was used to end the man’s agony but he could be left to die of thirst. Breaking on the wheel was abolished in Germany in 1827.

Burning is a very old method of killing people. In 1401 a law in England made burning the penalty for heresy. In the 16th century during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) nearly 300 Protestants were burned to death in England. In the 16th and 17th centuries ‘witches’ in England were usually hanged but in Scotland and most of Europe they were burned. In the 18th century in Britain women found guilty of murdering their husbands were burned. However, burning as a punishment was abolished in Britain in 1790. Sometimes a person about to be burned was strangled with a rope first to spare them pain.

Among the Aztecs, children were punished by having cactus needles forced into their skin.

Until the late 20th century teachers were allowed to hit children. In the 16th century, boys were often punished by being hit with bundles of birch twigs. In the 19th century hitting boys (and girls) with a bamboo cane became popular. In the 20th century, the cane was used in both primary and secondary schools. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the cane was abolished in most primary schools. In England, in 1987 the cane was abolished in state-funded secondary schools. It was abolished in private schools in 1999

This was a Chinese punishment. It was a wooden board locked around the prisoner’s neck. He could not reach his mouth with his arms and so could not feed himself or drink without help.

In the 20th century in some schools forcing a child to have a cold shower was used as a punishment.

The crank was a handle that convicts had to turn again and again. Normally the prisoner had to turn the handle thousands of times before he could eat. It was hard and very monotonous work. The crank was abolished in British prisons in 1898.

The condemned man carried the cross beam of the cross to the site of execution. His arms were tied or nailed to it and the crosspiece was tied or nailed to a pole. Under the persons, feet was a block of wood to make sure their weight did not tear their hands from the nails. The person’s feet were also nailed to the cross. To add to the person’s suffering they experienced thirst in the hot sun and their sweat attracted flies and other insects.

Death was eventually caused by asphyxiation as it became more and more difficult to breathe. Death could take days although sometimes it was hastened by breaking the person’s legs. Crucifixion was banned in the Roman Empire in 337 AD.

Although drowning is an obvious method of killing people it was seldom used as a method of execution. The Roman writer Tacitus said that the Germanic peoples drowned cowards in fens under piles of sticks. The Anglo-Saxons also sometimes used drowning as a punishment. In the Middle Ages, drowning was sometimes used to punish murder. In England, in the 13th century, it was enacted that anybody who committed murder on the king’s ships would be tied to their victim’s body and thrown into the sea to drown.

Drowning was occasionally used in Europe through the following centuries. It was revived in the French Revolution in Nantes by a man named Jean Baptiste Carrier as a convenient way of killing large numbers of people. They were loaded into vessels with trap doors, which were then sunk.

The ducking stool was a seat on a long wooden arm. Women who were convicted of being scolds or gossips were tied to the seat then ducked into the local pond or river. The last woman to be ducked in England suffered the punishment in 1809. In 1817 another woman was sentenced to be ducked but fortunately, the water level was too low to immerse her.

However in early 19th-century textile mills in Britain lazy children sometimes had their heads ducked in a container of water.

In the 19th-century low-ability children were often humiliated by being forced to wear a conical hat with a ‘D’ on it. It was called a dunce’s cap.

In the late 19th century it occurred to people that electricity could be used to kill. It was first used in the USA in 1890 when a man named William Kemmler was executed. Unfortunately, his death was not quick. Nevertheless, the electric chair became a popular method of execution in the USA. The first woman executed in the electric chair was Martha Place in 1899.

Forcing people to pay money is an obvious method of punishment and it has been used since Ancient Times.

Firing squads became common once guns were accurate enough. However, firing squads were usually used as a military, not a civilian punishment. Yet in the USA Gary Gilmore was famously executed by firing squad in 1977.

Garroting was a form of strangulation. Often it was carried out using a metal collar attached to a post, which was tightened around the person’s neck. Garroting was once used in Spain.

The gas chamber was first used in the USA in 1924. The condemned person is strapped to a chair in a sealed room, which is then filled with cyanide gas. After their death, powerful fans remove the gas. n

In the days of sailing ships, a punishment for minor offenses was to tie a sailor’s hands above his head and pour buckets of water down his sleeves. By Napoleonic times this was known as grampussing because the man made a noise like a grampus, a sea mammal.

The French Revolution is notorious for its use of the guillotine. In fact, mechanical devices for beheading people had been used in various parts of Europe for centuries before the French Revolution. (One was recorded in Ireland as early as 1307).

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) proposed that there should be a swift and humane method of executing people in France. The French Assembly agreed to his idea in 1791 and the first decapitating device was built by a man named Tobias Schmidt, with advice from a surgeon named Antoine Louis. The first person to be executed by the new machine was Nicolas Jacques Pelletier in 1792.

The guillotine was last used in France in 1977. The French abolished capital punishment in 1981.

Hanging was a very common method of execution in England from Saxon times until the 20th century.

At first, the criminal stood on a ladder, which was pulled away, or on a cart, which was moved. From the 18th century, he stood on a trapdoor. Sometimes the hanged man broke his neck when he fell but until the 19th century, he was usually strangled by the rope. The last public hanging in Britain took place in 1868. Then in 1908 hanging was abolished for people under the age of 16. In 1933 the minimum age for hanging was raised to 18.

The last woman to be hanged in Britain was Ruth Ellis in 1955. The last people to be hanged in Britain were two men who were hanged on the same day in 1964.

In Britain, the death penalty for murder was abolished for an experimental period of 5 years in 1965. It was abolished permanently in 1969. In 1998 it was abolished for treason and piracy with violence. In 1999 the British Home Secretary signed the 6th protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights, formally ending capital punishment in the UK.

Hanging, Drawing and Quartering

From the Middle Ages to the 19th century this was the punishment in England for treason. The exact details of the procedure varied but normally the prisoner was drawn on a wooden pulled by a horse to the place of execution. They were hanged but not until they were dead. (In those days the drop was not long enough to break the prisoner’s neck, instead, he was strangled by the rope).

The executioner cut the prisoner open and removed his entrails. Finally, the prisoner was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters. the last case in 1820 but the full procedure was not carried out. Instead, 5 men were hanged then beheaded. Hanging, drawing, and quartering was formally abolished in 1870.

Prisoners could be sentenced to hard physical work as well as imprisonment. However hard labor was abolished in Britain in 1948.

This was an old military punishment. The prisoner was made to sit on a wooden ‘horse’ with his legs on either side and his arms tied behind his back. Weights were tied to his legs.

Before 1776 prisoners from Britain were sometimes transported to the North American colonies. However, in that year the colonies rebelled so the British government began to use old ships as prisons. They were called hulks. From 1787 prisoners were transported to Australia but prisoners were often held on hulks before they were transported. During the Napoleonic Wars, French prisoners of war were also held on hulks. Hulks were abolished in 1857.

In Aztec society naughty children were sometimes punished by having their head held over a fire containing chilies and being forced to inhale the smoke.

This was an old Scottish punishment. A metal collar, which was secured to a wall with a chain, was fastened around the criminal’s neck.

This was first recorded in the 16th century. In the Dutch navy keelhauling meant dropping a man into the sea then hauling him under the keel of the ship with a rope. Barnacles would cut his skin to shreds and there was the possibility of drowning.

Lethal injection was first used as a method of execution in the USA in 1982. It became the most common method of execution in that country.

Lingchi, sometimes called death by a thousand cuts was a Chinese punishment from the 7th century till 1905. The prisoner was tied to a post so he could not move. The executioner then cut small pieces of flesh off the prisoner until he expired. Usually, once the prisoner was dead he was beheaded and dismembered.

Many English villages had a bare cell called a lock-up where drunkards were detained.

Mutilation included blinding, cutting off hands, ears, and noses or cutting out the tongue. In the Ancient World, the Assyrians often punished people by cutting off their ears, lips or nose. In Saxon England and through the Middle Ages mutilation was used as a punishment for stealing or poaching. In the 16th and 17th centuries cutting off the ears was used as a punishment in England.

Sometimes in the bottom of a dungeon was a pit into which prisoners were lowered. It was called an oubliette. The name comes from the French word oublier meaning to forget because the unfortunate prisoner was forgotten.

This was a military punishment common in the 17th century. The prisoner was hung by his wrist and one foot was placed on a pointed but not actually sharp wooden stake. Soon his wrist would become very tired and the temptation was to support his weight on the pointed stake, which was very painful. The picket died out in the 18th century because it made it difficult for the soldier to march afterward.

Ships ropes covered in tar were called oakum. In the 19th century, the rope was pulled apart by hand and recycled. Oakum was picked by convicts and people in workhouses. It may not sound hard work but it made fingers bleed and blister. Convicts and workhouse inmates were made to pick oakum because it was such unpleasant work.

The pillory was a wooden frame on a pole with holes through which a person’s head and hands were placed. The frame was then locked and the person was subjected to humiliation and ridicule. Sometimes people also threw unpleasant objects at the person in the pillory.

The stocks was a wooden frame with holes through which a person’s feet were placed and they were humiliated in the same way. The use of the pillory and stocks went out of favor in the 19th century. The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 and the stocks were last used in 1872.

Taken orally poison has rarely been used as a method of execution. Nevertheless the great Greek philosopher Socrates was forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock.

