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anecdote in point. From the great prison at Berne, in Switzerland, a number of prisoners had escaped, about the time of one of his visits, through the fault of the gaoler : some of them were retaken and brought to trial for breaking prison. The judges, however, not merely acquitted them of the charge of having been guilty of a crime, but declared that the men had only acted in obedience to the dictates of the best and most noble instinct of mankind, and for this they could not be punished. But, as the majesty of the law had been outraged, it was considered necessary to vindicate it; and the “
consequences" fell upon the negligent gaoler. The Philanthropist makes this anecdote the occasion for a brief comparison between the spirit of English, Swiss, and Russian laws. The recent case at Brixton is exactly one of those serious incidents, which used to call down his just and virtuous indignation. The man at Brixton had only a fortnight to remain in gaol; the temptation must, therefore, have been most overwhelming, which could have induced him to risk so much, in order, if successful, to gain so little. More than half the blame should, in common justice, fall upon those who throw such temptations in the way of the criminal.
None but a stoic, a Regulus, or a Thomas More, could be expected to refrain from availing himself of the chance of regaining personal liberty. It is idle to hope that the order from which the law-breakers come, can ever be got so to recognise the moral necessity for their punishment, as to submit to it of their own free will ; and while we have such gaols as the present Brixton House of Correction, the guilt of prison-breaking will continue to lie at the doors of the magistracy.
The Brixton House of Correction, like nearly all the gaols erected about forty to sixty years ago, is built in the form of a rude crescent; the governor's house being in the common centre, and his drawingroom windows commanding a view of all the yards. As we have said, it is, par excellence, a hard labour prison. It is all tread-wheel, except for the females, who are no longer allowed to be placed at this brutal exercise ; they are now employed in picking oakum, and sewing.
The prison is built and calculated for 185 prisoners, and no more ; that is, there are 149 separate cells, and 12 double cells,-in each of which, however, three bed racks are fitted up, making altogether bed racks for 185. Any person who knows aught of the working of a gaol system, will at once understand why the Brixton House of Correction is disorderly, why it is dirty, and why it is unhealthy, when we say that instead of 185 prisoners—its full complement there are within its walls not less than 431. The daily average for 1848 was not less than 382 ; more than double the number for which there is any accommodation.
As we have more than once observed in these papers, the law does not permit two persons to sleep in one cell; the consequence is, the governor, a most excellent and humane officer, and himself a not undistinguished advocate of prison reform--finds it necessary to place three in a narrow, dark, and miserable cell, of about 8 x 71, by 6 feet ; a cell almost unventilated, and therefore not large enough for a single individual. Only think how these wretches
pass the night. The iron rack, of about 24 inches width, fills nearly half the cell : it is obvious, however, that three persons cannot sleep in it. Still, one can, and there is the cold, damp floor for the other two. But this simple arrangement does not suit the authorities. The three criminals are only allowed bedding for two-consequently, it is impossible for either of the three to occupy the rack, and they have to “pig” on the ground, where there is only room for them to lie, when so arranged, as straight as sticks in a bundle. One cannot think of three men--perhaps strangers to each other—being compelled to herd together in this manner without feelings of horror and disgust. Is not this the very worst form of “ several in a bed ?” Is there anything in the lowest lodging-houses of St. Giles, Lambeth, or Westminster, more revolting? All night-and, in winter, the night in this prison is 15 hours longthe men are left alone. They are in the dark ; there is no gas in the gaol : and though a watchman walks the corridors all night, he is unable to detect any signs of disturbance less than an absolute fight or a riot. In such a case only can he pretend to nterfere. The supposed silence is a mere mockery. Practically, there is no separation-no silence—no system at all. Disgusting labour all day—still more disgusting companionship all night ; such is the chief charac
teristic--the normal condition-of the Brixton House of Correction.
Out of four hundred and thirty-one prisoners, there must be some of but venial guilt; there must be many who are not lost to all sense of shame to all hope of amendment. What must be the effect upon these? We were anxious to make some inquiries on this subject; but the magistrates—who liked not our strictures on Horsemonger-lane-peremptorily refused to allow any of the prisoners to be spoken to. Our gaol experience, however, enables us to judge pretty accurately by appearances. To use the strong language of Mr. Barber, a man placed in such circumstances is not merely in a bad position, but he is compelled, day after day, and month after month, “to breathe the very atmosphere of hell.”
In the last report, presented by the visiting justices themselves to the Secretary of State—it is remarked that some serious disturbances had taken place amongst the women “during the year.” In another part of the report a serious outbreak in chapel among certain women is noticed. And further on
we have it observed " that another outbreak had occurred in the chapel among the women." We are assured that the general conduct of the females, when at worship, is most disgraceful : the coughing, a-hemming, groaning, and other noisemaking is so great, that public worship is often brought to an end. The faulty arrangement of the chapel prevents the offenders from being detected. Is their conduct any better in the cells ? We fear not,
and that it is only more observed in chapel, not more manifest. And can any reasonable being marvel at this evidence of recklessness and depravity when he is told that in the cell—that should be something in lieu of and like a home to the criminal
-the females are more monstrously crushed together than the males? In 35 cells there are not less than 128 women! Where is there room here for any species of salutary influence ?
The unhealthiness of the prison may be accounted for in the same way. Out of 4,043 persons committed in the course of the year, not less than 1,085 infirmary cases are reported : 249 of these were fevers, caused, in the surgeon's opinion, by the over-crowded state of the prison. Eight were fatal ; the turnkey also caught the fever, and died, leaving a large family unprovided for. The average daily sickness of the year was no less than 30 ; and the proportion to the whole number of prisoners 1 in 12. It is curious to compare the sickness and mortality of this small prison with its daily average of 370, with Coldbathfields with its daily average of 1,100; the one in a healthy suburb, the other in the very heart of Clerkenwell. Brixton reports 8 deaths, Coldbath-fields 7 ; the first has 1,085 cases of sickness, the latter 809. To be equal to its transpontive rival, Coldbath-fields should have to report 24 deaths instead of only 7, and 3,496 cases of sickness instead of 809. These results are very remarkable ; for the class of criminals is the same at both places, and the sentences are of about the same length. If there be an advantage, it