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stances under which they are placed, and the influences which may be brought to bear upon them. It is very certain, that, on the old systems of punishment, prisoners were made infinitely worse by the evil communications to which they were exposed. “Corrumpere et corrumpi" was the regular occupation of the jail, the galley, the penitentiary of former times; and is it credible, that any human being is capable of being made worse, and incapable of being made better? Can a young man be perverted by one course of education and example, and can he not be affected at all by an opposite influence? Let it be tried. Let the prisoner be brought, as far as possible, into a sound state of body, by wholesome diet, pure air, sufficient clothing, hard but not oppressive labor, and personal cleanliness. Then let all communications of evil be stopped, and all of good opened which it is practicable to give, and let this continue for several years; and then we shall be able to judge, whether some portion of ignorance may or may not be removed, whether some of those perverted hearts can or cannot be reclaimed, and whether or not any human being can be found absolutely incapable of improvement.
The experiment surely is worth trying; as no one will deny that the criminal and the prisoner make up an important class in the community, and few will doubt that the promise of good results is sufficiently encouraging to authorize the attempt. Nay, the experiment has been tried, and has already produced results that have greatly encouraged those who have interested themselves in the subject. Those corrupting communications, which effected so much mischief, have been prevented by requiring seclusion and silence. The health of the prisoner has been cared for, in all the circumstances of situation, exercise, clothing, and diet ; religious instruction, both public and private, has been given, and the deplorable ignorance of many has been in some degree removed by enabling them to read; and the Bible has been furnished to all, and prayer and exhortation, and reproof and encouragement, have exerted their combined influences on all. And what has been the effect ? Far greater and better than was anticipated by the judicious friends of the plan. Not a few insulated cases merely of improvement of character have occurred; but a much larger proportion than was expected to be reclaimed has been found greatly benefited. To not a few, their commitment to prison has been, under Providence, the means of purifying and ele
vating them from vice, poverty, and ignorance, to respectability, comfort, and knowledge, and even the most obdurate have acquired habits of great value to themselves and others. What has been done may be repeated; and the importance of these improvements of character, and real reformations, cannot be too highly estimated, even if they be reckoned at the lowest number that any, the most incredulous, would fix. Compare this scheme with those of other times and other countries, with the cruelty, the neglect, the filth, the degrading and brutalizing vices, the insufficient food, and the foul air, to which the prisoner has been heretofore exposed, and shall we not rejoice at the change? When to these facts we add the important alteration in the expense of establishments for the imprisonment of criminals, when we learn that prisoners, instead of being a great and growing burden on the community, are actually a source of gain, we are ready to ask, is not this system precisely what we want? Would it not be chimerical to expect any thing better? Can there, indeed, be any thing better of the sort ?
Yes, say Messrs. de Beaumont and de Tocqueville, there is one thing better; there is still an improvement on this plan; and that is, the absolute solitude of every individual confined, at least his absolute separation from every other prisoner. Let him see no one but his keeper, or a minister of the gospel; and let him reflect, in his cell, upon his past course and his future prospects; but, that his reflections may not be too intense, give him employment; and he will come out not only a better man, but with the advantage of not having been seen, known, and marked as a convict either by his associates or others. He will not, therefore, be exposed either to the temptations or the discouragements which await those who have not been in total solitude. It is found by experience, that nothing has a stronger tendency to soften the hard, stubborn, vicious character than absolute seclusion; and that is precisely the point to be obtained with the convict; while to those who know the difficulties to be encountered by the discharged prisoner, even if well disposed, — the temptations, the sneers of his old associates, and the abhorrence expressed by respectable people for an inmate of the State Prison, few things will seem more important than the protection of the unhappy convict from their oppressive power.
This experiment, too, has been tried. It was already begun when Messrs. de Beaumont and de Tocqueville were here in
1831 ; and so promising were its apparent advantages, that the plan received their decided approbation. Five years' experience since that time, has added to our acquaintance with this scheme and its effects ; and we propose now to inquire whether those effects are, or can probably be made, so superior to those of the Auburn plan, as to justify the preference expressed for it by our authors, at the vast additional cost which it necessarily implies. We admit, as fully as can be desired, the advantages enjoyed by the prisoner discharged from the Philadelphia penitentiary of not having been known as its inmate. He is, as it were, new-born into the world ; and, with his faculties fully developed, he has a new character to acquire ; and it is his own fault if he do not adhere to the good resolutions he may have formed in his cell, and become thenceforward a useful citizen. But we think even this advantage, great as it is, may be purchased too dearly ; and we are free to confess our opinion that the objections to the plan more than counterbalance this solitary point of superiority.