In England, if a person refused to plead guilty or not guilty to a crime they were pressed. A wooden board was placed on their body and stone or iron weights were added until the person agreed to plead – or died. The last man to be pressed to death in England died in Horsham, Sussex in 1735.

Before the 19th-century prisons were not commonly used as a punishment. Instead, people were often held in prisons until their trial. The sentence was usually execution or some form of corporal punishment. However, prisons were very dirty and extremely overcrowded. Diseases were rife and being sent to prison was often a death sentence because they were so unhygienic. Many prisoners died of typhus, which was called goal fever.

In the 19th-century sanitary conditions in prisons became much better but the regime was very harsh. Convicts were made to do tedious and pointless tasks like turning a handle over and over again.

Until the 19th century, a popular day out was going to watch a public execution. It was free entertainment. The last public execution in Britain was in 1868.

Until the late 20th century the ruler was a punishment commonly used in primary schools. The teacher hit the child on the hand with a wooden ruler.

This was a metal frame placed over a woman’s head. It had a bit that stuck in her mouth to prevent her from talking. The scold’s bridle or branks was used in Scotland by the 16th century and was used in England from the 17th century. It was last used in Britain in 1824.

In the Ancient World slaves were usually prisoners of war or their descendants. However, in the Roman Empire, certain crimes could be punished by being made a slave.

Slipper is a euphemism. Normally it was a trainer or a plimsoll. Teachers (usually PE teachers) used a trainer to hit children on the backside.

This is a simple method of executing people. A crowd throws stones at the condemned person until he or she is dead. It was common in the Middle East in Bible times and it was still used in the region in the 21st century.

In the early 19th century in textile mills children who were lazy were hit with leather straps. In the 20th century, the leather strap was used in some English schools. Children were either hit across the hands or the backside.

In hot countries, a sweatbox was a cramped cell where the prisoner would sweat until he felt the effects of dehydration.

The tawse was a punishment used in Scottish schools. It was a leather strap with two or three tails. It was used in Scotland to hit a child’s hand.

Transportation was merciful compared to hanging. It was also a convenient way of ridding Britain of criminals. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, people were transported to the colonies in North America. However, the American Revolution of 1776 brought that to an end. So from 1787 convicts were transported to Australia. Transportation ended in 1868.

The treadmill was invented in 1817 and it was soon introduced to many British prisons. It was hard and very boring work. It was abolished in British prisons in 1898.

Whipping has been a common punishment since ancient times. Jesus was flogged before he was crucified. In England from the Middle Ages, whipping was a common punishment for minor crimes. In the 18th century whipping or flogging was also a common punishment in the British army and navy. However, it was abolished in the army in 1881.

Whipping women was made illegal in 1820. For men, whipping as a punishment for minor crimes was gradually replaced by imprisonment. However, whipping of men in prison was not abolished until 1948.

This was a military punishment. It was a wooden cage on a pivot. The prisoner was shut inside and then it was spun around until the prisoner became nauseous and vomited.

In the 20th century, many parents used a wooden spoon to hit children. Other implements used included slippers and hairbrushes.

Interested in Knowing More about Prisons in Ancient Egypt?

CAIRO, Dec. 18 (SEE)- Prisons, in the ancient times, were the places people who broke the law were put, whether these people were civilians, war captives, political dissents, heretics, renegades, etc. In the ancient times, prisons appeared in Egypt, Iraq, Greece, and Rome.

Egyptian archaeologist Hussein Abdel Basir said, “Prisons were referred to in many ancient Egyptian texts. Prophet Joseph’s story is the most famous evidence that Egypt had prisons. Joseph stayed few years in jail, and when he was proved innocent, he was honorably released. Here we can see the role of justice to implement rightness and confront injustice.”

Jails in ancient Egypt worked on rehabilitation to convert criminals to ethical persons that benefit and can adapt with the Egyptian society, this society that sanctified “Almaat” justice.

Before speaking about the prisons’ concept in ancient Egypt, we have to give a brief note about justice that was very important in ancient Egypt. Justice was a non separable element from the society’s culture. In the life of an ancient Egyptian, law was essential, bearing in mind that Egypt created law and judicial system. An ancient Egyptian believed that the court’s decisions influenced society, people who broke the law should be punished, and that the impacted ones should be supported. So in order to apply justice and law, best men across Egypt were nominated as judges.

Kings in ancient Egypt were responsible of all legal matters, and many times they issued judicial decrees. Minister’s category was directly below the Pharaoh’s one. Also the minister was responsible of Egypt’s administration and its judicial system. The Pharaoh and the minister authorized the local officials to lead the judicial and administrative affairs of the country.

Since the old kingdom of Egypt (2686-2181B.C.) the country was run by a group of educated scribes who passed the tough task of learning to read and write. The writers’ class had an important role in favor of Egypt’s prosperity. Egypt’s law advanced so slowly, till the extent that laws could still be effective for long time.

Because of this wide description of Egypt’s administrative structure, we cannot conclude the way with which, in reality, law was practiced. Although there are numerous resources available, no example for codified Egyptian law, before the year 700B.C. has been found yet.

As a result we have to resort to other available documents, such as contracts, court records, and royal decrees. On one hand we do not have these documents in large quantity. On the other side, there are some exceptions encountered at the worker’s community at the city’s monastery in the modern kingdom. Throughout all centuries, the monastery’s residents made many documents that were archived. In these documents there are texts that inform about the workers’ daily life. Also these documents helped us to know the judicial system in ancient Egypt.

According to the texts, including the court records, it is difficult to differentiate between the criminal law and other law branches. Criminal law was not clearly identified within the Egyptian judicial system. Nevertheless, there is a way to clearly identify criminal cases in the city’s monastery’s legal texts. This could be done through evaluating punishments applied in different cases, as punishments differed according to the case.

It seems that, somehow, there were thefts at the city’s monastery, as the records include the accusations, investigations, and punishments applied. However, punishments were only financial, as thieves had to give back the articles they had stolen. They had to pay a compensation that reached four times the value of the stolen articles. In case the stolen articles belonged to the state, punishment would be tougher. On the other side, if the stolen articles belonged to the Pharaoh, thieves had to pay from 80 thousand to 100 thousand times the stolen stuff’s value, in addition to the physical punishment, including beating, and in rare cases punishment reached death penalty.

When it comes to the Egyptian law in regard to adultery and raping, the city’s monastery’s judicial texts was not decisive. But surely, both were not acceptable. Many times these behaviors were dealt with through courts. Concerning other behaviors, such as homeopathy and prostitution, it seemed that they were not considered as crimes. Of course, ancient Egyptian society punished sexual assaults. In some cases, it was found that criminals received physical punishment in this regard.

Ancient Egyptians were guided by goddess of justice Maat. Living according to Maat’s principals was a collective responsibility. No wonder, the judiciary’s integrity enjoyed an exceptional importance. Judges were governmental officials, who represented the Pharaoh in legal and administrative affairs. This is why any unaccepted behavior directly impacted the Pharaoh. Thus, all precautions were used to guarantee the court’s integrity, as shown in the monastery’s texts.

At the end of Ramses’ era, one of the queens and some of the palace’s men planned to assistant the king. Many of the royal women, ten of the harem’s officials and their wives were involved. The plot was discovered. Such a deep case cannot be resolved by an ordinary legal court, so a special committee, that included fourteen senior officials, was assigned to investigate the crime and punish the criminals.

Cemeteries, especially the ones that belonged to the high class, were the target for thieves. The punishment against royal cemeteries’ thefts led to death penalty. Major courts, presided over by the minister, were the entity that judged the cases of royal cemeteries’ thefts.

Although our information about jails in ancient Egypt is little, according to what we discovered, in ancient Egypt the following aspects were effective: justice principals, the citizens’ right to feel secure, and punishments for criminals. As previously mentioned, there had to be a place for criminals, for the society’s sake, until they would convert to an ethical person. In other words, a criminal’s liberty was restricted, for them to be educated.

So ancient Egypt had prisons and they were important to the society. The word “prison” was known in Hieroglyphic as “Eith” and “Khnrt”. “Khnry” meant prisoner. The big prison in Thebes was called “Khnrt Wr”, coming from the verb “Knr” that means imprison.

In the famous story about Cheops and the magicians, Cheops asked a magician, called Gdy, if he could combine a dead human being’s head that had been separated from his body, by his magic. Gdy said “Yes I can.” Cheops then brought one of the prisoners. However, Gdy said, “Not upon a man.” A goose was brought and after Gdy’s talisman, all were surprised when the goose’s head was separated from its body. The head was flying to ceiling. Afterwards the head returned to the body as if nothing happened. From this story we can conclude that prisons were present on ancient Egypt since the old kingdom.

Also in Mry Ka Raa’s doctrine, he mentioned “do not kill, this is not going to benefit you, and you are going to be punished by beating or be put in prison.”

In addition, Al Lahoun prison is one of the most famous prisons in ancient Egypt. There, a list with some prisoners’ names was encountered.

During the Ramses III’s era, some women were accused of theft and they were imprisoned in Thebes. At a late era, it was mentioned that people resorted to the divine justice at the big temple only, that was named The Justice’s Gate, and was described in texts as “The place where the whispers of oppressed people were being heard, where weak and strong persons were being treated equally, where justice was applied, and injustice did not have place.”

In a papyrus, this sentence was found “The prisoners are at the city in the temple,” it is translated also as “The prisoners are at the city and the temple.” Although there is nothing clear about the prisons’ presence at Memphis’ temples, their presence was logic bearing on mind the priests’ role at these temples. Priests were considered judges of justice. Some signs referred that major temples included attached prisons.

