BENTHAM, JEREMY (1748-1832, writer on jurisprudence and ethics, founder of Utilitarianism)
BENTHAM ON THE PANOPTICON. Bentham's great scheme for a penitentiary in which an observer could observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners knowing they were being watched, combined with contract management as opposed to trust, was first developed in 1786-1787 while he was visiting his brother Samuel (then working in Russia) and led to his publication of Panopticon, or the Inspection-House in 1791. In the same year his idea to build such a prison in London, and for him to be both the contractor and manager of it, was taken up by the Prime Minister, William Pitt. But by 1812, the Government, unable to overcome the obstacles, abandoned all plans to build the Panopticon prison. A year later Bentham was awarded £23,000 in compensation, which enabled him to buy his country retreat called Ford Abbey. He did succeed in establishing the first and largest panopticon outside New Delhi which is still in use today. Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish invoked the design as the archetypal instrument of repressive surveillance used in all hierarchical structures, not only prisons but also the army, the school, the hospital and the factory. Many modern prisons are built on a 'podular' design influenced by the Panopticon original.
In response to a petition from the Justices of the Peace of Westminster, Burdett had been nominated to prepare a Bill for the foundation of a new prison at Tothill Fields. In a letter of 25 February 1826 Bentham recommended that Burdett consider the panopticon plan. Burdett was M.P. for Westminster and was known as 'Westminster's Pride and England's Glory'.