« AnteriorContinuar »
to three, the prisoner will receive some further instruction from the schoolmaster, in classes, if he cannot yet read. Twice in the week he will receive visits from the chaplain in his cell between these hours; on other days, he will be left in a great measure to his own resources to pass the time. There is, however, a library attached to the prison, and the inmates may have books sent in from their friends by permission of the chaplain. And various minds can find amusement in various ways.
At a recent visit, we found a gentleman (from one to three) deeply immersed in Sir Thomas Brown's Philosophy of the Human Mind, while the gentleman in the next apartment was eagerly engaged in shading “rabbits” on the sunny wall of his cell. Each man has his own mode of getting over this tedious interval. From three to four, is devoted to exercise in the open air. At four he goes back to his cell, where the schoolmaster visits him and gives him private lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. At six o'clock supper is served, consisting of a pint of gruel and half a pound of bread; but if the fellow be only a minor offender, he gets no supper at all! From six o'clock till eight, is said to be “allowed for mental and moral improvement exclusively.” At eight the prisoner must be in bed, to sleep till six next day—ten hours !
This is the daily life of Reading Gaol. It will be seen that so far as the body is concerned, this is not a very penal prison. Its founders profess to distrust all physical means of acting on the criminal population; their system is mental, and they would not hesitate to ruin the body, in order to follow out their plan of saving the soul. To the ideas on which their scheme is based, and to the results so far as they are accredited, we propose to devote attention hereafter ; but there is a point or two which claims our notice
The first is the manifest injustice which sometimes arises from the fact of there being only two assizes in the year. At the beginning of August we spoke with several persons who are now in prison awaiting trial, and who will have to wait until March, next year, before the legal tribunals of their country can pronounce them guilty or otherwise. None of these men are known to be guilty of the offences with which they stand charged, and some of them are almost certain to be acquitted. Acquitted after seven months of solitary confinement! The authorities of Pentonville and Reading declare that from twelve to eighteen months of this prostration is punishment enough for the most hardened malefactor—is, indeed, quite as much as ordinary human energy can bear up against. Yet our present legal arrangements impose this severe discipline-severe from its very laxityupon men who are frequently innocent! This is monstrous. Where the terms passed before trial are very short—as is the case in the Middlesex House of Detention-separate confinement, especially if the detenue wishes it, may be productive of good negative results ; but in a county like that of Berkshire, where only two assizes are held in the year, to confine suspected persons for periods of more than half a year in
solitary cell—even with all the luxuries of Reading Gaol about them is a cruelty for which no justification can be found.
Let us give an example. We spoke with one old man who is in this predicament. He is the father of a large family, and has been a teetotaller for ten years. The mother of his children died some time ago, and he married a second wife, a woman a good many years younger than himself. She, it is said, treated the orphans as step-mothers usually do : the father took their part, and the husband and wife sometimes quarrelled about the youngsters. One day words grew hotter and hotter between them ; the woman said he struck her and threatened her life. He denies the one charge and the other ; however, being unable to find bail for his appearance at the session—it is not in the
honest man to get securities to the amount of twenty pounds -he was sent to Reading Gaol to wait two or three months until the time of trial. He is already ill with an affection of the chest ; the confinement, the closeness of his cell, and the depression of his spirits are evidently hurrying the poor old fellow to his grave. He is on the sick-list, and has an extra allowance of food, but he declared with tears in his eyes—it is an awful thing to see how strong men will sometimes
like babies in these silent cells that he did not expect to live till the day of trial. What he needed was air and liberty, and the sight of his young children ! It matters little whether this man's story be true in all its details : it is clearly possible, and this is enough. Should the man die in gaol,
innocent of the design imputed to him, who shall answer for his death ? Surely it is not impossible to prevent such a melancholy result.
This is a matter in which the law, and not the Berkshire magistrates, is at fault. Another point to which we must allude touches them.
It is probably known to the reader that our government is desirous -most wisely desirous, as it seems to us—in some measure, of making the criminal a party to the processes of his own amendment.
With this view, it is anxious to make him acquainted with its intention, and with the conditions on which he can shorten his period of punishment. The first step in such a course is to let the prisoner know what is expected of him, and what good conduct will do for him,—and this step it takes by ordering to be posted up in every convict's cell the ensuing
“ Male convicts under sentence of transportation will, in ordinary cases, be subjected to three periods of discipline before they serve out the term of their sentence, or obtain a conditional pardon in the colony to which they may be sent.
“ 1st. The first period will be passed in separate confinement.
“ 2d. The second period will be passed at hard labour on public works, under strict discipline for a period proportioned to the sentence.
“3d. The third period will be passed with a ticket of leave,' in one of her Majesty's colonies.
“SEPARATE CONFINEMENT.—The duration of the first period will in some measure be regulated by the character, conduct, and industry of a prisoner, and his fitness for association with others. A prisoner may be recommended on special grounds for removal from separate confinement at any period of his imprisonment, but in ordinary cases the following rule will be followed. The maximum period to be passed in separate confinement will be eighteen months. Records will be kept by the governor, chaplain, schoolmaster, and other officers, of the conduct and character of each prisoner undergoing this punishment; monthly examinations of these records will be made by the superior authorities of the prison, who will grant to deserving prisoners a good conduct badge to be worn on their dress. Prisoners obtaining these badges, and not forfeiting them by subseqnent misconduct, will be eligible to be recommended for removal from separate confinement at an earlier period than others. In case of the prisoners under sentence of transportation for only seven years, and who shall have obtained a certain number of badges, the authorities will be enabled to recommend to the Secretary of State that they may be removed direct to a colony, with a ticket of leave, instead of undergoing penal discipline on public works."
At Pentonville and Wakefield this government "order" is posted in every cell. There the prisoner is fully informed, and the motives to good conduct are placed distinctly before him, as the law con