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who devote a large portion of their lives to such researches, and have high connexions, sometimes find obstacles thrown in their way which lead to an expenditure of time and patience, much better laid out in the gaol itself.
The remedy for this evil is simple enough-remove or modify the restrictions. There needs to be no mystery about the gaol system. To secure their efficacy, punishments should be rendered more public than they are now. This is a view of the question which the wisest prison reformers, from Howard down to Elizabeth Fry, have all taken. Then, for the ratepayer, he certainly has a right to see how his money is being spent in these costly places. His interests, moral and monetary, are deeply concerned in the manner in which they are conducted. If there be abuses on the one side, or extravagant outlay on the other, he ought to be fully aware of the facts. At present he is not, and, with the existing barriers to all personal researches, cannot hope to become. If there are no abuses, no absurd waste of public means, he is clearly entitled to the satisfaction of being aware that there are not. The policy which closes the prison doors to general inspection is a policy which saves some trouble and screens some things which would' ill bear the test of discussion ; but it is wretchedly short-sighted, and fruitful of a thousand evils. If public opinion could be brought to bear upon the city prisons with the force which arises from intimate personal knowledge, the abominations which now disgrace the citizens of London in
eyes of America and Europe would not be suffered to remain another week. But as it is, the dweller in London knows little or nothing of the matter. I have no hesitation in asserting, that the very persons who pass daily within sight of Newgate know less of what is going on within its walls than the same number and class of men who walk the Broadway, the Boulevards, and the Thier-garten. This may sound incredible to men not conversant with the state of opinion on such matters, but it is nevertheless true. The condition of our prisons is better known—the subject excites more interest, is more talked about in society, is more frequently discussed in the press—in New York, in Paris, and in Berlin, than in London itself! To our shame be it said.
The surest way to create a popular interest in the prison, (and in the problems with which it deals,) is to submit it to the influences of public sentiment and public opinion. Precedents are not wanting for the course now recommended. In many of the American gaols the principle of admitting the public on payment of a small fee has been adopted, and, it is said, with the best results. A strong objection, however, lies against the exaction of a fee. The best plan is that adopted in the Preston House of Correction. It is open freely to all the world. No charge is made ; no order is required ; and no one is ever refused admission without solid reasons for the refusal. In the visitors' book, the strangest contrasts may be read. On the same page may be seen the signature of the Russian prince and the Yorkshire artizan ;
the French marquis and the Preston hand-loom weaver ;
the minister of state, the journalist, the magistrate, and the peasant. This is as it ought to be everywhere ; the cause or the consequence of this publicity is, that the great experiment of penal correction is being both more humanely, and, everything considered, probably more successfully, conducted in the Preston House of Correction than in
other prison in this country.
The writer will feel himself rewarded if his remarks should lead to a discussion of this important point; he is convinced that the best, if not the only way to prevent theoretic extravagance and practical abuses, is to place the prison police under the safeguard of public good sense and public morals.
It is hoped that the following chapters will open up and lead to the discussion of some questions of popular interest on prisons of which it may be desirable to say a few words in this place
1. With regard to the past history of the London prisons. It has formed no part of the writer's plan to give a detailed history of each: the materials for such a work exist, but they are hardly worth the labour of collecting and arranging. The chief interest which attaches to the past history of the London prisons lies in the eminent men who have been confined, and the historic scenes which have been enacted, in them. The more important of these he has referred to, especially in the case of men who have left their names stamped upon the literature of their country. This mine of interest is one which has been little worked. The most voluminous historians of London omit to connect some of the most illustrious names with the prisons in which they were confined for political opinions or for conscience sake. Even the historian of the Tower has overlooked some of the most interesting events in the records of that great state prison. Of course, within the limits of a work like this, the historic interest of the Tower can be little more than glanced at. The same must also be said of the Fleet, Marshalsea, and Newgate. It is believed, nevertheless, that these glances, brief as they are, convey a more complete and accurate idea of the past history of these famous prisons than can otherwise be obtained in a popular form.
2. With respect to the moral and material condition of the London prisons at the present time. On these two points it is hoped that a good deal of information is afforded. Few prisons in this country are in a satisfactory moral state ; the very nature of the institution, so liable to abuses and neglects—to faults of over-severity on one side, and injudicious indulgence on the other—makes it difficult to preserye even the appearance of moral order in them ; but, for such grossness of abuse, such wanton neglect of every chance of doing good, such wicked connivance at corruption, as may be found in some of the London prisons, will probably shock every manly and generous sentiment. The mind must be lost to all sense. of shame which can witness the abominations of Horsemonger-lane or Giltspur-street Compter without feelings of scorn and indignation. To quote here only a couple of facts in illustration :In Giltspur-street Compter the prisoners sleep in small cells, little more than half the size of the model cell at Pentonville, which is calculated on the supposition that the cell is to be ventilated on the best plan which science can suggest, regardless of cost) to be just large enough for one inmate. The cell in Giltspur-street Compter is little more than half the size, and is either not ventilated at all, or is ventilated very imperfectly. I have measured it, and know exactly the quantity of air which it will hold, and have no doubt but that it contains less than any human being ought to breathe in, in the course of a night. Well, in this cell, in which there is hardly room for them to lie down, I have seen five persons locked up, at four o'clock in the day, to be there confined, in darkness, in idleness, to pass all those hours, to do all the offices of nature, not merely in each other's presence, but crushed by the narrowness of their den into a state of filthy contact which brute beasts would have resisted to the last gasp of life! Think of these five wretched beingsmen with souls, and gifted with human reasoncondemned, day by day, to pass in this unutterably loathsome manner two-thirds of their time ! Can we wonder if these men come out of prison, after three or four months of such treatment, prepared to commit the most revolting crimes ? Could five of the purest men in the world live together in such a manner without losing every attribute of good which had once belonged to them? He would be a rash