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COMMON COUNCIL AND LIVERY
THE CITY OF LONDON,
ABUSES EXISTING IN NEWGATE;
THE NECESSITY OF AN IMMEDIATE REFORM IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THAT PRISON.
THE HON. H. G. BENNET, M. P.
To the Common Council and Livery of the City of London.
Ir is with great reluctance I address this letter to you; but, having long thought on the subject, it has appeared to me, that the cause which I am advocating requires only to be stated in a plain and simple manner to receive from men liberal and enlightened as you are, their zealous and unanimous support.
It cannot surely be necessary for me to declare, that I have no pleasure in discovering and exposing the negligence or apathy of men, from whom better conduct and other feelings might have been expected. I have no resentments to gratify, no partialities to indulge, no private interests to serve. As an English gentleman, I am solicitous for the character of my country: as wishing to benefit my fellow-creatures, my endeavours are aimed at checking the increase of crime by the reformation of criminals, and by bettering the condition of those, who are the most unfortunate because they are most guilty.
I make, then, this appeal to your good sense and humanity, because it is through them only that success in the object sought after can be obtained; because an opinion expressed by you, and followed, with your accustomed zeal and activity, by conduct founded on that opinion, acting upon the discretion of those who are your magistrates and representatives, will compel them to take those steps, which can alone rescue the metropolis of this great empire from the well-merited stigma of having the worst-regulated prisons in the kingdom. Is it, indeed, too much to expect-while many
of the counties and cities in England are vying with each other in the excellence of their reformatory arrangements, and can show their establishments for the confinement of criminals, with pride, to those whose philanthropy leads them to their inspection-that the City of London should be called on to cease confining the wretched persons, whose guilt or whose misfortunes have made them amenable to the laws of their country, in a manner against which common sense and the most ordinary humanity revolt, and in a manner calculated to augment every evil, for the prevention of which the use of punishments and penalties is warrantable.
This subject, to the discredit of the city of London, is not new; it is not now agitated for the first time. In 1783, Mr. Howard, referring to old Newgate, says, "that the builders seemed to have regarded in their plan nothing but the single article of keeping prisoners in safe custody. The rooms and cells were so close as almost always to be the constant seats of disease and sources of infection. The city had, therefore, very good reason for their resolution to build a new gaol.-I priut the plan of it, rather to satisfy curiosity than as a model to be followed. I am of opinion, that, without more than ordinary care, the prisoners in it will be in great danger of the gaol fever.""
In the second volume of his works, which gives an account of Newgate in 1787, he remarks, " that there was no alteration since his former publication. In three or four rooms there were nearly one hundred and fifty women crowded together: many young creatures with the old and hardened; some of whom had been confined upwards of two years. On the men's side there were many boys of twelve or fourteen years of age, some almost naked. In the men's infirmary there were only seven iron bedsteads; and at my last visit, there being twenty sick, some of them, naked and with sores, in a miserable condition, lay on the floor, with only a rug. There were four sick in the infirmary for women, which is only fifteen feet and a half by twelve, has but one window and no bedsteads; sewers offensive; prison not whitewashed. That, unless room be given for the separation of the prisoners, and a reform be made in the prisons, an audacious spirit of profaneness and wickedness will continue to prevail in the lower class of the people of London.
"In 1787 there were in Newgate 140 debtors and 350 criminals =490. In 1788, 114 debtors, 499 criminals=613."2
From this period to 1810, being a period of twenty-three years, the system under which Newgate was misgoverned was gradually becoming worse, from the increased number of persons who were
Howard, page 213.
2 Howard, vol. ii. p. 124, 125.
imprisoned there, and from the total want of classification of offenders according to the degrees of age and crime.
In 1808, Sir Richard Phillips, one of our sheriffs, addressed a letter to the Livery of London, on the condition of the different prisons under his coutrol. In his observations on Newgate he complains (as existing then) of all the defects which a prison can possess: of want of room, air, food, classification, &c. He says,
"That he has been shocked to see boys of thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen" (and he might have added infants of nine years of age), "confined for months in the same yard with hardened, incorrigible offenders. Among the women, all the ordinary feelings of the sex are outraged by their indiscriminate association. The shameless victims of lust and profligacy are placed in the same chamber with others, who, however they may have offended the laws in particular points, still preserve their respect for decency and decorum. In immediate contact with such abandoned women, other young persons are compelled to pass their time between their commitment and the sessions, when of course it often happens, that the bill is not found against them by the Grand Jury, or they are acquitted by the Petty Jury."
"To convey a just idea of these yards, and of the yards in which the prisoners live and lodge, the most apt comparison is the engraved representation of a slave-ship, which a few years ago was circulated through England with much effect. When the prisoners lie down on their floors by night, there must necessarily, at least in the women's wards, be the same bodily contact, and the same arrangement of heads and legs, as are represented in that drawing of the deck of a slave-ship. The wards being only fortythree feet wide, adnit by night of two rows to lie down at once, in a length of thirty-seven feet; that is to say, twenty-five or thirty women, as it may be, in a row, having each a breadth of eighteen inches by her length. At times, women have laid in the space afforded by the difference between the breadth of the room and the length of two women.'
These facts, as stated by your sheriff, require no comment. The space for the confinement of the women is so limited, that this species of bodily torture is in constant operation when Newgate is erowded with female prisoners; and the miseries suffered by the poor wretches in 1808 were still continued to be suffered in 1817.
Here, then, is a prison, the mismanagement of which has been for years notorious, published, proclaimed, reported against by the
Sir R. Phillips's Letter to the Livery of Londor, p. 83, 94, 95.