페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

of Europe in the success of our efforts on this subject, is proved by the fact, that already several commissioners have visited us, for the express purpose of examining and reporting upon the condition of our penitentiaries ; and that, in every instance, they have recommended that our system, somewhat modified, should be adopted by their respective countries. Of these it will be sufficient to mention Mr. Crawford, commissioner from the Parliament of Great Britain, Messrs. Beaumont and De Tocqueville, from the French government, Dr. Julius, from the government of Prussia, and a commission from each of the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. It is delightful to be able in this manner to return a grateful acknowledgment for the obligations which have been conferred upon us by the benevolence and civilization of our mother country.

The interest which is taken in this subject, both at home and abroad ; its manifest connexion with all efforts which may be made for the moral improvement of a people ; nay, the number of persons who must be affected for good or for ill, by the prison discipline of a civilized country, * present sufficient reasons, why we should devote a larger portion of our pages than usual, to a review of the origin, progress, and present condition of the penitentiary system of the United States.

As evil in practice is, generally, the result of error in theory, we are commonly obliged to explode the one, before we are able to eradicate the other. It is, therefore, important to remark, that the notions which, for ages before the time of Howard, almost universally prevailed with respect to prison discipline, and which, to too great a degree, prevail at this day, present a striking illustration of the inconsistency of public sentiment on all moral subjects. Any one, who will take the trouble to observe, will immediately perceive, that there exists, in the standard by which public opinion measures human guiltiness, a zero point, and a range of transgression both above and below it. This point is fixed, in the inain, by legislative enactment. Let a man be ever so corrupt, let him be faithless, impure, dishonest, only let him keep beyond the reach of the law, and he will, too frequently, in the ordinary intercourse of society, share in every mark of conventional respect. He is a member, in good standing, of the body politic.

* It is computed, that there are at least ten thousand persons, at the present moment, confined in prisons in the United States.

" Well dressed, well bred, Well equipaged, is ticket good enough

To pass us readily through every door.” We feel bound to sympathize in the sorrows of such an one, to rejoice in his successes, and, in the things in which he is faulty, to labor for his reformation.

But let a man be convicted of a transgression which brings him within the reach of the law ; let a civil process be issued against him ; let an officer take him into custody, and walk with him through the crowd of his silent, astonished, and unrecognising friends ; let him but cross the threshold of a jail, and hear the harsh bolts of a dungeon grate upon his ear ; let him be convicted by a jury, and sentenced by a judge, and abide for a longer or shorter period a term of confinement; and, moreover, let his manner be ill-bred, his appearance hirsute, his garments tattered, with not a lingering trace of the gentleman about him, and all his relations to society are instantly changed. It mattered not how many might be the circumstances extenuating his fault, whether the offence were the first or the fiftieth, nay, whether the culprit was young or old, ignorant or well informed ; until very lately, his treatment was, in all cases, precisely the same. It seemed as if society could look leniently upon everything else, but the infraction of her own laws; or, rather, as if we held, with the ancient Spartans, that crime did not consist in the act, but in its being detected. It had come to be believed, that, as soon as man became a convict, his very nature was changed, and all the relations of his fellow-men to him were changed also. Henceforth appeal to his reason or to his conscience was useless, and, like a brute, he could be influenced only by fear. Nay, it was worse than this. We address the hopes of brutes as well as their fears ; but no one ever addressed the hopes of the wretch, on whom the hand of punitive justice had fallen. He had lost caste. No one cared what became of him. It mattered not how much he might be abused, what insolence of office he might suffer, or how deeply the iron in the dungeon might enter into his soul. If he repented, and was in heart a reformed man, no one would believe him ; no one would employ him ; and he was obliged to give proof of his moral improvement, by suffering starvation unto death.

Henceforth, like a brutezhis. We adder address

How benevolent and how thoughtful was that proof of discipleship which our Saviour enjoined, “ I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

It is truly affecting to observe how universal, before the time of Howard, had become the neglect of every thing relating to prisons and prison discipline. Not only were prisons constructed without any regard to humanity, and without any design of promoting the reformation of prisoners, but it came to be the fact, that the whole economy of these moral charnel-houses was absolutely shut out from the thoughts of the happy and the virtuous. There was but one description of jail for the whole community, and into this were indiscriminately thrown debtors, thieves, murderers, persons detained for trial or as witnesses, lunatics, idiots, young and old, and frequently men and women, without classification and without constraint. If any solitary cells were to be found within these gloomy walls, they were generally under ground, dark, damp, chilly, and too filthy to be described ; and in these the more furious maniacs were incarcerated for life. The facts might have been easily ascertained by any one who chose to inquire into them. They must, we presume, have been known, they certainly ought to have been known, to judges, to grand jurors, to sheriffs, and frequently to lawyers. Yet, before Howard, no one had ever thought of directing the public attention to this shocking inhumanity. It is humiliating to reflect, how easily we become accustomed to the most enormous cruelty, and by how slight a circumstance a human being may be shut out from all our kindly sympathies.

