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Chapters on Prisons and Prisoners, and the Prevention of Crime. By Joseph Kingsmill
, M.A., Chaplain of Pentonville Prison, London. Third Edition. London : Longman and Co., 1854. On the Present Aspect of Serious Crime in England, and the Means
used for its Punishment and Repression by Government. By the
Rev. Joseph Kingsmill, M.A. London: Longman and Co. Revelations of Prison Life; with an Inquiry into Prison Discipline and Secondary Punishments
. By George Laval Chesterton, Twenty-five
Governor of the House of Correction at Coldbath Fields. 2 vols. Second Edition, revised. London: Hurst
and Blackett, 1856. A Tract on Tickets of Leave. By C. B. Adderley, M.P. London:
J. W. Parker and Son, 1857. What is to be done with our Criminals ? " A Letter to the Right
Honourable the Lord Mayor, by Charles Pearson, Esq., City Solicitor. Together with Mr. Pearson's Speech on the same Subject in the House of Commons, May 15th, 1819. London: Arthur Hall and Virtue, 1857.
Public attention is at length fairly roused to the necessity of revising our code and administration of Secondary Punishments. We should rejoice at this new-born interest in a most important question, if we did not fear that it was evanescent, the effect of a passing panic, and likely to decline as that gradually dies away. In the majority of recent discussions on this subject, large considerations of policy are altogether ignored; or are alluded to only to be contemptuously dismissed as the harmless amusement of a few speculative recluses and doctrinaire reformers. To stave-off the evil during our day and generation, and to leave to the morrow the things of the morrow, is proclaimed as the true wisdom of practical men. The greatest of social problems is viewed through the distorting medium of merely personal apprehensions. All attempts calmly to ascertain the facts of the case are denounced as efforts to bewilder the common sense of the country. “We know," it is said, life and property are daily less secure; and we are not to be imposed on by statistics. This is no time for fine theories. Offenders must be dealt with in a summary manner. Banishment is our only resource.” If conscience can “make cowards of us all,” cowardice seems to have the power of retaliating by paralysing conscience. With the subsidence of the present panic, which even now shows symptoms of decline, these counsels born of it will cease. We shall be glad if they make way for any thing more worthy than the old indifference.
In the mean time, we are far from thinking that this alarm
has been altogether groundless. But we believe that it has been much exaggerated. A cacoethes scribendi seized on our respectable citizens. A man whose house had been attempted, or whose person subjected to the gentle embrace of the garotter, became forthwith a distinguished character, and “felt it a duty" to write to the Times. In this way many cases which ordinarily would have been passed over in silence, were elaborately paraded before the public. Outrages which, in a less excited state of popular feeling, would have been consigned to the obscurity of the police-reports, were dwelt on in terrified leading-articles. Desperate men announced the warlike preparations which they had made in their domestic establishments,—so that every Englishman's house seemed, in a new sense, to have become his castle ; and proclaimed their intention of committing murder, pro aris et focis, on the first opportunity. Others, of a more scientific turn, described wonderful machines of their own device, which appeared to rival the art of Vulcan, and to surpass the sagacity and moral discrimination of a Bow-street officer. They were warranted by their enthusiastic authors to catch and hold fast every burglar, or other feloniously disposed person; while they would in no case interfere with visitors of friendly intentions.
But while the popular apprehensions were, in our opinion, largely factitious, they were, it is probable, not wholly so. To what extent they were well-founded, a reference to the Criminal Tables may help us to determine. We do not rely too implicitly on these documents. The number of persons committed is not an infallible index to the number of crimes committed. The popular impressions and the official returns must be allowed each to qualify the conclusions we should draw from either alone; though, of course, the definite statements of the one carry with them more authority than the vague alarms of the other, which are like the spirit that passed before the face of Eliphaz, and caused his hair to stand on end,—the more terrible that no man can discern the form” thereof.
In 1854 the number of committals was 29,359; while in 1855 it was 25,972, showing a decrease of 11.5 per cent in the latter year.*
But cases of malicious stabbing and wounding had increased 88 per cent, and manslaughter 14 per cent. While the aggregate of violent offences against property had diminished,
• The returns for 1855 require a twofold correction to make comparison of them with former years equitable, owing to the operation of the Criminal Justice Act (which received the royal assent in August 1855), and the extension of the Winter Assize Act to twenty other counties besides York and Lancaster. We must add 522 to the number of commitments in 1855, making a total of 26,494, still a large reduction on the preceding twelve months. (See Criminal Tables for 1855, p. iii.)
there was an increase of robberies and burglaries, both to the amount of 7.7 per cent. Sir George Grey tells us that serious offences in 1856 (for which the returns are not yet published) show a decrease of 25 per cent on the previous year. “Burglary and other violent offences,” he adds, “are comprised in this general aggregate; and it is also worthy of note, that the crime of robbery, including as it does garotting, which is only one of the various modes resorted to for effecting robbery, has slightly decreased in 1856 as compared with 1855."* But this statement is too loose to bear much stress.
that serious offences have diminished, and burglaries are serious offences, is not to say that burglaries have diminished. The decrease of robberies in general, is compatible with an increase of robbery by garotting; and moreover, this decrease in 1856 is only upon a considerable increase in 1855. Nothing is said of violent offences against the person, which are almost universally believed to have been perpetrated in great excess during the last twelve months. Such a belief can hardly have been altogether a mistake. There must have been some substance to throw so great a shadow. This opinion is not out of harmony with the conclusion, that during the last half-century crimes of violence have on the whole steadily diminished; since it will be allowed that special causes may temporarily counteract a general tendency, as in the ebbing tide, while the great mass of waters retires, a wave may here and there advance beyond the line from which all the while the sea is receding. That such incidental causes have been in operation lately, a very little reflection will make probable. The reduction of our regular forces, which, during the war, had to be recruited from a class inferior to that from which they are ordinarily supplied; the recall of those regiments of the militia which had volunteered for stations abroad ; and the disbanding, together, with them, of such as had remained on home-service, and of the foreign legions,-must be taken into account. There is no unfair. ness in attributing to the worst of the men, thus let loose upon society, in many cases without employment, an appreciable share of the outrages which, in the absence of any thing like proof, have been set down to the ticket-of-leave men.
