Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

THE PHILANTHROPIST.

No. V.

Remarks on the Life of Howard, and on the Police of

Prisons.

In whatever country good government is seriously pursued, we may rest assured that the police of prisons will be accu. rately arranged, and vigilantly attended to. In human affairs, circumstances comparatively small often afford sure ground of the most comprehensive inferences. Thus, it is an observation of a celebrated author, an observation which has been much admired, that from the state of the roads, and other means of intercommunication between one part of an empire and another, an estimate may be formed of the civilization of the people; that where the roads are good, the civilization may, without any chance of mistake, be concluded to be high; where the roads are bad, it may with equal cer. tainty be concluded to be low. Such tests, wherever they can be discovered, of the advancement of human nature in the circumstances on which human well-being depends, are of the greatest use. Objects which strike eyery eye, they excite trains of thought in the minds of the most careless; trains of useful thought in minds the least prone to receive them.

Among these tests, the state of prisons, we doubt not, will be regarded as one of the most important. If every country in the world were explored, and its situation fully ascertained, no single circumstance, we are persuaded, would be found more accurately proportioned to the degree in which the blessings of good government were in each country intentionally and practically pursued, than the state of incarceration, No test more accurate of the virtue of the ruling men, of the securities taken by the constitution of government for the dise charge of the public duties of public men, would be seen to VOL. II.

P

exist. Where every thing else is right, the state of the prisons is sure not to be neglected. Where the state of the prisons is neglected, many other things are sure to be wrong.

In prisons, a part of the population, naturally indeed the least valuable, but still a part of the population, and a part liable to contain men of the most valuable sorts, are taken by the ruling powers, and placed forcibly in a situation in which they cannot help themselves, in which they are necessarily defenceless, and exposed to the last of evils, as well from neylect, as from active cruelty. - If a part of the population, placed in this situation, so immediately under the eye of the ruling powers, so peculiarly pointed out to their attention, are not taken care of as they ought to be ; is it not matter of moral certainty, that the other parts of the population are equally, or still more neglected? If what is due to the imprisoned part of the population is allowed to be sacrificed to private interests, is there not strong reason to suppose that what is due to the other parts of the population becomes equally the prey of private interests? If prisoners are allowed to be pillaged, starved with bunger and cold, tormented with irons, poisoned by foul air and dirty apartments, on aco count of the gain or sloth of individuals, not to speak of any thing which may be the effect of active cruelty, is not the inference an unavoidable one, that for the gains, the sloth, and other interests of individuals, the interests of the community at large are equally sacrificed? The persons in prison form at least a section of the population ; they form a section pointed out by a number of peculiar and strong circumstances to the attention and care of government. The behaviour of government, therefore, in this department, is a sample of its behaviour in all the rest ; and a sample which in point of goodness may be reasonably considered as above the medium degree rather than below it.

As mankind grow more and moro enlightened, governments will thus find, that they have no small interest in taking care that the business which regards imprisonment shall be well conducted.

In regard to the prisons in our own country, as we shall have plenty to say in the way of censure hereafter, it is but fair to observe here, that probably more has been done within the last three score years to ameliorate the state of them, than was done in as many centuries before ; and, if this may be taken as a test of the rate of the improvement which has been

going on in our government in general, as we are willing to believe that it may, we may have good hopes with regard to future improvements, notwithstanding all the efforts with which the dreaders of innovation, and the instruments of misrule, may labour to prevent them.

It is well known how great a degree of attention to the state of the prisons was excited in this country, some years ago, by the philanthropic and persevering labours of Mr. Howard.

It is not unusual among that class of persons who look with but an evil eye upon reform in every possible shape, to meet with individuals who, if the proceedings of Howard are mentioned, are impatient to remark, that his boasted labours have as yet produced but trifling effects. With a tone and air even of triumph, has the reflection been observed to come from a Magistrate who continues to occupy a high station in the administration of English justice.

The interest which the men of this class have in speaking of the labours of Howard in the manner in which they are accustomed to speak, is not of trifling force. If they were to allow that his exertions had produced important effects, they must then allow that reform is not at all times a bad thing ; and that the individuals who pursue it do not always merit execration and punishment. But to allow this appears to them to be setting open a door, at which all other improvements may enter in ; they call it, therefore, setting open a door at which anarchy and confusion may rush in.

If, however, the labours of Howard have produced but feeble effects, the fault was not in Howard. All that Howard had the means of doing, Howard did. It was by power that changes were to be effected. Howard had not power. It is the men who had power, and the men who now have it, who are answerable for the mischief, which still remains uncorrected in our prisons. Had Howard possessed the power which they possessed, and had he continued in life, the effects would not have been small which his labours would have been seen to produce. To overlook what he did, and hold him responsible for what others did not, is a sample of the way in which certain classes of people wish to reward the benefactors of mankind.

When Howard, inspired with the noble design of doing what it was possible for him to do towards alleviating the misery produced by the abuses of imprisonment, set out upon what, to minds little endowed with firmness, and little warmed

with the glow of humanity, would have appeared his Quix. otic expedition, what was it which he had in his power to perform

1. In the first place, it was in his power to visit the prisons, and see with his own eyes the scenes which were acting. But this alone would have been of little service. The miseries of the prisoners would not have been altered by the single circumstance of his barely knowing them.

2. It was in his power to speak to the goalers, to reprove them for bad conduct, and exbort them to good. In some instances, for some little time, this might have had some little effect. But from whatever cause it might be that the misconduct in the prison arose, whether from the rapacity of the goaler, or from his sloth, or his incapacity, or his intemperance, there is but little chance that the bare advice of Howard would ever produce any effect that would be permanent after he was gone.

3. It was in his power to speak to the persons in authority, the persons to whom the inspection and controul of the prisons legally belonged ; and describe to them the abuses of which he had been witness. But this would have been actum agere ; to do what was already done. To such persons the abuses of the prisons were fully known. Either they visited the prisons, as they were in duty bound; or they did not. If they visited the prisons, they knew the abuses they could not but see. If they did not visit them, they knew their own negligence; which was the master abuse, the abuse from which all other abuses naturally flowed, and could not fail to flow.

4. It was in his power to speak to the legislature, and this he did : with how little effect is matter of boast to those who dislike the sort of work in which he busied himself.

5. He spoke to the legislature not only with his own voice, but wbat was better still, with the voice of the nation. He spoke through the press. He spoke to the nation. The nation, to its honour be it said, joined its voice to his, and raised it loud. If popular feeling were competent to the production of reforms, such were the sentiments excited by the writings of Howard, that a thorough amelioration of the business of imprisonment in this country would not have been long delayed.

But, if it be matter of surprise and regret that so little effect was produced on the legislature, by the publications of Howard and the impulsive feelings of the people, it is no less

« FöregåendeFortsätt »