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pretty generally repeated. Nevertheless the principle on which the system was founded was altogether unsound, and the results in practice corresponded with the fault in theory. The prisoners doomed to solitary confinement were reduced to idiotcy, or destroyed by disease, from having no occupation or object on which they might employ body or mind. Those not doomed to utterly solitary confinement were corrupted by the contagion of criminal society: the prisoners worked together.
The first state that imitated the Pensylvanian system was that of New York, in which the new penal laws were adopted with the new system of imprisonment. Here solitary confinement was inflicted in lieu of death, but only on such as were condemned to such punishment, and it made no part of the general discipline of the prison. The rest of the prisoners were heaped together in the promiscuous manner of the old system, save that they were compelled to work. The example of Pensylyania was also followed by Maryland, Massachusetts, the state of Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, and others: capital punishments were commuted far solitary imprisonment, the inmates of the gaol were set to work, and in case of an infraction of the rules of the prison, solitude and bread and water were resorted to by the keepers; but still the general application of a system of seclusion, with a view to the reformation of the criminal, made no part of the American plan.
The results were found to be in the highest degree discouraging: the prisoners became hardened in crime, and were constantly returned for the commission of subsequent offences: besides which, these establishments were ruinously expensive: every year the state was called upon for considerable sums for the maintenance of its Penitentiary. Something, it was clear, was wrong. Such consequences might have served to show that the fault was in the system itself; all the blame was, however, laid on the execution. The prisons, it was said, were too ciowded —there was a want of sufficient classification—and it was maintained that if a sufficient number of cells were built, and other accommodations effected, the happiest results might be looked for from the new system. This was the origiu of Auburn in 18 I 6. This prison, now become so celebrated, was formed upon a different principle from that which now reigns there. Each cell was destined to receive two prisoners. This plan was found in its consequences worse than any that had been previously tried. More cells were therefore built, and solitude was still more extensively imposed. The same process had in the mean time been going on in Peusylvania: the Walnut Street Prison was despaired of: a new one built at Pittsburg, and the magnificent establishment of Cherry Hill commenced in Philadelphia. The old system of the Walnut Street Prison went on the principle of classification and a select community of workmen; the modern ones by degrees approached the system of entire solitude. In the Walnut Street plan solitary confinement was but an accessory feature of the system: in the Cherry Hill and Pittsburg scheme it came to be the fundamental principle.
The virtue of utter solitude was tried by way of experiment at Auburn. In the north wing, which was nearly completed in 1821, twenty-four criminals were placed in separate cells; and their confinement appears to have been unrelieved by occupation or any other source of distraction. Five of these men died in one year, one became mad, another attempted suicide by rushing into the gallery and over the balustrade, at the instant a turnkey entered with some food, and the whole of them were soon in that state of emaciation and debility as to prove to the gaolers that they were fast approaching the termination of their career. The system was thereupon (1823) definitively pronounced bad. The governor of the State of York pardoned twenty-six of those who had been subjected to solitary confinement, including, we suppose, the remaming subjects of the first experiment, and others who entered the cells as they were finished; the rest were permitted to work together in the day time, and at night were separately locked up in their respective cells. In this practice we detect the germ of the system which has since made Auburn so famous. Solitude at night was retained, because a conviction existed that the effects of it were morally beneficial, provided its physical operation was not mischievous: the prisoners were admitted to work together as an antidote to the physical mischief of solitude, well aware at the same time that in a moral point of view nothing could be more injurious than free communication. It became a problem then how to obtain the greatest portion of solitude, with the least portion of social communication, so that the combination might be both morally and physically safe. The solution was the present system of Auburn—utter solitude at night—labour in common workshops by day, but in the observation of rigorous silence. The process which led to the discovery may be imagined. When the prisoners, subdued by the emaciating effects of an idle solitude, were first led forth by their keepers, it is probable that they would be quiet, humble, and perhaps grateful for the boon; the order of general silence among the workmen, from the fact of talk interrupting labour, would be given, and enforced without difficulty. After a time, the effects of light, air, and society would exhibit themselves in increased energy, and a stronger desire for social communication. This the keepers Would endeavour to repress, and succeeding but ill, they might find it the easier and better plan to insist upon utter silence at once. They would, having the power in their hands, find it a much less difficult task to stop the mere utterance of a single word, than to graduate or regulate the hum and buzz of a workshop of freely communicating labourers employed upon forced work. This has probably been the order and progress of the invention, but who the inventor was is a subject of controversy. It was first found in operation under the superintendence of Mr. Elam Lynds, the present governor of the Sing-Sing Penitentiary, then the governor of Auburn. It is the prevailing opinion in the United States that he is the author of the new system: the honour has, however, been disputed.
