Imágenes de página

in so many

[ocr errors]

P. 68, 69.

But the truth is, that all inflictions beyond that of mere de tention, are clearly illegal. Take the commom case of fetters From Bracton down to Blackstone, all our lawyers declare the use of them to be contrary to law. The last

says, words, that the law will not justify jailors in fettering a pri* soner, unless where he is unruly or has attempted an escape;' and, even in that case, the practice seems to be questionable-if we can trust to the memorable reply of Lord Chief Justice King to certain magistrates, who urged their necessity for safe custody

- let them build their walls higher.' Yet has this matter been left, all over the kingdom, as a thing altogether indifferent, to the pleasure of the jailor or local magistrates; and the practice accordingly has been the most capricious and irregular that can well be imagined.

• In Chelmsford, for example, and in Newgate, all accused or convicted of felony are ironed. At Bury, and at Norwich, all are without irons. At Abingdon, the untried are not ironed.--At Derby, none but the unțried are ironed. At Cold-bath. fields, none but the untried, and those sent for re-examination, are ironed. At Winchester, ail before trial are ironed ; and those sentenced to transportation after trial.-At Chester, those alone of bad character are ironed, whether tried or untried.

But these are trifles. The truth of the case is forcibly and briefly stated in the following short sentences.

• You have no right to deprive a prisoner of pure air, wholesome and sufficient food, and opportunities of exercise. You have no right to debar him from the craft on which his family depends, if it can be exercised in prison. You have no right to subject him to suffering from cold, by want of bed-clothing by night, or firing by day; and the reason is plain,-you have taken him from his home, and have deprived him of the means of providing himself with the necessaries or comforts of life; and therefore you are bound to furnish him with moderate indeed, but suitable accommodation.

• You have, for the same reason, no right to ruin his habits, by compelling him to be idle, his morals, by compelling him to mix with a promiscuous assemblage of hardened and convicted criminals, or his health, by forcing him at night into a damp unventilated cell, with such crowds of companions, as very speedily render the air foul and putrid, or to make him sleep in close contact with the victims of contagious and loathsome disease, or amidst the noxious effluvia of dirt and corruption. In short, no Judge ever condemned a man to be half starved with cold by day, or half suffocated with heat by night. Who ever heard of a criminal being sentenced to catch the Rheumatism, or the Typhus Fever ? Corruption of morals and contamination of mind, are not the remedies which the law in its wisdom has thought proper to adopt.' p. 11, 12.

We cannot express the sequel half so well, or so strongly, as in the following eloquent and impressive passage.

• Such then, as I have described, being the rights of all prisoners, and such our policy, I maintain that these rights are violated, and this policy is abandoned, in England. The prisoner, after his commitment is made out, is handcuffed to a file of perhaps a dozen wrutched persons in a similar situation, and marched through the streets, . sometimes a considerable distance, followed by a crowd of impudent and insulting boys, exposed to the gaze and to the stare of every passenger : the moment he enters prison, irons are hammered on to him; then he is cast into the midst of a compound of all that is dis gusting and depraved. At night he is locked up in a narrow.cell, with perhaps half a dozen of the worst thieves in London, or as many vagrants, whose rags are alive, and in actual motion, with vermin: he may find himself in bed, and in bodily contact, between a robber and a murderer ; or between a man with a foul disease on one side, end one with an infectious disorder on the other. He may spend his days, deprived of free air and wholesome exercise. He may be prohibited from following the handicraft, on which the subsistence of his family depends. He may be half starved for want of food, and clothing, and fuel. He may be compelled to mingle with the vilest of mankind, and, in self-defence, to adopt their habits, their language, and their sentiments : he may become a villain by actual 'compulsion. His health must be impaired, and may be ruined, by filth and contagion; and as for his morals, purity itself could not continue pure, if exposed for any length of time to the society with which he must associate.

