Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/377

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
363
PRISON


and presented, says an eyewitness, “ a scene where stillness and propriety reigned.” The wild beasts were tamed. Movements similar to that which Mrs Fry headed were soon set on foot both in England and on the Continent, and public attention was generally directed to the urgent necessity for prison reform. Stimulated by the success achieved by Mrs Fry, the Prison Discipline Society continued its labours. Hostile critics were not wanting; many voices were raised in protest against the ultra-humanitarianism which sought to make gaols too comfortable and tended to pamper criminals. But the society pursued its objects, undeterred by sarcasm. Many of these are now accepted as axioms in prison treatment; for instance, that female officers only should have charge of female prisoners, that prisoners of both sexes should be kept apart and constantly employed. Yet these principles were unacknowledged at that time and were first enunciated in acts such as the 4 Geo. IV. c. 6 5 and the 5 Geo. IV. c. 85 (18z3~1824), the passing of which were mainly due to the strenuous exertions of the Prison Discipline Society. It was laid down in these that over and above safe custody it was essential to preserve health, improve morals, and enforce hard labour on all prisoners sentenced to it. Irons were strictly forbidden except in cases of “ urgent and absolute necessity, ” and it was ruled that every prisoner should have a bed to himself-if possible a separate cell, the last being the first formal statement of a principle upon which all future prison discipline was to be based.

The importance of these acts cannot be over-estimated as supplying a legal standard of efficiency by which all prisons could be measured. Still the progress of improvement was extremely' slow, and the managers of gaols still evaded or ignored the acts. Many local authorities grudged the money to rebuild or enlarge their gaols; others varied much in their interpretation of the rules as to hard labour and the hours of employment. One great drawback to general reform was that a large number of small prisons lay beyond the reach of the law. Those under small jurisdictions in the boroughs and under the petty corporate bodies continued open to the strongest re probation, and thus remained until they were swept away by the measure which brought about the reform of the municipal corporations in 18 3 5. But by this time a still more determined effort had been made to establish some uniform and improved system of prison discipline. In 18 31 a select committee of the House of Commons went into the whole subject of secondary punishment and reported that, as the difficulties in the way of an effective classification of prisoners were insurmountable, they were strongly in favour of the confinement of prisoners in separate cells, recommending that the whole of the prisons should be altered accordingly and the expense borne by the public exchequer. There can be little doubt that this committee was greatly struck by the superior methods of prison discipline pursued in the United States. The best American prisons had recently been visited by two eminent Frenchmen, I. A. de Beaumont and A. de Tocqueville, who spoke of them in terms of the highest praise. It was with the object of appropriating what was best in the American system that Mr W. Crawford was dispatched across the Atlantic on a special mission of inquiry. His exhaustive report, published in 1834, was a valuable contribution to the whole question of penal discipline. Another select committee, this time of the House of Lords, returned to the subject in 183 5, and after a long investigation re-enunciated the theory that all prisoners should be kept separate from one another. It also urged in strong terms the necessity for one uniform system of treatment, more especially as regarded dietaries, labour and education, and strongly recommended the appointment of official inspectors to enforce obedience to the acts. These recommendations were eventually adopted and formed the basis of a new departure. For fifty years transportation (see DEPORTATION) had been in England the principal form of secondary punishment for crime. Ameda” Primary or capital punishment still existed, but to a pmp ”s greatly modified extent. The pious Quakers of Pennsylvania at the end of the 18th century had realized

a. deeper duty towards the offenders than their extinction, and sought to amend and reform the living. The note struck first in the Walnut Street penitentiary began a new era in prison treatment, and the methods adopted were destined to extend over the whole world. This was the germ(of the nearly universal principle of individual confinement, and the origin of what some advanced thinkers have denounced as the greatest crime of the present age, the invention of the separate cell. It was and still is held by many that the criminal may be best and most effectually weaned from his evil ways by shutting him up for lengthy periods between four walls, and subjecting him, when most susceptible, to curative processes, to constant exhortation and searching introspection, changing his nature and restoring him to society a reformed man. It must be at once admitted that the system of isolation has produced no remarkable results. Solitary connnement has neither conquered nor appreciably diminished crime, even where it has been applied with extreme care, as in Belgium, and more recently in France, where it obtains strict and unbroken for long terms of years. Cloistered seclusion is an artificial condition quite at variance with human instincts and habits, and the treatment, long continued, has proved injurious to health, inducing mental breakdown. A slow death may be defended indeed on moral grounds if regeneration has been compassed, but it is only another form of capital punishment. Still the measures introduced in the United States and the action taken upon them fill a large page in prison history and must be recorded here. y

Several states in the Union followed the lead of Pennsylvania. That of New York built the great Auburn penitentiary in 1816 to carry out the new principles. There every prisoner was kept continuously in complete isolation. He saw no one, spoke to no one, and did no work. Within a short period very deplorable results began to show themselves. Many prisoners became insane; health was generally impaired and life greatly endangered. Mr Crawford, whose mission to the United States has been already referred to, was in favour of solitary confinement, but he could not deny that several cases of suicide followed this isolation. Some relaxation of the disastrous severity seemed desirable, and out of this grew the second great system, which was presently introduced at Auburn and afterwards at the no less renowned prison of Sing Sing. It was called the silent system. While the prisoners were still separated at night or meals, they were suffered to labour in association, but under a rule of silence ruthlessly and rigorously maintained. The latter, entrusted to irresponsible subordinates, degenerated into a despotism which brought the system into great discredit. All discipline officers were permitted to wield the whip summarily and without the slightest check. Under such a system the most frightful excesses were possible and many cases of brutal cruelty were laid bare. Reviewing the merits and demerits of each system, Mr Crawford gave his adhesion to that of unvarying solitude as pursued in the Eastern penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Mr Crawford came back from the United States an ardent champion of the solitary system. He saw, however, great difficulties in making this the universal rule, chief Cellular

among which was the enormous expense of provid- Sep, ,., , uon ing suitable prisons. Some modification of the rule of unbroken solitude would be inevitable; but he strongly urged its adoption for certain classes, and he was equally convinced of the imperative necessity for giving every prisoner a separate sleeping cell. It is clear that the government endorsed Mr Crawford's views. Where it was possible they gave effect to them at once. At Millbank, with its spacious solitary cells, the rule of seclusion was more and more strictly enforced. Ere long permissive legislation strove to disseminate the new principles. In 183O Lord John Russell had given it as his opinion that cellular separation was desirable in all prisons. But it was not until 1839 that an act was passed which laid it down that individuals might be confined separately in single cells. Even now the executive did not insist upon the construction of prisons on a new plan. It only set a good example