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The affirmation of the renewing current of prison reform in 19th century Romanian thinking.

For hundreds of years, the human life hung by a thread, depending of uncertain common laws, of the arbitrariness and caprice of governors, being often ended with cruelty to a simple sign, and places of detention were short stops to the most horrific form of execution. Renaissance and Humanism, the great revolutions of modern world had to come, to give an impulse to revival in the association of punishment with law and justice. In this new climate, a natural feeling of solidarity determined the whole-civilized world to stand against the inhumane treatment that convicts were submitted to and to require the transformation of detention places from exclusive instruments of punishment into "establishments of moral recuperation." (1) But, only in the nineteenth century, it was developed the concept according to which jails could become, from means of expiation of the evil committed, "social sanatoriums for healing the soul of the one in conflict with the laws of society." (2)

During this time, the renewing current of reforming the system of prisons maintained by illustrious names of the modern history and the science of law (Cezare Beccaria, John Howard, Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth Fey, etc.) registered a great echo. The opinion that prison ought to have been more than it really was, has been expressed in many ways. A documented paper (3) quotes in this direction the authorized views of some leading authorities in the field, recognized in Europe and America. After lengthy disputes and experiences, experts in the penology science could only find that by hardening physical and moral suffering of criminals in order to recuperate them, the results obtained were quite contrary to expectations; the hope that jails could become "social sanatoriums" was still a chimera which led to pessimistic conclusions.

So for example, the Chairman of the U.S. prisons, Charlton T. Lewis, the Frenchman Eduard Carpentier or the Spaniard Jose F. Rodriques were convinced that all prisons were academies of crime and recidivism, from which most criminals would come out "doctors in delinquency." (4) The European and American penologists' concern for a large prison reform is old and persistent. Even since the mid-nineteenth century, regular meetings dedicated to this subject and with broad international participation were organized. Thus, The International Union for Criminal Law gathered in successive Congresses in Brussels, Linz, Paris, Lisbon, etc., and Congresses on the penitentiaries theme took place in Frankfurt am Main (1846), Brussels (1847), London (1872), Stockholm (1878), Rome, Paris, Bordeaux. (5)

These activities were founded on the vigorous thinking current of some forensics, politicians, philosophers and sociologists, whose plea for a profound reform of criminal laws and related institutions inspired measures taken in many countries, in the prison area.

Mentioning these concerns and manifesting interest in the solutions of experts in the West, are obvious also in papers published in Romania in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Thus, alongside other notable names, often quoted appear also the views of the great English philanthropist John Howard (1726-1790), who visited houses of detention, hospitals and lazarettos from all Europe, dedicating his entire activity to suffering people and especially to the prison reform. (6) That is why, associated with the impulses from the modern world, the need for prison reform has become one of the objects of social, legal, moral and humanitarian order in the Romanian society. (7) The question that arose then was whether the existing prison system was able to answer to the fundamental principles of human rights and therefore to the goals of criminal laws.

Most of the critical papers dedicated to the history of the Romanian prison system, published in the last decades of the nineteenth century did not do accidentally a foray into the past of the institution of prisons, as a support of their plea for reform. It resulted that, although the rays of Renaissance and the humanitarian Enlightenment had hesitatingly flared also in the Far East of Europe, the new ideas had taken shape also at the courts of some cultivated princes of the Romanian Countries, as Nicholas Mavrocordat (1709-1730), Prince of Moldavia and Wallachia. He gave a new purpose, surprisingly close to the one of modern times, to monastic prisons. There are truly impressive the urges and advice that the famous chronicler credited Prince Radu Popescu with, to treat the unfortunate in prisons and mines with compassion and without disgust: "To try to ease the pain ... to try to recuperate their souls." (8) His vision remained, however, a rare flower in the Dark Ages, vitiated by social backwardness and general insecurity. Therefore, the opening of the Romanian penalty to modern prison mechanisms occurred late compared with other European countries, and the orientation towards a humanist direction that gradually conquered the entire continent has known a sinuous itinerary.

In a paper of exceptional documentary (9) importance, the French doctor Marc-Philippe Zallony portrayed a truthful picture of mines and stone jugs from the Romanian Principalities, until the Organic Regulations. Seldom--he revealed--those persons condemned to working in mines lived more than five years in those inhuman conditions of detention and work to cut salt. In this period, appear the signs of a change, forecasting good times: the concern of some rulers for the fate of the unfortunate people thrown away in mines and stone jugs. "I think that at those times--wrote Nicolae Iorga--the pity for people was a dominating feeling in prisons, as well as the desire, which should inspire any future program to recuperate them." (10) After having settled in time this change, the criminal law analyst Octavian Gorescu continued: "Princes become more merciful only in the early nineteenth century, when they start to alleviate penalties, stop tortures and torturing, the mine replaces the death penalty, and those condemned to work in mines can hope to switches, reduction of sentence or even to pardon." (11) Also, hardly in the era of Nicholas Mavrogheni (1786-1790), the prince commanded that women should not be locked up together with men.

