« PoprzedniaDalej »
public mind. The principles on which punishments are enforced have undergone the deliberate investigation of the Legislature. It is the general feeling that the unconvicted should he treated with as much lenity as is compatible with the safe custody of his person, and the good order of the prison ; whilst upon those on whom the law inflicts punishment, a salutary system of discipline ought to be enforced; that in the treatment of the convicted, no severity should be allowed that is not warranted by the laws, nor consistent with justice; that the prevention of crime is the ultimate object of imprisonment, and that to attain this end, it is necessary to insure the reformation, as well as the punishment of the prisoner. Uniform severity, it is generally admitted, hardens the offender, and prepares him for the perpetration of further crimes. It is necessary not only to inspire terror, but to kindle hopeto impress upon the mind not only a sense of guilt, but the love of virtue; and to implant those principles, and cherish those feelings, which religion only can impart. • It has been feared by some that the measures calculated to insure the reformation of the guilty, tend necessarily to deprive punishment of its just terrors; and that the benefit which imprisonment may confer on the moral condition of those who are the subjects of it, will consequently prove a dangerous incitement to the commission of crime. But neither reason nor experience confirm this apprehension; for the reformatory measures adopted co-operate with, rather than weaken the effect of, severity of discipline; and whatever ultimate moral advantage the prisoner may derive from confinement, if punishment accompanies, and in some mea. sure conveys the benefit, the criminal at large will never be induced, for the attainment of it, voluntarily to sacrifice his habits, and abandon his propensities. Hard labour, spare diet, and seclusion from vicious association, are not only corrective, but exemplary punishments. The communication of religious instruction, while it militates against no just punishment, induces habits of restraint and order; and it may safely be affirmed that if the criminal at large be prepared to make the sacrifice, and submit to the privations of imprisonment, in order to become an honest man, he will feel it to be far easier to attain the end by other means more creditable and less obnoxious.
Such sentiments very generally guide the opinions, and animate the efforts, of the friends to the improvement of prisons. During the past year these exertions have been steadily maintained; and there can be no question but that the number of improvements in various gaols would have been considerably greater, but for the general desire which has prevailed to await the passing of the Act for the consolidation and amendment of Prison Laws. The Committee have, in their preceding Reports, adverted to this Bill, the importance of which may not appear obvious to those who are unacquainted with the actual condition, at the present time, of many of our gaols. To afford this information, the Committee submit a brief account of a few prisons, and there are many equally defective,-which strikingly evince the necessity that has existed for parliamentary interference and regulation.
In one place of confinement the only house of correction for a populous county-it is the constant practice to confine five prisoners at night in a cell, originally constructed for the reception of one bed only: the dimensions of this cell are only seven feet wide by ten in length; and the height, including the arched cieling, nine to ten feet: two barrack-bedsteads are placed on the floor, and a shelf is fixed to the three walls of the cells, with a ladder in the centre by which three prisoners mount to get at their confined beds. It is revolting to the feelings to imagine five men (and in the last year even seven were thus confined) occupying, night after night, a space originally constructed for one man; and this practice has been continued, from year to year, without any attempt to enlarge the prison, or to erect a new one. At the period of a late visit, the number of prisoners exceeded two hundred. Several of the cells are used as sick wards; there being, strange to say, no infirmary in this prison. After this description, it is almost needless to add that the classification during the day is most defective. In the misdemeanants' ward, which contained forty-six prisoners, were lately three insane men: one of them had been in the prison from the time of its completion, a period of sixteen years! The other lunatic had been confined in this afflicted state for eight, and the third for three years.*
At a county-gaol, which has recently come under the attention of the Committee, the prisoners committed for the assizes-that is, those charged with felonies-are, on their first reception, double-ironed ; and, thus fettered, are at night chained down in bed; the chain being fixed to the floor of the cell and fastened to the leg-fetters of the prisoners. This chain is of sufficient length to enable the prisoner to raise himself in bed; his cell is then locked, and he continues thus chained down from seven o'clock in the evening until six the TM next morning. As there are in this county but two gaol-deliveries in the year, a prisoner may continue to be thus treated for six or eight months, and be then acquitted as innocent on his 'trial : the double-irons thus used on the untried prisoner vary in weight from ten to fourteen pounds.
* It is much to be regretted that in the new Prison Act there is no clause requiring the removal of insane prisoners to a lunatic asylum, or their separate confinement until they are removed thither, by virtue of a warrant signed by one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, agreeably to the Statute of 56 Geo. III. cap. 117.
In another county-gaol to which the Committee could refer, the classification consists of two departments only. Some of the prisoners are under sentence of death; others are untried; several are detained for various terms of imprisonment, from three to five years ; these, together with all juvenile offenders, are confounded together, uninspected and almost uncontrolled, in utter idleness, and of course corrupting one another. In one corner of a day-room, which was crowded with prisoners, on a recent visit, was noticed one of four lunatics who are confined in this prison: another was the object of sport to his companions. These wretched persons had been committed as dangerous to be at large. The evils resulting from this neglected state of prison discipline, are returning in the part of the country in which this prison is situated, in an increasing ratio of re-commitments, especially among juvenile offenders. Several striking instances are on record of boys and of young girls, who had passed but a few months in this prison, for light offences, and who have subsequently returned
into confinement for serious crimes. In this prison, persons committed for trial are fettered with irons, the weight of which is from seven to nine pounds.
The preamble of the new Prison Act declares that it is expedient that such measures should be adopted, and such arrangements made in prison discipline, as shall not only provide for the safe custody, but shall also tend more effectually to preserve the health and improve the morals of the prisoners, and shall insure the proper measure of punishment to convicted offenders: and that due classification, inspection, regular labour and employment, and religious and moral instruction, are essential to the discipline of a prison, and the reformation of offenders.
It is not necessary that the Committee should give, on the present occasion, the substance of the various clauses of this Act. It will, however, be interesting to the reader to learn that the following are among other important regulations which it contains :
Due provision is to be made in every prison for the enforcement of hard labour in the cases of such prisoners as may be sentenced thereto, and for the employment of other prisoners.
The male and female prisoners will be confined in separate buildings, or parts of the prison, so as to prevent them from seeing, conversing, or holding any intercourse with each other; and the prisoners of each sex are to be divided into distinct classes ; care being taken that the prisoners of the following classes do not intermix with each other:
In Gaols ;-1st, debtors, and persons confined for contempt of court on civil process; 2d, prisoners con