Anyone who believes that the death penalty is a deterrent should visit Bodmin Jail, and read the list of executions carried out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
As well as the murderers, there were people hanged for: stealing a sheep, stealing a watch, housebreaking, forgery and even setting fire to corn stacks.
Did the death penalty stop desperately hungry people stealing sheep? No, of course not.
If the choice is between starving to death, and the small risk (given the absence of anything like a modern police force) of being caught and hanged, then you take your chances. Back then, as now, the only deterrent is the certainty of being caught.
The Jail closed in 1916 and has been slowly decaying ever since. In 2004 it was bought by the Wheten family who have been ploughing money, time and effort into the place to preserve it and turn it into a successful tourist attraction and heritage museum. I wish them luck; itʼs a huge task.
Currently (2008) the jail houses a number of tableaux, purportedly illustrating scenes from the jails past. These date from the time of the previous owners, who seemed to want to depict the place as some sort of "chamber of horrors". This is a shame as the original 1779 Jail was the first in the country to be designed according to the ideas of the great penal reformer John Howard (1726-1790).
Rebuilt in 1859, Bodmin remained a beacon of good practice to the end of its days. Letʼs hope that in due course, the new owners find ways to tell the real story of the jail, and the lessons that it has to teach us.
For Opening Times, Admission Prices, etc. please see the Bodmin Jail web site.