-9. BRITAIN'S EARLIER PRISONS
In England the first use of prisons was to house vagrants and other idle persons. Later, minor offenders and debtors were imprisoned — since major offenders were executed. Prisons were mainly places to put people away and forget about them. Thus they were neglected and poorly run institutions subject to terrible overcrowding, filth and disease. Charles Dickens presented a vivid picture of life in London's famous Marshalsea debtors' prison in his novel Little Dorrit; published in 1857. Even more famous were London's Newgate and Fleet prisons for their overcrowding, filth and violence. In Great Britain the movement to reform prisons was begun in 1773 by John Howard, the appointed sheriif oi Bedfordshire. His reports on prison conditions, especially The State of the Prisons', spurred a sweeping reform movement that was also influential in the United States. His reports coincided with an extreme overcrowding of British prisons, in part because transportation of criminals to overseas colonies had diminished. So overcrowded were some prisons that many criminals were housed on decaying ships in the Thames River. The Prisons Act of 1791 was the first step toward creating a national prison system and alleviating the worst conditions.
According to the passage, prisoners in the earliest English prisons most likely ------ .
had been involved in a violent crime
would be executed eventually
would be transported to overseas colonies
owed people money
had not committed a very serious offence
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