Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/376

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362
PRISON


persons after arrest or sentence by arbitrary authority or process of law.

The earliest object sought in imprisonment was to secure the person of the accused to ensure his appearance before his Early judges for trial, and after conviction to produce him pg“mes to take his punishment. They were applied to other uses less justifiable or defensible; they served to execute the will of the despotic master upon all who set themselves in opposition to his authority, or were decreed, more or less wisely but still arbitrarily, by a government in the best interests of society, organized for the general good. Coercion and intimidation slowly came to be leading ideas, the infliction of a lesser penalty than the capital. The deprivation of liberty under irksome circumstances, rough lodging, hard' fare and perpetual labour was after all a milder measure than death, although long years elapsed before the prison was so used. Penal codes depended rather upon shorter and more cruel methods; the scaffold was in constant use, with all manner of physical pain, torture before and after sentence, shameful exposure, hideous mutilation, exile, selling into bondage as slaves. Incarceration was no doubt practised by irresponsible masters, regardless of personal rights, callous to the sufferings of their victims, to which death by starvation or horrible neglect was a welcome relief. But consignment to a prison for lengthened periods was, as a penalty, of more recent introduction, and of still later date is the recognition of the duties incumbent upon the authority to use its powers mercifully by humane endeavours to reform and improve those on whom it laid hands. The progress made can only be realized by considering what prisons once were. The shocking picture drawn by John Howard Howar-af, of the state of prisons at the latter end of the 18th Reformsln century will last for all time. They were for the E“g""“"' most part pestiferous dens, overcrowded, dark, foully dirty, not only ill ventilated, but deprived altogether of fresh air. The wretched inmates were dependent for food upon the Caprice of their gaolers or the charity of the benevolent; water was denied them except in the scantiest proportions; their only bedding was putrid straw. Every one in durance, whether tried or untried, was heavily ironed. All alike were subject to the rapacity of their gaolers and the extort ions of their fellows. Gaol fees were levied ruthlessly-“ garnish ” also, the tax or contribution paid by each individual to a common fund to be spent by the whole body, generally in drink. Idleness, drunkenness, vicious intercourse, sickness, starvation, squalor, cruelty, chains, awful oppression and everywhere culpable neglect—in these words may be summed up the state of the gaols at the time of Howard's visitation.

At this time prisons were primarily places of detention, not of punishment, peopled by accused persons, still innocent in the eyes of the law, and debtors guilty only of breaches of the financial rules of a commercial country, framed chiefly in the interest of the creditor. Freedom from arrest was guaranteed by Magna Carta, save on a criminal charge, yet thousands were committed to gaol on legal fictions and retained indefinitely for costs far in excess of the original debt. The impecunious were locked up and deprived of all hope of earning means to obtain enlargement; while their families and persons dependent on them shared their imprisonment and added to the overcrowding. The prisons were always full. Gaol deliveries were of rare occurrence, even when tardy trial ended in acquittal release was delayed until illegal charges in the way of fees had been satisfied. In the article DEPORTATION it is shown how the discoveries in the southern seas led to the adoption of penal exile in preference to other suggested improvements in the English prison systems. The penitentiary scheme proposed by Howard was not, however, abandoned. It was revised and kept alive by jeremy Bentham in his fanatical scheme for a “panopticon or inspection house, ” described as “ a circular building, an iron cage glazed, a glass lantern as large as Ranelagh, with the cells on the outer circumference.” His plan was to keep every inmate of every cell under constant close observation, and all were to be reformed by solitude and seclusion while constantly employed in remunerative labour, in the proits of which they were to share. The scheme hung fire, owing, it was alleged, to the personal hostility of George III. to Bentham as an advanced radical. Lands were, however, purchased which were eventually taken over by the government and utilized for the erection of Millbank penitentiary, begun in 1813 and partially completed in 1816. It was now fully recognized that the reformation of prisoners could best be attempted by seclusion, “ employment and religious instruction.” Millbank, as a new and most enlightened undertaking in prison affairs, was opened with much éclat. It was to be governed by a specially appointed committee of distinguished personages, the chairman being the Speaker of the House of Commons. The sum total expended upon the buildings amounted to half a million of money, and the yearly charges of the establishment were a heavy burden on the exchequer.

The erection of Millbank was a step in the right direction. The energy with which it was undertaken was the more remarkable because elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom the prisons, with few exceptions, remained deplorably bad. ]. Neild, who in 1812 followed in the footsteps of John Howard, found that the old conditions remained unchanged. “ The great reformation produced by Howard, ” to use Neild's own words, “ was merely temporary . . 'prisons were relapsing into their former horrid state of privation, filthiness, severity and neglect.” Yet the legislature was alive to the need for prison reform. Besides the building of Millbank it had promulgated many acts for the amelioration of prisoners. Gaol fees were once more distinctly abolished; the appointment of chaplains was insisted upon, and the erection of improved prison buildings was rendered imperative upon local authorities. But these, with other and much older acts, remained in abeyance. Thus an act which provided for the classification of prisoners had remained a dead letter; even the separation of the males from the females was not a universal rule. Roused by these crying evils, a small band of earnest men formed themselves into an association for the improvement of prison discipline. They perambulated the country inspecting the prisons; they issued lengthy interrogatories to prison officials; they published periodical reports giving the result of their inquiries, with their views on the true principles of prison management, and much sound advice, accompanied by elaborate plans on the subject of prison construction. The labours of this society brought out into strong relief the naked deformity of the bulk of the British gaols. Speaking of St Albans from his personal observation Mr (afterwards Sir T. F.) Buxton, a most active member of the society, said: “ All were in ill health; almost all were in rags; almost all were filthy in the extreme. The state of the prison, the desperation of the prisoners, broadly hinted in their conversation and plainly expressed in their conduct, the uproar of oaths, complaints and obscenity, the indescribable stench, presented together a concentration of the utmost misery and the utmost guilt.” The reports of the society laid bare the existence of similar horrors in numbers of other gaols. Yet this was in 1818, when the legislature was setting a praiseworthy example-when half a million had been spent in providing large airy cells for a thousand prisoners. Even in London itself, within easy reach of the palatial Millbank penitentiary, the chief prison of the city, Newgate, was in a disgraceful condition. This had been exposed by a parliamentary inquiry as far back as 1814, but nothing had been done to remedy the evils laid bare. The state of the female side had already attracted the attention of that devoted woman, Mrs Fry, whose ministrations a.nd wonderful success no doubt encouraged, if they did not bring about, the formation of the Prison Society. Mrs Fry went first to Newgate in 1813, but only as a casual visitor. It was not until 1817 that she entered upon the noble work with which her name will ever be associated. She worked a miracle there in an incredibly short space of time. The ward into which she penetrated was like a den of wild beasts; it was filled with women unsexed, fighting, swearing, dancing, gaming, yelling and justly deserved its name of “ hell above ground.” Within a month it was transformed.