“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken‑hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isa.61:1‑3 NKJV)
Prisons have played their part in the Biblical record from the imprisonment of Joseph (Gen.39) for a crime he did not commit to the New Testament accounts of the internment of John The Baptist (Matt.14), Peter (Acts 12) and Paul (Acts 16). Paul and Silas were imprisoned for calling out an evil spirit out of a woman. For Paul one result of his various imprisonments was the prison epistles which laid down important guidance and truth for the modern day church.
The Tower of London was a prison for some of the most notable people in British history from the likes of Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas Cranmer and William Penn.
Conditions in such institutions for the ordinary man were very poor. The aim was that people should be punished for doing wrong by removing their freedom and keeping the population safer by keeping those who would continue to commit crimes against others. As time passed by reformers looked at prison conditions and to the reform of the individual prisoner.
Peter wrote about the ‘spirits in prison’ that Jesus went to visit during the 40 days prior to his ascension. The question is why and what purpose did it serve? Was it just to confirm the penalty for previous sins or is there some hope of reform?
Elizabeth Fry was a well‑known reformer. She was brought up at Earlham Hall in East Anglia and spent most of her married life in East Ham and Forest Gate. She campaigned for schools for those children interned with their mothers, against transportation to distant lands like Australia and that prison should be about rehabilitation. Robert Peel got the Gaols Act of 1823 through the Houses of Parliament and further acts were passed such as the Prisons Act of 1835.
Perhaps it should not be surprising at the end of the Christian Era (Gospel Age) that prison reforms should come at the time when we look forward to the reign of Christ and His church during the Millennial Age.
Since the days of Adam and Eve and The Fall their offspring have been constrained in ‘the prison house of death’ otherwise called ‘death’s gloomy prison’. But the sentence will not last forever and we anticipate the time when all earth’s loved ones shall soon come out from that prison for there is one that has the key to death (Rev.1:18)