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1849. Reformation, characteristic Object of Separate System. 5
no reformation was attempted,-amendment met with no reward, vice with no discouragement; that under the probation system, the convict was made in every respect a worse man at the close than at the commencement of his sentence; and that with a most unhappy ingenuity we have hitherto contrived to avoid setting our prisoners at liberty in our colonies, there to earn their own bread, - until we had completed their demoralisation. Without being over sanguine, we may boldly say that there is nothing in these failures to destroy hope; nor to make it unreasonable to try, fully, fairly, and patiently, whether it be not possible to effect the necessary reformation among our criminals. None are more interested in the success of our present experiment than those who dread an accumulation of convicts at home, and who stand upon the right of this country to transport her felons to foreign lands. If, contrary to our hope and belief, these wretched beings should prove irreclaimable, we shall have to bear our burden as we may. If we cannot make them fit to be sent abroad, we must keep them at home. We may talk loudly of the imperial rights of the Mother Country, but neither God nor man will long permit us to promote our own good by the destruction of others, nor to exercise the monstrous privilege of turning a colony into a pesthouse of moral disease.
The reformation then of the offender, at least to the extent we hava indicated, is a main characteristic of the present system. We do not say it can be reckoned upon with such certainty as to dispense with the other means and objects comprised in punishment, because they also must ever enter into the basis of all penal legislation. But we cannot assign to reformation a secondary place. No other object should be allowed to contradict it; and it may justly claim a greater share of attention, because the difficulties which surround it are greater.
The plan which the present Government have finally determined on pursuing towards convicts sentenced to transportation, consists of four distinct parts; in each of which it is intended to combine punishment with reformation. 1st. Separate confinement. 2d. Compulsory labour in England, or within such a moderate distance from home as shall be consistent with exact supervision. 3d. Deportation to a distant colony. 4th. Partial restraint in the colony. These stages comprise every sort of punishment which has ever been included in the idea of transportation, and each is so to be carried into effect, as to embrace every agency which a Government can direct towards the amendment of criminals, and to exclude, as far as man can exclude, the operation of corrupting influences.
We proceed to notice each of these stages of punishment in their order, beginning with confinement on what is termed the Separate System. For the information of our general readers, we may here explain the distinction between the separate and the solitary systems. The prisoner has in each case a cell to himself: but the aim of the latter system is to cut him off from all human intercourse, even with his keepers ;-of the former, merely to prevent him from communicating with his fellow prisoners. The latter withholds occupation, and in some instances even exercise and light; the former seeks to cultivate the mental and bodily faculties, and to counteract, by frequent intercourse with the chaplain, schoolmaster, trades' instructors, and other officers of the prison, the depressing effects of solitude. Hitherto, the master evil of imprisonment has arisen from the aggregation of criminals. Whenever these unhappy beings are associated together, a moral fermentation seems to take place in the whole mass; vice is engendered with incredible quickness and painful intensity; the leaven of guilt leavens the whole lump; the less depraved are soon deteriorated to the level of the worst, and forms of wickedness before unheard of gradually appear. To a man exposed to this noxious influence amendment is impossible: a convict's own expression was, “it is no use trying to repent here. The precepts of religion fall unheeded on the heart; relaxation leads to more audacious guilt, and an increase of severity to hardness and desperation. From the universal perception of this evil, there has proceeded a variety of attempts to remedy it. The solitary system and the silent system have both been tried; but they call for no remark, as they have been abandoned, or are falling fast into disrepute.
But the classification system, with various modifications, still retains its ground, and is extensively used in England - not so much on account of its fancied efficacy when compared with the separate system, as on account of its presumed cheapness. Accordingly, a number of persons still contend that the principle of classification, if not so perfect as that of separation, is yet sufficiently good for the purpose, and, therefore, for reasons of economy, ought to be adopted. Unfortunately the country has gone to a very great expense in building prisons adapted to this principle. When about thirty years ago attention was much directed to the improvement of our gaols, it was believed, and on high authority, that classification would effect every thing that could be desired in the way of reformatory punishment; and persons who had been witnesses of the horrors of the old system were so impressed with the comparative superiority of classification, that they did not anticipate the possibility of any further improvement. Such being the deliberate opinion of those who guided the public mind, the principle of classification was made the basis of the act 4 Geo. 4. c. 64., which was passed in 1823, and under the powers of which a vast number of our modern gaols have been erected. The expenditure has been so enormous, that it is natural there should be an extreme indisposition to review the question. Consequently, classification still continues to be tried in every way and under all conditions, and finds numerous if not disinterested advocates. But considerations of economy must not be allowed to mislead us as to facts, nor may we shut our eyes against the truth. We are constrained to believe that classification, however careful and minute, excepting of course the mere separation of the sexes, has always been, and must always be, insufficient to meet the evil; and that to hope by classification to remedy the mischiefs springing from aggregation of criminals, is a pure delusion. The practicability of useful classification necessarily depends upon our having some test by which we can ascertain the moral condition of prisoners, and so divide them into classes accordingly. But such a test cannot be found. The sentence is no test, the crime is no test. An untried debtor may be more demoralised and polluted than a convicted murderer, and ten thousand times more injurious to his associates. While these difficulties remain, and until we can by intuition ascertain the motives and dispositions of others, classification not only will fail partially, but will fail wholly, to effect the object for which it is resorted to.