To sum up, ancient Egypt created the great human value of educating criminals through keeping them in jail, to apply justice’s principal and benefit society.

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The Carcer Tullianum (Tullianum Prison in Latin) is notoriously known as the squalid underground dungeon where the Romans would lock up enemy leaders, including Simon Bar Giora, one of the architects of the Great Revolt of 66-70 C.E. Other honored inhabitants, according to medieval Christian tradition, were the apostles Peter and Paul.

But the three-year excavation has shown that the structure, located between the bottom of the Capitoline hill and the entrance of the Forum, was much more than just a prison, and may in fact predate the founding of Rome itself.

A modern bas-relief depicting St. Peter and St. Paul baptizing their jailers in the Roman prison. Ariel David

Before Romulus killed Remus

Archaeologists were surprised when they turned up walls made of tufa stone blocks and other finds dated to the late ninth or early eighth century B.C.E.

Ancient Roman historians believed their city was founded around 753 B.C.E. on the nearby Palatine hill, and modern archaeologists have found some evidence supporting this.

But by the time Romulus supposedly founded Rome and killed his twin brother Remus, structures like the Tullianum were already standing. In fact, the building was apparently part of a wall that surrounded the Capitoline, defending a village on top of that hill.

The discovery of such important structures predating the city’s legendary birthdate supports the theory that Rome did not rise from a single foundational act, but from the union of several communities that may have inhabited its famous seven hills from the late Bronze Age, says Patrizia Fortini, the archaeologist who led the dig.

Puzzling finds

Researchers also discovered that the round building, with walls up to three meters thick, did not start out as a prison, but as a cultic center built around a small, artificially-dug spring that gushes into the lowest cell of the dungeon to this day.

This may also have given the place its name, as tullius means "water spring" in Latin. Other scholars link it to the name of two of Rome’s legendary kings, Tullus Hostilius or Servius Tullius.

It was next to the spring that Fortini and her colleagues discovered a grouping of votive offerings: ceramic vessels, remains of sacrificial animals and plants, dating back as far as the sixth century B.C.E.

Alongside fairly mundane offerings such as grapes and olives, they also found the seeds and rind of a lemon. This is the first appearance of the fruit in Europe and is somewhat of a head-scratcher for archaeobotanists, who had thought the citrus reached the continent from the Far East at a much later date, Fortini said.

The lemon pips (right) found among the votive offerings, compared with seeds from a modern citrus in the newly-opened museum at the Tullianum prison. Ariel David

While it is unclear which deity was being worshipped in the Tullianum, the cult was probably not just about offering up animals and exotic fruits. The site also yielded the grisly burial of three individuals: a man, a woman and a female child, all dated to the earliest stage of the monument. The man was found with his hands bound behind his back and signs of blunt force trauma to the skull.

Were the burials connected? Was it a human sacrifice? Or an execution? We don’t know, Fortini admits.

Remains dated to the late 9th or early 8th century B.C.E. of a man (left) and woman buried in the Tullianum. The man had his hands tied behind his back and may have been killed by a blow to the head. Ariel David

The gates of Hell

The archaeologist says that all these activities were probably connected to the spring, which the ancient population may have seen as a conduit between the world of the living and the underground world of the dead.

This religious connection to the underworld may have inspired the later use of the site as a prison, she told Haaretz during a tour of the site, which reopened late last month.

“The prisoners held here were all leaders of enemy populations or traitors, all people who were believed to have endangered the survival of Rome,” Fortini said. “The idea was that they had to disappear, they had no right to be a part of human society, so they were symbolically removed from the world and confined to the underworld.”

The use of the Tullianum as a prison became common sometime during the Roman Republic, around the fourth century B.C.E. The once large, airy sanctuary was divided into two vaulted, claustrophobic levels, the lowest of which encased the spring and was accessible only through a tight opening, still visible today, used to lower prisoners into what must have seemed like a dark and foul-smelling antechamber to Hell.

“It was not a prison in the way we think of it today,” Fortini said, noting that long-term incarceration was rare in the Roman world. Monetary fines, enslavement, and various cruel and inventive forms of execution were a more common fate for criminals or captured enemies.

The Tullianum usually served as a holding cell for high-value captives waiting to be paraded in the triumphal procession led by the general who had vanquished them. They would then be returned to jail, to be starved to death or quietly executed, usually by strangulation, Fortini said.

13th-century fresco of Christians praying, in the upper level of the Tullianum, which was transformed into a church during the Middle Ages. Ariel David

A deadly bath

Besides Simon Bar Giora, other enemies of Rome who spent their last days in the Tullianum include the Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix, who united the Gauls in revolt against Julius Caesar. He languished in the dungeon for six years awaiting Julius Caesar’s triumph, and was executed in the prison after the procession.

The historian Plutarch tells us that Jugurtha, the defeated king of the north African reign of Numidia, mocked his jailers as he was lowered naked into the dark, damp dungeon, exclaiming: “By Hercules, o Romans, this bath of yours is cold!” He succumbed to hunger and exposure a few days later.

One of the few who made it out alive was Aristobulus II, the Hasmonean king of Judea who had been imprisoned there by Pompey.

The Jewish historian Josephus relates that when Caesar took control of Rome he freed Aristobulus, hoping to use him to foment rebellion in the Levant against his rival, but the Judean king was soon poisoned by Pompey’s followers.

As the Roman Empire became Christian, use of the Tullianum as a jail declined. By the 7th century it was back to being a holy site, revered as the place where Peter and Paul were held before their martyrdoms.

The ancient water source was repurposed by Christian tradition, and was said to have been miraculously sprung by the apostles to baptize their jailers. Now called the Mamertine (possibly because of a temple of Mars that had stood nearby), by the early Middle Ages the dungeon was transformed into a church, and a second church was built on top of the prison during the Renaissance.

Archaeologists have found a trove of medieval artifacts, including rare glass and ceramic vessels, connected to the cult of the saints, all displayed in a new museum at the site, which is managed by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, a Vatican office that organizes pilgrimages and protects holy sites..

Actually, there is little evidence to support the legend that Peter and Paul were held there. But Fortini says this tradition made sure the building was protected from looting during the Middle Ages – preserving this monument from the archaic Roman period to this very day.

The entrance to the site, which was known as the Mamertine prison during the Middle Ages. Ariel David

77 thoughts on &ldquo How Long Was Joseph In Potiphars House? How Long In Prison? &rdquo

Thank you so much for the info.

I really appreciate the information thank you so much.

Like me,he suffered a lot.but over came through GOD.

Wonderful accurate response to answer

Right from childhood, I’ve been wanting to live my life like Joseph but now like Jesus.

Thank you and this is really helpful

Lord I know the feeling of somewhat being in the exact same story in the bible that was written but the rest is still written until this day .

I heard a sermon this morning involving Joseph and was drawn to the 7 + 7 years. Elohim had control of the weather, so, what was he saying to us through the ages in this pattern? Is it like something that is not necessarily a prophecy but the establishing of a pattern, 7 years of favourable, then 7 years of the opposite. As a result this is one of the website I stumbled across, so I’m the same as you – there’s more to this.

This guy writes in a repugnant conceited self-congratulatory manner, but it seems he is on to something.

That is great, wow, what an amazing God

Joseph overcame all his challenges because his heart was pure and therefore God was with him and anyone with a pure heart shall overcome.

“his heart was pure and therefore God was with him”

No – his heart was “pure” because God changed it. He was born again. He gives a new heart to those he loves, it’s not that he loves those who make their own hearts pure. All of grace.

During that time they did not have *the Christ* so there was no being “born again”
They had the Torah just like Jesus and the apostles did because there was no “New Testament” either.
Ro. 10:9-10 is clear about what it takes to be born again as does John 3:36 (1-36)

Do you assume the people of the old testament- roughly twice the length of time since Christ- were saved by some operation other than Christ? Or that an arbitrary God rules and had them born with no salvation available? The Gift of prophecy is and always was the testimony of Jesus

They were saved by grace through faith. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.


Joseph didn’t have even the Torah …

That is correct. This was well before the time of Moses. The family line and their testimonies of God were passed d own by word of mouth. People were trained to repeat the information word for word. Many cultures used this method.

Joseph waited patiently for his dreams to come to pass

Ok. Sort of. But we do know GOD gave KING SAUL ” A change of heart”. And SAUL was king David’s fatherinlaw.

No Joseph had no Torah. That came with Moses’s 450 years later app. Joseph had the law of Godly tradition

Thanks Phillip a very wise answer but don’t
know if will suffice for themodern day Pharsiees!

Thank you for your message I new Christ die for us
we being born again this what I was thinking that message repply to me not by mistake but by God thank you

Yes, thanks for clarifying…he was favored son of the father!…sound familiar?!…then in human bondage but always did for God’s glory…then rose to eventually be trusted to rule. Will we eventually trust him as ruler of our lives…as he has the authority of the King himself!

What a long trial Joseph endured. It was bootcamp to prepare him to be a one day ruler of his people, the same that brought us both Torah and Savior. Joseph was chosen to preserve this special people. Trials hurt, but are necessary to shave and carve our souls in readiness of our work on earth.

I agree with this definition that grace is the reason the grace of God.