To illustrate the drama occurring in underground places of detention, Octav Gorescu quoted the chronicle of Nicolae Muste. (12) The prison under the tower of the church steeple from the Royal Court of Moldavia, compared with the terrible Ottoman prison Aedicule, was the ruthless sign of death because, wrote the author, people locked up here "had no hope to survive." The Organic Regulations came into force in 1832-1832 and brought a significant revival in improving the state of prisons; the connoisseurs of the subject revealed, however that they kept their repressive nature until the middle of this century. Gh. Bibescu himself, prince of Romanian said in 1846: "Our prisons remained in the same state as they had been in the past centuries, depicting a very sad perspective for any humanitarian and loving heart." (13) Equally sincere is the sympathy expressed by the Prince of Moldavia, Grigore Alexandra Ghica for people condemned working in mines. Impressed by their destiny, "whose sufferings had been crushed for centuries in the depths and darkness of the earth, without ever once enjoying the light and fresh air ... crossed my mind to ease their sad fate," the Prince expressed his resolution, in an ofis dated since 1855. (14) The decree was followed by a proposal to draw up a "foundation" (regulation of prisons). The decision to make a change in the state of things was strongly influenced by the contents of the report handed to him by the magistrate Anastase Panu--a terrible and plastic picture of the jailbirds (15) tormented life also proposed "a radical reform of the country (16) stone jugs," goal expressed so explicitly for the first time. Furthermore, in this remarkable report, directions to follow were also outlined: the principle of separation of sexes, offenses and penalties for, wrote the author, "protecting criminal rules," which require "that penalty should not come before judgment and that the convict should not have to bear a terrible treatment that today, unfortunately, is the fate of all people locked up in stone jugs." (17) The Prince's intention to concretize those proposals has been postponed because of the hostility of those times and of the national and international political instability.

As the cardinal moment of founding the new Romanian statehood approached--the Union of Principalities--princes, senior officials and men of law have proven more concerned to follow the new path. Always focused on the European model, the forensics that had drawn up the Explanatory Memorandum of the Prison Regulation in Iasi (1855) emphasized that in all their projects, they pursued "an organization more appropriate with the one of arrests in other European states." (18) The Anaphora of June 11, 1850 addressed by legal forums to Prince Grigore Alexandra Ghica (he had asked a report on the state of stone jugs from Moldavia) highlighted the terrible state of these establishments of detention, where men and women lived crowded and helter-skelter. The report explicitly pointed out the urgent need of prisons reform, envisaged as "good treatment, to obey the voice of humanity, which requires that penalty, should not occur before the trial, and that the convict should not be exposed to a terrible treatment which today, unfortunately, is the fate of all prisons from stone jugs." (19)

The issue of the living conditions of prisoners that became a constant concern for rulers, explains also the authorization of Anastase Panu, director in the Department of Justice, to inspect prisons in Moldavia and to establish the rule of an upgraded prison; the motivation of the royal order was explained by the fact that "we are especially interested in the fate of those afflicted." (20) One result of this inspection was the drafting by the high official of the State, of the Prison Regulation of Targu Ocna, establishment considered in the true acceptation of the word, the first prison in the United Principalities. (21) Impregnated by the spirit of that time, this document proves a thorough knowledge of the doctrine and practice in prisons from Europe and America. Also here appear provisions on the hygiene of premises, which included ventilation, clothes, body cleaning, and food with vitamins. The religious education, the learning of a trade that would facilitate, after release, a productive existence and the livelihood security, and that would prevent the temptation to relapse, did not lack, just as corporal punishment was kept as an illustration of the thinking limits of that time.

