Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

favourable condition of the Penitentiaries in the United States of America, is not to be attributed to any disadvantages unavoidably incident to the system itself, but may be fully accounted for by the relaxation of that kind and constant attention, which is requisite to the utility of such establishments; by the inadequacy of the buildings to the increasing population of the country, and the influx in consequence of emigration from the West Indies and other parts; by the privation of the prisoners, in several of the penitentiaries, of the whole, or too great a proportion of their earnings; and, above all, by the re-admission of criminals who have once been discharged, upon the conviction of a second offence.

It must indeed be admitted, that the facts here stated present a more unfavourable view of the American Penitentiaries than has before been given in this country; but this by no means militates against the truth and accuracy of the reports on this subject which have so frequently been laid before the public, and which on examination will be found to relate to a former period, whilst these institutions continued to answer their intended purpose. It is indeed only of late, that the inconveniences complained of have arisen to such an alarming degree; and these, there can be no doubt, will be speedily remedied by a recurrence to the princi

ples on which these institutions were originally founded, and to the system of discipline which was then maintained. At the same time the errors, no less, perhaps, than the improvements in criminal discipline and jurisprudence, of which the Transatlantic states have set the example, may be of use to others who choose to avail themselves of them; and may shew what is to be avoided on the one hand, as well as what is to be followed on the other.

111

THE PENITENTIARY SYSTEM ON THE CONTINENT

OF EUROPE.

That the practice of subjecting criminals to labour had been adopted by many nations on the continent of Europe, long before it was known either in this country or America, is certain. On Mr. Howard's first excursion in 1775, for the purpose of inspecting the state of the prisons in foreign parts, he found that criminals were employed, in various kinds of work, in most of the principal cities through which he passed; in some of which, it is probable, the same system had been carried on for centuries.* “ Offenders,” says he, “ are sentenced according to their crimes, for seven, ten, fifteen, twenty years, and upwards; but, to prevent despair, seldom for life. As an encouragement to sobriety and industry, those who distinguish themselves by such behaviour, are discharged before the expiration of their term. A prisoner

* “ The best and most satisfactory account both of the ancient and present state of these houses, may be found in Pontanus's Latin, and Wagenaar's Dutch, Description of Amsterdam.”-Howard's Account of Lazarettos, p. 229.

[ocr errors]

who gives information of an intended escape, is favoured much in this respect; his term is considerably shortened. A little before the election of new magistrates, those who are in office inspect these prisons, and inquire of the keeper, which prisoners, of those who have been confined a few years, have been diligent and orderly; and of the minister, which of them have been most attentive to public and private instructions. According to the accounts, they contract the appointed time of punishment; so that fourteen years will sometimes be reduced to eight or ten, and twelve years to six or seven. This practice of abridging the time of punishment upon reformation is, in every view, wise and beneficial. Indeed, I have some reason to think that criminals are often doomed to a longer term, with an intention to make such deductions upon their amend

ment."*

Proceeding through Holland, Mr. Howard visited Rotterdam, where he found a Rasp and Spin House, in which were about forty men, and a hundred women.

The former were employed three or four in a room, making fishing nets, carding wool, sorting coffee, &c.” The latter mostly in a manufacture of worsted,

spinning, and working at a great wheel, like

* State of Prisons, First Edit. p.

122.

those which at Derby are turned by water. * At Delft, there were ninety in the House of Correction; men and women quite separated ; all neat and clean, and looked healthy. They were all employed in a woollen manufacture; women spinning, carding, &c.

Men weaving from coarse to very fine cloth. If a prisoner had behaved well for a few years, and given proofs of amendment, the magistrates began to abridge the time for which he was sentenced. “ One whom I saw very cheerful,” says Mr. Howard, “ told me the cause of his joy was, that a year had lately been taken from his term.”+

At Amsterdam, the principal employment for the men is rasping logwood; but regard is had not only to the degree of guilt, but to the strength of the prisoners. Some were in the warehouses, sorting and weighing; others bringing the wood to the rooms, &c. At extra hours they made tobacco boxes, &c.; which they sold to visitants, who paid two stivers to go in. I In the spin-house Mr. Howard saw thirty-two women criminals, some of whom had been the most abandoned, sitting in presence of the Mistress, quiet and orderly, at their different sorts

* State of Prisons, 1st Ed. p. 122.
t Ibid. 142, 144.
Ibid. p. 126.

I

« PreviousContinue »