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To estimate these circumstances, we must look for the causes of the varieties.
From the nature of the works carried on at Sing-Sing, and the order established there, we may easily conceive the insurmountable obstacles that would be opposed to its prison regulations if they were not maintained by the most energetic modes of repression. Auburn does not require the exercise of so much strictness, because the regulations of the establishment are not exposed to the same sort of danger. Wethersfield enjoys, in this respect, also a better position: it only contains about two hundred prisoners, whilst at Auburn the average is six hundred and fifty. Now Sing-Sing contains more than nine hundred, a circumstance which will at once account for the difficulty of managing it. The question therefore is, can the discipline of such a prison do without the resource of corporeal inflictions ? To this question the commissioners reply, that they cannot take upon themselves to answer; we can only, they observe, say, that without such efficient auxiliaries, the difficulties of managing the convicts would be considerably increased, and the embarrassments would be greater; inasmuch as these establishments are on one simple basis, that of absolute silence, and that being once disturbed, the whole fabric must crumble down together. How then would it be possible to maintain good order and perfect silence amongst such a mass of criminals, if they were not exposed to the constant apprehension of prompt, certain, and severe chastisement ? This species of discipline, in the American prisons, is much more effective, because it is entirely left to the discretion of those who have the power of applying it. Neither at Sing-Sing nor at Auburn are the rules arranged in a written form: in both these places the superintendants are only bound, during their administration, to act conformably to verbal instruction, as delivered to them by the inspectors of the prisons; and to some written precepts, extracted from the statutes, relating to solitary confinement during the night, and to silence, with hard labour, during the day. As to all other matters of an executive nature, the superintendants are armed with discretionary power.
At Sing-Sing the superintendant has even the right of delegating this discretionary power to all his agents, and in fact he does transfer his authority to thirty keepers, who exercise the right of chastising the prisoners. At Auburn this power is vested solely in the superintendant, but, in cases of great urgency, it may be put in force by the guardians: the practice is similar at Boston. At Wethersfield, the prison regulations are written down, and the under-keepers cannot, in any case, exercise the corrective power belonging to the superintendant: the latter always uses it with great moderation.
In the State of New York, debates ran high upon the question, whether it was not indispensible that an inspector should be present when flogging was inflicted upon a prisoner? According to the
strict letter of the law, this is required; but then compliance with such an obligation caused the inspectors so many inconveniences, and so much unpleasant feeling, that at their special instance the duty was confided altogether to the keepers.
The administration of the vast penitentiary of Sing-Sing is so very difficult, that one is not inclined to dispute the right of the keepers to use their power at their own discretion. It would be difficult to say how far corporeal punishments are in accordance with the penitentiary system, the object of which is the reform of the culpable : if that punishment is considered ignominious, would it not directly tend to defeat the avowed intention of the institution ? it being always understood that such intention is to restore the moral feeling to a man who is degraded in his own opinion. This is the only point on which we feel inclined to argue the question ; but we cannot pretend to decide upon it positively, inasmuch as it greatly depends upon the kind of sentiment which prevails on the subject of chastisement ; but the discretionary power with which every keeper at Sing-Sing is entrusted to use this instrument, is not much objected to in the United States, Pennsylvania being perhaps the only one that continues to protest against the use of corporeal punishments, which, it is needless to say, is excluded from their prisons.
The Society of Friends raise their voices constantly against the inhumanity of this punishment, and their philanthropic views are aided by the eloquence of Edward Livingstone. Their wishes, however, are little attended to in the greater number of the States; and at the present time, in all the new penitentiaries, except that of Philadelphia, directors employ that mode of punishment, as a means of ensuring order and dicipline. The laws of the country authorise the practice they have adopted, and these laws have the sanction of public opinion.
Yet it is pretended that the whole regimen of these prisons is injurious to the health, and that the rigours of solitude, as well as the severity of the discipline, are alike fatal to the existence of the prisoners. On this great question our authors completely supersede all vague opinions by positive facts; for the whole of the prisoners whom they inspected in the prisons of the United States had all the appearances of being strong and healthy; and if we compare their mortuary calendar with those of the former prisons, we shall be convinced that the new penitentiaries, in defiance of their severe regimen and their pretended barbarous discipline, are much more favourable to the healthful existence of the convicts. Mr. E. Livingstone, instead of the whip, would substitute solitary imprisonment, night and day, without employment, and with a reduction in the allowance of food. It did not appear, certainly, that at Wethersfield this mode had produced any bad effects; yet it is known, that in the prison of Lamberton (New Jersey) ten persons have died under the operation of this mode of punishment, whilst not one convict has fallen a victim to corporeal chastise. ment.
In the old prison of Walnut-street, there has been annually an average of one death in sixteen prisoners; and in that of New York (Newgate), one in nineteen : yet in these prisons the convicts were neither kept in solitude nor condemned to silence, nor subjected to corporeal punishments.
In the new penitentiaries, which include as fundamental principles, solitude, silence, and the discipline of the whip, the mortality is much less in proportion: thus, the deaths at Sing-Sing, are one in thirty-seven; at Wethersfield, one in forty-four; at Baltimore, one in forty-nine; at Auburn, one in fifty-six ; and at Boston, one in fifty-eight. And were we even to go farther, and compare the mortality of the convicts in confinement, with that of the general mass of free people living in society, the result would be still more favourable to the salubrity of the penitentiaries. In Pennsylvania, for example, the average of deaths annually, is one in thirty-nine ; and in Maryland, one in forty-seven : thus we see, that in the old prisons, where there was free communication among those confined, and where the discipline was very mild, the deaths were greater, by at least one-half, than they were either in society at large, or in the new penitentiaries, where the prisoners are subjected to absolute silence, solitude, and the occasional use of the whip. These facts, we conceive, are more conclusive as to the state of the question than any mere reasoning unsupported by facts: thus then we find, that whilst, on the one hand, the constitution of the penitentiaries in America is severe; and whilst, on the other, the state of society in this State is established upon the most extended basis of rational liberty, yet the prisons of the country display a picture of the most perfect despotism. The honest citizens of the States, however, derive full protection from their laws; it is only in case a man departs from a just course of life and becomes wicked, that he is deprived of his liberty and his civil rights.