He is instructed in no useful branch of employment, by which he may earn an honest livelihood by honest labour. You have forbidden him to repent and to reflect, by withholding from him every opportunity of reflection and repentance. Seclusion from the world has been only a closer intercourse with its very worst miscreants ; his mind has lain waste and barren for every weed to take root in ; he is habituated to idleness, reconciled to filth, and familiarized with crime." You give him leisure, and, for the employment of that leisure, you give him tutors in every branch of iniquity. In short, by the greatest possible degree of misery, you produce the greatest possible degree of wickedness; you convert an act, perhaps of indiscretion, into a settled taste, and propensity to vice. Receiving him, because he is too bad for society, you return him to the world impaired in health, debased in intellect, and corrupted in principles.' p. 15–17.

This book of Mr Buxton's contains the description of only ten places of confinement-five in a very bad state, which, we are sorry to say, he represents as pretty near the average for England--and five others, out of which two are foreign, which he has selected as specimens of what may be easily effected by judicious arrangement and careful superintendence. We shall en

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

deavour to give our readers a general idea of both sides of the picture,

The first prison which is described is one in the Metropolis, that of the BOROUGH COMPTER, examined in December 1817, and February 1818. There, in one ward and yard, were crowded together all those accused, and all convicted of offences, from slight assaults up to murder and robbery;--the whole employed in gaming, and complaining that they had nothing else to do. Next to them were upwards of forty debtors, stowed into two rooms of twenty feet long by less than ten feet wide, which are their bed-rooms, day-rooms, kitchen, and work-shop. In each of them, upwards of twenty people were put to sleep on eight straw beds. “I maintained,' says Mr Buxton, that the thing was • physically impossible. But the prisoners explained away the

difficulty, by saying, “they slept edgeways. In the morning, the heat and stench arising from this condensation of human misery was such, that they all rushed out naked to the little yard as soon as the door was opened :—and the turnkey himself stated that the smell, on the first opening of the door, was

enough to turn the stomach of a horse. Every one of the prisoners looked sickly; and Mr Buxton guessed, with astonishing accuracy, the length of time which each had been confined by the degree of illness which they seemed to suffer. During the day, their general occupation is playing cards. There is no school--no soap is allowed—and no separation attempted either between the convicted and the untried—the felon and the petty delinquent--the

novice and the old offender-or even the healthy and the sick of contagious disorders. The result cannot be better illustrated than by the concluding words of Mr Buxton's impressive survey.

· I saw one man lying on a straw bed, as I believed at the point of death, without a shirt, inconceivably dirty, so weak as to be almost unable to articulate, and so offensive as to render remaining a minute with him quite intolerable; close by his side, five other untried prisoners had slept the preceding night, inhaling the stench from this mass of putrefaction, hearing his groans, breathing the steam from his corrupted lungs, and covered with myriads of lice from his rags of clothing; of these, his wretched companions, three were subsequently pronounced by the verdict of a jury “not guilty," and of these one was Noble, whose case I have before described. The day after their discharge, I found the two who were convicted almost undressed : on asking the reason, they said their clothes were under the pump to get rid of the vermin received from the vagrant; his bed had been burnt by order of the jailor ; his clothes had been cut off; and the turnkey said, one of his companions had brought kim his garter, on which he counted upwards of forty lice.

The jailor told me, “that in an experience of nine years, he had never known an instance of reformation ; he thought the prisoners grew worse ; and he was sure, that if you took the first boy you met with in the streets, and placed him in his prison, by the end of a month he would be as bad as the rest, and up to all the roguery

of London. Half his present prisoners have been there before; and, upon an average, he thinks if one hundred are let out, he shall soon have from twenty to thirty back again, besides those who go to other


' I will not trouble my reader with any further observations upon this prison ; but he must determine for himself, whether crime and misery are produced or prevented in the Borough Compter.' p. 30, 31,