There isn’t real support for this idea in the bible or in logic. God has provided the clear means for obtaining grace for grace. He loves every soul and does not act arbitrarily. He beckons and awaits us to act and receive grace for grace. Opportunity is all of grace. Results are all if agency. Joseph made decisions he did not have to make and the results were very different than if he had chosen otherwise. Grace does not abound absent of our exercise of agency. It’s a beautiful plan. Grace imposed without our equal accepting actions line upon line is the doctrine of tyranny and is not Gods.

That’s right I love God so I Love Love Perfect Love

I disagree with your 13 years in Prison. Here’s why, Joseph was 17 when He was sold into slavery. He did not reach Egypt until he was 18. Bibles states that HIs owner prospered while Joseph ran the House which meant he probably spent at least 2 years running the House before he was sent to jail for something He didn’t do. Better to be in jail with the Present of the Lord, than to live in a Palace without the Lord. So Joseph spent roughly 10 years in Prison, not 13. He could not have spent 13, that number is not reasonable, so it’s something less.

Some of these comments are crazy too me people trying to dictate times dates and everything he spent 13 years total.

You may need to read this again. No where in this analysis does it say Joseph was in prison for 13 years.

The author says 13 years in Potiphar’s house and in prison. He includes the prison time in his estimate, not as the overall time.

Brother why are you so fixated on the amount of years he spent? Have you been locked away in the prison system? Have you served an official of the government? Brother, come on man. You weren’t there? Stop hating on thr person who took there time to do the research, which I think was phenomenal by the way, and have an open mind, not just an open heart. Love you Gos bless you. I’m 5 years late on this comment…

Good reply)
But what a fun discussion! Reveals much!

Ha ha ha am 6yrs late.knowing the time and dates is valuable.. But do you get the message.. It’s all about Jesus.. While you are arguing on minor issue,a world list in sinsvand in Dior need of salvation is perishing.. Look at the street kids…..what do you see?maybe scientists to find cures for incurable disease, doctors, lawyers…but you are busy arguing. Focuses on the Major not the minor… Their blood is in your hands

I do believe they said he was imprisoned for at least two years but In total he was separated from his family at that time for 13 years. You know what is amazing that he trusted God dispite his situation!! He obeyed and never gave up!! Was it easy no but God never said it would be easy or fair. I think he was being made into the man God needed him to become.

Formed by the hardtimes to become what God created him to be in his dreams. Don’t give up on your dreams, it may be your very purpose of being.

To Tom: The writer never said how many years Joseph was in prison. He never asserted that he was there 13 years.

Does it really mater how long he was in prison? He was there for something he didn’t do, 13 years, 13 days or 13 hours, he was in prisoned, BUT overcame because of his faith. Some of us are not in jail, but are in prisoned in our mind, our thought and our emotions. May God give us the peace that passes all understanding.

It does matter taking interest in knowing some of these details. It cannot be equated to reading into the text neither out of the text. The timelines add value to the wealth of lessons for our applications in our times.
Its upon such premise that such knowledge conveys invaluable lessons on growing in our abilities/gift/talents even when God’s might be on one’s life. He cherishes the seasons and times in which He allow s us go through preparation. Of course its noteworthy that this is happening within the platform of service of one’s God given abilities.
NOTWITHSTANDING, the context and setting of drawing in such details should never be ignored.

In contributing to the discussion I commend the writer for such time taken to research and share this information. I take cognizance of the fact that not all these timelines have not been fully expressed in such scripture. But with the details of 17 years when he is sold, two years revealed when the officials were in prison and dream was pointing to end of 3 years, and ofcourse its mentioned that he was 30 years when he is promoted to such high office.
These details give room for accuracy or to its closest in any literal conclusions.
In conclusion, we need to pick principles in scriptures and at the same time learn to interact with the Word of God beyond the surface of its value.
For this was written within the settings of real society just like ours.

Yes, real. As I try to understand God and suffering I crave details. It helps me understand what God allows, how people respond and try to relate it to my own suffering. These stories of suffering, endurance and redemption, encourage me. Joseph did not know for sure that he would get out of jail. He hung on to a dream and a savior. I have cried out to God “This is not the way it’s supposed to be!” Did Joseph cry the same thing on the way to Egypt? On the way to prison? After being forgotten?
My favorite part is when he thanks God for blessing him with a family so that he has forgotten the pain of his first family.

Great comment ! I too understand the prison of preparation . It’s been loooong, but suddenly the prison door will open and the hour of release

like many others such as Jonah, job,saul, david Heck even Esther who kept a secret for a number of years they all had one thing they could do while inprisoned…..simply one thing prayer showing god by praying showing the time it took to get a full cup of milk (faith) persay. Some were in prisoned two years some 13. The question is how long will it take you to god

It matters,but it does not bring Jesus on the Scene,that is not a point if focuses.. Salvation is the focus. While you are arguing, a world dying if sin is in Dior need of salvation but you are blocking them because your salvation is not from the heart.ask God to awaken your hearts to hear his word for a revival.. Their blood is Your hands

It is said that God hides things, not from us, but for us. We wants us to seek things out. Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to hide a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of Kings” By tossing these things back and forth, things are slowly revealed as “men to to and fro” [Daniel 12:4]. They’re not arguing. Isiah 6:9-11 paints a picture of a people having knowledge too early, and discussion is part of unlocking it. Jesus said the same of parables. [ Matthew ]3:10-17 ]

Do you judge too readily? How do you know that they are not already attending to these things.. of the “world lost in sins and in dire need of salvation.. ” ?

We’re trying to make every punch count as in 1 Cor 9:26, by discerning the true picture so that we don’t lead them into greater bondage. [ Matt 25:13 ]

Standing before the kings:

Having spent some 13 years in prison on false charges and being cut off from any fellowship of saints with whom he could confide, Joseph of Egypt was now called for by the King of Egypt. He was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. He had then the opportunity of meeting the Chief of the nation and petition for his life.

“…I have heard …that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” said Pharaoh.

Now is opportunity to talk to the King. Now is all chances under heaven! Joseph was now in fronT of the King, being called by him and being questioned by him, and now it was the turn of Joseph to answer:

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

Note the honor Joseph gave to God, note the truth, note the boldness, and note the humility and dignity of this young man standing before the supreme of a nation, unashamed to witness of the Most Supreme he served.

In the words and interaction that followed which lasted for about 5 minutes, Joseph involved ‘God’ some five times in the conversation. As a result of his such a powerful witness of God, Pharoah himself spoke about ‘God’ twice and ‘agreed’ with Joseph and also with his witness of the ‘God’ that he witnessed about!

Said Pharaoh, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders.”

Jospeh of old stood and witnessed before the king, so did the prohpet Daniel before King Darius who in a lamentable voice cried out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” so did the apostle Paul before king Agrippa who openly stated, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian”.

So did the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ when stood before Pontius Pilate and witnessed: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

Who so we stand before today? We can ask the Master’s help so that we will stand unashamed! For this is just not a mere boldness, but a sheer love to the One witnessed which is required, so when we witness the One we love, life and persons take the back seat! His love also spreads to and is felt by those we witness to, as it was to King Pharoah, King Darius, King Agrippa, and Governor Pilate!


The manuscript surveys the history of psychopathic personality, from its origins in psychiatric folklore to its modern assessment in the forensic arena. Individuals with psychopathic personality, or psychopaths, have a disproportionate impact on the criminal justice system. Psychopaths are twenty to twenty-five times more likely than non-psychopaths to be in prison, four to eight times more likely to violently recidivate compared to non-psychopaths, and are resistant to most forms of treatment. This article presents the most current clinical efforts and neuroscience research in the field of psychopathy. Given psychopathy’s enormous impact on society in general and on the criminal justice system in particular, there are significant benefits to increasing awareness of the condition. This review also highlights a recent, compelling and cost-effective treatment program that has shown a significant reduction in violent recidivism in youth on a putative trajectory to psychopathic personality.

Psychopaths consume an astonishingly disproportionate amount of criminal justice resources. The label psychopath is often used loosely by a variety of participants in the system—police, victims, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, parole and prison officials, even defense lawyers𠅊s a kind of lay synonym for incorrigible. Law and psychiatry, even at the zenith of their rehabilitative optimism, both viewed psychopaths as a kind of exception that proved the rehabilitative rule. Psychopaths composed that small but embarrassing cohort whose very resistance to all manner of treatment seemed to be its defining characteristic.

Psychopathy is a constellation of psychological symptoms that typically emerges early in childhood and affects all aspects of a sufferer’s life including relationships with family, friends, work, and school. The symptoms of psychopathy include shallow affect, lack of empathy, guilt and remorse, irresponsibility, and impulsivity (see Table 1 for a complete list of psychopathic symptoms). The best current estimate is that just less than 1% of all noninstitutionalized males age 18 and over are psychopaths. 1 This translates to approximately 1,150,000 adult males who would meet the criteria for psychopathy in the United States today. 2 And of the approximately 6,720,000 adult males that are in prison, jail, parole, or probation, 3 16%, or 1,075,000, are psychopaths. 4 Thus, approximately 93% of adult male psychopaths in the United States are in prison, jail, parole, or probation.

