« AnteriorContinuar »
agrees with him well, and the chocolate is splendid. These are his own words. This testimony is valuable to the penal reformer, and creditable to the magistrates who have the control of the prison. Indeed, there is no part of the mere management of this gaol that is not admirable ; and this at the same time that, in construction and some parts of the system, it is as faulty as can easily be conceived. Although the prison is considered capable of holding 800 prisoners, and sometimes has a far greater number within its walls, it has only separate sleeping cells for about 270 : all the rest have to be disposed in large dormitories, containing from forty to eighty berths. This crowding of prisoners together in the night is an irredeemable fault. Under whatever system of discipline the culprit is placed during the hours of work or study, he should be compelled to sleep alone. We have no hesitation in saying that a body of eighty felons lying in a common room— although an officer stay all night in the apartmentwill suffer more corruption and contamination in ten hours than they would in ten months of silent fellowship in the school-room or the workshop. The formation of separate sleeping-cells we regard as an absolute condition in penal reform.
In addition to this radical defect, Tothill-fields has no large manufactory of any kind, like those of Coldbath-fields. It has only half-a-dozen shoemakers and tailors, and three or four carpenters, to do the repairs of the establishment. No trades are taught -no kind of work. The only labour afforded, is
the disgusting oakum-picking and the still more disgusting tread-wheel. The annals of this prison furnish no examples of criminals instructed in honest handicrafts, and so brought back into the pale of society. The time passed within its walls is, to the prisoner, so much time struck out of his existence; and, unless it be in the matters of reading and writing, he leaves it as little instructed in any useful art as he entered. Oakum and the wheel will but indifferently prepare a man for the competition of the world beyond the prison wall, and to struggle against the strong temptations which will beset his path on regaining his freedom.
The four great prisons last visited and described, are all under the control of the magistrates of the county. For prisoners before trial, they have adopted the separate system at the House of Detention; but for convicts for petty offences, and short terms, they seem disposed to maintain the silent or work system. This latter system is much less expensive than its rival; and experiment may perhaps be held not yet to have fully determined on which side lies the balance of other advantages. The magistrates ought, however, to try their plan in its integrity. The government experiment at Pentonville is being conducted with every conceivable aid to success ; and, unless the labour-system be as favourably tried, the issues of our experience will neither be conclusive for ourselves nor for other nations. It would be worthy of the metropolitan magistracy, to institute an experiment which might compete with that going on at Pentonville. Coldbath-fields is now their most favourable specimen of a prison; but, as we have seen, it is beset with radical faults of construction, and the fatal want of cellular accommodation. Let no one fancy that the problem of prison discipline is solved, or likely to be solved for many years to come. Everything that is done now is done only in the way of trial. By the nature of things, prisons last less time than almost any other species of buildings; and to erect a gaol in this day as if it were to remain unchanged for ever, would be a gross absurdity. To those who have adopted a theory, and apply to it the doctrine of finality, the modest words of Howard, written at the end of a long life devoted to the subject as no man has ever been devoted to it since, may be profitably recommended : “No plan can be supposed to be incapable of improvement ; let us begin the work of reform ; time and experience can alone perfect what we undertake.”
The dirty convict-looking building in Giltspurstreet, opposite to St. Sepulchre's Church, is the City House of Correction, as Coldbath-fields is that for the county It was built by George Dance, architect of the Mansion House and Newgate, to supersede the wretched prison in Wood-street; the removal took place in 1791. It was then only used as a place of confinement for debtors, but the yearly increasing demands upon the contracted space have caused that department to be given up. City debtors are now sent to Whitecross-street, where, by-and-by, we shall pay them a visit. There used to be a large section of this prison appropriated to female delinquents, but the same want of room, and the accumulating pressure upon it, have caused that to be also given up to male offenders. There are now very few females confined in Giltspur-street.
Entering at the door facing St. Sepulchre's, the visitor suddenly finds himself in a low dark passage, leading into the offices of the gaol, and branching
off into other passages, darker, closer, more replete with noxious smells, than even those of Newgate. This is the fitting prelude to what follows. The prison, it must be noticed, is divided into two principal divisions : the House of Correction and the Compter. The front, in Giltspur-street, and the side nearest to Newgate-street, is called the Compter. In its wards are placed detenues of various kinds : remands, committals from the police courts, and generally persons waiting for trial, and consequently still unconvicted. The other department, the House of Correction, occupies the back portion of the premises, abutting on Christ's Hospital. Curious it is to consider how thin a wall divides these widelyseparated worlds! And sorrowful it is to think what a difference of destiny awaits the children
destiny inexorable, though often unearned in either case - who, on the one side of it or the other, receive an eleemosinary education ! The collegian and the criminal! Who shall say
how much mere accident-circumstances over which the child has little power-determines to a life of usefulness or mischief ? From the yards of Giltspur-street prison, almost the only objects visible, outside of the gaol itself, are the towers of Christ's Hospital ; the only sounds audible, the shouts of the scholars at their play. The balls of the hospital boys often fall into the yards of the prison. Whether these sights and sounds ever cause the criminal to pause and reflect upon the courses of his life, we will not say ;