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The Pages of Kenneth J Neill
Prisons & Punishment - Chapter 1

The contemporary society in which we live is many faceted and even the most acquiescent of us must question why things are the way they are and how matters came about. Our country and culture is steeped in history. Many of our place names have ancient derivations to say nothing of the evolution of our language with all its local dialects, words and phrases

When we switch on the television, pick up a newspaper or walk through urban streets we see the evidence of crime and its effects all around us. Many of us may even have been the victim of criminal activity, if not directly, indirectly through the need to purchase insurance cover or to maintain expensive security devices for our property or possessions.

Crime is all around us. If rules are made by a community or an individual then by default they exist because someone deviated from the accepted norm. It is effectively a social activity, albeit one from which the majority of society appears to refrain. The causes of crime, initiatives and punishments to deter crime are the subject of endless debate by all facets of society, each with a strong sense of conviction and a unique perception on the matter.

If we accept that crime and punishment is part of our social make up then it is not surprising that throughout Scottish history attitudes towards criminals and deviant behaviour has altered through time. What is open to debate is the question of whether we as a civilisation have progressed or have we merely changed with the times?

Politicians of all persuasions, the church, the legal profession, the business community, welfare organisations and the healthcare industry all have a vested interest in combating crime. Sadly, in short, no one has the answer, nor as we explore the subject, has anyone in history had the answer. Solutions have come and gone as have epidemics and crime waves, but it is speculation as to whether these were the result of some initiative or simply the side effects of a larger social engineering programme.

Winston Churchill declared that "You can tell the state of a civilisation by the state of its prisons". In Scotland attitudes towards justice and crime or an emphasis on one particular aspect of deviant behaviour has never remained consistent. It has by and large been an evolutionary process which has taken place in tandem with social, political and economic changes within the Scottish population.

Our impression of early medieval Scotland is of a highly fragmented series of kingdoms, separated not just by territorial barriers but by natural geographical obstacles. A. D. M. Barrell in Medieval Scotland talks of, "The eleventh century kingdom of the Scots as a somewhat uneasy amalgam of several different peoples, languages and cultures drawn together by a combination of circumstances. It was to prove remarkably resilient as a political entity, despite its internal diversity".

Clearly such a mix of cultures and traditions did not create an easy environment for law making or more importantly revenue raising. Territorial disputes could be long and bitter, often resulting in death but seldom producing stable solutions. Such bickering and warmongering increased vulnerability throughout the noble houses of Scotland who constantly had to be alert to invasion from not only England but continental Europe as well. Strangely, social change did not come as a result of physical prowess but as a by-product of peaceful immigration by settlers from England and France and also from the growing influence of ecclesiastical networks throughout Scotland. They brought with them the concept of Feudalism and its pyramid of social structure and order.

History generally recognises King David I (1125-53) as the great feudal reformer. Although its introduction was a gradual one, mainly confined to southern Scotland, the effect of its patronage and privilege created a structure for tax raising and social control. Inevitably disputes and defaults would arise, also feudalism, to function effectively, demanded order and compliance across the whole of the population. There was a need to dispense justice openly and fairly across the country which could no longer be satisfied.

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