Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

man who would dare to answer-Yes. Take the other fact from Newgate. In any of the female wards may be seen, a week before the sessions, a collection of persons

of

every shade of guilt, and some who are innocent. I remember one case particularly. A servant girl, of about sixteen, a fresh-looking healthy créature, recently up from the country, was charged by her mistress with stealing a brooch.

She was in the same room-lived all day, slept all night—with the most abandoned of her sex. They were left alone ; they had no work to do; no books—except a few tracts for which they had no taste—to read. The whole day was spent, as is usual in such prisons, in telling stories—the gross and guilty stories of their own lives. There is no form of wickedness, no aspect of vice, with which the poor creature's mind would not be compelled to grow familiar in the few weeks she passed in Newgate awaiting trial. When the day came, the evidence against her was found to be the lamest in the world, and she was at once acquitted. That she entered Newgate innocent I have no doubt ; but who shall answer for the state in which she left it?

It must be recollected that these are not isolated cases. They are of constant occurrence. Whenever Giltspur-street Compter is a little crowded, five persons are forced into its wretched kennels : in the best of times, three sleep in them. There probably never passes a week in which some equally deplorable scene is not being enacted in Newgate.

The existence of such monstrous evils has produced, in the natural course of things, errors in the opposite extreme. From such obvious neglects, men of benevolent but crotchety minds have passed to the notion that society should treat the criminal better than it treats the honest artizan. Hence the costly extravagance of the model cell, with its scientific ventilation - its elaborately adjusted temperature, kept at the nicest point of comfort by means of valves, which let in warm air or cool air as the case may require—its bells and signals—its ingenious contrivance for the supply of hot water and cold water at the will of the felon or burglar—and its thousand other absurdities. It is the wickedness of Newgate which has led to the folly of Pentonville. The time is coming—and it may be hoped is not far distant-when we shall settle down at the just mean, equally removed from barbarism and fatuity.

3. With regard to the various systems of gaol discipline. It will be well perhaps, in this place, to give a bird's eye view of the chief systems which find advocates at the present day in England ; these are five in number : -1. The City System. 2. The Separate System. 3. The Silent System. 4. The Mixed System. 5. The Mark System.

The City System, or no system, is that which obtains in Giltspur-street Compter and Newgate, Horsemonger-lane and Lancaster Castle. The chief negative features seem to be these-no work, no instruction, no superintendence ; the chief positive features—idleness, illicit gaming, filthiness, moral and material disorder, unnatural crowding together, unlimited licensebroken at times by severities at which the sense of justice revolts,—and universal corruption of each other. These are the characteristics, which, well merited as they are, have given to the prisons in which they are known to obtain the name of the City of London system. It is necessary to observe, that no one openly justifies these evils; the bronze face of mammon himself is not equal to such a task ; but many, by their votes or by their silence, help to perpetuate them, who would shrink from such guilt with horror, could they but see it occasionally with their own eyes.

On the subject of the Separate System, much information will be found in the reports on Pentonville, Reading, and Wakefield New Gaol. Enough is there said, to suggest that, as it is now conducted, the model system is a costly mistake, and will most likely end in a complete failure. The Silent System will be found described under the head of Coldbath-fields, the New Bailey, and Tothill-fields Prisons. Their errors, and the vices which belong to them, are pointed out in detail. The same may be said of the Mixed System, as carried out in Millbank and Preston House of Correction. The Mark System I shall describe in this place, as unfortunately no opportunity will present itself in the separate reports of existing prisons. This, the most comprehensive and philosophical of all schemes of criminal treatment, is as yet untried in this country.

Justice has not been done to Captain Maconochie and his ideas. Taking an almost ultra-humane view

of the end of prison discipline-a view sufficiently original, though its elements are to be found in the penal philosophy of Beccaria and the older writers, to cause it to be received with gibes and scorn from men who would not take the trouble to understand it—he was only permitted to make trial of his system where no conceivable system would or could work well-in Norfolk Island—amongst transportedtransports, the most depraved, most self-abandoned human beings, perhaps, on the earth's surface. Even there he did not fail. On the contrary, those who are most intimately acquainted with the island, before and after his administration, consider it a signal success; and, allowing for the lack of powers and

proper means to work with, every candid reader will concur in the opinion. To an extent which seems miraculous when we look back upon it, he succeeded in taming the hitherto tameless, making the savage gentle, and calling out human feelings from bosoms long dead to the amenities of life. In his hands, kindness really became a magic; and, although some of the results were to be attributed to the personal influence of Captain Maconochie, they were chiefly the effect of a superior system.

The Mark System may be conveniently divided into two parts : the science of public punishment, and the art of public punishment. These parts are so far independent of each other, that one of them may be admitted by men who are unable to accept both. So far as the philosophy is concerned, the merits of the scheme belong more to the old jurists than to Captain Maconochie; the praise of having reduced general and long-overlooked notions to a practicable and consistent system, is entirely his own. Beccaria taught the doctrine, that the offender who breaks the law, does a certain amount of injury to societythe value of which may be estimated and expressed in figures. There is no doubt of this. All administrative justice is based upon it. One man steals a watch—another man filches an apple; the first is transported for seven years ; the second is sent to the House of Correction for seven days. No one can sit and see the trials of a single session, without being made aware, that crime is even now appraised in a rude way, and punished according to its value. So far the doctrine of Beccaria is acted upon. But the Italian jurist would have the valuation regular and uniform.

There is no measure of the enormity of a crime, he says, but the injury done to society. The attempt to value the injury sustained, would be sometimes rude, no doubt—for the problem would seldom be a simple one—but by means of a jury, such an approach might be made, as would generally satisfy the sense of public justice.

It is an obvious part of such a scheme, that the value of crime should not be expressed in time, but in labour. To sequestrate a man's time, is to sequestrate that which is partly not his own. Labour is a man's personal property. Time is a thing quite outside of him. He has a beneficial interest in it ; but it is not his. To lose it—to have it taken away -is, no doubt, a great privation. It is so much

« AnteriorContinuar »