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ART. I.-1. Reports of the Commissioners of Pentonville Prison. 1847 and 1848.
2. Second Report of the Surveyor-General on the Construction of Prisons. 1847.
3. Fourteenth Report of the Prison Inspectors. 1849.
4. The precise present Character of Transportation. By IGNOTUS. London: 1849.
5. Correspondence on the subject of Convict Discipline and Conversation. Presented to both Houses of Parliament, 5th May, 1848.
6. Further Correspondence on the subject of Convict Discipline and Transportation: in continuation of Papers presented 16th February, 15th April, 14th May, 1847, and 5th May, 1848. Presented to both Houses of Parliament, February, 1849. 7. Prison Discipline, and the Advantages of the Separate System of Imprisonment, with a detailed Account of the Discipline now pursued in the New County Gaol, at Reading. By the Rev. J. FIELD, Chaplain: London, 1848.
ALTHOUGH Secondary Punishments have been the subject of
much theoretical discussion, as well as practical experiment for many years, it is curious to remark how slowly any distinct conclusion is arrived at; and that to the bulk of the community even the system now actually existing in this country is comparatively unknown. When Sir George Grey on the 8th of
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March last gave an exposition of that system, in his place in parliament, a leading member of the House of Commons, second to none in intelligence and industry, complained that the information was perfectly new, and ought to have been communicated in a more tangible and detailed shape; and was surprised at being told that every statement he had heard was taken from official or public documents, already printed and in circulation. It is still more startling perhaps to learn that, on a very recent examination of one of our provincial prisons, it was ascertained that every prisoner in it under sentence of transportation fully expected that he would not have to leave the country; and undoubtedly this belief is entertained by the great majority of our criminal population.
It may be, that such ignorance on the part of the public at large is nothing more than was to have been expected. To many persons the contemplation of physical suffering and moral evil is so distressing, the difficulty of doing any good is found to be so great, and the best results so unsatisfactory, that they eagerly turn away from the repulsive subject and leave its consideration to others. Those, again, who have been urged by their sense of public or private duty to give the matter some attention, are in no small degree perplexed by the variety of systems, and the changes which have taken place. If the fundamental principles on which secondary punishments are based are few, yet the manner in which these principles may be applied, and the forms and gradations of punishment, admit of endless variety and combination. So many experiments have been made, that it is difficult for people in general to have an accurate knowledge, which of them have been fairly tried and have failed,—which have failed because they have not been fairly tried, and which are now being adopted as affording the best hope of success. It is, however, undoubtedly to be wished that the public generally, most of all the lower orders, were aware of the fate which now awaits a convicted criminal. The importance of the question ought indeed to come home to every individual who thinks at all upon the solemn obligations of humanity on one side, and of justice and policy on the other. In Great Britain alone more than three thousand criminals are annually sentenced to transportation. In dealing with such a mass of crime, we are evidently engaged in a task of no ordinary magnitude; and on the judicious prosecution of which the gravest interests of the nation, domestic and colonial, are involved. It is our intention, therefore, to give an outline of the principles laid down by Lord John Russell's government as the basis of the system of transportation which they have adopted, and to subjoin some account of the measures now in progress for carrying them into effect.
The system of transportation and assignment of convicts was in force until 1840; and had been tried chiefly in New South Wales. Under its operation, the colony was found to have sunk into so deplorable a state of demoralisation, that the principle of assignment was in consequence abandoned, and the stream of transportation directed elsewhere. The next two years were a period of transition from one system to another. Then Sir Robert Peel's government came into power; and in 1843 established at Van Diemen's Land the probation' system. Under this arrangement, those convicts whose sentences did not exceed seven years, after working out their time, as before, or a certain portion of it, at hard labour in the hulks, were allowed to return, and be set at liberty in this country: the remainder were removed to Van Diemen's Land, where they were subjected to confinement and compulsory labour, and where, finally, unless again punished for gross misconduct, they attained freedom, either conditionally or absolutely. In 1846 the probation system was found to have been attended with such shocking consequences, that it was deemed absolutely necessary to suspend for two years transportation to Van Diemen's Land. While the government were attempting to devise some other way of disposing of our annual supply of offenders, Sir Robert Peel's ministry went out of office; and their successors were called upon at very short notice to review the whole question, and to grapple with its difficulties.
So appalling was the exposure of the effects produced in the Australian colonies by our system of transportation, that those on whom the chief responsibility rested hesitated respecting its renewal; and it became necessary gravely to consider, whether it was desirable or even justifiable that it should be resumed. Was it the practice which was defective, or was the principle unsound? On what grounds, it was asked, does England assume the singular privilege of establishing colonies to be deluged and drowned with the flood of her own wickedness? What right has any country to turn even a wilderness into a school of sin,-to create, even at the Antipodes, huge nurseries of depravity, -to pollute a young nation from its very birth, and to saturate with its own corruption the sources whence countless generations are to spring? These doubts are not to be removed by showing that the colonies may have no right to remonstrate: it signifies little whether they oppose or are participators in the guilt-if guilt it be. The questions will be asked, and the answers must be given, with reference to higher and more enduring considerations than the pleasure or the profit of England, or the material prosperity of her colonies.
On the other hand, there were not wanting arguments and facts to show that to retain offenders in the scene of their crimes and subject to the influence of their old associates, is to replunge them in wickedness, and expose society to increased and alarming dangers; and that expatriation is as necessary for the reformation of the one, as for the security of the other. The nation, too, without any very nice regard to ethical reasoning, evinced an evident determination not to permit transportation to be entirely given up; while, on that understanding, it was willing to grant to the executive power a wide latitude in their efforts so to deal with the convict population, -as to enforce punishment and removal from this country, and, at the same time, find some remedy for the evils against God and man with which transportation, as hitherto conducted, had been attended.
The end of Criminal Law is the prevention of crime, by disabling, deterring, or reforming. Disabling can be carried out to but a small extent; deterring has been every where the means principally relied upon-but has every where comparatively failed; reforming has hardly been tried at all. On considering the results of our experience, it will appear, we think, that as far as the difficulties of punishment and expatriation are difficulties of administration, they may probably be overcome. The real and ultimate dilemma (see the Edinburgh Review for July, 1847, No. 173.) is, what to do with our criminals when the time has arrived for setting them at liberty? This arises from the fact that their dispositions are still criminal; and, therefore, instead of being attracted to a life of industry by the rewards of labour, they return to a life of vice,-they prey upon and demoralise the community. If by any means something of reformation can be accomplished, the difficulty is removed. We do not mean complete reformation in the full sense of the word, but an alteration of ideas and feelings far more common; some notion of duty, a remembrance of suffering, a hope of being somewhat better, a desire to rise above the life of a criminal, -all combining to produce a wiser and a better state of mind; one, in which an offender, were he but removed from old scenes and associations, with plenty of work and good wages, and exposed to no unusual temptations, would generally take to honest pursuits, and become absorbed into the virtuous community around him, without doing them any appreciable injury. Before we argue from former experience, and pronounce this a vain hope, let us remember that, in a vast number of the prisons in England, reformation was and is impossible; that corruption was and is as certainly engendered there as ague in the Pontine Marshes; that under the old assignment system