Table 1

The items corresponding to the early two-factor conceptualization of psychopathy, 89 subsequent three-factor model, 90 and current four-factor model are listed. 91 The two-factor model labels are Interpersonal-Affective (Factor 1) and Social Deviance (Factor 2) the three-factor model labels are Arrogant and Deceitful Interpersonal Style (Factor 1) Deficient Affective Experience (Factor 2), and Impulsive and Irresponsible Behavioral Style (Factor 3) the four-factor model labels are Interpersonal (Factor 1), Affective (Factor 2), Lifestyle (Factor 3), and Antisocial (Factor 4). Items indicated with “--” did not load on any factor.

Item2 Factor Model3 Factor4 Factor
1Glibness-Superficial Charm111
2Grandiose Sense of Self Worth111
3Need for Stimulation233
4Pathological Lying111
6Lack of Remorse or Guilt122
7Shallow Affect122
8Callous-Lack of Empathy122
9Parasitic Lifestyle233
10Poor Behavioral Controls2--4
11Promiscuous Sexual Behavior------
12Early Behavioral Problems2--4
13Lack of Realistic, Long-Term Goals233
16Failure to Accept Responsibility122
17Many Marital Relationships------
18Juvenile Delinquency2--4
19Revocation of Conditional Release2--4
20Criminal Versatility----4

Psychopathy is astonishingly common as mental disorders go. It is twice as common as schizophrenia, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and paranoia, 5 and roughly as common as bulimia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and narcissism. 6 Indeed, the only mental disorders significantly more common than psychopathy are those related to drug and alcohol abuse or dependence, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

No matter where one stands on the long-debated question of whether “nothing works” when it comes to criminal rehabilitation, 7 there is no doubt that the psychopath has grossly distorted the inquiry. Psychopaths are not only much more likely than non-psychopaths to be imprisoned for committing violent crimes, 8 they are also more likely to finagle an early release using the deceptive skills that are part of their pathologic toolbox, 9 and then, once released, are much more likely to recidivate, and to recidivate violently. 10

But this exasperating picture of the hidden and incorrigible psychopath may be changing. Neuroscience is beginning to open the hood on psychopathy. The scientist-author of this article has spent the last 15 years imaging the brains of psychopaths in prison, and has accumulated the world’s largest forensic database on the psychopathic brain. The findings from this data and others, 11 summarized in Part IV, strongly suggest that all psychopaths share common neurological traits that are becoming relatively easy to diagnose using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). 12 Additionally, researchers are beginning to report significant progress in treatment, especially, and most excitingly, in the treatment of juveniles with early indications of psychopathy. 13

This paper will not attempt to answer the complex and controversial policy question of whether psychopathy should be an excusing condition under the criminal law, or even whether, the extent to which, and the direction in which a diagnosis of psychopathy should drive a criminal sentence. 14 As science pushes the chain of behavioral causation back in time and deeper into the brain, it is all too tempting to label the latest cause as an excuse. But of course not every cause is an excuse. Whether “you” pulled the trigger on the gun, or your motor neurons did, or your sensory neurons, or neurons deeper in your cortical or subcortical systems, is not only a nonsensical question, it is a tautological inquiry that will never be able to answer the only pertinent moral and public policy question: should you be held responsible for your actions? That is, are you sufficiently rational to be blameworthy? 15 Addressing difficult policy questions of how these new instruments to detect psychopathy and the new treatments for it might best be integrated into the criminal justice system are questions beyond the scope of this paper and should be the focus of future scholarly work. 16

But even if a cause does not sufficiently disable an actor’s reason, and therefore does not rise to the level of excuse, that does not mean the system should not care about causes, especially at the punishment end. On the contrary, those involved in the criminal justice system have a moral obligation, not just to the people incarcerated but also to those on whom the temporarily incarcerated will be released, to do everything they can, within the constraints of the punitive purposes of imprisonment, to reduce recidivism. Given the facts that psychopaths make up such a disproportionate segment of people in prison and that they recidivate at substantially higher rates than non-psychopaths, the recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of psychopathy discussed in this paper are developments anyone concerned with the criminal justice system simply cannot ignore. Even a modest reduction in the criminal recidivism of psychopaths would significantly decrease the exploding public resources we devote to prisons, not to mention reduce the risks all of us face as potential victims of psychopaths.

This paper will survey the history of psychopathy (Part I), the impact psychopaths have on the criminal justice system (Part II), the traditional clinical assessments for psychopathy (Part III), the emerging neuroimaging findings (Part IV), and will finish with a discussion of recent treatment studies and their potential economic impacts (Part V).

Physical and Emotional Circumstances

While it is true that Paul was granted some rather unusual liberties, as mentioned earlier (see Acts 28:16, 30-31), nonetheless, he was still a prisoner.

This circumstance in itself imposes considerable stress. In his correspondence, he refers to himself as “the prisoner of Christ” (Eph. 3:1) or “the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1), who is an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20). Chains were commonly viewed as an object of shame (cf. 2 Tim. 1:16). Note the multiple references to his “bonds” or to his state as a “prisoner” (Phil. 1:7, 13, 14, 17 Col. 4:18 Phile. 1, 9, 23).

It is obvious that the apostle’s status as a prisoner was a constant reminder of the sacrifices that sometimes are necessary for the Christian life.

Second, there is another factor that doubtless was a source of considerable grief to this rugged soldier of Jesus. It is reflected even in a letter known for its joyful tone (the Philippian epistle). It was a spiritual wound more devastating than any physical injury.

As Paul began his work in the seven-hilled city, he attracted considerable attention and his influence was staggering. The labor of the Christian-prisoner became known “throughout the whole praetorian guard” (Phil. 1:13). The praetorian guard was a body of ten thousand specially selected soldiers in Rome. They had unusual privileges (e.g., double pay), becoming so powerful that even the emperors had to court their favor (Robertson 1931, 438).

The apostle’s influence even went beyond this group unto “all the rest,” which probably indicates that his reputation was known throughout the entire city. Amazingly, there is even a reference to saints in “Caesar’s household” (i.e., those in and about the emperor’s palace Phil. 4:22).

The gospel had penetrated deep into the heart of this metropolis. Through Paul’s example, the majority of the Roman Christians were “more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear” (Phil. 1:14). What thrilling times these must have been.

But there were disappointments as well. Unfortunately, some members of the Roman congregation apparently did not like the notoriety Paul had generated. They were characterized by envy — a feeling of displeasure caused by the success of Paul. As a result, they stirred up “strife” through their selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15).

Fueled by these base attitudes, this renegade group went forth “preaching Christ.” The content of their message did not warrant censure. Rather, it was their motives that elicited the apostle’s rebuke. They were insincere and pretentious.

But what was their goal? Incredibly, they hoped “to raise up affliction” for the already-burdened Paul. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario. They might have proclaimed that Jesus Christ is “King” — a point very sensitive to the Roman authorities (cf. Acts 17:7). When interrogated by the officials, these antagonists might well have suggested, “You can take this matter up with Paul, the prisoner. He is the most prominent leader of our movement.” Can anything more wicked be imagined?

Surely the weary apostle spent sleepless nights praying for the regeneration of their evil hearts. In spite of all this heartache, however, Paul could still muster a generally jubilant spirit.

“Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice,” he would write (Phil. 4:4). As unpleasant as his circumstances sometimes were, he could affirm that the things which had happened to him had worked for the progress of the gospel (Phil. 1:12).

“Progress” is from the Greek term prokopen , derived of two roots ( pro , “forward,” and kopto , “to cut”). Originally the word was employed of “a pioneer cutting his way through brushwood” (Vine 1991, 334).

Paul views his troubles in the most positive light possible. They were like an advance party, preparing the way for the success of the gospel. He even believes that these difficulties will work out to his “salvation” (i.e., his “deliverance” NASB) from this perilous situation in Rome (Phil. 1:19).

By analyzing these “prison” epistles, we learn more about Paul’s trials and his courageous spirit during this two-year confinement period.

HARD TIME: A special report. Profits at a Juvenile Prison Come With a Chilling Cost

Here in the middle of the impoverished Mississippi Delta is a juvenile prison so rife with brutality, cronyism and neglect that many legal experts say it is the worst in the nation.

The prison, the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth, opened just four years ago where a sawmill and cotton fields once stood. Behind rows of razor wire, it houses 620 boys and young men, age 11 to 20, in stifling corrugated-iron barracks jammed with bunks.

From the run-down homes and bars on the road that runs by it, Tallulah appears unexceptional, one new cookie-cutter prison among scores built in the United States this decade. But inside, inmates of the privately run prison regularly appear at the infirmary with black eyes, broken noses or jaws or perforated eardrums from beatings by the poorly paid, poorly trained guards or from fights with other boys.

Meals are so meager that many boys lose weight. Clothing is so scarce that boys fight over shirts and shoes. Almost all the teachers are uncertified, instruction amounts to as little as an hour a day, and until recently there were no books.

Up to a fourth of the inmates are mentally ill or retarded, but a psychiatrist visits only one day a week. There is no therapy. Emotionally disturbed boys who cannot follow guards' orders are locked in isolation cells for weeks at a time or have their sentences arbitrarily extended.

These conditions, which are described in public documents and were recounted by inmates and prison officials during a reporter's visit to Tallulah, are extreme, a testament to Louisiana's well-documented violent history and notoriously brutal prison system.

But what has happened at Tallulah is more than just the story of one bad prison. Corrections officials say the forces that converged to create Tallulah -- the incarceration of more and more mentally ill adolescents, a rush by politicians to build new prisons while neglecting education and psychiatric services, and states' handing responsibility for juvenile offenders to private companies -- have caused the deterioration of juvenile prisons across the country.

