Imagens das páginas

facilities of a public establishment to sell articles in his market for less than they can be honestly made, however small the quantity.

“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” It is obvious how this mischievous action on the artizan’s interests might be avoided. England may easily do what France has determined to do.

The prisoners in Wakefield gaol embrace all classes of the criminal and unruly population-felons, misdemeanants, vagrants, and disorderly persons unable to find sureties. This last-named class demand an observation in this place. There is no department of our law more in need of amendment than that connected with fines and sureties. A

person is taken up for disturbing the peace and an extra gush of animal spirits soon suffices for that—and is sentenced to three months' imprisonment (if he be a poor devil, and cannot pay a fine), after which he must find sureties for twelve months. These cases are exceedingly common; and contrary to the spirit of the law, they usually amount to imprisonment for fifteen months. A man who cannot pay five pounds as a fine, can seldom find two sureties in ten or twenty pounds each to be answerable for his good - conduct. But until he does obtain them, he has to remain in gaol-at a great expense to the county, and at serious inconvenience to himself and to his family. Moreover, persons of this class are not unfrequently committed to prison until they can find sureties. Several of this kind were in Wakefield gaol. It is however quite obvious that if they can

not find them in one month, they will not be able to do so in a year; and if not in one year, certainly not in a hundred. Such a sentence, then, is in fact equivalent to imprisonment for life! This is at once inhuman and absurd. These men are seldom felons; nor do they as a rule in any way belong to the criminal class. They are mostly honest artizans, with more drink in their heads than brains. They are petty-session cases; commitments for the most part by the unpaid magistracy-by men often ignorant of law and justice—and sometimes (we have known such cases) they are the consequence of petty spite on the part of an officious justice against an offending workman.

Now these prolonged imprisonments for offences not in their nature serious, are clearly not the intention of the law, however strictly they may be in agreement with its letter. We do not assert that such sentences are always suffered to run out. On the contrary, we are aware that they are often commuted. The governor of Wakefield gaol is particularly alive to the importance of this matter; and in all such cases, after the lapse of a few months, he is careful to lay the circumstances before the Home Secretary, who thereupon usually grants a pardon. This sometimes happens elsewhere—but not always. What we complain of is this—that so serious a thing should be left to the governor of any prison. Who shall answer for his wisdom, impartiality, and discretion ? To whom is he responsible for the proper exercise of such a function ? To no one. If

[ocr errors]

he interest himself in such cases at all, it is a matter of grace; if he do not, no one can blame him. It is not his duty. In charity to one unjustly suffering the penalty-not of his fault but his poverty-he may make it such ; but the act is strictly supererogative.

This is profoundly contrary to right and justice, to the legal course of things, and to any system of good government. “If I did not interfere in this way,” says Captain Shepherd, the humane governor of the Wakefield gaols, “it is possible that the prisoner might remain all his life in prison.” What an awful commentary upon the state of the law ! Who can tell how many persons may be in this condition - wearing out their lives in hopeless captivity – in all the prisons of England, Ireland, Scotland, and the colonies ?

The chaplain of the Wakefield gaols has not much more faith in the reformation of prisoners than Sir Peter Laurie himself. He instances three cases-out of 3,566 in both gaols—of which he “hoped favourably.”

What a small and miserable result! Of the females he could not speak of “any decided change.” This is certainly not very encouraging. Will neither the silent nor the separate system do? The new prison -even by the admission of the men who conduct it, and who are interested in its success—boasts of its two “suicides” in the year, of its one case of “insanity,” its four “mental delusions,” its numerous “serious depressions,”—and yet, will the two prisons combined only yield three cases of which one can venture to "hope favourably?" This is indeed saddening



Wakefield Jem Gaol.

WAKEFIELD New Gaol is the largest prison in England on the separate system. It has accommodation for 732 prisoners in separate cells. Generally speaking, the plan is the same as that of Pentonville; but, from its superior size, it has a far more imposing aspect than the metropolitan gaol. It is, beyond all chance of comparison, the largest and most striking building in Wakefield ; with the exception of York Minster, perhaps in the county. In front, but detached and separated from the main buildings by a spacious inner court, stand the massive and noble residences of the governor and chaplain. Outside and inside, the prison has a sort of palatial character; every thing about it is grand, orderly, massive, stately; there is the active regularity, the magnificent march and decorum of an imperial residence in its conduct and economy. “ Ha !” said a foreigner of distinction, who went over the place with us, “the English must be a great people, when they can make even their prisons so beautiful.” It is, however, doubtful whether the compliment is deserved. True, as a nation we have recently been seized with a mania for making our prisons picturesque ; but then, have we not developed the same taste in other spheres? Look at our railway stations, our hospitals, our provident and improvident societies. Are we not altogether becoming a more decidedly architectural people ? And if so, no one, we apprehend, will find fault with this desire on our part to return to beauty of form in our constructions. But then the fitness of things must be observed, even in our improvements. Each subject has its own mode of treatment. The purpose of the edifice should determine its architectural character. It would be absurd to build a brewery on the model of St. Paul's, or a country-house on the plan of Westmister Hall. But would it be less absurd to do this, than to erect a prison at Reading—the handsomest building in Berkshire—on the model of an Elizabethan palace? Would it not be as ridiculous to transfer Sansovini's famous model of the Library of St. Mark's to Giltspur-street, as to copy the elevation of Newgate for a club in Pall-mall ? Yet, in a greater or less degree, such is the violence done to the harmony of things in many of our new prisons, the New Gaol at Wakefield among others. We entirely object to costly display in such erections. If the county rate-payers have too much money, let them build temples, and hospitals, and schools. There is still room enough for these things, and to spare. But let them no longer tamper with the gaols. A prison should always be a prison. If the magistrates and the rate-payers forget this, will not the criminal class be justly entitled to forget it also ? The gaol ought never to divest itself of the character of a place of severe yet not unnatural probation

« AnteriorContinuar »