All these approaches are completed by the reports of Constantin Moroiu of Wallachia, distinguished professor of law, and of Anastase Panu of Moldavia, who proposed to the princes, reformatory measures. Demonstrating a good knowledge of theories from the penology area, by the originality and rigor of arguments, their reports have represented "the first known studies on the history of Romanian prisons science." (22) A separate stage was related to the arrival in the Principalities and to the reach activity of the Frenchman Ferdinand de Perrieres Dodun considered the true founder of modern Romanian prisons. Brought in Moldavia, in 1855 by the Prince Gregory Ghica to the recommendation of Anastase Panu, and appointed General Inspector of prisons, he remained in that position until 1878, during the reign of Carol I, while he became known as the author of the most important bills and regulations concerning prisons. Under the coordination of Mihail Kogalniceanu, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, the Frenchman worked also to the elaboration of the Romanian Penal Code having also the initiative of modifying prison services, the administration of which passed under the control of the Department of inside, equivalent of the Ministry of Interior.

It is easy to notice that, especially after the foundation of the modern Romanian state, the echoes of the European thinking reverberated in the perspective of penologists in Bucharest and Iasi, being materialized in the legislation of the country, as well as in the foundation of some penal establishments where provisions of law had to be applied. It is not random at all that, precisely in that period, a Romanian prison doctrine began to take shape, as the result of the original thinking of specialists of the time, magistrates, and prison directors--authors of valuable works on the matter. (23) At the end of the nineteenth century, a paper of modest dimensions, tersely called "Prisons" was published in Bucharest. Its author was Panait Mucoiu, one of the most well-known publishers of socialist orientation, of the time. Exciting by the sincerity and pathos that it revealed, the basic idea of the work was also shared by many other thinkers of the time and of various doctrinal orientations. Absolute enemy of these establishments or, at least of the way they were organized and operated, Panait Mucoiu made a categorical statement: "As long as you take the men's freedom, you will definitely not transform him into a better person. You will harvest relapse. By incarcerating him and by giving him, every moment, the conviction that everything that happens in detention is a punishment, the society proceeds with all its resources "to make him an enemy." (24) And then comes, in philosophical terms, the logical question: why, by taking his freedom, the man should become worse than he was, and then, after giving it back to him, to have the illusion that he could become better?

Countless authors wondered in several occasions whether the harshness of sentences imposed throughout history, has contributed to lower crime, and the answer was invariably negative. (25) And here is the starting point of formulating solutions by each and everyone one, individually and together (lawyers, forensic, penologists), materialized in criminal laws that prove each time their limits, since criminal codes and criminal procedure codes are perpetually revised. Referring to the inefficiency of the punishment itself, a remarkable work found, more than a century ago, that by confining only to punishing, "prison gives back to society a criminal, instead of just a guilty person." (26) This point of view was shared also by St. Statescu, prosecutor with old states to the Court of Appeal, in the same period. The mere depriving of freedom--he believed--was insufficient to support the idea that the purpose of the sentence was reached, if the incarcerating of a man led to finding that prison made him worse than before he had known it. (27) The main cause of failure of the prison role to prepare the prisoner for the time of reintegration in society--was the conclusion expressed by a senior official of the General Directorate of Prisons, former director of the prison Dobrovat-was a lack of concern for "moral regeneration of prisoners." (28)

Based on these considerations, other known penologists of that time, have envisaged solutions to pave the way for the social reintegration, desired by all. With chosen and often pathetic words, Gr. Grammaticescu, Chief Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal Craiova, stated that the duty of society was to take care of the fate of the convict, ensuring his life and health, enlightening his mind and elevating him spiritually through moral and religious culture--this is really the help expected in order to return to his home other person than the one he was at the moment of his mistake. (29)


The efforts to clarify key aspects of the doctrine of national prisons and prison reform were not limited to sterile debates. They resulted in developing new laws and regulations crossed by the vision on the relationship mistake--punishment--social reintegration. Thus, the Law on prison regime, the General Regulation for Central Prisons (30) and other laws and regulations entered into force in the first three decades of the twentieth century, have improved the living conditions of detainees, have introduced in prisons school instruction, religious and moral education and healthcare services, have prohibited the degrading treatment and sweetened penalties imposed for deviations from regulations. It is true that, for multiple reasons, many of these provisions remained inapplicable. Here is why, the prison reform has remained until today a goal, especially for a country like Romania, which has suffered nearly half a century of totalitarian and repressive regime. But the problem is not current only for Romania.

However, the current situation in the field of penology is a matter of maximum concern, and it is not by chance stated on the agenda of the European Commission and of other specialized international organizations. The progression of crime and delinquency rate, the prisons overcrowding, the precarious state of the place of detention and the financial difficulties of prisons' administrations are the main causes of this interest. A specialist from within the system itself stated that the crisis of the penitentiary system "did not avoid any state." (31) As it appears--through duration, symptoms and consequences-it seems a perpetual crisis, which, at least for the Romanian society has lasted for two whole centuries. And since the most certain remedy for a state of crisis is a reform, this reform has been lasting since that very time. In this regard, the mission of specialists in the matter is to accelerate efforts to ground, proclaim and implement some new provisions for the organization of prisons, according to the quality of Romania, as Member State of the European Union.


