Panoptics Here & There

In response to:

In the Depths of the Digital Age from the June 23, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

In his insightful article “In the Depths of the Digital Age” [NYR, June 23], Edward Mendelson refers to Jeremy Bentham’s “never-built nineteenth-century panopticon.” This reference is misleading. Bentham’s plan for a panopticon—first published in 1786—remained unrealized until after his death, but several panopticons were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in Europe and in the Americas. They include three prisons in the Netherlands, in Arnhem (completed in 1886), Breda (1885), and Haarlem (1901), and, in the US, in Illinois, Stateville Correctional Center, which was built in 1925. The most complete example of a panopticon is the Presidio Modelo (model prison), on the Isla de la Juventud in Cuba, which opened in 1928 and closed in 1967. The Presidio Modelo is now a ruin. In the Netherlands, the Koepelgevangenis (domed prison) in Haarlem, closed in 2016, has recently been used to house asylum seekers.

John Ryle
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York