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149

ON THE DISCIPLINE OF A PENITENTIARY.

One of the most important improvements that has hitherto been suggested in prison discipline, is that of the committee of the House of Commons, appointed, in the last session of parliament, to examine into the state of the prisons in the metropolis ; by which they propose a classification of prisons, instead of prisoners; in consequence of which, the several places of confinement in the metropolis, instead of being filled, as they are at present, with promiscuous prisoners of every description, would each be appropriated to a distinct class; so that debtors, persons untried, misdemeanants, and felons, may each be confined in separate places, and subjected to such regulations as the case requires. In this way,” they observe, "great additional accommodation would be afforded in each prison; and a mode of discipline might be adopted, suited to the condition of each class and description of offenders. The rules of rigour that are proper for convicted criminals, are surely improper to be applied to the untried; and the fine for a misdemeanour, cannot, in justice, be subject to the same severity of discipline

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which is applied to the correction of the felon."

Upon the same principle, it must be obvious to any one who considers the subject, that a Penitentiary is not a fit place of confinement for persons untried, and who are detained merely for safe custody; it being as yet undecided whether such persons be guilty or not; so that it would be, at least, premature, if not unjust, to subject them to a course of discipline, under the idea of effecting their reformation.

In the next place, it must be apparent, that when a person has been received into a Penitentiary, and has gone through the discipline of the place, and been discharged, as reformed, such a person ought not to be again received upon the commission of a new offence; because the process having been tried, and failed of its effect, a repetition of it can only be expected to be attended with a similar result; and consequently it becomes necessary, in that instance, to resort to a different mode of treatment.

Again, there may, in the opinion of many persons, and perhaps in the general estimation, be some crimes of such a character, either from their atrocity or their nature, as to render the delinquent an unfit object of admission into such an establishment; the perpetrators of which crimes must, therefore, be left to the punishments which the law has provided for

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them. And, on the other hand, there will always be a great class of minor offenders, who although the proper objects of correction, would, perhaps, be thought to be too severely visited by a sentence of imprisonment, for a period of sufficient duration, to admit of the discipline of a Penitentiary being attended by the desired effect.

Thus, then, it appears that the proper objects of a Penitentiary are only such persons, as have by their offences, subjected themselves to the operation of the law, and of whose reform a reasonable expectation may be entertained. A Penitentiary is not, therefore, a gaol; nor can it be combined, or perhaps united in the same building with a gaol, without its expected benefits being greatly diminished, if not wholly frustrated. It may rather be considered as a recurrence to our ancient establishment of a house of correction, with this most essential difference, that instead of punishing the criminal according to the supposed enormity of his offence, by stripes and severity, as was formerly the case, it professes, by measures more consistent with humane feelings and Christian principles, to reclaim and restore him again to society. Persons committed for life, or for long and irredeemable terms of years, are, therefore, no proper objects of a Penitentiary; as they would occupy a permanent sta

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tion, and deprive it of a certain proportion of its utility; which is increased according to the number of persons to whom it can extend its benefits. A Penitentiary is, in short, in the community, what the lungs are in the human body, an organ for purifying the circulation, and returning it, in a healthy state, to perform its office in the general mass.*

In a Penitentiary the buildings should be so constructed, as to admit of a separate room for each criminal, in which he should be confined alone by night. A solitary confinement, to this extent, seems necessary to produce any beneficial effect on the habits and character of crimipals; not only as it prevents their associating with, and corrupting each other, but as it affords leisure for that reflection, which, in such a situation, will sooner or later force itself on the most hardened mind. It is observed in the Report of the Commissioners for the State of

* I hope I may be allowed, without the charge of presumption, to differ from the opinion of Mr. Howard, that “ none should be committed to these houses, but old hardened offenders ; and those who have, as the laws now stand, forfeited their lives, by robbery, housebreaking, or similar crimes; or, in short, criminals who are to be confined for a long term, or for life."--Lazarettos, 221. As I cannot but think that the sooner any person is checked in the career of wickedness, the more easy will it be found to bring him to a due sense of his mis. conduct.

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Massachusetts, that “ from the experience of this institution, (referring to the State Prison of Philadelphia) and that at New-York, it will appear, that constant employment, and the usual means of instruction in morality and religion, are ineffectual for the reformation of criminals, (the great object of penitentiary establishments) unless they are debarred from all intercourse. The natural effect of a state of society amongst them is so obviously to counteract the penitentiary discipline, and to cherish the corrupt dispositions which form the bond of union, and the basis of all sympathy, among this class of men, that the establishment which admits of this indulgence may, with strict propriety, be called a school of vice.

It may further be observed, that much will also depend on the institution being provided with convenient work-rooms, where, under proper inspection, the prisoners may pursue their avocations, which will be done with much greater spirit and advantage, when a reasonable number are together, than when separately employed. Continual seclusion, both by night and day, will not only damp all exertion, but will produce the most unfavourable consequences, both on the mind and body. In order that any improvement should take place, either in the intellectual or moral character, an intercourse

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