Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

41

CHAP. II.

THE MODEL PRISON.

“ He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? or he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” — Psalm xciv. 9.

This is the age for model establishments; and amongst them model prisons take a prominent place. In the immediate neighbourhood of London, and in nearly all our large county towns, handsome massive buildings meet the eye.

Some of them, indeed, so handsome and so elaborately decorated that, but for the lofty walls by which they are enclosed, one would be puzzled to tell for what purpose they were designed. These magnificent edifices are but the lodgings which a great and munificent country provides for its criminal population. Some are for old and hardened offenders, whose long career in the paths of vice seems to give them a fair and reasonable claim to such a provision. Others are for juvenile scoundrels, whose early initiation in crime, and the aptitude they evince for such studies, prompts the philanthropic desire to bring them together in numbers, that mind may act upon mind and the whole body be leavened into one harmonious mass.

Certain it is that, some hundreds of years hence, people will look back to the gaols and houses of correction of the nineteenth century, as the great architectural monuments of the age, in this our land; and in our own day, so long as such goodly structures are raised and such care is taken in providing for the comfort of those who may reside in them, there seems little reason to apprehend that they will be built in vain; that they will ever lack tenants to occupy them.

Since the days of Howard a mighty revolution in prison discipline has indeed taken place; and it may be questioned whether we have not run a little into the opposite extreme; and very justly shocked at the sinks of filth and infamy which in his day received alike the hardened sinner, steeped to the eyes in crime, and him who had been guilty of a first, perhaps a venial, offence, we are not now making the abodes of the vicious and erring amongst us, far more comfortable and desirable than the earnings of honest labour can obtain, and thus, as it were, putting a premium upon vice and immorality.

Since the law has ceased to send to the gallows every man who stole a pound note, or was guilty of some little peccadillo or indiscretion in his dealings with his fellow-man, the number of persons claiming to be supported at the public cost, for terms varying from a few months or years, to the whole period of their amiable lives, has greatly increased, and bids fair to continue to do so in a ratio at least proportioned to the general increase in our population. The disinclination shown, also, in our colonies, to the introduction of more criminals amongst them owing, however, in several instances their present prosperity to convict labour, when other servants were not to be procured — tends very much to complicate and embarrass the important question, " What shall we do with our criminals ?”

Since the rough, but salutary, discipline of the lash has been, for the most part, discontinued in our gaols, it has become a matter of grave dispute by what means order may be maintained amongst their inmates, and a sentence of imprisonment may be made something more than one of ease and idleness, and a temporary seclusion from the world and its cares and sorrows, as well as its pleasures.

The management of rogues, indeed, in this our day has been elevated into a science, in which honest men are deeply interested, and in the study of which we find philanthropists and political economists earnestly engaged. The care of villains is no longer confided to men of low origin and tarnished reputation,—the Peachums, and Lockets, and Jonathan Wildes, of a past generation ; but gentlemen of birth and education, and officers of rank in both army and navy, do not disdain to accept the charge of them; and these are assisted in their labours by clergymen of piety and character, and narrowly watched in the execution of their office by magistrates selected from the flower of our nobility and gentry.

Many systems have been devised for the purpose of deterring the vicious from crime by the dread of its temporal consequences; others, again, have had chiefly in view the charitable object of winning the less hardened amongst criminals, from the course of ruin and destruction they have entered upon, showing them the sin and folly of their ways, awakening in them a desire to turn from their wickedness that they have committed, and to do that which is lawful and right, and ultimately to return them to society as sound and healthy members.

These different objects will ever be attended with 'success proportioned to the materials they may have to work upon. In the abstract nothing can be more delightful, more gratifying to the heart of a benevolent man, than the thought of causing “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” The more practically minded man will look chiefly, perhaps, to the terrors of punishment to check crime in the great majority of men.

It is not my purpose to discuss this question. I shall only observe that both are valuable in their way; that as different physical ailments require different remedies, so the moral diseases of our nature must be treated acaccording to their symptoms. The skill of a physician is chiefly displayed in his power to detect the seat of disease and its true character, and also in gaining an accurate knowledge of the general habit and constitution of his patient. These points once clearly ascertained, the mere treatment may be left to a tyro in the art of healing; it is a matter of rule, to be sought out of books open to all. It is neither your treatment, reader, nor mine; but the result of the study and practice of physicians of all counties, and in all ages, since the world began.

The tread-mill has been deemed by some to

« EdellinenJatka »