Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

of those, who are confined in them, for their reformation ; but, on the other hand, we seem to hurry them off the stage of life, by means of a code which annexes death to two hundred different offences, as if we had allowed our laws to have been written by the bloody pen of the pagan Draco. And it seems remarkable that this system should be persevered in, when we consider that death, as far as the experiment has been made in our own country, has little or no effect às a punishment for crimes. Forgery, and the circulation of forged paper, and the counterfeiting of the money of the realm, are capital offences, and are never pardoned. And yet no offences are more frequently committed than these. And it seems still more remarkable when we consider, in addition to this, that, in consequence of the experiments made in other countries, it seems to be approaching fast to an axiom, that crimes are less frequent in proportion as mercy takes the place of severity, or as there are judicious substitutes for the punishment of death.

I shall not inquire, in this place, how far the right of taking away life on many occasions, which is sanctioned by the law of the land, can be supported on the ground of justice, or how far a greater injury is done by it, than the injury the criminal has himself done. As Christians, it seems that we should be influenced by Christian principles. Now, nothing can be more true, than that Christianity commands us to be tenderhearted one to another, to have a tender forbearance one with another, and to regard one another as brethren. We are taught also that men, independently of their accountableness to their own governments, are accountable for their actions in a future state, and that punishments are unquestionably to follow. But where are our forbearance and our love; where is our regard for the temporal and eternal interests of man; where is our respect for the principles of the Gospel,--if we make the reformation of a criminal a less object than his punishment; or if we con

sign him to death in the midst of his sins, without having tried all the means in our power for his recovery?

Had the Quakers been the legislators of the world, they had long ago interwoven the principles of their discipline into their penal codes, and death had been long ago abolished as a punishment for crimes. As far as they have had any power with legislatures, they have procured an attention to these principles. George Fox remonstrated with the judges in his time on the subject of capital punishments. But the Quakers having been few in number, compared with the rest of their countrymen, and having had no seats in the legislature, and no predominant interest with the members of it, they have been unable to effect any change in England on this subject. In Pennsylvania, however, where they were the original colonists, they have had influence with their own government, and they have contributed to set up a model of jurisprudence worthy of the imitation of the world.

William Penn, on his arrival in America, formed a code of laws chiefly on quaker-principles, in which, however, death was inscribed as a punishment, but it was confined to murder. Queen Anne set this code aside, and substituted the statute and common law of the mother country. It was, however, resumed in time, and acted upon for some years; when it was set aside by the mother country again. From this time it continued dormant till the separation of America from England. But no sooner had this event taken place, which rendered the American states their own legislators, than the Pennsylvanian Quakers began to aim at obtaining an alteration of the penal laws. In this they were joined by worthy individuals of other denominations. And these, acting in union, procured from the legislature of Pennsylvania, in the year 1786, a reform of the crimi- . nal code. This reform, however, was not carried, in the opinion of the society, to a sufficient length. Accordingly they took the lead again, and exerted themselves afresh upon

1

this subject. Many of them formed themselves into a committee for alleviating the miseries of public prisons. Other persons co-operated with them in this undertaking also. At length, after great perseverance, they prevailed upon the same legislature, in the year 1790, to try an ameliorated system. This trial answered so well, that the same legislature again, in the year 1794, established an act, in which several quaker. principles were incorporated, and in which only the crime of premeditated murder was punishable with death.

As there is now but one capital offence in Pennsylvania, punishments for other offences are made up of fine, and imprisonment, and labour; and these are awarded separately or conjointly, according to the magnitude of the crime.

When criminals have been convicted, and sent to the great gaol of Philadelphia to undergo their punishment, it is expected of them that they should inaintain themselves out of their daily labour; that they should pay for their board and washing, and also for the use of their different implements of labour ; and that they should defray the expenses of their commitment, and of their prosecutions and their trials. An account, therefore, is regularly kept against them. And if, at the expiration of the term of their punishment, there should be a surplus of money in their favour, arising out of the produce of their work, it is given to them on their discharge.

An agreement is usually made about the price of prisonlabour between the inspector of the gaol and the employers of the criminals.

As reformation is now the great object in Pennsylvania, where offences have been committed, it is of the first importance that the gaoler and the different inspectors should be persons of moral character. Good example, religious advice, and humane treatment, on the part of these, will have a tendency to produce attention, respect, and love, on the part of the prisona

ers, and to influence their moral conduct. Hence it is a rule, never to be departed from, that none are to be chosen as successors to these different officers but such as shall be found on inquiry to have been exemplary in their lives.

As reformation, again, is now the great object, no corporal punishment is allowed in the prison; no keeper can strike a criminal; nor can any criminal be put into irons. All such punishments are considered as doing harm. They tend to extirpate a sense of shame. They tend to degrade a man, and to make him consider himself as degraded in his owneyes: whereas it is the design of this change in the penal system, that he should be constantly looking up to the restoration of his dignity as a man, and to the recovery of his moral character.

As reformation, again, is now the great object, the following system is adopted * ;-No intercourse is allowed between the males and the females, nor any between the untried and the convicted prisoners. Whiletbey are engaged in their labour, they are allowed to talk only upon the subject which immediately relates to their work. All unnecessary conversation is forbidden. Profane swearing is never overlooked. A strict watch is kept ihat no spirituous liquors may be introduced. Care is taken that all the prisoners have the benefit of religious instruction. The prison is accordingly open at stated times to the pastors of the different religious denominations of the place. And as the mind of man may be

As cleanliness is connected with health, and health with mo. rals, the prisoners are obliged to wash and clean themselves every morning before their work, and to bathe, in the summer season, in a large reservoir of water, which is provided in the court-yard of the prison for this purpose.

H.

worked upon by rewards as well as by punishinents, a hope is held out to the prisoners, that the time of their confinement may be shortened by their good behaviour. For the inspectors, if they have reason to believe that a solid reformation bas taken place in any individual, have a power

of interceding for his enlargement, and the executive government of granting it, if they think it proper. In cases, where the prisoners are refractory, they are usually put into solitary confinement, and deprived of the opportunity of working During this time the expences of their board and washing are going on; so that they are glad to get into employment again, that they may liquidate the debt, which, since the suspen. sion of their labour, has been accruing to the gaol.

In consequence of these regulations, they, who visit thie criminals in Philadelphia, in the hours of their labour, have more an idea of a large manufactory than of a prison. They see nail-makers, sawyers, carpenters, joiners, weavers, and others, all busily employed. They see regularity and order among

these. And as no chains are to be seen in the prison, they seem to forget their situation as criminals, and to look upon them as the free and honest labourers of a community following their respective trades.

In consequence of these regulations, great advantages lave arisen both to the criminals and to the state. The state hus experienced a diminution of crimes to the amount of one half, since the change of the penal system; and the criminals have been restored, in a great proportion, from the gaol to the community, as reformed persons; for few have been known to stay the whole term for their confinement. But no person could have had any of his time remitted him, except he had been considered, both by the inspectors and the executive government, as deserving it. This circumstance of permission to leave the prison, before the time expressed in

« ElőzőTovább »