« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
satisfaction; for now, at last - but no thanks to ourselves-we must gird up our loins with fitting resolution to grapple with a subject which we should otherwise have trifled with to the end, as we have trifled with it from the beginning. Now the condition and treatment of our criminal population will receive at our hands the attention it deserves.
And it is high time. Crime has already attained to colossal magnitude, and is advancing with gigantic strides. Two hundred thousand committals to prison in one year in the United Kingdom, constitute a foe difficult to cope with, and not to be viewed without uneasiness; and the number is increasing with fearful rapidity. Nor is its character less alarming than its extent. It encounters force with ruffian violence; baffles ingenuity by superior artifice; steals our purses unsuspected in the public streets and in the glare of day; rifles our chambers, unheard, in the dead of night, in spite of locks and bolts; springs upon us, from its ambush, even in the public thoroughfare, with the elastic bound and ferocity of the tiger; and, after the model of the Indian Thug, disables its victim with a dexterity equal to his, and with an audacity that even its pattern has never reached. The very character of our greater criminals is the opprobrium of our penal system; for that character plainly implies skill, dexterity, long practice, contempt of danger, a steady hand, an inventive brain, a callous heart, and an utter disregard, through habitual brutality, of the agonies of its victim. Nor are we imperilled by violence alone; fraud too-fraud exquisitely trained, long and successfully practised-surrounds us with its subtile meshes, apparently as feeble as the film of the gossamer, but proving in the issue to have fettered its unconscious captive with a chain of adamant. It is a fact as well attested as any other in the records of crime, that a numerous class of desperate and dangerous depredators exists among us; pursuing their nefarious calling for years, at once with absolute impunity and signal success, and living upon the fruits of their villany, not only in competence, but in luxury.
But we have been told over and
over again, by those who are most conversant with the statistics crime, that we must not suppose the number of our criminals to be so great as the number of committals, seeing that many offenders are conmitted twice, thrice, or oftener. We answer-So much the worse for society. Would that the number of committals and of offenders exactly, or very nearly, tallied! We might then hope that crime was a manageable thing. But the bare fact, that for our worst offenders the prison has no terrors, fills us with terror indeed. Can any one now tell us what we are to do with a felon when we have caught him? Can any one tell us what a felon is to do with himself after we have let him go? These are questions that might, up to this time, have been merely asked: they are now questions that must be promptly answered. We can no longer fall back on the old adage, Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte. Our perplexity now begins exactly where it is used to end; and the difficulty is not how we shall most readily catch the offender, but how we shall treat and dispose of him when we have got him safely locked up within four strong walls.
If it were not for the momentous interests that are in peril, the whole history of our prison management for the last century (we confine ourselves to that period) might be said to be simply ludicrous; and it is only with the hope that we may be made wiser for the time to come, that we now glance rapidly at our past miscarriages.
In the march of prison improvement, Howard led the way. In 1756, immediately after the earthquake at Lisbon, he embarked for that city; but on his voyage the vessel in which he sailed was captured by a French privateer, and carried into Brest. The barbarous treatment which he, with the rest of the passengers, experienced in the Castle of that seaport, in a dungeon in which they were all confined for several days, led him in the first instance to seek the mitigation of the sufferings of such of his countrymen as were in the places where he had himself been confined in France. This humane feeling gained further strength and development from what he observed
in the prisons of his own country, and particularly from what came under his immediate notice, when, some years after, in 1773, he was highsheriff of the county of Bedford. He refers, in his "Account of the Prisons in England and Wales," to the circumstances with which his discharge of that office made him acquainted, as those which induced him take those humane journeys of inspection, in the course of which he visited most of the prisons in England. In 1774, he was examined on this subject by the House of Commons, and had the honour of receiving the thanks of that body.
