Thoughts on prison


“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”

Nelson Mandela


“When thee builds a prison, thee had better build with the thought ever in thy mind that thee and thy children may occupy the cells”

Elizabeth Fry

“The prisons are not designed to rehabilitate the inmate, though the public propaganda is that is their function”

Malcom X

“Overall we need bold change in our criminal justice system: a good first step is to start treating prisoners as human beings, not profiting from their incarceration”

Bernie Sanders

“Prisons are universities of crime maintained by the state”

Prince Peter Kropotkin

“The most terrible thing about it [prison] is not that it breaks one’s heart – hearts are made to be broken – but that it turns one’s heart to stone”

Oscar Wilde

Families of prisoners are the forgotten victims

Alison Henderson

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It is not only the prisoners who grow coarse from corporal punishment, but those as well who perpetrate the act or are present to witness it

Anton Chekhov

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity

Howard Zinn

If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years about 600 people – including me – would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle”

Hunter S Thompson

The American belief that prisons are the best way to combat crime has led to an incarceration rate that is at least five times that of almost any industrialised nation. Overcrowding is endemic. Conditions are appalling, varying from windowless, sensory-deprived isolation to barren futile brutality”

Howard Marks

The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country… Tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it

Winston Churchill

Prison walls have a double function; to lock prisoners in and the public out “

Manfred Nowak

He who opens a school door closes a prison “

Victor Hugo

If you suffer your people to be ill-educated and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them “

Sir Thomas More

The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. Think about that”

Barack Obama


If you have a favourite prison quote and would like to see it included on the BEST website send it to isobel@bestsupport.org.uk marked “Prison quotes”:  quotes can be attributed to their author or submitted “anon”.