Page images

we trust it may never be entirely lost sight of. Nor do we intend delaying the reader with any remarks on voluntary Reformatories. These can be only the pioneers to the main army; their statistics are incomplete, and lack the official guarantee; but above all, the results they shew depend far less on the system than on the hand which works it; and while the success of such men as Mr. Baker and Mr. Bowyer is undeniable, though almost beyond belief, there are many who sadly mistook their powers when they attempted this difficult work, and some even, we fear, who are not sufficiently impressed with the responsibility attaching to it.

It is, then, to the dry and unromantic pages of parliamentary Blue Books that we turn, to prove our position that the reformation of adults, in the qualified sense to which we have restricted the word, is not only not impossible, but has been most successfully accomplished ; for surely we may lay claim to more than partial success, if we can shew that the majority of those convicts who

, have passed through our present system, do not return to prison, or fall under the cognizance of justice, and that their places are not filled up by a fresh series of criminals.

We find from the Reports before us, that the same principle is recognised in the English and Irish prisons; but the system seems to have been more elaborately worked out in the latter, and to these we purpose chiefly directing our attention.

The principle is that of hope. “The recent enactments,” says the chaplain of Chatham prison, “by which a small portion of their time will be remitted as a reward for exemplary conduct and industry, is very beneficial. The cheering principle of hope is thus cherished within them, and nerves them to that exertion which improves their habits and advances their true interests."

“The method of advancing prisoners to successive stages of merit,” writes the governor of Portsmouth,' continues to work satisfactorily; during the year a class has been formed of prisoners who can be trusted to perform their own labour without the supervision of an officer, and no bad results have followed.”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ The v. g. (very good) for work, is as earnestly sought for as ever," writes the governor of Portland.

“That advantages,” says the governor of Dartmoor, “conferred by the several stages of advancement, are highly prized by the prisoners, is evidenced by their general desire to obtain the privileges they confer."

These extracts have been taken almost at random from the reports made by the authorities of the English convict prisons, which abound in willing testimony to the beneficial effect of the lately established system.

In Ireland, we are told, that the object is to train and instruct the prisoner so that he may be able to resist temptation after he leaves the jail. This is done by placing his fate as much as possible in his own hands, enabling him, by industry and good conduct to raise himself step by step to a position of much less restraint, and eventually to regain his liberty at an earlier period. The Irish convict is first sent to Mountjoy, a cellular prison, where he is retained in separate confinement for a minimum period of eight months, during which he is never allowed to converse with his fellow-prisoners. In these hours of solitude he is led, perhaps for the first time in his life, to wholesome reflection. His earliest thought will probably be that crime does not pay; the chaplain may fail indeed to convince him that it is his duty, but his own senses will prove that it is his interest to keep bis hands out of other people's pockets.

It is well ascertained that this discipline of silence and solitude, has a greater deterring effect than that produced by punishment apparently much more severe; so distressing indeed is it, that, after a short interval, employment is gradually given as a relief, and gladly accepted. If he has earned a good character, the prisoner leaves the separate prison at the end of eight months, otherwise he is retained for nine, or even longer. According to his previous occupation, he is then transferred to the government works at Spike Island, or to indoor employment at Philipstown, where he is associated with others, and placed, according to the character he brings with him, either in a state of probation, or a


degree higher, in what is called the third class. From these he has to work himself to the second and first; and lastly to the advanced class, which he can do in less than two years after leaving Mountjoy. At each stage he gains fresh privileges, and eventually, after an interval dependent upon the length of his original sentence, he is sent to an intermediate prison, where he works out the remainder of his time, or if deemed worthy of the indulgence, is conditionally discharged on licence at an earlier period. The practical effect of this is, that the three years' man may work himself out on conditional licence, six months before his time; that the four years' man may gain nine months, and so on ; and that, by continuous industry during their detention, they may have earned, the first £3, the second £4, to which they are entitled at their final discharge. We have mentioned the intermediate prison. This is the distinguishing, and as it seems to us a most excellent feature of the Irish system. It was adopted in November 1855, for the purpose of carrying into effect a scheme of reformation less artificial than any other which had up to that time been adopted, and consequently more likely to be accepted by the community as a test of improvement. These establishments are intended in fact, to act as filterers between the prison and the world without. In them the prisoner supports himself in a great measure by his own labour. Very considerable confidence is gradually placed in him; he is exposed to the risk of almost unrestrained association with prisoners possibly less reclaimed than himself, and is thus step by step brought back into the world from which he has so long been severed, instead of being, as in former times, thrust into it without preparation, in a state which has been aptly likened to the bewilderment of a bat driven suddenly into daylight.

