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THE PENITENTIARY SYSTEM IN ENGLAND.
Nor is the idea of reforming criminals, by a system of discipline, new in this country. The establishment of Bridewells and Houses of Correction, at different periods, demonstrates that such plans have been considered by our ancestors as neither visionary nor impracticable.*
* By the 7 Ja. I. c. 4, rogues, vagabonds, idle and disore derly persons are to be committed to houses of correction and punished, “ by putting fetters or gives upon them, and by moderate whipping of them;" and they are to have no allowance whatever, “ but such as they shall deseroe by their own labour and work."
By a more reasonable statute (19 Cha. II. c. 4.) intitled, “ An Act for relief of poor prisoners, and setting them on work," it is observed, “ that there is not yet any suficient provision made for the relief and setting on work, of poor and needy persons, committed to the common gaol for felony and other misdemeanours, who many times perish before their trial; and the poor ere living idly and unemployed, become debauched, and come forth instructed in the practice of thievery and lewdness.” It is there. fore directed, that the justices may provide a stock of materials, and pay and provide fit persons to oversee and set the prisoners on work, and make orders for punishment of neg. lect, and other abuses; and for bestowing of the profit arising by the labour of the prisoners for their relief. These objects are more fully provided for by the 22 Geo.III.
If it be asked, why these establishments have not succeeded, it may be answered, because labour has been inforced as a punishment, and not encouraged as the means of amendment; because the directors of them have, by stripes and severity, compelled the hands to work, but they have hardened the disposition, and rendered the criminal more unwilling to engage in any useful occupation than he was before. Accordingly, sạch establishments are now justly regarded, not as places of reformation, but of punishment; and although they have of late attracted considerable notice, and are in many places much better regulated than formerly, yet, upon the whole, they may be considered as tending to increase, rather than diminish, the general depravity of manners, and as unworthy the character of a great and enlightened country.
Towards the end of the last century, a more effectual attempt was made. The be neficent labours of Mr. Howard had opened to his countrymen the dreadful state of the prisons, and had represented the miseries, which,
c. 64.-24 Geo, III. c. 54.--and 31 Geo. III. c. 46.-containing many judicious and humane directions; which, if they had been duly carried into execution, would, in a great degree, have obviated the complaints so justly made of the inefficacy and injurious effects of these establishments.
under a mistaken idea of justice, were inflicted on their unfortunate though guilty inmates. In his journeys to the continent, he had paid particular attention to the good effects produced by the habits of industry and regularity, inculcated on criminals, in the different places through which he passed; and he had imbibed a thorough conviction, that the introduction of a similar plan into this country, would be productive of the greatest utility. At the same time, other circumstances seemed favourable to the promotion of his design. Sir William Blackstone had published his celebrated Commentaries, by which he had demonstrated, that the general spirit of the Law of England is not cruel and oppressive, but mild and merciful; and Mr. Eden, afterwards Lord Auckland, gave to the world his treatise on penal Law,a work that must always rank amongst the most valuable productions of the kind.
It is truly remarkable, that these three distinguished individuals, who, of all men living, were, perhaps, the best qualified to judge on such a subject, were so strongly impressed with the practicability of a more humane and effectual system, that they earnestly united in promoting this object; and in consequence of their exertions, an act passed the legislature, in the year 1779, for establishing Penitentiary Houses near the Metropolis ; the great objects of which were, to
seclude the criminals from their former associates; to separate those of whom hopes might be entertained, from those who were desperate; to teach them useful trades; to accustom them to habits of industry; to give them religious instruction, and to provide them with a recommendation to the world, and the means of obtaining an honest livelihood after the expiration of the term of their punishment.” In the opinion of Sir William Blackstone, “ It was a system which united in itself so many advantages, and held out so flattering a prospect of success, that, if properly executed, there was reason to hope that such a reformation might be effected in the lower classes of mankind, and such a gradual scale of punishment be affixed to all gradations of guilt, as might in time supersede the necessity of capital punishments, except for very atrocious crimes.” The sentiments of Mr. Howard, though more cautiously expressed, are not less favourable to the expediency of such an attempt. “A proper plan,” says he, “ for the government of penitentiary houses is of great importance, and is more practicable than some suspect. I am aware, indeed, of the difficulty of accomplishing so arduous an undertaking as that of reforming criminals, and inuring them to habits of industry; yet, when it is for the public good, we ought to make experiments; and, indeed, what have I been doing in collecting the regulations of some of the best directed houses of correction in Europe, and such as experience has proved to be practicable, but endeavouring to facilitate the execution of this useful design?*
On the passing this act, Mr. Howard was considered as one of the most suitable persons to be intrusted with the direction of these establishments; and he was accordingly appointed, in conjunction with his friend, the late Dr. Fothergill, and Mr. Whatley, a commissioner for superintending and directing the buildings, and carrying the intentions of the legislature into effect.
* Account of Lazarettos, p. 226.
† His motives for entering on this undertaking are thus stated: “ I wish that no persons might suffer capitally, but for murder,--for setting houses on fire,—and for house-breaking, attended with acts of cruelty. Our present laws are certainly too sanguinary, and are therefore ill executed; which last circumstance, by encouraging offenders to hope that they may escape punishment, even after conviction, greatly tends to increase the number of crimes. Yet many are brought to a premature end, who might have been made useful to the state. Indeed, I the more earnestly embarked in the scheme of erecting penitentiary houses, from seeing cart-loads of our fellow-creatures carried to execution ; " though the generous nature of our countrymen rarely permits them to perpetrate acts of cruelty.”—When at the same time I was fully persuaded that many of those unbappy wretches, by regulur, steady discipline in a penitentiary house, would have been rendered useful members of society; and above all, from the pleasing hope, that