Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

one.

-to the poor and ignorant : it is lenient enough in its own characteristic fashion. The son of a peer, educated at a university, is not supposed to act avec discernement, until he be of the legal age of twenty

Until then he is an infant, and cannot be held responsible for his debts. The child of a streetsweeper is only held to be incapax doli until he be fourteen; and not then if evidence can be procured to suggest that, in spite of his tender age, he knows the difference between good and evil. In that case he is ruled to be responsible, although under ten, and is punished accordingly. This is a sample of the discrepancies between the laws of what Disraeli calls “the two nations."

Lord John Russell has the merit of being the originator of Parkhurst. The colony at Mettrai is intended, by a process of labour and instruction, to fit young criminals for a return to society in France : the penitentiary in the Isle of Wight is intended to prepare similar youths for emigration to the colonies. The boys of Mettrai have been acquitted by the tribunals as having acted without discernment of right and wrong: the boys of Parkhurst have all been legally convicted of serious crimes, and sentenced to transportation. Under the old system these youths were all sent abroad, mixed up in the previous stages, on the long passage out, and in the penal settlements, with aged and hardened wretches infinitely worse than themselves. The evil results of such intercourse were so serious, as to compel Lord John Russell to adopt some plan of keeping

the boys separate, and sending them out alone that is, without the contaminating presence of their superiors in wickedness. The buildings at Parkhurst were erected.

Two objects were held distinctly in view in this establishment. 1. The penal correction of the offender, by confinement, spare diet, rigorous enforcement of rules, and hard work, so as to deter him from the commission of any future crime, by fear of having to undergo a similar amount of bodily pain and privation. 2. His reformation, and instruction in the arts most likely to be useful to him, in the condition of life in which he will find himself placed on deportation to Australia. As the reader will see, two distinct propositions are involved in the terms of the second clause ; one of them having relation to the boy's moral condition, the other contemplating the charge of his material welfare. Great variety of opinion exists, as to the wisdom of throwing this double burden on the state. Mr. Field, and those who share his opinions or embrace his theories, contend that the duty of the state ends with the criminal, when it has revealed to him the abjectness of his moral condition; when it has aroused his sense of contrition by religious warning, and inflicted pain enough to make him feel that, on the whole, the career of crime, with all its chances of indulgence, is a losing game. But is not this a very incomplete conception of the duty of the state towards criminal youth ? Consider that our prisons are filled with the children of improvidence. The accidents of their birth have but too frequently denied them

[ocr errors]

mean.

every means of helping themselves. For the most part, they are ignorant beyond the power of belief on mere report. We have met with children in the London prisons who could not tell their own names, beyond Bill, or Sam, or the slang word by which they were known in their own circle, such as Lanky, Snip, and so on. It is very common to meet such as do not know their ages, where they were born, or their parents' names. Sometimes you meet a child who has no distinct notion of what the words “ father” and “mother

In some of the prisons, statistics of this kind are kept. Thus in Preston gaol, including adults, more than sixty per cent. of all persons committed, were unable to name the months of the year. The same average could not tell the name of the reigning sovereign of the country (they know this better at Parkhurst). Nearly sixty per cent. had no idea of the meaning of such words as

66 vice” and “virtue.” Thirty-seven per cent. were ignorant of the Saviour's name. Fiftyfive per cent. were unable to repeat correctly the Lord's Prayer, even by rote, and many who could repeat it did not understand its meaning. One woman of thirty-three read the second clause, “ A'll be wed i’ thy name :" (Anglicè, “I will be wed in Thy name.”) Of sixty who professed to know the prayer and to be able to write, on being asked to set it down without copy, one only did it correctly; twenty-two produced imperfect versions ; fifteen exhibited gross ignorance of the text, and twenty-two were barely intelligible. And yet these were nearly

all adults! In the case of youth, the neglected youth of our streets and gutters, the ignorance is, if it can be, still more profound. It touches the extremes on every side. The gamin of London, of Manchester, of Bath, knows no letters, and he knows no work. Thousands of children, between seven years and fourteen, crowd the streets of London, samples of them turn up in plenty at all the ragged schools who are either orphans, foundlings, or the children of criminal parents who have deserted them or been removed from the country by force : these know no friends and have no occupation. They live on the pavé, and sleep in the gutters :-a doorway is a luxury which is denied to them by a vigilant police. As to employment, they sell matches, fusees, tapes, fruits, and so forth, in the streets, or hold horses and sweep the steps of omnibuses. Beyond these arts, they know little that is useful in the way of industry. Take a single illustration of these remarks from the returns of the registrargeneral : “ M. eleven years of age ; parents unknown ; a casual pauper; died of cholera ; sick nine hours. September 9th, 1849. Taken in from Orange-street, half-starved—stomach full of blackberries.” What a history in a sentence !

This is the point from which every man must start who undertakes to deal with crime. A class of this character exists : the majority of offenders come from it. That is the first fact which meets the inquirer's view. How treat it? Admit that it is needful to amend as well as to punish the offender, and then

N

what is the use of confinement, bread and water, and daily sermons, unless these be accompanied by something else? The young gamin may be made very moral, very religious, very intellectual, without hard work ; but what is he to do when he departs from the portal of the prison, if he have not received some sort of industrial training? He can only, in spite of his good intentions, relapse into his former state. If he is to be saved, it can only be by his being taught how to live by his own exertions. Wanting that knowledge, he wants every thing.

As seen from the road, Parkhurst has anything but the appearance of a gaol. More than

any

other cluster of buildings that we know, it resembles a Moravian settlement. There are two large piles, like the male and female departments of such a community, separated by a narrow valley. One of these wings is set apart for the younger boys—those under fifteen years ; in the other are confined those from fifteen to twenty. Between the two piles of building stand the cottages of the prison officers; and from the central gates a straight avenue of trees, like those at the entrance of many French and German towns, leads down to the road-side. Lying about the whole, and attached to the prison, is a fine tract of fertile land, about eighty acres in extent: this land the boys have to cultivate and work upon.

The first thing the visitor notices at Parkhurst is the variety of aspects which the prison assumes in different parts. It is not merely an experiment as a whole, but it is a series of experiments conducted at

« AnteriorContinuar »