Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

yell ; and when the fall of the heavy bolts told him that we were gone, he gave a shriek of horror, agony, and despair, which rang through the pentagon, and can never be forgotten. God grant that I may never hear such sounds again !

On coming again, after three or four months' absence, to this part of the prison, the inquiry naturally arose,

“ What has become of the man who pretended to be mad?” The answer was, “Oh, he went mad, and was sent off to Bedlam !”

The system of discipline in force in Millbank is of a mixed kind. The building was erected for solitary confinement, each prisoner in a separate cell, The number of cells so provided is 1,200; but the solitary system has never obtained an entire ascendency in the establishment; and it is now evidently on the wane. Not being provided with so many luxuries as the model cell at Pentonville, it is found that the cell at Millbank is very unpopular with the inmates, and the dread of it sometimes leads to fatal issues. Suicides and attempted suicides are among the ordinary events of this great prison; and they are accounted for by the strong desire of the prisoners to be taken out of solitude and placed in human society. These attempts at suicide are common to all gaols where there are separate cells—such is the horror of being alone! It is not to be supposed that the apparent suicide really intends to kill himself; he only wishes to make it appear that he is not fit to be left by himself, and so get removed. A curious case of this kind is referred to under the head of Middlesex House of Detention, in which the course of justice was clearly thwarted through the sympathy of the grand jury for sufferings which the man had inflicted upon himself in order to escape into association. The plan adopted is generally this : the convict listens at the door of his cell for the footsteps of the warder heard coming along the gallery ; when he believes him just at the distance which he will traverse in his round before anything fatal can occur, he swings himself up. The warder arrives at his cell—finds him hanging--gives an alarm-assistance is procured—he is cut down, and carried to the hospital, where, if he be lucky, he recovers in a week or ten days, and is then placed in a workroom with a number of his fellows. Sometimes the poor wretch makes a mistake; the warder does not come up in time ; and the rope gets its victim. Then the motive to the suicide remains a mystery. But most frequently it succeeds. The horror of a lonely cell is best seen in the fact, that so many convicts should think the advantage to be · gained by escaping from it worth the risk of death, and the certainty of considerable pain.

These incidents, and the cost of maintaining prisoners in such a way, have induced the government partially to abandon the cellular system in Millbank. In some of the wings, all the inner walls have been removed, and the whole space, gallery and cells, thrown into one large room, in which the men eat, work, and sleep in common. The change is said to have produced the very best results. More accom

L

modation is obtained ; the prisoners are more orderly and contented ; instruction is greatly facilitated ; more and better work is turned off in the same hours of labour; and, consequently, the yearly expense per head of carrying on the prison is diminished. These advantages are all indubitable, for they lie on the surface, and have no need to be taken for granted. The alteration was made by sanction of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; so that it may fairly be concluded that government is more eclectic and impartial in its prison science than the advocates of Pentonville are anxious to have it suspected.

It is a very noticeable faot, that in a prison where the separate and associate systems are both in operation, the associate system is being developed by order of government at the expense of its rival. ·

1

CHAPTER VI.

Peutouville.

The fame of the American penitentiaries having spread over Europe, and their praise being echoed by some of the most distinguished publicists—including one now crowned head-on this side of the Atlantic, the British government in 1832 sent over to her old colony Mr. Crawford, an able, though scarcely an impartial man, to look at them for himself, and make report of his impressions. In 1834 his report was published ; and a very important report it is, and very great is the influence which it has exercised over the progress of penal experiments in this country. It is the germ of Pentonville. We may also assert that it has been the cause of considerable misapprehension in England as to the value of the results of the various American systems. But, for good or evil, we have adopted—nay, more, we have legislated on this report. Whatever hold the theory of separation, or rather isolation of prisoners, has upon the public mind of this country, is in a great measure owing to its facts and inferences ; and the surveyor-general of prisons, Major Jebb, the inventor of Pentonville, quotes it as the basis of his own argument for our model prison. This American report is, therefore, a document of first-class interest in connexion with prisons.

Now it must be noted at the outset, that two accidents—for which, however, Mr. Crawford cannot be blamed-go a long way to destroy our confidence in the correctness of his conclusions. In the first place, when he visited the United States nearly nineteen years ago, penal institutions, even there, were in their infancy. The Americans had not then accumulated such an amount of practical experience as is necessary to test the soundness of a moral theory so complicated as prison punishments by solitary confinement; and, of course, no nation in Europe had. In the second place, Mr. Crawford had a strong, though perhaps an unconscious, leaning to the Philadelphian plan. We do not need to search for any better evidence of this fact than the strong partisan terms of his summing up :

“ I have no hesitation,” he says, “ in declaring my conviction, that the eastern penitentiary discipline is a safe and efficacious mode of prison management ; that it has no unfavourable effect upon the mind or health ; and that, with the addition of moral and religious instruction, in which this penitentiary is eminently deficient, solitary imprisonment, thus enforced, may be rendered powerfully instrumental,

« AnteriorContinuar »