Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/379

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365
PRISON


labour in silence, was still preferred; and there might be prisons within a short distance of each other at which two entirely different systems of discipline were in force.. In 1849 Mr Charles Pearson, M.P., moved for a select committee to report upon the best means of securing some uniform system which should be at once punitive, reformatory and self-supporting. He urged that all existing plans were inefiicacious, and he advocated a new scheme by which the labour of all prisoners should be applied to agriculture in district prisons. The result of a full inquiry was the reiteration of views already accepted in theory but not yet generally adopted in practice. Thirteen more years elapsed and still no such steps had been taken. A new committee sat in 1863, and in its report again remarked in no measured terms upon the many and wide differences that still existed in the gaols of Great Britain as regards construction, diet, labour and general discipline, “leading to an inequality, uncertainty and inefficiency of punishment productive of the most prejudicial results.” Matters could only be mended by the exercise of legislative authority, and this came in the Prison Act of 1865, an act which consolidated all previous statutes on the subject of prison discipline, many of its provisions being still in force. Yet the years passed and uniformity was still far from secured; it was impossible indeed while prison administration was still left to a number of local authorities, no two of which were often of the same mind. The legislature had tried its best, but had failed. It had exercised some supervision through its inspectors, had forbidden cells to be used until duly certified as ht, and had threatened to withhold exchequer contributions from prisons of which unfavourable reports were received. Such penalties had exercised no sufficient terrors. It began to be understood, moreover, that the prisons under local jurisdictions were not always conveniently and economically situated. Crime, with the many facilities offered for rapid locomotion to those who committed it, had ceased to be merely local, and the whole state rather than individual communities ought. to be taxed; prison charges should be borne by the public exchequer and not by local rates. These considerations gained strength and led at length to the introduction of the Prison Bill which became law in 1877, by which the control of all gaols was vested in a body of prison commissioners appointed by and responsible to the home secretary. These commissioners had power to consolidate by closing superfluous prisons, to establish one system of discipline, and generally by watchful supervision, aided by the experience of specialists, to maintain that much desired uniformity which had been so long and unsuccessfully sought. At the same time the co-operation of the local magistrates was invited so far as advice and assistance were concerned; but all real power and control has passed from their hands into that of the commissioners of prisons. The system established by the act of 1877 is that now in force. As for penal servitude, the punishment reserved for the gravest offences, great changes had been introduced. We left this branch of the subject at a parliamentary inquiry. The verdict given was in the main satisfactory; but doubts were expressed as to the severity of the discipline inflicted, the principal features of which were moderate labour, ample diet and substantial gratuities. The first was far less than the work free men did for a livelihood, the second larger, the third excessive, so that convicts often left prisons with thirty, forty, , even eighty pounds in their pockets. Penal servitude, to use the words of the lord chief justice Sir Alexander Cockburn, one of the members of the committee, “ was hardly calculated to produce on the mind of the criminal that salutary dread of the recurrence of the punishment which may be the means of deterring him and, through his example, others from the commission of crime.” The chief recommendation put forward to mend the system comprised lengthening of all sentences, a diminution in the dietaries, the abolition of large gratuities, and, speaking broadly, a general tightening of the reins. The most notable change however was in regard to labour, the quantity and value of which was to be regulated in future by the so-called “ mark-system.” This plan had originated with Captain Maconochie, at one time superintendent in Norfolk Island, who had recommended that the punishment inflicted upon criminals should be measured, not by time, but by the amount of labour actually performed. Int support of his theory he devised an ingenious system of recording the convicts' daily industry by marks, which on reaching a given total would entitle them to their release. This mark system had already been tried with good results in Ireland, where the Irish system, as it was called, introduced by Sir Walter Crofton, had attracted widespread attention. There had been a. very marked diminution in crime, attributable it was supposed to this system, which was in almost all respects the same as the English, although the Irish authorities had invented an “intermediate stage” in which convicts worked in a state of semi-freedom and thus practised the self-reliance which in many produced reform. As a matter of fact the diminution in crime was traceable to general causes, such as a general exodus by emigration, the introduction of a poor law and an increase in the facilities for earning an honest livelihood. It may be added here that judged by later experience the Irish system had no transcendent merits, and it is now extinct. But we owe something to the Irish practice which first popularized the idea of maintaining a strict supervision over convicts in a state of conditional release, and it reconciled us to a system which was long wrongfully stigmatized as espionage. The mark system, 'as recommended by the committee of 1863 and as subsequently introduced, had however little in common with either Maconochie's or the' Irish plan. It was similar in principle and thatwas all. According to the committee, every convict should have it in his 'power to earn a remission-in other words, to shorten his sentence by his 'industry. This industry was to be measured by marks earned by hard labour at the public works, after a short probational term of close “ separate ” confinement. But the remission gained did not mean absolute release. All males were to be sent, during the latter part of their sentence, “ without disguise to a thinly peopled colony, ” to work out their time and their own rehabilitation. The committee still clung to the old theory of transportation, and this in spite of the lively protests of some of its members. The one outlet remaining, however, that of Western Australia, was soon afterwards (1867) closed to convict emigrants; and this part of the committee's recommendations became a dead letter. Not so the mark system, or the plan of earning remission by steady industry. This was carried out on a broad and intelligent basis by officials prompt to avail themselves of the advantages it offered. Thus in 1877-1878 efforts were made to minimize contamination by segregating the worst criminals and restricting conversation at exercise. A special class was formed in 1880, in which all convicts “ not versed in crime, ” first offenders and comparatively innocent men, are now kept apart from the older and more hardened criminals. The committee last quoted gave it as their opinion that “ penal servitude as at present administered is on the whole satisfactory; it is effective as a punishment and free from serious abuses . a sentence of penal servitude is now generally an object of dread to the criminal population.” Since then, steps have been taken in the classification of convicts when undergoing sentence with a view to dealing more effectually with habitual criminals.

Having thus traced the history of secondary punishments and prison discipline in England, it will be well to de- Latest scribe the system now actually in force. This will M°”“f¢be best understood if we follow those who break;"'E"f°'° gPeuaI

the law through all the stages from that of arrest, Dimpmsthrough conviction, to release, conditional or in England. complete.

After a short detention in a police cell, an offender, unless disposed of summarily, passes into one of His Majesty's prisons, there to await his trial at sessions or assizes. The period thus spent in the provinces will never exceed three months; in London, with the frequent sitting at Clerkenwell and of the Central Criminal Court, it is seldom more than one month. While awaiting trial the prisoner may wear his own clothes, provide