The third chapter of this excellent work is devoted to “ Reform,” as respects the criminals, distinguishing carefully the differences between that which is real, or radical reform, and that which is only superficial. It touches with a masterly hand the illusions of certain philanthropists upon prison penitentiaries.
There are in America, as well as in Europe, some estimable men whose minds are buoyant with philosophical reveries; these worthy persons, to whom philanthropy has become indispensable, discover in the penitentiary system an aliment for that generous passioncommencing in those abstract notions that lead the mind more or less from essential points, they believe that man, however he may be familiar with crime, is still at all times capable of being made virtuous, and that even the worst characters may in every case be restored to a right sense of honour and justice. Following up this illusion, they imagine that a time will come when every criminal will be radically reformed, at which epoch the prisons shall become empty, and that there will be no more delinquents for justice to punish. • Others, not exactly so sanguine, are eternally occupied with prisons—prisons are the objects of all their labours through life ; philanthropy has, as it were, become their profession, and it forms a monomania which induces them to believe that they can find a remedy for all the evils of society. It is easy to perceive how very much those worthy persons exaggerate the merit of these institutions ; it is quite unnecessary to do so, for the real and practical benefits they confer on society are quite sufficient to recommend them. There is one great advantage inherent in that species of penitentiary of which total solitude is the basis; namely, that the criminals do not become worse during their confinement than they were at its commencement: in this respect they differ essentially from the nature of the European prisons, where, instead of improving in morals, the prisoners become still more depraved.
We cannot too strongly recommend the following passage to the serious attention of those who may yet be wavering in opinion as to the necessity of making a total change from our present odious system of laboratories for crime, called "prisons,” to some system of an opposite character:
“Nothing can be,” say the learned commissioners, “more dreadfully injurious to society, than the mutual instruction in crime which these gaol associations engender : it is beyond dispute, that to this dangerous contagion, Europe, but especially England and France, are indebted for what may be considered as a new species amongst the population, a class that may be properly and specifically termed, the tribe of malefactors, and which, we lament to say, becomes every day more numerous and more menacing ; but this great evil is remedied completely by the penitentiary system of the United States."
All theories respecting the reform of criminals, are vague and uncertain. The commissioners have not yet ascertained how far the regeneration of the wicked may be accomplished, or the precise means by which that desirable object may be obtained ; but if we are ignorant of the means whereby the convicts may be morally improved, we do know from sad experience the fatal influence of evil communication in making them more corrupt. Therefore, the new penitentiaries in which that contagious influence is avoided, have gained a decided advantage, and the commissioners are of opinion, that as there has not yet been found a perfectly regenerating prison, the best of these penitentiaries is that which does not allow its inmates to become more corrupt. Yet though this is an important advantage, it is not all that is expected; the authors and promoters of this system, after having rescued the convict from the danger of increased demoralization by congregating together, have hopes of still rendering them better in morals, as will be seen by the means employed for that purpose.
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. In this respect, moral and religious instruction form the foundation of the system in all the penitentiaries : here the convicts are taught to read if requisite; at the school the attendance is quite voluntary, each prisoner considering it a great favour to gain permission to attend ; and when the candidates are more numerous than can be admitted, those are preferred to whom instruction would be most serviceable. As the prisoners are not compelled to attend the school, but are left to their own free will, there is more zeal and docility amongst those who do attend on these occasions. They are thus instructed every Sunday morning before the hour of religious worship, it being generally arranged that the clergyman who officiates on these occasions shall also preach a sermon, in which he abstains altogether from doctrinal discussion, confining his discourse to the moral precepts of religion; and thus the lecture is equally agreeable to the Catholic as well as Protestant, Presbyterian, or Unitarian hearers. Before each meal a prayer is said by the chaplain of the establishment, and each prisoner has in his cell a Bible, given him by the State, in which he may read during the hours he is not at his labour. This is the general routine ; but it is not uniformly the same in all the prisons, for some attach far greater importance to the religious instruction of the criminal than others. In the latter, moral reformation is only of secondary consideration, whilst the first make it the object of their particular attention. For example, at Sing-Sing, where, from its peculiar nature, the exercise of a rigorous discipline is imperative, its government seems to have in view only the maintenance of order and the passive obedience of the convicts, the moral influences are not attended to, and the primary and religious instruction are only secondary objects ; but at Auburn, Philadelphia, Wethersfield, and Boston, moral reform is much more attended to. It is quite certain that absolute solitude produces the most powerful impressions, the hearts of the prisoners appear much softened, and their disposition to receive impressions disposes them to cultivate the seeds of reform; they are disposed to entertain religious sentiments, and the recollections of home and their family appear to possess a great power over their feelings. The presence of a person who comes to speak with one of those isolated beings, is regarded as an immense benefit, the extent of which is fully appreciated.
« In one of our visits,” states the report, “a prisoner told us that it was a joyous thing for him to perceive the figure of the keeper who visited his cell. This summer," said he, “a cricket entered my enclosure-he appeared to me as a companion; and when a butterfly or other little creature enters my cell, I never think of doing it any harm !” Here is a change, that to us would appear almost incredible, because our bad system of imprisonment has a direct contrary tendency; instead of awakening the dormant conscience, and softening the heart, our moral pest-houses destroy the one and render the other more obdurate ; whilst in the American