Page images
PDF
EPUB

man who is acquitted of all of which he has been accused, and who is accused of nothing more, merely because he may be accused of something more, seems to be a great perversion of justice. The greatest of all prison improvements, however, would be, the delivery of jails four times in the year. It would save expense; render justice more terrible, by rendering it more prompt; facilitate classification, by lessening numbers; keep constantly alive, in the minds of wicked men, the dread of the Jaw; and diminish the unjust sufferings of those who, after long imprisonment, are found innocent.

* From documents,' says Mr Western, ' upon the table of the House of Commons in 1819, I drew out an account, which I have already adverted to in part, but which I shall restate here, as it places, in a strong point of view, the extent of injustice, and inconsistency too, arising out of the present system. It appeared, that at the Maidstone Lent Assizes of that year, there were one hundred and seventy-seven prisoners for trial; of these, seventeen were in prison before the 1st of October, eighty-three before the 1st of January, the shortest period of confinement before trial being six months of the former, three months of the latter. Nothing can show us more plainly the injustice of such confinement, than the known fact of six months' imprisonment being considered a sufficient punishment for half the felonies that are committed; but the case is stronger, when we consider the number acquitted; seventeen of the twenty-seven first mentioned were acquitted, nine of the seventeen were discharged, not being prosecuted, or having no bill found against them. On the other side it appeared, that twenty-five convicted felons were sentenced to six months' imprisonment, or under, the longest period of whose confinement did not therefore exceed the shortest of the seventeen acquitted, or that of the nine, against whom no charge was adduced; there were three, who, after being about seven months in prison, were then discharged, whilst various convicted felons suffered six-sevenths only of the punishment, including the time before trial as well as after condemnation. By the returns from the Lent Assises at Chelmsford, the same year, the cases were not less striking than those of Maidstone ; the total number was one bundred and sixty-six, of these twenty-five were in prison before the Ist of October, of whom eleven were acquitted, and of these eleven, six were discharged without any indictment preferred; two were in prison eight months; three, seven months and fifteen days; three, six months and fifteen days. On the other hand, sixteen convicted of felony, were considered to be sufficiently punished by imprisonment under six months. Upon the whole, it appeared that four hundred and five persons had been in gaol before the first of October, whilst eight hundred convicted felons were sentenced to a lighter punishment, to a shorter duration of imprisonment, than these four hundred and five had actually undergone.

• It is a curious fact, that, upon an average, more than one third of the total number committed for trial are acquitted. In the seven years ending 1819, seventy-two thousand two hundred and sixteen persons were committed ; of these, fourteen thousand two hundred and ninety-one were acquitted on trial, eleven thousand two hundred and seventy-four were discharged, there being no prosecutions, or no bills found against them. This large proportion of acquittals aggravates the evil and injustice of long confinement before trial; but were it otherwise, what possible right can we have to detain a man in custody six months, upon any charge exhibited against him, before he is brought to trial ? What excuse or palliation can be found for 80 barbarous a violation of all the principles of justice and humanity ? How contemptible it is, by way of defence, to talk of the inexpediency of increasing the number of the judges, the expense, inconvenience, trouble, &c.! It is wrong to contend with such arguments against the unanswerable claims of justice, as it is only to admit they are entitled to weight. The fact is, we are so completely under the influence of habitual respect for established practice, that we do not stop to question the possibility of the existence of any serious defects in the administration of the law that can be capable of remedy. The public attention has never been earnestly and steadily fixed and devoied to the attainment of a better system.'—Western, pp. 80–83.

The public cannot be too grateful to Mr Western for his labours on this subject. We strongly recommend his Tract for general circulation. It is full of stout good sense, without one particle of nonsense or fanaticism ;—good English stuff, of the most improved and best sort. Lord Londonderry has assented to the measure; and his assent does him and the Government very great credit. It is a measure of first-rate importance. The multiplicity of imprisonments is truly awful.

Within the distance of ten miles round London, thirty-one fairs are annually held, which continue eighty days within the space of seven months. The effect of these fairs in filling the prisons of the metropolis, it is easy to imagine; and the topic is very wisely and properly brought forward by the Society.

Nothing can be so absurd as the reasoning used about flash houses. They are suffered to exist, it seems, because it is easy to the officers of justice to find, in such places, the prisoners of whom they are in search! But the very place where the thief is found, is most probably the place which made him a thief. If it faclitates the search, it creates the necessity for searching, and multiplies guilt while it promotes detection. Wherever thieves are known to haunt, that place should be instantly purged of thieves.

We have pushed this article to a length which will prevent us from dwelling upon that part of the plan of the prison Soçiety which embraces the reformation of juvenile delinquents,

6

of whom, it is calculated, there are not less than 8000 in London who gain their livelihood by thieving. To this subject we may perhaps refer in some future Number. We must content ourselves at present with a glimpse at the youthful criminals of the metropolis.

Upon a late occasion (in company with Mr Samuel Hoare, the Chairman of the Society for the Reform of Juvenile Delinquents), I visited about midnight many of those receptacles of thieves which abound in this metropolis. We selected the night of that day ia which an execution had taken place; and our object was, to ascertain whether that terrible demonstration of rigour could operate even a short suspension of iniquity, and keep for a single night the votaries of crime from their accustomed orgies. In one room, I recollect, we found a large number of children of both sexes, the oldest under eighteen years of age, and in the centre of these a man who had been described to me by the Police as one of the largest sellers of forged Bank-notes. At another part, we were shown a number of buildings, into which only children were allowed to enter, and in which, if you could obtain admission, which you cannot, you would see scenes of the most flagrant, the most public, and the most shocking debauchery. Have I not, then, a right to say, that you are growing crimes at a terrible rate, and producing those miscreants who are to disturb the public peace, plunder the public property, and to become the scourge and the disgrace of the country?-Button, pp. 66, 67.