The first and most important defect in the scheme of constant confinement, is the impossibility of giving adequate religious instruction ; we use these words advisedly, the impossibility of giving adequate religious instruction. There is, probably, no equal number of human beings in civilized communities, who stand more in need of religious instruction, and of religious influence, in every possible shape, than the convicts in our penitentiaries. It was the want of this influence upon their minds in youth, which brought many of them, we are almost ready to say, all of them, to the cells they occupy; and without this influence it is in vain to hope for any valuable change in their characters. We agree perfectly with a remark of the warden of the Philadelphia Penitentiary in his last Report. “On few points have the community been more mistaken than in the character of convicts; who are, as a mass, an unfortunate, uneducated, ignorant class of beings, victims of intemperance and neglect. There are some instances among them of low cunning, but few of intelligence. A small number have received the first rudiments of a school education ; but the great majority, indeed nearly the whole, have been destitute of any thing like a moral or religious training.” No wonder, then, that they are where they are, and what they are. Unhappy children of unnatural parents, it may still be a mercy to them to become inmates of a cell, if the light of religion may there be poured on their darkened minds ; if a faithful and wise teacher is allowed the means and opportunity of awaking, enlightening, exhorting, alarming, encouraging them, touching their hitherto insensible hearts with new emotions, sympathizing with them in their penitence, and raising their thoughts to Him whom, hitherto, they have not known in all their ways. None have so great need of such teachings, in all the various ways in which they can be given. The preaching of the word, the Sabbath school, the united prayer, and the private exhortation should all be regularly and diligently used. Too much cannot be done, and in neglecting any of these means of grace there is a loss not merely to the prisoner, but to society, which cannot be repaid in any other way. Now does the plan of the Philadelphia Penitentiary admit of the use of all these means ? Manifestly not. The prisoners cannot be assembled for common instruction, either in the chapel or the Sabbath school. Whatever is done for them in that respect must be done by individual communication, or, at least, by the voice of a clergyman heard in the long passages through the small holes cut into the cells. In this way, thirty-six prisoners at once may, perhaps, hear the words addressed to an invisible audience; but no one can tell whether the prisoner chooses to listen or not.
And how is this amount of labor to be performed ? On the 1st of January, 1836, there were three hundred and forty-four prisoners in the Penitentiary, thirty-six of whom only were in such situation as by any possibility to hear the same exhortation at the same time. * Is it expected of a clergyman to preach ten sermons on a Sabbath ? Or are ten clergymen to be appointed to do what might be so much better done by
We say better done, for it is past our belief that any man, bowever fervent and faithful, can preach to stone walls with holes in them, with the same efficacy as to a living assembly who will show in their countenances the effect of his words
* We are aware that a second story of cells has been built in some of the wings, by which the number is doubled. The intention was to give each prisoner two rooms, and so retain only the same number of convicts; but if this purpose has been changed, and a prisoner is placed in each cell, the number who may listen at once will be increased to seventy-two. The argument against the construction will still remain sufficiently strong.
on their hearts. And supposing a man to be found selfdenying enough to undertake such a task, how long could he preach two sermons, or one sermon, in a week to all the prisoners? We really marvel at the coolness with which the Board of Inspectors, in their last Report, urge upon the legislature the appointment of a religious instructor for the Eastern Penitentiary. They say truly, that “the benefits of the system cannot be fully and completely exhibited without a systematic course of religious instruction.” We think so too; and we think also that such instruction cannot be given in the Eastern Penitentiary, unless an officiating clergyman is appointed for each corridor, or the system of perpetual seclusion is given up, and the prisoners are assembled in a chapel. Believing, as we do, that religious instruction is indispensable to any valuable scheme of prison discipline, we unhesitatingly prefer that plan by which it may be and is given, according to which every prisoner may hear one or two sermons on the Sabbath, may have the benefit of the Sabbath school or Bible class,
may listen to daily prayers, to that on which all this is impracticable except at a cost, and with an apparatus, which only adds ridicule to impracticability.
The next point to which we wish to direct attention is the comparative healthiness of the two systems. Next in importance to the health of the soul is that of the body; and we should think it impossible to doubt, that the perpetual confinement to a small room is less healthy than active employment in the open air. We know that in the Appendix to the work of our authors, detailing their conversations with prisoners in this penitentiary, the improvement in their health is frequently mentioned, as it is also in every report of the officers of the institution. We have not the least doubt of it ; but neither are we in the least satisfied by it. Health may
be improved without becoming good; and it may be and often is what is called good health, or freedom from positive disease, when the subject is in that nervous, feeble, spiritless condition, showing any thing rather than what we should be disposed to call a sound, vigorous state of the body. The constant dwelling on the subject in all reports shows how great and natural a source of anxiety it has been to the patrons of the institution. Indeed it could not be otherwise. Everybody knows that confinement and sedentary occupations are not favorable to health. Look at those who are in better situations than the