" There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart;

It does not feel for man. The natural bond
Of brotherhood is severed, as the flax
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.”

It is the peculiar merit of Howard, that he unfolded to the civilized world the mysteries of the prison-house. It was his great object to lift the curtain, and reveal to mankind the atrocities which were perpetrated in the very bosom of society. His journals contain a full, an accurate, and an impartial disclosure of the condition of jails, prisons, penitentiaries, and hospitals, throughout Great Britain and the greater part of the continent. His labor was that of exploration. In this he was so completely successful, that it was impossible afterwards for the subject to be wholly forgotten. His labors must always be the groundwork of all that shall ever be done for the improvement of prison discipline ; and no one can henceforth treat upon the subject, without introducing his discourse with a eulogy upon the character and labors of John Howard, the Philanthropist.

But Howard confined himself, almost exclusively, to an exhibition of the evils which at that time existed ; and to the repeated inculcation and illustration of the fundamental principle, on which all improvements in prison discipline are founded, namely, There is nothing gained by the imprisonment of criminals, unless that imprisonment tend to reformation. He declares, that all his experience might be summed up in this one maxim. It is found in all his reports; it speaks out in all his correspondence. To direct the minds of men to its importance, was a labor of which the value can scarcely be exaggerated. But, unfortunately, Howard did not live to see his principles carried into practice under his own direction. He never embodied his ideas in the form of a prison, which should become the model for general imitation. He was in a commission for erecting a penitentiary in the vicinity of London, but, from disagreement with his fellow-laborers as to its local situation, he abandoned the undertaking. While he, therefore, demonstrated the fundamental principle, he left the manner of its practical application to be invented by others.

The result was, as might have been expected; Howard was canonized, and worthily, but the prisoners were 'neglected, and were in danger of being forgotten; so much easier is it to eulogize philanthropy, than to be indeed philanthropists. Notwithstanding Parliamentary inquiry, prisoners in Great Britain remained for a long time very much as they had been. We presume, that Mrs. Fry found about as much misery and vice in Newgate, as Mr. Howard had found there fifty years before. If the writings of Mr. Dickens are pictures from life, we fear that things there are but little better now. With the exception of the prison at Gloucester, and perhaps a few others, we doubt whether, notwithstanding all the disclosures of Howard, any material improvement had taken place within the first thirty years after his death. Some efforts had been made to classify prisoners, and the treadmill (a punishment of doubtful utility) had been introduced into very common use ; but, beyond this, we be

time, is not remoting the ill be here is now have be

lieve that very little had been effected. Within the last twenty years, however, a brighter era has dawned upon the prisons of Great Britain. The labors of the “ Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline, and for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders," have been attended with cheering success; and there is now reason to hope, that every British prison will be hereafter constructed with the design of promoting the moral reformation of the criminal.

It is not remarkable that this country should, for a long time, have followed the example of Great Britain, in her system of prison discipline. It was natural, that our fathers should entertain the sentiments in which they had been educated ; and that they should erect, in this country, such prisons as they had been accustomed to see at home. Such was the fact. Our penitentiary system inherited all the vices of the land of our origin. The following description of the Walnut-Street prison, in Philadelphia, in the year 1783, is a picture, by no means exaggerated, of very many of the prisons, both in this country and in Europe at that period. Such have many of them continued until within a very recent date. We extract it from the pamphlet of Mr. G. W. Smith.

“On the 20th of November, 1783, the supreme executive council of this State appointed a committee of their body to confer with a deputation of the Society, respecting the abuses in prison discipline. We would willingly draw a veil over the horrid transactions, which the Society were the instruments of Providence in discovering, exposing, and finally, in a great measure, preventing. The prison was a perfect pandemonium, rendered only the more conspicuous and revolting, from the contrast with the institutions of wisdom and benevolence, which everywhere surrounded it. It had degenerated from the imperfect condition of a workhouse, which it had been in the days of Penn, and for some time subsequently. The cruelty, the crimes, the misery, and nearly all the abominations, which prevailed in the prisons of America and Europe, were the constituent parts of our system.”

“In this den of abomination, were mingled, in one revolting mass of festering corruption, all the collected elements of contagion ; all ages, colors, and seres were forced into one horrid, loathsome communion of depravity. Children, committed with their mothers, here first learned to lisp in the strange accents of blasphemy and execration. Young, pure, and modest females, committed for debt, here learned from the hateful society of abandoned prostitutes (whose resting-places on the

« 이전계속 »