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Panopticon, Bentham's design of prisons



This page last modified 27 October, 2005 by  Irena Nicoll 


The Panopticon - Were any built and where are they?

The following prisons, some of which no longer exist, reflect Bentham's ideas for the Panopticon. However none of them conforms precisely to the detailed drawings which exist in the University College London Collections. One lasting legacy of Bentham' s plan to build and manage a panopticon prison is Tate Britain, the art gallery, which stands on the banks of the River Thames on the site bought by Bentham for his prison.

That its design is 'panoptic' is a claim made for many prisons such as Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, which was based on the very influential design of Pentonville Prison, built in London in 1842.

Buildings designed for other purposes have also been called panopticons and yet other buildings resemble the Panopticon design by virtue of their circular plan.

Great Britain, Edinburgh panopticon described in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: Correspondence Volume 4: October 1788 to December 1793, ed. Alexander Taylor Milne (The Athlone Press, 1981).

Italy, Santo Stefano. (80 miles south of Rome, and 40 miles offshore in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the Pontine Archipelago). A panopticon style prison was established on this island in 1795. It closed in 1965.

More information will be available shortly on three panopticons which have recently been renovated by the Dutch government. Images of two late nineteenth century panopticons in Arnhem and Breda (Architect, J.F. Metzelaar) are available from: the Dutch Government Buildings Agency.

Lelystad Prison built in 1995. Architect J.C. Putter of Van Meer en Putter Architecten. The building consists of two domes with central guards stations.

Haarlem, by son of Metzelaar. Early 20th century.

Russia, St Petersburg. Designed and supervised by Samuel Bentham, the St Petersburg panopticon was a school rather than a prison. The Panopticon School of Arts, begun in 1806, was destroyed by fire in 1818. The Russian State Naval Archive has given permission for the reproduction of an architectural drawing (1810) of the building.

Spain, Mataró, panopticon established 1863 (referred to in "Legislator of the World": Writings on Codification, Law, and Education, eds. Philip Scholfield and Jonathan Harris (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, p. xxvii n. 10).

Switzerland, Geneva. A prison modelled on the panopticon was built in 1825 and demolished in 1862. See Robert Roth, Pratiques pénitentiaires et théorie sociale. l'exemple de la prison de Genève (1825-1862), Genèva: Librairie Droz, 1981.

North America
Rahway Prison, New Jersey, USA
Stateville Penitentiary,
Illinois, USA.

Central America
Isle of Pines, Cuba , built 1932.

South America
The Bogota ‘Panoptico’,

South Africa
The Old Provost now the
Albany Museum, Grahamstown, Cape province, South Africa

The Round House Freemantle. Click here for an image of the sign at the Roundhouse which states that the architect Henry Willey Revely 'may have been influenced by Jeremy Bentham's plan for the model prison'. This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that H. W. Reveley (1788-1875) was the son of Willey Reveley (d.1799), the architect who drew up the original plans for the Panopticon in London.

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