Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

the court. More than once has the Queen herself knocked at the gates of the prison ; and the tender interest in the condition of these youthful outcasts of society manifested by the highest personage in the realm, has not been without its influence in turning other footsteps into the same tracks of inquiry. In their daily drives about the island, not a few of their highnesses, graces, and excellencies have followed the Queen's example, until the “boys" of Parkhurst can, many of them, boast a better acquaintance with maids of honour and ladies-inwaiting, than the most fortunate lounger in Pall Mall and St. James's can pretend to.

And now some reader, little versed in prison history, will most likely exclaim, What is this Parkhurst, that it should be so graciously favoured ? It is a prison—and yet hardly a prison. It is a farm -a workshop-a manufactory; though it is unlike any other establishment, having these names, in town or country. The only description that can be yet given of it, which would not require explanation or qualification, is this—it is an experiment. In the account of Millbank, it was observed that a portion of that establishment, only used for the detention of transports before their final removal from the country, had formerly been occupied by juvenile offenders. A few years ago this was the case almost universally. Boys were mixed with men—the acolyte in crime with the most depraved and reckless of adults. In many prisons, metropolitan and provincial, English and foreign, it is still the usage to mix the young and the old in this

way.

Howard was the first man, as far as is known, who with ample experience of the effects of the association of criminals, set himself resolutely against such a malpractice. But like many other of the wise suggestions of that great man, the idea of a rigid separation of boys and men in prison, and of the application of a different kind of discipline in the two cases, was for a long time neglected by the ruling powers.

Attention, however, was no sooner addressed to the prison-world, than larger and more humane notions began to prevail with regard to the treatment of prisoners. The general mind of the country at once apprehended the truth, that it is useless to punish offenders, unless you can at the same time reform them. A few writers and statesmen, men of the past, of old formulas, declared against the attempt to reform, and in favour of coercion ; but the sentiment of the country was against them, and government was constrained to enter the path of reason and benevolence. The idea of reforming the criminal had scarcely seized upon the general intelligence, before it became quite evident that no one process of tuition, of discipline and punishment, would produce good effects upon all ages and sexes. Nature itself suggested the prudence of separating the men from the women, the adults from the juveniles. The offences against the laws which are committed by children, often arise from motives and reasons far different to those which induce crime in grown-up

persons. Many of them are too young to understand the moral and social consequences of their guilt. Most of them owe their misfortunes to the accidents of birth to the perversion of parents—to the cruel neglects of society itself. Often have we seen children in gaol, between the ages of six and ten

years— -children whom it would be absurd to hold responsible for their own acts. In such cases it is folly, as well as a cruelty, to inflict the punishments which are only due to criminals morally and legally answerable for their misdeeds. Society is itself a sharer in their sin ; and when it punishes, it should punish as a parent, with a view to correct and amend, rather than to inflict pain in the way of vengeance. At all events, and before all other things, it is the duty of the state, when it seizes these pariahs of a society imperfectly organized, and not altogether guiltless in regard to them, to take charge that they shall not be made worse in its hands. This is clear ; but this so obvious duty has never been discharged : only recently has it become recognised as an end to be aimed at. There is no denying the fact, that in the old prisons, Newgate, Horsemonger-lane, Giltspur-street, and hundreds of others in London and the provinces, the utmost mischief is still produced by the herding together of boys and men, in rooms where there is and can be no adequate control of them. Slowly the government became convinced, that in order to give the former a chance of amendment, they must be separated entirely from adult, practised, and hardened criminals. This conviction, slowly arrived at, was the germ of Parkhurst.

As usual, government did not enter into the matter until private benevolence had heralded the way. Even before Howard's death, a number of humane individuals, adopting his ideas, and following, though far in the wake, examples which had been set in such places as the hospital of San Michele, in Rome, a similar establishment in Bremen, and the Orphan House in Berlin, planned the Philanthropic Institution, long located in St. George's Fields, and now removed to the neighbourhood of Reigate. The idea was, to take criminal or neglected and deserted children from the prison and the streets, to educate and instruct them in some useful craft. As its founders stated in their first appeal to the public, the institution was considered more as a police reform than as a charity. It was, and moreover still is, successful, so far as it goes. But, dependent on charity, its operations are necessarily limited. About thirty years later, the Warwickshire Asylum was commenced on a similar plan. To some extent, it may claim to have done the good that was hoped from it. Neither of these societies, however, attracted much attention, either at home or abroad. Even such a man as Professor Lieber, appears to have been unaware of their early existence; for in his translation of the "Système Pénitentiaire," he says, the first house of refuge for the young was founded in Germany in the year 1813. As in the case of Howard, it is remarkable

that domestic affliction, which does not always soften the heart, made Johannes Falk also a philanthropist. In the year named, he had the misfortune to lose his four beautiful and promising children ; and in his bereavement, he resolved to become a father to the outcast and the fatherless. He founded in Dantzic an institution for criminal youth, and the castaway offspring of criminal parents. The symbol of the society was an anvil, on which some children were seen converting their iron chains into implements of industry.

These institutions, and others of a similar character, especially in America, where the Philadelphian “House of Refuge” was established in 1826, paved the way for the trial of two great experiments in France and England. In France, the work was undertaken by private benevolence, assisted by the state; in England, by the government. Both commenced in 1839 ; their objects were the same, and their means were much alike; but the subjects of their discipline and their mode of dealing with them were different. The French Colonie Agricole was founded at Mettrai, near Tours, by M. Demetz and the Viscomte de Bretignères de Courteilles, for the reception of such juvenile offenders as should be acquitted by the courts of law on the plea of having acted sans discernement, according to the provisions of the 66th article of the French penal code. The law of our neighbours recognises sixteen as the age up to which a youth of either sex may possibly act sans discernement : our own law is not so generous

« AnteriorContinuar »