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Maconochie’s Gentlemen is a 19th century historical novel that recounts the story of real-life Commandant Maconochie’s prison reform efforts on Novell Island, Australia. Author Norvall Morris, a professor of Law and Criminology at the University of Chicago, tells his story through journal pages and gives voice to the commandant, his daughter, and two Norfolk Island prisoners. At the start, the historical novel succeeds in leading its readers to quickly identify needed penal change at Novell Island. However, the story focuses primarily on the Commandant Maconochie’s goal: bringing about humane order to the penal colony, attaining, for most prisoners, rehabilitation and their early release. Implemented with insight, communication, dignity, and respect, Maconochie carries through his system of discipline and leaves a legacy of prison reform success on Norfolk Island.

Morris concludes his novel by summarizing a factual account of the “real” Commandant Maconochie’s penal colony improvements at Novell Island. The author uses this account as a spring board to justify his own work and views related to prison reform. He answers in depth his rhetorical question, “Why do prison conditions matter?” Although Morris does not whole-heartedly endorse all of Macononchie’s actions, he recounts with admiration the achieved humane order and reduced recidivism brought about under Maconochie's four years of carried through criminal justice on Novell Island. Clearly the author hopes that by revisiting Maconochie’s 19th century prison reform efforts, his readers will recognize similar inadequacies in our own modern penal system, prompting them to consider current issues of prison reform. – Summary by Nancy Minton, Cataloger, Seattle University Law Library.



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