(1.) Stanciulescu, O. (1933), Research on the Prison System Evolution in the Nineteenth Century. Cluj, 3.

(2.) Constantinescu, E. Gr. (1933), The Evolution of the Prison Regime in Romania, Referring to the Past of Penitentiaries in Europe and America. Bucharest, 7.

(3.) Constantinescu, Emilian Gr., op.cit., 7.

(4.) Ibidem, 138.

(5.) Teodorescu, I. (1904), Matters of Criminal Law and Prison Science. Bucharest: Gutenberg, 8.

(6.) His work, Etat des prisons, des hopitaux et des maisons de force, Paris, 1788 is quoted by (1933), Research on the Prison System Evolution in the Nineteenth Century. Cluj, 10.

(7.) Grammaticescu, Gr. (1882) About the Need of Reform in Criminal Prisons. Craiova, 1882, 3

(8.) Popescu, R. (1973), "The Histories of the Princes of Wallachia," Wallachian Chroniclers. Bucharest: Albatros, 175.

(9.) Essay sur les Fanariotes. Marseille, 1829, 87-88, apud Ovid Stanciulescu, op. cit., 16-17.

(10.) Nicolae Iorga, Preface to Octavian Gorescu, Vacaresti, Monastery. Vacaresti, Penitentiary. Preceded by a Brief History of the Prison Regime in Romania, Bucharest, 1930, 6-7.

(11.) Octav Gorescu, loc. cit., (Director of the correctional penitentiary Vacaresti, the author is an expert in the history of medieval prisons in the Romanian Countries).

(12.) *** (1874), The Annals of Moldavia in the Romanian Chronicles or the Annals of Moldavia and Wallachia. Mihail Kogalniceanu, III, ed. II, Bucharest.

(13.) Stanciulescu, O., op. cit., 18.

(14.) Ibidem, 54.

(15.) Panu, A., Provisions concerning the public prisons in Moldavia, Iasi, 1856, apud Ovid Stanciulescu, op. cit., 57. In the Ofis issued on this occasion, the Prince stated again that jailbirds "were subject to a regime contrary to wisdom, morals and justice," The Official Gazette of Moldavia, no. 41/20.

(16.) Gorescu, Octav. op. cit., 14.

(17.) Ibidem, 15.

(18.) C. Radulescu, C. (1930), Course of Compared Prison Science, Chernivtsi, 207.

(19.) Constantinescu, E. Gr., op. cit., 63-64.

(20.) C. Radulescu, op. cit, 178, 179.

(21.) Tanoviceanu, I. (1926), Treaty of Law and Criminal Procedure, vol III, Bucharest, 410-416, see also Anastase Panu. (1856), Provisions Con cerning the Public Prisons in Moldavia, Iasi, cf. Ovid Stanciulescu, op. cit., 55.

(22.) Bruno, S. (2006), The Romanian Environment in Prison. Culture and Civilization in Prison. Iasi: The European Institute, 299. See also Ovid Stanciulescu, op.cit.

(23.) Grammaticescu, Grigore--Chief Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal Craiova, St. Statescu; M.I. Talangescu--Dobrovat prison Director, Al. Radianu--President of the Court of Suceava, C-tin Moroiu--civic professor of law at St. Sava: Gr. I. Dianu--Director of the General Directorate of Prisons, Eugenia Economu--Director of the Prison for Women, Vacaresti etc.

(24.) Musoiu, P. (1989), Prisons. Bucharest, 26.

(25.) Pop, O. (2003), The Prison Environment and Its Implications on the Personality of the Convict. Timisoara: Mirton Publishing House, 6.

(26.) Dianu, Grigore I. (1901), The History of Prisons in Romania, ed. III, Bucharest, 74. The author of this work was for many years director of the General Directorate of Prisons in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

(27.) Statescu, St. (1895), Few Words on Our Prison System, Bucharest, 6.

(28.) Talangescu, M.I., Prison Reform, Bucharest: Lupta.

(29.) Grammaticescu, Gr. op.cit, 6.

(30.) See Hamangiu, C. (1907), General Code of Romania, II, Common Laws, Bucharest: Alcalay, 250, 274.

(31.) Chis, I. (1997), The Prison Reform in Romania. Timisoara: Ando Tours, 32.


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Author:Merei, Luminita Eleni
Publication:Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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