Houses dedicated to the debauchery of children, where it is impossible to enter !!! Whence comes this impossibility ?

To show that their labours are not needlessly continued, the Society make the following statement of the present state of prisons.

' But although these considerations are highly encouraging, there is yet much to accomplish in this work of national improvement. So extensive are the defects of classification, that in thirty gaols, constructed for the confinement of 2985 persons, there were, at one time in the last year, no fewer than 5837 prisoners; and the whole number imprisoned in those gaols, during that period, amounted to 26,703. There are yet prisons where idleness and its attendant evils reign unrestrained where the sexes are not separated-where all distinctions of crime are confounded where few can enter, if un, corrupted, without pollution; and, if guilty, without incurring deeper stains of criminality.---There are yet prisons which receive not the pious visits of a Christian minister, which the light of knowledge never enters—and where the truths and consolations of the Gospel are never heard.—There are yet prisons where, for the security of the prisoners, measures are resorted to as revolting to British feeling as they are repugnant to the spirit and letter of English law.'— Report, pp. 63, 64.

With this statement we take our leave of the subject of prisons, thoroughly convinced that, since the days of their cleanliness and salubrity, they have been so managed as to become the great school for crimes and wretchedness; and that the public, though beginning to awake, are not yet sufficiently aware of this fact, and sufficiently alarmed at it. 'Mrs Fry is an amiable excellent woman, and ten thousand times better than the infamous neglect that preceded her ; but her's is not the method to stop crimes. In prisons which are really meant to keep the multitude in order, and to be a terror to evil doers, there must be no sharing of profits-no visiting of friends-no education but religious education-no freedom of diet--no weavers' looms or carpenters' benches. There must be a great deal of solitude; coarse food; a dress of shame; hard, incessant, irksome, eternal labour; a planned and regulated and unrelenting exclusion of happiness and comfort. *

Art. IV. Remarks upon the last Session of Parliament. By a

NEAR OBSERVER. London. Ridgeway, 1822. IT was long ago remarked by Mr Burke in, perhaps, his best,

certainly his most faultless work, that where popular discontents have been very prevalent, there has been generally something amiss in the Constitution, or in the conduct of the Government.'+ The universal dissatisfaction with their rulers, which the people of this country for some years past have displayed,—and which has, if not alienated their affections from the system of the Constitution, at least weakened their ancient attachment to it,-while it' furnishes a new illustration of this truth, is calculated to awaken very gloomy apprehensions for the future fate of the Monarchy. Nor can any more acceptable service be rendered to the cause of good order, and to the stability of all that deserves to be perpetuated in the frame of our polity, than they offer who show, that the 'mischiefs so much complained of, and, we fear, so much more deeply than loudly deplored, belong to the abuses of the system, and are not essential to its nature ;-that though there may be something amiss in the constitution,' it has crept into it through neglect; and that the ills we endure proceed rather from the conduct of the Govern

* All this, of course, applies to prisoners after conviction. Before trial, they should experience every possible indulgence compatible with their detention and with good morals.

+ Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents, &c. Works, ii. 224.

ment' than from the fundamental principles on which it rests. The able and instructive Tract now before us, is full of matter which has this wholesome tendency. But, before calling the attention of the reader to its contents, we must take a somewhat more general view of the aspect of the national concerns, in order to ascertain whether or not there be, in reality, as little occasion of despondency and discontent, as the official supporters of the Government, and their literary agents, are fond of asserting; and to examine the grounds upon which these candid and disinterested persons impute the distrust and vexation of the people to an entire ignorance of their real situationa disregard to their true interests—and a silly passion for being duped by factious demagogues. According to these high and impartial authorities, the country is, if not as well off' as can be imagined, at least as well as could have been expected, after the late war; and the inhabitants have nothing to complain of, but the arts of those who are making them dissatisfied with their condition. The nature of Englishmen, it seems, is become such, that they can no longer judge for themselves when they are burthened, and when at their ease. They must wait till some speaker, or some writer, expounds the matter to them; and then they decide, -not upon what they know and feel of their own situation, but upon the stories which those adepts tell them, and the fancies which they stir up. A few plain statements, will, probably, suffice to show, that the sufferings of the patient warrant the description of the physician; and that, whatever difference there may be in the opinions entertained of the cure, there can be none as to the existence and pressure of the malady-and hardly any as to its origin.

When we estimate the burthens that press upon the empire, with a reference to the persons who bear them, we must confine our attention to the inhabitants of these Islands. Very few of our colonies pay the charges of governing and defending them; and in the aggregate, they are undoubtedly a considerable expense directly, and the less immediate source of a prodigious cost. They contribute nothing directly to the revenues of the State; and, in augmenting the fund out of which that revenue is raised, they only differ from our foreign customers—from any country round the Baltic or the Mediterranean, for example-inasmuch as a small number of colonial proprietors reside in the mother coun

pay taxes out of their colonial income. The enormous expenses of the late wars were therefore borne by the people of England and Ireland ; but in very unequal proportions, the wealthier, though comparatively less populous Island, bearing by far the larger share. For some years, the sums raised by

try, and

« PreviousContinue »