Together with the remonstrances of Howard, another circumstance powerfully co-operated to produce a general desire for the improvement of our Prisons. At the termination of the American war, the loss of our Transatlantic dependencies had deprived us of those remote colonies to which we had been accustomed for a long time to transport many of our convicted felons, and imposed on us the necessity of devising a substitute for the system of transportation which had been hitherto pursued. The result of this combination of humane remonstrance and poliand political necessity appears to have been a general desire that something should be speedily done to improve our prison discipline. The first impulse to public feeling was given by the labours of Howard; and great is the obligation which the cause of humanity owes to the unwearied and ardent benevolence of that distinguished philanthropist. But Howard's attention seems to have been almost absorbed by the physical sufferings which it was his lot to witness. The very magnitude and intensity of those sufferings seem to have prevented him from looking beyond them to a consideration of the moral evils of imprisonment, which are still more deplorable than the captive's physical ones, and without a proper remedy for which, his more comfortable prison life would only lead him to think of pursuing with greater zest that career of crime which first led him into gaol. The impulse, however, was thus given to the demand for prison improvement: it was prompt and decisive; and to Howard the merit of it is most justly due. We forbear to track this singu
gular man through the whole of his subsequent benevolent course; but we cannot just now help thinking of its close, when we remember that his remains repose near a spot upon which he could hardly have foreseen that the intent gaze of the universe would be fixed, and close to which the embattled hosts of five mighty nations would in future times meet in deadly conflict. Howard's grave is at Kherson, almost within view of Sebastopol!
The first movement in the direction pointed out by Howard was made by individual magistrates, among whom the foremost and most distinguished was the then Duke of Richmond; and on the 2nd October, 1775, at the Quarter Sessions at Petworth, in Sussex, it was ordered that a new prison should be erected there in conformity with a plan produced by his Grace. In Howard's work already mentioned, he speaks of this prison: "The new gaol that was building in 1776 is now (1779) finished. The plan appears to me particularly well suited for the purpose. Each felon is to have a separate room, ten feet by seven, and nine feet high to the crown of the arch." In his account of a subsequent visit, in 1788, he thus expresses himself:-" No alteration in this well-ordered prison. The debtors and felons are quite separate. All the prisoners were in health each has his separate room, and proper bedding. No infirmary: attention to cleanliness and order has hitherto prevented the want of it. Divine service every day."
The first of the legislative measures that followed the labours of Howard was the 19th Geo. III. cap. 24.; an enactment of great importance, which was the result of the joint labours of Sir William Blackstone, Mr. Howard, and Mr. Eden, afterwards Lord Aukland. This measure became law in 1778. In the 5th section we find it affirmed that "if many offenders convicted of crimes for which transportation has been usually inflicted were ordered to solitary imprisonment, accompanied by well regulated labour and religious instruction, it might be the means, under Providence, not only of deterring others, but also of reforming the individuals, and inuring them to habits of industry." Thus we see that the principle of modified
confinement was recognized and enforced by a positive legislative enactmen nearly eighty years ago. We also find that it was successfully carried out in the prison of Petworth; and we find it also in operation in the gaol of Horsham, in the same county. This shows that this system was no novel or untried invention, unsuited to the character or unfit for the treatment of the criminals of these kingdoms. It also incontestably establishes the fact that the system is British ;British in its origin, British in its application, and British in its legislative sanction.
While, however, we attach great importance to the just cited Act, we cannot deny that it is in some respects imperfect; for though it provides "that offenders shall, during their hours of labour, in case the nature of their employments will permit, be kept separate and apart from each other," yet labour in common, but under the constant superintendence of an officer, was permitted. Accordingly this part of the Act did. not escape the caustic censure of the celebrated Jonas Hanway.
