Panopticon - 1791 - Jeremy Bentham

The English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham drew up plans for this unique and theoretical building. The word Panopticon comes from the Greek work Panoptes, meaning "all seeing", which in essence is what the purpose of the building construction is.


It was in fact Jeremy's younger brother Samuel that developed the idea of a central inspection principle, a way for multiple prisoners in one building to be monitored by a reduced number of prison guards. The idea uses the principle that the inmates are aware that their behaviour is being watched and monitored but they dont always know when they are, therefore they are forced to always behave. As Bentham described it as a 'new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind'


Original drawing concepts were drawn up by Willey Reveley, an 18th Century Architect whos one of his notable ideas was to straighten the River Thames.


Willey Reveley's planned idea to straighten the River Thames

The location for Bentham's spherical prison was the site of the now Tate Britain on the banks of the River Thames in London.


The design of the building was to be a spherical 5 story structure with individual cells on each floor pointing inwards towards a central forecourt, each cell having a toilet and washing facilities. At the centre of the forecourt would be a watchman's tower with shaded drapes so that the inmates would be unsure they were being monitored for their behaviour.

Original Plan for the Panopticon, Drafted by Architect Willey Reveley

Bentham spent about 10 years lobbying the British Parliament to build his innovative prison design, but without success, this left him bitter with the rejection of his idea with the suspicions that it was the ruling Crown and the elite class that rejected not just him but his political and social principles.


The Panopticon design eventually came into existence with various forms of success around the world with the following locations :-


1901 Haarlem, Breda, Arnhem Prisons in Holland

1925 Statesville Correctional Centre, Illinois, USA

1931 Presidio Modelo, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba,

1943 Chi Hoa Prison, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam



Stateville Correctional Centre, Illinois, USA



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