In the mean time, be the popular feeling extravagant or not, the Government, urged on by it, or wisely taking advantage of it, has produced its plans. Before proceeding to consider them in detail
, it may not be without use to review the main features of previous systems of secondary punishment and convict discipline. In order wisely to "look before," it is necessary carefully to "look after.” The probabilities of the future can only be esti
." mated from the certainties of the past.
* Speech in the House of Commons, Feb. 9th, 1857. Times Report.
The recognition of the importance of the several questions relative to the treatment of crime is of comparatively recent date. With a qualification afterwards to be made, it may be said to have been brought about by the exertions of Howard to purify our prisons. The squalid filth of the common gaols in his day made them scenes of pestilence, and infection spread from the prisoner in the dock to the crowds in court. Physical uncleanness and discase were, as they always are, the sign and accompaniment of a yet more fearful moral corruption, the details of which may very well be passed over lightly. Cruel gaolers did not scruple to use the thumb-screw and other instruments of torture on such of their prisoners as had offended them,-on some who had given no reasonable ground of offence. Subterranean dungeons, the floors of which were covered with water,-in one instance to the depth of two or three feet,—were the only abode of many unfortunate captives. Rats made their meals on the living bodies of their human co-tenants of these loathsome dens. Often there was neither religious nor medical provision for the wretches whom crime or misfortune had immured therein. In some instances, surgeons refused attendance because of the frightful discases which made havoc in the prisons to which they were attached. Men and women, debtors and the vilest offenders, the convicted and the unconvicted, were indiscriminately associated. The bad became hardened; the yet innocent lost their innocence; profligacy and licentiousness abounded. The circumstance which drew Howard's attention to these enormities is well known. As high-sheriff of the county of Bedford in 1773, he had been struck by seeing that several persons whom the jury had acquitted were re-committed for the non-payment of certain gaol-fees, which were, in many cases, the sole remuneration of the keepers. Innocent men, who had been in custody before trial, were detained after it as debtors for board and lodging, and for such board and lodging ! He remonstrated. The magistrates sympathised with him in the abstract, which is as far as official sympathy generally goes; but required a precedent for levying rates on the county in lieu of these extortions. He travelled into other districts in search of precedents, and inquired into the several modes of prison-administration there prevalent. The result is well known. The veil was raised from many a chamber of horrors. The national conscience, not over-tender in those days, was touched. The work of amendment was begun in earnest. Like all great reformers, Howard, as Mr. Dixon points out, was the instrument of an awakening spirit of mercy and justice, which, had he failed, would probably have found some other organ. Montesquieu's celebrated sixth book had been published five-and-twenty years before Howard began his philanthropic labours. Beccaria's treatise, of which
he was an attentive student, appeared a few years later. Blackstone, Paley, Eden, and Bentham, were his contemporaries.* In 1701-2, the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge had visited and reported on “Newgate and other gaols in and about London." In 1728-29, there was a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the state of the gaols of the kingdom. “When the first part of their report was made in Parliament,” says Mr. Dixon, in whose biography will be found ample warrant in detail for our general statements, “the feelings of surprise and disgust which the horrible disclosures excited were such that the House at once ordered the arrest of the warders, tipstaff's, and others officers of the gaols reported upon, and passed a strong resolution, praying his Majesty to cause his Attorneygeneral, without delay, and in the most effectual manner, to prosccute them for the high crimes and misdemeanours with which they stood charged.”+ With all this, nothing really remedial was done. The time was ripe for reform, but the man was yet wanting
From what has been said, and from much more that has been left unsaid, the conclusion is inevitable, that convict-discipline was unknown in the days of Howard's earlier toils, or resolved itself only into hard usage and safe detention, -bolts and bars, and the cat-o'-nine-tails. As little, when almost all offences, from shoplifting to murder, were capital, was there any scope for a just scheme of secondary punishments; or, except in very few instances, any enlightened or sound views of their application. This is not to be wondered at. In matters political, correct theory follows correct practice, rather than leads it; just as great poems precede formal arts of poetry. We grope our way to the truth; and having tried almost all wrong methods, are happy if we can blunder at last into the right one. Every crror, distinctly perceived to be such, diminishes the chances of future mistake. İf the history of secondary punishments were more generally studied, one-half at least of the crude suggestions of pamphleteers and newspaper-correspondents would never have seen the light. They are often unconsciously) reproductions of devices which we thought had been dead and buried long ago, for public opinion had tried and sentenced them. We fancy that they are dead; and that their apparent resurrection is no real revival, but only some cunning galvanic trick.
The first instinctive feeling which all men have in the presence of moral evil, is the impulse to destroy or otherwise to disable it; to put it out of existence, or out of reach of opportunities of harm. This feeling, sound in itself, requires a large experience and humanity for its proper application. Our forefathers exem* Life of Howard, pp. 221-227.
† Ibid., p. 13.