length," observes that extraordinary man, "the legislature resolve on a plan of wonderful construction;—it is to be solitude and no solitude; the prisoners are to be separate, and they are to work together; that is, they are to be secured in separate apartments at night, but in the day they may associate; and 600 men and 300 women are to be so managed as to produce reformation by means of a capital prison, called a penitentiary! This method might be calculated to to prevent their breaking prison; but not for repentance." And as to the apprehension that the prisoners would not work, if left to themselves in solitude, he says, "This should by no means intimidate us in the pursuit of the plan of separate confinement, for prisoners will generally be inclined to work, to relieve themselves." As to the system of the Maison de Force, at Ghent, which the Act had too closely followed, he quaintly but unanswerably observes, "That prison cannot be our rule; the daring mind of our people being very different from theirs. A Flanderkin, with some of the remains of the indolence of his former masters, may not be kept so easily to work alone as in company. He may
wish for solitude, provided he may be indulged in laziness; if human nature will admit of such a situation. The spirit of Britons disdains the thought of inactivity: they must be doing good, or evil; their busy mind must have employment, or it will be miserable." With such homely vigour of expression did this acute writer point out the imperfections of the Act. And it is remarkable that there is scarcely an improvement in the latest and most elaborate plan of Separate confinement which has not been distinctly laid down, and recommended for adoption, with wisdom that may be justly called oracular, in the writings of that eccentric but farsighted philanthropist. In 1785,
a House of Correction was ordered to be built at Petworth, pursuant to the provisions of the 22nd Geo. III., cap. 54. The ground was presented by the Earl of Egremont,-whose well known princely mansion, with its glorious gallery of painting and sculpture, adorns the immediate vicinity of that town,--and the plans were furnished by James Wyatt. This prison affords the earliest example of the complete adoption of the Separate System in the kingdom, and we might add in the world. "The rooms of the prison," says Howard, "are on two stories, over arcades; sixteen on each floor, thirteen feet three inches by ten feet, and nine feet high. The chapel is in the centre, and has thirty-two pews, each three feet by two feet two inches. The sides are so lofty that the prisoners cannot see one another, though they are all within the view of the chaplain. Some prisoners were kept here for two years without injury to their health." The system was kept up until 1816, when they began to employ prisoners in the factory. This was owing to the great increase of prisoners at the termination of the war, and occasioned a great deterioration of the discipline; in fact, it amounted to a total subversion of the system of separate confinement, and to a sacrifice of all the advantages held out by it. It is now sixteen or seventeen years since we visited Petworth, in company with Whitworth Russell; and well do we remember the surprise and satisfaction with which he viewed a realization in his own country of that very plan of improved prison discipline which he had formed on reflection and study,
in conjunction with his colleague William Crawford, and which till that hour he had supposed to exist only in the imagination and fancy of himself and his associate. Yet while this prison was standing as a momento of Howard and Hanway, and a present example of their enlightened views, the Government were groping about for a model, and sending their Commissioner to America, in search of what lay under their nose! But the wonder is not so much that this prison had been thus overlooked, as that the system carried out in it with complete success should be suffered to sleep for nearly fifty years. True, the plan had been in operation until 1816, as we have said; but who was the wiser for it? Who brought the fact under public notice? What member of the government, or of the legislature, made it the basis of a method of national utility? For anything that concerned the interests of the kingdom at large, the Petworth House of Correction might have been in Kamtschatka, at Timbuctoo, or in the moon. But not only was there an example of the cellular system about this time at Petworth, but also at Gloucester, and at Horsham, where the discipline was administered with similar success. Still all the evils of gaol association were permitted to go on; and until the first report of the Inspectors of Prisons for the Home Department startled the united kingdom by their graphic delineation of the foul abomiations that disgraced the metropolitan prison of Newgate (1834), no step was taken to grapple with the abuses of our penal system.
An attempt-it was no more-to palliate those evils, was made by the projectors of what is called the Silent System; they were well-meaning men, who wished to get rid of the horrible and loathsome abuses of the plan of association, but did not clearly see their way, nor understand the nature of the subject with which they undertook to deal; and as the Silent System crosses our path in our progress to a sounder plan, we will at once sweep it away, and demolish it root and branch, bark and foliage.