Earl Dunlap, president of the National Juvenile Detention Association, which represents the heads of the nation's juvenile jails, said, ''The issues of violence against offenders, lack of adequate education and mental health, of crowding and of poorly paid and poorly trained staff are the norm rather than the exception.''

Recognizing the problem, the United States Justice Department has begun a series of investigations into state juvenile systems, including not only Louisiana's but also those of Kentucky, Puerto Rico and Georgia. At the same time, private juvenile prisons in Colorado, Texas and South Carolina have been successfully sued by individuals and groups or forced to give up their licenses.

On Thursday, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a Federal lawsuit against Tallulah to stop the brutality and neglect.

In the investigations by the Justice Department, some of the harshest criticism has been leveled at Georgia. The department threatened to take over the state's juvenile system, charging a ''pattern of egregious conditions violating the Federal rights of youth,'' including the use of pepper spray to restrain mentally ill youths, a lack of textbooks, and guards who routinely stripped young inmates and locked them in their cells for days.

A surge in the inmate population forced Georgia's juvenile prison budget up to $220 million from $80 million in just four years, but the money went to building new prisons, with little left for education and psychiatric care. 'ɺs we went through a period of rapid increase in juvenile crime and record numbers of juvenile offenders,'' said Sherman Day, chairman of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, it was ''much easier to get new facilities from the Legislature than to get more programs.''

After reacting defensively at first, Gov. Zell Miller moved quickly to avert a takeover by agreeing to spend $10 million more this year to hire teachers and medical workers and to increase guard salaries.

Louisiana, whose juvenile system is made up of Tallulah and three prisons operated by the state, is the Justice Department's latest target. In hundreds of pages of reports to a Federal judge who oversees the state's entire prison system under a 1971 consent decree, Justice Department experts have depicted guards who routinely resort to beatings or pepper spray as their only way to discipline inmates, and who pit inmates against one another for sport.

In June, two years after the Justice Department began its investigation and a year after it warned in its first public findings that Tallulah was 'ɺn institution out of control,'' consultants for the department filed new reports with the Federal judge, Frank J. Polozola of Federal District Court in Baton Rouge, warning that despite some improvements, conditions had deteriorated to 'ɺ particularly dangerous level.''

Even a former warden at Louisiana's maximum-security prison, acting as a consultant to Judge Polozola, found conditions at Tallulah so serious that he urged the judge to reject its request to add inmates.

''I do not make these recommendations because of any sympathy for these offenders,'' wrote the former warden, John Whitley. ''It shocks me to think'' that ''these offenders and their problems are simply getting worse, and these problems will be unleashed on the public when they are discharged from the system.''

When the Profits Are the Priority

Some of the worst conditions in juvenile prisons can be found among the growing number of privately operated prisons, whether those built specifically for one state, like Tallulah, or ones that take juveniles from across the country, like boot camps that have come under criticism in Colorado and Arizona.

Only 5 percent of the nation's juvenile prisons are operated by private, for-profit companies, Mr. Dunlap of the National Juvenile Detention Association estimates. But as their numbers grow along with privately operated prisons for adults, their regulation is becoming one of the most significant issues in corrections. State corrections departments find themselves having to police contractors who perform functions once the province of government, from psychiatric care to discipline.

In April, Colorado officials shut down a juvenile prison operated by the Rebound Corporation after a mentally ill 13-year-old's suicide led to an investigation that uncovered repeated instances of physical and sexual abuse. The for-profit prison housed offenders from six states.

Both Arizona and California authorities are investigating a privately operated boot camp in Arizona that California paid to take hundreds of offenders. A 16-year-old boy died there, and authorities suspect the cause was abuse by guards and poor medical care. California announced last Wednesday that it was removing its juveniles from the camp.

And recently Arkansas canceled the contract of Associated Marine Institutes, a company based in Florida, to run one juvenile institution, following questions of financial control and accusations of abuse.

A series of United States Supreme Court decisions and state laws have long mandated a higher standard for juvenile prisons than for adult prisons. There is supposed to be more schooling, medical care and security because the young inmates have been adjudged delinquent, rather than convicted of crimes as adults are, and so are held for rehabilitation instead of punishment.

But what has made problems worse here is that Tallulah, to earn a profit, has scrimped on money for education and mental health treatment in a state that already spends very little in those areas.

''It's incredibly perverse,'' said David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. ''They have this place that creates all these injuries and they have all these kids with mental disorders, and then they save money by not treating them.''

Bill Roberts, the lawyer for Tallulah's owner, Trans-American Development Associates, said that some of the Justice Department's demands, like hiring more psychiatrists, are ''unrealistic.'' The state is to blame for the problems, he said, because ''our place was not designed to take that kind of inmate.''

Still, Mr. Roberts said, ''There has been a drastic improvement'' in reducing brutality by guards. As for fights between the inmates, he said, ''Juveniles are a little bit different from adults. You are never going to stop all fights between boys.''

In papers filed with Judge Polozola on July 7 responding to the Justice experts and Mr. Whitley, the State Attorney General's office disputed accusations of brutality and of high numbers of retarded and mentally ill inmates at Tallulah.

In a recent interview, Cheney Joseph, executive counsel to Gov. Mike Foster, warned there were limits to what Louisiana was willing to do. ''There are certain situations the Department of Justice would like us to take care of,'' he said, ''that may not be financially feasible and may not be required by Federal law.''

An Idea Born Of Patronage

The idea for a prison here was put forward in 1992 by James R. Brown, a Tallulah businessman whose father was an influential state senator.

One of the poorest areas in a poor state, Tallulah wanted jobs, and like other struggling cities across the country it saw the nation's prison-building spree as its best hope.

Louisiana needed a new juvenile prison because the number of youths being incarcerated was rising steeply within a few years it more than doubled. Adding to that, mental health experts say, were hundreds of juveniles who had no place else to go because of cuts in psychiatric services outside of jail. Mental health authorities estimate that 20 percent of juveniles incarcerated nationally have serious mental illnesses.

To help win a no-bid contract to operate a prison, the company Mr. Brown formed included two close friends of Gov. Edwin W. Edwards -- George Fischer and Verdi Adam -- said a businessman involved in the venture's early stages, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

None of the men had any particular qualification to run a prison. Mr. Verdi was a former chief engineer of the state highway department. Mr. Fischer had been the Governor's campaign manager, Cabinet officer and occasional business partner.

Tallulah opened in 1994, and the town of 10,000 got what it hoped for. The prison became its largest employer and taxpayer.

From the beginning, the company formed by Mr. Brown, Trans-American, pursued a strategy of maximizing its profit from the fixed amount it received from the state for each inmate (in 1997, $24,448). The plan was to keep wages and services at a minimum while taking in as many inmates as possible, said the businessman involved in the early stages.

For-profit prisons often try to economize. But the best-run companies have come to recognize that operating with too small or poorly trained a staff can spell trouble, and experts say state officials must pay close attention to the level of services being provided.

''Ultimately, the responsibility belongs to the state,'' said Charles Thomas, director of the Private Corrections Project at the University of Florida.

Louisiana officials say they monitored conditions at Tallulah and first reported many of the problems there. But in fiscal year 1996-97, according to the State Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Tallulah still listed no money for recreation, treatment or planning inmates' return to society. Twenty-nine percent of the budget went to construction loans.

By comparison, 45 percent of the $32,200 a year that California spends on each juvenile goes to programs and caseworkers, and none to construction. Nationally, construction costs average 7 percent of juvenile prison budgets, Mr. Dunlap said.

''That means either that Tallulah's construction costs are terribly inflated, or the services they are providing are extraordinarily low,'' he said.

Hot, Crowded, Spartan, Neglectful

Part of Tallulah is a boot camp, with boys crammed so tightly in barracks that there is room only for double bunks, a television set and a few steel tables. Showers and urinals are open to the room, allowing boys who have been incarcerated for sexual assault to attack other inmates, according to a report in June by a Justice Department consultant, Dr. Bernard Hudson.

The only space for the few books that have recently been imported to try to improve education is a makeshift shelf on top of the urinals. Among the aging volumes that a reporter saw were ''Inside the Third Reich,'' ''The Short Stories of Henry James'' and ''Heidi.''

From their wakeup call at 5:30 A.M., the inmates, in white T-shirts and loose green pants, spend almost all their time confined to the barracks. They leave the barracks only for marching drills, one to three hours a day of class and an occasional game of basketball. There is little ventilation, and temperatures in Louisiana's long summers hover permanently in the 90's.

The result, several boys told a visitor, is that some of them deliberately start trouble in order to be disciplined and sent to the other section of Tallulah, maximum-security cells that are air-conditioned.

Guards put inmates in solitary confinement so commonly that in one week in May more than a quarter of all the boys spent at least a day in ''lockdown,'' said Nancy Ray, another Justice Department expert. The average stay in solitary is five to six weeks some boys are kept indefinitely. While in the tiny cells, the boys are stripped of all possessions and lie on worn, thin mattresses resting on concrete blocks.

The crowding, heat and isolation are hardest on the 25 percent of the boys who are mentally ill or retarded, said Dr. Hudson, a psychiatrist, tending to increase their depression or psychosis.

Although Tallulah has made some improvements in its treatment of the emotionally disturbed over the last year, Dr. Hudson said, it remains ''grossly inadequate.''