The futility of attempts at classification is so universally agreed upon among all competent observers, that we feel we need not go over the ground, already* carefully traversed by Mr. Field; nor reproduce the testimony of MM. de Beaumont and de Tocqueville, after examining the prison discipline of the United States, - nor the equivalent statement of the Committee of the House of Commons in 1832-nor that of the Surveyor General of prisons, Colonel Jebb, in his report of 1847, Instead of being surprised at such instances of systematic contamination as Captain O'Brien met with in the gaol at Coventry,
* We would refer those who entertain any doubt on this point, to the second and third chapters of Mr. Field's valuable work. Indeed Mr. Field bas collected so many facts and weighty opinions on the various questions connected with imprisonment, and illustrated them so well by his own experience at Reading Gaol, that we can strongly recommend his book to the notice of our readers. In whatever respects we may differ from Captain Maconochie and Mr. Pearson, we beg to assure them also, that we are very thankful to them for the interest they manifest in the solution of these painful problems.
in Nottingham town prison, and Boston prison, and which he has exposed in the last Report of the Prison Inspectors, we are satisfied that, so far from being exceptional cases, they must constantly and inevitably occur whenever classification is in use.
It is really unnecessary, at the present day, to accumulate evidence on the utter inefficiency of classification ; while it is indisputable that the separate system can be open to none of these disadvantages. It presents a solution of the great problem of combining concentration with separation. By concentration, the power is obtained of enforcing efficient discipline, of giving industrial teaching, intellectual education, and religious instruction; by separation, the evils of aggregation are entirely avoided, mutual demoralisation is rendered impossible, and the necessary prison regulations may be carried into effect without frequent and irritating punishment - without creating fresh temptations to disobedience, and a new catalogue of offences.
The separate system is not only a better system than classification in preventing evil, but the punishment is far more severe. Besides the restraint of imprisonment, there is the additional suffering occasioned by solitude, which to criminals is peculiarly distasteful. • The reformatory character of such a gaol (says Ignotus) is, to such persons, an object of real terror.' The principle of classification has been so generally surrendered, that the argument has of late been confined to raising objections against the working of the separate system. The first is of a negative kind; it is affirmed that the separate system is not reformatory. This is to misstate the case. It is not contended that any mode of imprisonment is, in itself, reformatory. If a bad man could be converted into a good man by the simple expedient of shutting him up in a cell by himself, criminal legislation would indeed be an easy task. The utmost that is claimed for the system of separation is, that it is an auxiliary agency, and that it renders reformation possible. It breaks off evil habits and evil associations. It combines labour and moral teaching. It prepares the way for the only direct reformatory agency which it is given to human beings to use towards each otherinstruction in religion by good men, worthy to be its representatives, and whose lives are a witness to its truth and power.
It is almost superfluous to argue, that the ground in which the seed of good is to be sown, ought to be, in some degree, prepared for its reception. For this purpose, it is a great advantage that we are able to remove the prisoner from daily temptation and encouragement in evil; that, by solitude, we can sober the mind from the intoxicating excitement of a vicious life; and, by
moderate diet, lower the tone of the physical frame, and subdue the violence of the animal appetites. In such a condition, the man becomes susceptible to moral and religious impressions ; even real penitence may be felt. It is quite possible that the repentance may be short, and weak against future temptations ; but still it is of unspeakable importance. How shall we hope to realise the end, if we despise the beginning? Is the flame to be kindled, if we, by our perverse legislation, systematically quench the smoking flax? Instead of turning back to count the cost of the first step, shall we not rather go on with the good work?
The more positive objections to the system, as practised in the model prison at Pentonville, are the comforts enjoyed, under it, by the prisoners, compared with the privations of the honest labourer; while, somewhat in contradiction to this allegation, its restraints are at the same time denounced, for being so severe as to break down the body and mind, and lead to disease and insanity. It is the less necessary to go at any length into these objections at present, since this part of the case has been effectually disposed of in a recent Number (163.) of the Quarterly • Review. But we must say a word or two for ourselves.
We are shown the picture of the Dorsetshire peasant, ground down by ceaseless labour, with insufficient food, scanty clothing, little fuel, a miserable cottage, and a half-starved family: contrasted with this is the Pentonville prisoner - in a comfortable cell
, with plenty of food, abundance of clothing, artificial warmth and ventilation, medical attendance, easy work, and a schoolmaster to teach him. The unanswerable reply to all such objections is the statement of the fact, - and that it is a fact is proved by actual experiment, — that all these aids are absolutely required, to enable the prisoner to bear bis punishment. The point to be ascertained was this:-a man being under confinement in air of a certain temperature, and having to perform a certain amount of work, what is the smallest quantity of food which will support him in health? To decide this question, a series of experiments was undertaken, and five different dietaries were in succession adopted.
Under the first dietary, which was the lowest, no less than 80 per cent. of the prisoners suffered a serious loss of weight and strength. The second dietary was then tried, by which the prisoners received an increased quantity of bread : under its operation the debility and lassitude continued; but the loss of weight was not so great as before, and the per-centage of the prisoners affected by it was reduced to 43. Under the third dietary, the meat was increased, and the bread diminished back to the quantity allowed in the first dietary: the result of this