We affirm then, that the Silent System, originating in a conviction of the great and manifold evils of gaol association, and a desire to guard effectually against them, is cumbrous
and intricate in its construction, unequal to the end at which it professes to aim, and dependent for its successful working upon agencies which its advocates cannot ensure us. If it possesses any good qualities, they are contingent and accidental, while its defects are necessary and inherent. Against what does this system set itself in opposition? Against a law of nature against the communion of man with his fellow-against the most deeply seated and most ineradicable instinct of humanity-the wish to hold intercourse in thought and feeling with those who are placed for hours, and days, and months together, within sight and hearing of each other; and that too while they are under the very circumstances which impart an edge to the desire of mutual acquaintance. Doubtless a dozen or a score of passengers may be associated in a railway carriage for hours without the exchange of a single word between any two of them. But this arises from their ignorance of the present circumstances and destination of each. those fellow travellers be bent upon a common point of pleasure or of business, and the case becomes immediately changed. Those who had never met before will soon make each other's acquaintance; and you will find it no easy task to interdict or suspend all intercommunication. The case is beyond all comparison stronger be
tween fellow-prisoners. The very stringency of the regulations that forbid all intercourse between them only acts as an incentive to ingenuity to baffle them; and we know well what adroitness and tact the human mind and frame acquire by practice, when the man is impelled by necessity, or strong inclination. That every attempt to evade the rule of enforced silence is detected, no one will be hardy enough to affirm. But some notion of the extent to which that evasion is carried may be formed from this recorded fact, that in the prison of Coldbath Fields, in which the system was carried to its highest state of perfection, the punishments for "talking and swearing" amounted in 1836 to no fewer than 5,138! Consider, too, the posture of the prisoner's mind while occupied in attempts, often successful, to elude the vigilance of the monitor, or while amused in watching and secretly applauding
such attempts on the part of others: can any one believe that under such circumstances he can receive any salutary impression of the penal nature of his position, or have any inclination or opportunity for self-examination or reflection?
But there is a still stronger objection against this system. Its warmest advocates admit that they cannot carry it into operation without the employment of means which are obviously opposed to the spirit of the constitution, and to the first principles of substantial justice; they confess that they must be permitted to inflict punishment for every detected violation of the prison rules. How frequent those punishments are, we have already seen. How unjust they are is plain. How calculated they are to irritate and exasperate the prisoner is sufficiently obvious. The prisone himself is not slow to perceive all this. He sees that the privations that occasion him most discomfort are not those to which he has been legally sentenced he feels that he is enduring sufferings over and above the awards of law, and, stung by the injustice, his sense of his guilt is overborne by that insurgent spirit wisely implanted in us all, which impels even the most degraded to withstand oppression in whatever garb it may wear, and from whatever quarter it may approach us. And
who are the agents which the Silent System chiefly employs to enforce its harsh regulations? Prisoners themselves, men as deeply stained with guilt as those whom they are employed to coerce. The culprit sees this too, and he sees it with feelings little fitted to reconcile him to his treatment. "The oldest thief makes the best monitor," has become a gaol apophthegm. This alone suffices to ensure the condemnation of the system; for here it is plainly implied that it treats with the greatest leniency those culprits whose guilt is deepest, by setting them to watch over, and report for punishment, those who are less criminal than themselves. As the prison punishments-punishments for violating the prison regulations-mostly consist in reduction of food, this is followed by ill-health; then comes removal to the hospital, with all the relaxation of discipline, and consequent miti
gation of punishment, which such removal brings with it. It is plain, also, that the qualifications required in a monitor must be sought for in vain in the guiltiest class of prisoners, out of which the monitors must commonly be selected. Can we expect to find in such, alertness, temper,vigilance, firmness, industry, habits ofobedience, and integrity? Yet these are the characteristics of a good monitor. Besides, how can such a system as this be made universal? In some prisons it will work well, because it is well worked; in others, which are out of the range of public view, and where suitable officers cannot be found, the whole will break down. If the sole end at which a good system of prison discipline ought to aim were, to prevent, by whatever means, the prisoners from audibly conversing with each other, we should admit that the Silent System had not been wholly unsuccessful. But if, in securing this end, the means have been ill-devised, harsh, and of uncertain efficacy; if, while the prisoner is forbidden to articulate sounds, he has the opportunity of making and exchanging significant signs; if, by a system of refined surveillance, his mind be kept perpetually on the fret, and diverted from the contemplation of his own conduct and condition, and directed to the invention of devices for defeating his overseers, or for carrying on a clandestine communication with his fellow-prisoners; deriving no benefit, in the meantime, from the offices of religion, nay, converting the most solemn of his religious offices into an opportunity of conversing with his fellows; then we say that the benefits of the Silent System are dearly purchased by the measures it employs to obtain them.
And all this intricate machinery is constructed for what? For the purpose of overcoming difficulties which its founders have themselves created! They assemble together social beings, interdict communication between them, and then punish them for yielding to that most powerful of human impulses the desire to interchange thought with those with whom they are compelled to associate. Here is a difficulty contrived with perverse ingenuity, as if merely for the purpose of surmounting it; and when it fails (as it must perpetually) revenges