It will be seen that the characteristics of this system are confidence, hope, and work. Under the old method the prisoner was passive, and the longer he remained so, the more unfit he became for the active life which was necessary on his re-entrance into the world. The longer he sat listening to good advice, and formed part of the regular clockwork of the prison,


the less able he was to put that advice into practice, and move as a free agent in a sphere of his own. Under the old plan he was reformed; under the new plan he reforms himself, and the difference between the two processes resembles that between being told the meaning of a difficult passage, and making it out for one's self, a distinction which every schoolboy can appreciate. If this system approves itself to the reason in such a degree, that we feel disposed to wonder that it was not adopted long ago, we must be more astonished that in this country there should still exist any prejudice against it. Admitting all the difficulties attending upon the discharge of prisoners, the worthlessness of a prison character, the incredulity of society, the inability of the strictest and most carefully organized prison discipline to prepare a man for the battle of life, we own to feeling no little confidence in a system which seems to meet these very difficulties; and so far from deeming it incredible that adult prisoners should be reclaimed, we confess that looking to the revolution effected in a man's whole character in less time by the accidents, as they are called, of ordinary life, we should consider it far more strange if, after undergoing such an ordeal for a period varying from two years and a half to ten years, any considerable number should remain unchanged. This result however when it does occur, is not unprovided for; and should it happen that the trustworthiness of any individual liberated on ticket of licence has been overrated that he falls into bad habits and dissolute company, or exhibits any other symptom of relapse—the revocation of the licence consigns him again to the probation which he has quitted prematurely; and when his time is fully completed, the system of registration will increase the punishment of every subsequent crime, until if he cannot himself be trusted at large, he will at least be restrained from injuring or corrupting others. We have thus endeavoured to give our readers an outline, though necessarily a very imperfect one, of the Irish system. The results hitherto attained are thus summed up by the directors in the report before us :-"A large field of experience has been obtained, through so great a number as 2000 having been subjected to the intermediate system in this country. In addition to good and hopeful conduct during detention, we have the still more satisfactory fact of their very generally maintaining it after liberation ; out of 1000 prisoners liberated on licence, it has only been necessary to revoke fifty-nine, not 6 per cent.: twenty-one of these having been for irregularities of conduct not criminal. During the last three years, 700 have been discharged unconditionally from the intermediate prisons, of whom eight only have been recommitted.”

We are told moreover, that the system has not only succeeded with the prisoners who were able to earn a remission of their sentences, but even with those who committed under the act of 1853, had no prospect of this kind before them, yet whose conduct, when employed in small bodies on the public works without guards, had been quite unexceptionable ; and Captain Crofton the chairman adds, that he could give many bright examples of well-doing coming under his own personal observation, which would shake the scepticism of the greatest unbeliever in adult reformation.

Such has been the experience of the system of adult reformation in the Irish convict prisons; and it appears that these results are not attended with any increased expense, but that the system is one of great economy, and may be made almost self-supporting; an important fact, for otherwise it is useless to recommend the cumulative punishment of long sentences. We consider any scheme of reformation which lays heavy burdens on the tax-payer, wrong in principle; and if the honest labourer is compelled to spend his day in toil, surely the least that can be required of the criminal, whether as a sign of reformation, or as a compensation to the community, is to do his utmost towards maintaining himself. To Captain Maconochie, we believe, the credit is due of insisting on this salutary principle, and of inventing the system of marks for carrying it into practice, which has been adopted with various modifications both in the English and Irish prisons. The old objection of

« PreviousContinue »