The prison still does not properly screen new arrivals for mental illness or retardation, he reported. The part-time doctor and psychiatrist are there so infrequently that they have never met, Dr. Hudson said. Powerful anti-psychotic medications are not monitored. Medical charts often cannot be found.

And the infirmary is often closed because of a shortage of guards, whose pay is so low -- $5.77 an hour -- that there has been 100 percent turnover in the staff in the last year, the Justice Department experts said.

Other juvenile prisons that have come under investigation have also been criticized for poor psychiatric treatment. But at Tallulah this neglect has been compounded by everyday violence.

All these troubles are illustrated in the case of one former inmate, Travis M., a slight 16-year-old who is mentally retarded and has been treated with drugs for hallucinations.

Sometimes, Travis said in an interview after his release, guards hit him because his medication made him sleepy and he did not stand to attention when ordered. Sometimes they ''snuck'' him at night as he slept in his bunk, knocking him to the cement floor. Sometimes they kicked him while he was naked in the shower, telling him simply, ''You owe me some licks.''

Travis was originally sentenced by a judge to 90 days for shoplifting and stealing a bicycle. But every time he failed to stand for a guard or even called his grandmother to complain, officials at Tallulah put him in solitary and added to his sentence.

After 15 months, a judge finally ordered him released so he could get medical treatment. His eardrum had been perforated in a beating by a guard, he had large scars on his arms, legs and face, and his nose had been so badly broken that he speaks in a wheeze. A lawyer is scheduled to file suit against Tallulah on behalf of Travis this week.

One reason these abuses have continued, Mr. Utter said, is that juveniles in Louisiana, as in a number of states, often get poor legal representation. One mentally ill boy from Eunice was sentenced without a lawyer, or even a trial. Poorly paid public defenders seldom visit their clients after sentencing, Mr. Utter said, and so are unaware of conditions at places like Tallulah.

Another reason is that almost all Tallulah's inmates are from poor families and 82 percent are black, Mr. Utter noted, an imbalance that afflicts prisons nationwide to one degree or another. ''They are disenfranchised and no one cares about them,'' he said.

In September, Tallulah hired as its new warden David Bonnette, a 25-year veteran of Angola State Penitentiary who started there as a guard and rose to assistant superintendent. A muscular, tobacco-chewing man with his initials tattooed on a forearm, Mr. Bonnette brought several Angola colleagues with him to impose better discipline.

''When I got here, there were a lot of perforated eardrums,'' he said. '➬tually, it seemed like everybody had a perforated eardrum, or a broken nose.'' When boys wrote complaints, he said, guards put the forms in a box and pulled out ones to investigate at random. Some were labeled, ''Never to be investigated.''

But allegations of abuse by guards dropped to 52 a month this spring, from more than 100 a month last summer, Mr. Bonnette said, as he has tried to carry out a new state policy of zero tolerance for brutality. Fights between boys have declined to 33 a month, from 129, he said.

In June, however, Ms. Ray, the Justice Department consultant, reported that there had been a recent increase in ''youth defiance and disobedience,'' with the boys angry about Tallulah's 'ɾxceptionally high'' use of isolation cells.

Many guards have also become restive, the Justice Department experts found, a result of poor pay and new restrictions on the use of force.

One guard who said he had quit for those reasons said in an interview: ''The inmates are running the asylum now. You're not supposed to touch the kids, but how are we supposed to control them without force?'' He has relatives working at Tallulah and so insisted on not being identified.

The frustration boiled over on July 1, during a tour by Senator Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota Democrat who is drafting legislation that would require psychiatric care for all incarcerated juveniles who need it. Despite intense security, a group of inmates climbed on a roof and shouted their complaints at Senator Wellstone, who was accompanied by Richard Stalder, the secretary of Louisiana's Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Mr. Stalder said he planned to create a special unit for mentally ill juvenile offenders. One likely candidate to run it, he said, is Trans-American, the company that operates Tallulah.

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Have you seen your ministry impact men, as well?

That was another thing that surprised me. One of our partners was in a couple of men&rsquos prisons and was asking some of the male inmates, &ldquoYou know, would you want to have an audio Bible available on your tablet?&rdquo

&ldquoYeah, that would be great,&rdquo they said.

He asked, &ldquoWould you want it in a male or female voice?&rdquo Unanimously, they said &ldquofemale voice.&rdquo

And that was interesting to us. A large percentage of incarcerated men come from broken homes, fatherless homes, or they were abused by men in their life. So quite often, if anyone shared the Lord with them, it was a woman&mdashtheir grandmother, their mom, or their aunt. So they&rsquore excited to hear the Word of God in a woman&rsquos voice.

Advertisers say that if you want to please 92 percent of the population in an ad, use a woman&rsquos voice. So for various reasons, the female voice is preferred, and God has given us the privilege, the opportunity, and the resources to get this project done.

Have you heard any feedback from your listeners?

In the recording studio, our voiceover actresses and even our producers were often brought to tears from even reading God&rsquos Word. There&rsquos an emotional attachment that happens when you spend that much time with Scripture. You begin to really understand how God relates to the precious creation that he loves so deeply. That emotion begins to stir. Similarly with our listeners, we&rsquove heard back that this audio Bible has really provided them not only with the opportunity but a desire to be in God&rsquos Word more often.

Conversely, have you faced any pushback to this project?

No, I have not had any pushback. I&rsquom a Southern Baptist at heart, and we&rsquore members of a Southern Baptist community, so I understand what you&rsquore talking about. But even in asking my pastor, &ldquoDo you see any reason why anyone would have any objections to hearing God&rsquos Word in a female voice?&rdquo he was like, &ldquoAbsolutely not.&rdquo I have had nothing but encouragement, and I guess that&rsquos by God&rsquos grace and his protection.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that this is what he&rsquos called us to do. Even knowing it&rsquod be a half-a-million-dollar project, I never turned back.

Each book of the Bible has a special introduction. Is that your voice?

It is! I&rsquom a teacher at heart. I loved recording the introductions and then the challenges at the end of each book. I want listeners to understand&mdashthis is who wrote this, this is who his audience was, this is the context of what was going on. So the who, what, where, when, and why questions. And then the how: How do I read this book of the Bible? I want to help them understand, for example, that the best way to read the Book of Romans is by breaking it down.

We&rsquore working with Tyndale to have a print version of the Courage for Life Bible in the New Living Translation. It will be coming out after the first of the year. I worked with theologians and writers and even seminary professors, just making sure we were very theologically sound with the project.

What&rsquos your ultimate hope for this project?

My ultimate hope would be two things: the healing of broken hearts, first, and then number two, a revival in our nation. And because we&rsquore called into the prison system, I&rsquod love to see a revival in our prison system, as well. I want to see hearts heal from past trauma so that when prisoners go home, the recidivism rate drops.

The work we&rsquore doing is a true blessing. It&rsquos a privilege to do what God calls us to do.

Courtney Ellis is a pastor and speaker and the author of Uncluttered (Feb. 2019, Rose Publishing). She lives in Southern California with her husband, Daryl, and their three kids. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog.

The Courage for Life audio Bible is available on iTunes, Android, or by texting the word BIBLE to 62953.


The first occasion on which we read of a prison is in the history of Joseph in Egypt. Then Potiphar, "Joseph's master, took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound" ( Genesis 39:20-23 ). The Heb. word here used (sohar) means properly a round tower or fortress. It seems to have been a part of Potiphar's house, a place in which state prisoners were kept.

The Mosaic law made no provision for imprisonment as a punishment. In the wilderness two persons were "put in ward" ( Leviticus 24:12 Numbers 15:34 ), but it was only till the mind of God concerning them should be ascertained. Prisons and prisoners are mentioned in the book of ( Psalms 69:33 79:11 142:7 ). Samson was confined in a Philistine prison ( Judges 16:21 Judges 16:25 ). In the subsequent history of Israel frequent references are made to prisons ( 1 Kings 22:27 2 Kings 17:4 1 Kings 25:27 1 Kings 25:29 2 Chr 16:10 Isaiah 42:7 Jeremiah 32:2 ). Prisons seem to have been common in New Testament times ( Matthew 11:2 Matthew 25:36 Matthew 25:43 ). The apostles were put into the "common prison" at the instance of the Jewish council ( Acts 5:18 Acts 5:23 8:3 ) and at Philippi Paul and Silas were thrust into the "inner prison" ( 16:24 comp 4:3 Acts 12:4 Acts 12:5 ).

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely. [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Prison". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

[For imprisonment as a punishment, see PUNISHMENTS ] It is plain that in Egypt special places were used as prisons, and that they were under the custody of a military officer. ( Genesis 40:3 42:17 ) During the wandering in the desert we read on two occasions of confinement "in ward" -- ( Leviticus 24:12 Numbers 15:34 ) but as imprisonment was not directed by the law, so we hear of none till the time of the kings, when the prison appears as an appendage to the palace, or a special part of it. ( 1 Kings 22:27 ) Private houses were sometimes used as places of confinement. By the Romans the tower of Antoni, was used as a prison at Jerusalem, ( Acts 23:10 ) and at Caesarea the praetorium of Herod. The royal prisons In those days were doubtless managed after the Roman fashion, and chains, fetters and stocks were used as means of confinement. See ( Acts 16:24 ) One of the readiest places for confinement was a dry or partially-dry wall or pit. ( Jeremiah 35:6-11 ) [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Prison'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.