The next jail examined was Tothill Fields, which exhibits very nearly the same picture--no classification--no work-no instruction-and more sickness even than in the Compter. The whole prison being damp, and many of the cells below the level of the ground, and under high water mark, one in ten of the prisoners was seized with acute rheumatism. The debtors are entitled to no provision whatsoever; and while a man may be sent, and has been sent here, for 20 days, for a debt of 2s. 6d, he is not entitled to a single ounce of bread, it being presumed that he is able to support himself—that is, that he can buy provision for his subsistence for 20 days, though he could not pay 2s. 6d. to prevent his imprisonment. We really cannot won, der, after this, that a coroner's inquest, which sat on the body of a debtor in this jail last October, reported, that he had died for want of proper nourishment.'

The Prisons at St Albans are, if possible, still more abominable-some of the rooms are on a level with the street, and only, separated by open bars, through which any thing may be handed in. It was found that the prisoners, in this way, generally got drunk, and came, in that state, to their trial; in con: sequence of which, an order was issued to shut the lower part with a shutter, on the Session-day, and that only! The men and women sleep at night in places only separated by an open railing, with bars six inches aşunder. There is no fire at any season—and no yard whatever-no employment. The jailor, on being asked if his prisoners were generally reformed or corrupted by their imprisonment, answered, that he had known a great

many, who came in comparatively innocent; go out quite depraved; but never one who, coming in wicked, went out bet

At Guildford, things are no better. There are often an hundred prisoners here—no infirmary, chapel, or privyếno work -no classification. The irons are remarkably heavy: and the jailor, who had been there forty-five years, concurred entirely


with his brother of St Albans as to the effects on the moral character of the captives. As an instance, he mentioned, " that • two boys were lately committed for poaching: they appeared

at first quite strangers to crime, and kept themselves at a dis• tance from the other prisoners. Their reserve, however, soon • left them; they listened with eagerness to the adventures and

escapes of their associates; they determined to go to London, 6 and the day after their term of imprisonment was expired, they

called at the jail to receive the promised letters of introduc• tion from the thieves in prison, to their companions and re• ceivers in town.' p. 42.

The account of the jail at Bristol, which is at last about to be rebuilt, in consequence of having been actually presented as a nuisance by the Grand Jury of the county, is still more shocking than any thing we have yet mentioned. When Mr B. visited it in March 1818, there were about 150 prisoners—sixtythree of whom he found jammed together in a yard 20 feet long by 12 broad; accused and convicted, sick and well, all packed together—and among them eleven children, hardly old enough to be released from the nursery. The following picture is terrible.

* All charged or convicted of felony, without distinction of age, were in heavy irons—almost all were in rags-almost all were filthy in the extreme-almost all exhibited the appearance of ill health. The state of the prison--the desperation of the prisoners, broadly hinted in their conversation, and plainly expressed in their conduct; -the uproar of oaths, complaints, and obscenity—the indescribable stench ;-presented, together, a concentration of the utmost misery with the utmost guilt-a scene of infernal passions and distresses which few have imagination sufficient to picture, and of which fewer still would believe that the original is to be found in this enlightened and happy country.

• After seeing this yard, and another of larger dimensions, the adjacent day-rooms and sleeping-cells, the conclusion of my own mind was, that nothing could be more offensive or melancholy. This opinion, however, was speedily refuted--a door was unlocked, we were furnished with candles, and we descended eighteen long steps into a vault; at the bottom, was a circular space; a narrow passage, eighteen inches wide, runs through this ; and the sides are furnished with barrack bedsteads. The floor, which is considered to be on the same. level with the river, was very damp. The smell at this hour (one o'clock) was something more than can be expressed by the term “ disgusting.” The bedstead was very dirty ; and on one part of it I discovered a wretched human being who complained of severe ill

This was his infirmary--the spot chosen for the restoration of decayed health a place, one short visit to which affected me with a nausea, which I did not recover for two days. The preceding night,


« AnteriorContinuar »