« AnteriorContinuar »
Have they any chance of reforming and repenting? Heaped up together in cell and workshop, in chapel and yard, beyond all possibility of efficient control, what good influence can be brought to operate upon them? “No," said one prisoner, who had made manly efforts, but all in vain, to escape from the moral corruption around him, “it is of no use trying to lead a better life here.” Two circumstances mentioned in the returns put the consequences of such a system in a proper light; these are,
the number of prison offences, and the number of recommitments. For 1847 there were 7,551 punishments for prison offences, to 9,165 persons received during the year : this, though not equal to Manchester New Bailey experience, is still a number far too large.
The recommitments of the same year amounted to 45 per cent. of the committals ! Of the total number of persons committed during the year, 333 appeared for the first time, but were afterwards recommitted within the year. This is a striking fact. It shows, if not how absolutely corrupting the Borough Gaol is, how powerless it is to reform the offender. And the return only shows the result at this one gaol ; hundreds more of those who have matriculated within its walls, might perhaps be found in Lancaster Castle, New Bailey, Cheshire, and other prisons. What follows is still more damaging to the reputation of the place. The total commitments for the year were 6,769; and out of these not less than 2,624 had previously been in this identical prison, 139 had been in upwards of
twenty different times, and many more than double that number. Several persons were pointed out who had been in the Borough Gaol alone, more than fifty times each !
Nominally the silent system is in force; but practically it is found impossible to apply it. In separate sleeping cells, or in large dormitories, silence may be maintained. In the new rooms at Millbank we have no doubt but that open communications may be, and are, prevented. But where three prisoners are crushed into one cell, surpervision and control are out of the question. There are none, and can be
It would be quite absurd, therefore, to compare the result of a prison like this with such a one as Reading or Pentonville. Here, in fact, is no system at all.
The labour in which the prisoners are engaged is of various kinds. Here is no tread-wheel. The principal employment is picking wool. The workrooms are tolerably large, holding about 150 to 170 persons; in these silence is enforced. Much of this work is filthy beyond comparison, the wool being full of fine dust, which is thrown off in process of picking, and fills the room till you are almost suffocated. It has also a disagreeable, oily odour, which is most sickly. In a short time the prisoner's dress becomes saturated with the foul smell and black with the dirt; his hands and face are also begrimed with dust. The room in which all this is done is also abominably unclean ; and, altogether, to see these 150 felon and filth-covered men working in compelled silence, scowling under their bent brows through the dark and lurid atmosphere of gas light, is about the most repulsive and disgusting sight which the curious in such matters could desire to encounter.
Of these work-rooms there are several in the main body of the building ; outside this, but of course within the walls, are a number of other work-shops, a house for tailoring, another for shoemaking, a carpenter's shop, a forge, &c. At the suggestion of the prison inspector, Mr. Hill, a shed has also been erected for stone-breaking; but this employment has been abandoned as hastily as it appears to have been adopted in the first instance. The prisoners preferred it, and regret its discontinuance ; for although stone-breaking is not an epicurean employment--and in the workhouse is found the severest labour-test-yet it is an open-air employment. Hard work, to a man who has been some time confined in one of these wool-picking rooms, is nothing. Unless every element of good is gone out of him, anything is better than such monotonous horror, idleness, and inaction. The stone-breaking is abandoned, or, at least, suspended, because it was unprofitable : but this result must surely have been expected.
The minor work-shops are the least disagreeable parts of the gaol. The order and discipline were not so perfect as might have been desired in them; and there appeared, moreover, about them an air of discomfort and uncleanliness which might easily be got rid of with proper care and attention on the part of the officers and governor. But the staff appeared to be much too weak for its onerous duties. To 1,047 prisoners there were only 46 officers, male and female, including clerks, chaplains, and all. Coldbath-fields, in London, a similarly ill-built prison, with an average of about 1,050 prisoners, has 110 male officers and 41 females, in all 151 ; and the governor complains of the weakness of his staff too. In Tothill-fields there are 86 officers to an average of about 640 prisoners. Taking the two great metropolitan gaols together, they have nearly one officer to every seven prisoners : in the Borough Gaol of Liverpool--46 divided amongst 1,047—there is but one officer to every twenty-three. While this disparity continues to exist, the discipline must remain ineffective for good; the recommitments will increase in spite of the devotion of the governor and his subordinates ; and the borough will find its guineas vanishing, while it is vainly looking to the halfpence. There is no true economy in such mis-arrangements. The present staff is adapted to administer a prison of not more than 339 inmates ; but the fact of the gaol accommodation being woefully insufficient for the numbers crammed into it, is a powerful argument, not merely for keeping up the proportion of officers to criminals, but even for increasing it considerably. Three persons sleeping in one cell require more watching than three sleeping in separate cells; and, therefore, if, in a normal state of things, there ought to be one officer to every seven offenders, a prison over-crowded like the Borough Gaol, instead of having one to every twenty-three, ought to have at least one to every five.
One consequence of this paucity of officers is, nothing is taught. Trade instruction is not within the sphere of possibilities. No one, consequently, leaves the prison better prepared to subsist honestly than he entered it. Whatever the causes were which originally urged him into crime, they must again resume their full and fatal influence. The school is also much too small for the prison. Every person who is on the roll attends it-such as it is—twice a-week for an hour and a half; but only a fraction attend at all.
We have spoken of the closeness and dirtiness of the common work-rooms : the sleeping cells very nicely correspond. Besides being much too small, they are dreary, dark, and very cold. The cells of Pentonville are luxurious bowers compared with these. Even the corridors into which they open are almost dark; and they are so narrow, that a corpulent man could hardly thread himself through them. They are not provided with water-closets, yet three prisoners are shut up in each of them for fourteen or sixteen hours in winter out of every twenty-four ! The stench that arises in consequence is unbearable, especially in the morning. To keep down putrid fevers—indeed, to render the corridors at all passable —it is found necessary to burn chloride of lime in them incessantly, as well as in the day-rooms and eating-rooms. What a fact is this !