Prisons and prison laws in Old Testament times? - History


1. In the framework of this Holy Year of 2000 it was unthinkable that there should not be a Day of Jubilee for Prisoners. Prison gates cannot exclude from the benefits of this great event those who find themselves spending part of their lives behind them.

In remembering these brothers and sisters, I first wish to express the hope that the Risen Lord, who entered the Upper Room through closed doors, will enter all the prisons of the world and find a welcome in the hearts of those within, bringing peace and serenity to everyone.

In this Jubilee, the Church celebrates in a special way the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Two thousand years have passed since the Son of God was made man and came to dwell among us. Today as then, the salvation brought by Christ is continually being offered to us, that it may bear abundant fruits of goodness in keeping with the plan of God who wishes to save all his children, especially those who have gone away from him and are looking for the way back. The Good Shepherd is always going in search of the lost sheep, and when he finds them he puts them on his shoulders and brings them back to the flock. Christ is in search of every human being, whatever the situation!

2. This is because Jesus wants to save each one. And with a salvation which is offered, not imposed. What Christ is looking for is trusting acceptance, an attitude which opens the mind to generous decisions aimed at rectifying the evil done and fostering what is good. Sometimes this involves a long journey, but always a stimulating one, for it is a journey not made alone, but in the company of Christ himself and with his support. Jesus is a patient travelling companion, who respects the seasons and rhythms of the human heart. He never tires of encouraging each person along the path to salvation.

The experience of the Jubilee is closely linked to the human experience of the passage of time, to which it seeks to give meaning. On the one hand, the Jubilee is intended to help us to remember the past, treasuring the experiences it has brought. On the other hand, the Jubilee opens us to the future, in which human commitment and divine grace must together fashion the time left to us to live.

Those in prison look back with regret or remorse to the days when they were free, and they experience their time now as a burden which never seems to pass. In this difficult situation, a strong experience of faith can greatly help in finding the inner balance which every human being needs. This is one reason why the Jubilee is so relevant to prison life: the experience of the Jubilee lived behind bars can open up unexpected human and spiritual vistas.

3. The Jubilee reminds us that time belongs to God. Even time in prison does not escape God's dominion. Public authorities who deprive human beings of their personal freedom as the law requires, bracketing off as it were a longer or shorter part of their life, must realize that they are not masters of the prisoners' time. In the same way, those who are in detention must not live as if their time in prison had been taken from them completely: even time in prison is God's time. As such it needs to be lived to the full it is a time which needs to be offered to God as a occasion of truth, humility, expiation and even faith. The Jubilee serves to remind us that not only does time belong to God, but that the moments in which we succeed in "restoring" all things in Christ become for us "a time of the Lord's favour".

During the Jubilee, all are called to synchronize the unique and unrepeatable time of their own heart with the time of the merciful heart of God. He is always ready to journey with each one, at their own pace, towards salvation. At times prison life runs the risk of depersonalizing individuals, because it deprives them of so many opportunities for self-expression. But they must remember that before God this is not so. The Jubilee is time for the person, when each one is himself before God, in his image and likeness. And each one is called to move more quickly towards salvation and to advance in the gradual discovery of the truth about himself.

4. The Jubilee is about change. The Old Testament Jubilee year "was meant to restore equality among all the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 13). The prospect which the Jubilee sets before each one is therefore an opportunity not to be missed. The Holy Year must be used as a chance to right injustices committed, to mitigate excesses, and to recover what might otherwise be lost. And if this is true of every aspect of life, since everything human is capable of improvement, it is especially true of the experience of prison, where life is particularly difficult.

But the Jubilee is not just about measures to redress situations of injustice. It also has a positive intention. Just as in ever new ways the mercy of God creates fresh opportunities for growing in goodness, so also to celebrate the Jubilee means to strive to find new paths of redemption in every personal and social situation, even if the situation seems desperate. This is even more obvious with regard to prison life: not to promote the interests of prisoners would be to make imprisonment a mere act of vengeance on the part of society, provoking only hatred in the prisoners themselves.

5. If the Great Jubilee is a chance for those in prison to reflect upon their situation, the same may be said of civil society as a whole, which every day has to come to grips with the reality of crime. It can be said of the authorities who have to maintain public order and promote the common good, and of those in the legal profession, who ought to reflect on the meaning of inflicting punishment and suggest better proposals for society to aim at.

These issues have been addressed often enough in history, and substantial progress has been made in conforming the penal system both to the dignity of the human person and to the effective maintenance of public order. But the unease and strains felt in the complex world of the administration of justice and, even more, the suffering attached to prison life show that there is still much to be done. We are still a long way from the time when our conscience can be certain of having done everything possible to prevent crime and to control it effectively so that it no longer does harm and, at the same time, to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society. If all those in some way involved in the problem tried to take advantage of the occasion offered by the Jubilee to develop this line of thought, perhaps humanity as a whole could take a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society.

Imprisonment as punishment is as old as human history. In many countries, prisons are very overcrowded. Some of them are equipped with good facilities, but living conditions in others are very precarious, not to say altogether unworthy of human beings. What is clear to all is that this kind of punishment generally succeeds only in part in addressing the phenomenon of crime. In fact, in some cases detention seems to create more problems than it solves. This must prompt rethinking with a view to some kind of reform: from this perspective too the Jubilee is an opportunity not to be missed.

According to God's plan, all must play their part in helping to build a better society. Obviously, this includes making a great effort in the area of crime prevention. In spite of everything criminal actions are committed. For all to play their part in building the common good they must work, in the measure of their competence, to ensure that prisoners have the means to redeem themselves, both as individuals and in their relations with society. Such a process is based on growth in the sense of responsibility. None of this should be considered utopian. Those who are in a position to do so must strive to incorporate these aims in the legal system.

6. In this regard, therefore, we must hope for a change of attitude, leading to an appropriate adjustment of the juridical system. Clearly this presupposes a strong social consensus and the relative professional skills. A strong appeal of this kind comes from the countless prisons throughout the world, in which millions of our brothers and sisters are held. Above all they call for a review of prison structures, and in some cases a revision of penal law. Regulations contrary to the dignity and fundamental rights of the human person should be definitively abolished from national legislation, as should laws which deny prisoners religious freedom. There will also have to be a review of prison regulations where they give insufficient attention to those who have serious or terminal illnesses. Likewise, institutions offering legal protection to the poor must be further developed.

But even in cases where legislation is satisfactory, much suffering comes to prisoners from other sources. I am referring in particular to the wretched state of some of the places of detention where prisoners are forced to live, and the harassment to which they are sometimes subjected because of ethnic, social, economic, sexual, political and religious discrimination. Sometimes prisons can become places of violence resembling the places from which the inmates not infrequently come. Clearly this nullifies any attempt to educate through imprisonment.

People in prison also find it difficult to maintain regular contact with their families and loved ones, and structures intended to help those leaving prison in their re-entry into society are often seriously flawed.

7. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 continues the tradition of the Jubilee Years that have gone before it. On each occasion the celebration of a Holy Year has been an opportunity for the Church and the world to do something in favour of justice, in the light of the Gospel. Jubilees have been an incentive for the community to reconsider human justice against the measure of God's justice. Only a calm appraisal of the functioning of penal institutions, a candid recognition of the goals society has in mind in confronting crime, and a serious assessment of the means adopted to attain these goals have led in the past and can still lead to identifying the corrections which need to be made. It is not a question of an automatic or purely cosmetic application of acts of clemency. This would not affect the essence of things: once the Jubilee is over the situation would return to the way it was. It is a question rather of fostering initiatives which will lay a solid basis for a genuine renewal of both attitudes and institutions.

In this sense, those States and Governments which are already engaged in or are planning to undertake a review of their prison system in order to bring it more into line with the requirements of the human person should be encouraged to continue in such an important task. This includes giving more consideration to penalties other than imprisonment.

To make prison life more human it is more important than ever to take practical steps to enable prisoners as far as possible to engage in work which keeps them from the degrading effects of idleness. They could be given access to a process of training which would facilitate their re-entry into the workforce when they have served their time. Nor should the psychological assistance which can help resolve personality problems be overlooked. Prison should not be a corrupting experience, a place of idleness and even vice, but instead a place of redemption.

To this end, it will certainly help if prisoners are offered the chance to deepen their relationship with God and to become involved in charitable projects and works of solidarity. This will help to speed up their social recovery and to make prisons more livable places.

In the context of these proposals, looking to the future and continuing a tradition begun by my Predecessors in Jubilee Years, I turn with confidence to State authorities to ask for a gesture of clemency towards all those in prison: a reduction, even a modest one, of the term of punishment would be for prisoners a clear sign of sensitivity to their condition, and would surely evoke a positive echo in their hearts and encourage them to regret the evil done and lead them to personal repentance.

Acceptance of this proposal by the competent authorities would not only encourage prisoners to look to the future with new hope but would also be an eloquent sign, at the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium, of a growing worldwide affirmation of a justice that is more genuine because it is open to the liberating power of love.

Upon all those responsible for the administration of justice in society and also upon those who have incurred the sanctions of the law I invoke the Lord's blessings. May God abundantly shed his light upon each of them and grant them the fullness of his heavenly favours. Assuring the men and women who are in prison throughout the world that I am close to them in spirit, I embrace them all as brothers and sisters in the human family.