In consequence of the success which attended the new system of Auburn, in all the points that could have been tried at the time, it was determined to build a new prison on the same plan. Every prisoner requiring a separate cell, and there being but .3.30 cells at Auburn, it soon became full, and as it will be understood that every thing depends upon the perfection and completeness of the execution of the plan, there can be no crowding in such an establishment. It being determined therefore to build a new penitentiary, Mr. Elam Lynds, the director, took with him a hundred prisoners accustomed to obey him, and encamped them on the spot, on the banks of the Hudson, which had been selected for the site of the prison. Here he set his men to work; some of them were carpenters, others masons, or made such, and without walls or any restraint, and with no other authority over them than that which he derived from the firmness and the energy of his own character, they submitted implicitly to his direction. From time to time during several years, the number of convict labourers was increased, and thus they built their prison. At present the Penitentiary of Sing-Sing contains a thousand cells, every one of which was constructed by the prisoners shut up in them.
The failure of the experiment of solitary imprisonment without work at Auburn, did not deter the Pensylvanians from persevering in their own system. In the course of 1827, the Penitentiary of Pittsburg began to receive prisoners. Each prisoner was shut up day and night, but such was the faulty construction of the building, that what passed in one cell could be heard in the next. Consequently each convict could communicate with his neighbour, and as they had no occupation, it may be supposed that the business of communication went on incessantly: the result was inevitable—mutual instruction in crime. All the beneficial effects of solitude were prevented, and all the mischief which arises from the conversation of criminals almost enforced. The unhappy results of this experiment, which showed themselves in the moral deterioration of the prisoners, and on their discharge, in their speedy return convicted of other crimes, when joined to the intelligence of the success of the new system at Auburn, in a great measure shook the confidence of the philanthropic legislators of Pensylvania in the efficacy of their favourite scheme of seclusion without work, as exhibited in operation at Pittsburg, and already introduced as the principle of the great institution of Cherry Hill.
A commission was appointed by the legislature to inquire into the merits of the different systems of imprisonment. Messrs. Shaler, King, and Wharton, who had been charged with the inquiry, made a report upon the different systems then in activity, (December, 20, 1827,) and concluded with a recommendation of Auburn. This document, which we have not seeu, is said by Messrs. de Beaumont and de Tocqueville, to be one of the most important papers that exists on this branch of legislation.
The influence of this report was decisive on public opinion, but its positions were controverted by more than one writer. The most distinguished of its opponents was Edward Livingston, well known as the philanthropic ami enlightened author of a reformed code of criminal laws for Louisiana, as also of a reform code of
Erison discipline. One important point was conceded by Mr. ivingston in his defence of solitude, viz., the necessity of workBut the objection to the Auburn plan, which revolts the feelings both of Mr. Livingston, and more especially the writers of Pensylvania, is the corporal punishment, which is employed to maintain the discipline of the prison. The system ultimately adopted by the Pensylvaniaus was a combination of the Walnut Street plan and the Auburn one: solitary confinement of the most rigorous description was ordained in every case, and the prisoner was permitted to choose some description of work. This change in the system of imprisonment necessarily entailed a change in the criminal law, which underwent a thorough revision. The penalties were mitigated, the periods of imprisonment were shortened, and the punishment of death was abolished in every case except that of wilful murder.
The other States of the Union were not unobservant spectators of the proceedings of New York and Pensylvania: many of them have followed pretty close upon the example set them; in some the Pensylvanian and in some the Auburn systems have been adopted. Modifications, however, not always well judged, have been introduced. In some of the States, partial changes have been made, and in others none at all; and so little is there of uniformity or universality in the prison discipline of America, that even now the very worst and the very best prisons may be met with there in close proximity.
In both the systems of Philadelphia and Auburn, it will be remarked, the fundamental principle is the same. It is that of complete isolation; and unless the importance of it be thoroughly well understood by the legislator, little good is to be expected from his best endeavours. The experience obtained both in this country and America, as well as elsewhere, has shown in the most convincing manner possible, that no amelioration is to be expected in the moral state of the prisoner as long as he is indulged in communicating with his fellows in crime. The subjects of their conversation are naturally corrupting: in their lighter moments they boast of their exploits; in their sadder hours they breathe vengeance against the world. Thoughts of repentance, if they occur, find uo utterauce, for they would excite the derision of their companions, even though themselves were occasionally visited with compunctious feelings. It must be remembered, that convicts have been maintaining a struggle with the laws, and have been defeated: they do not wish it to appear that they have yielded without a brave defence, and, after capture, to show repentance would be, to their perverted minds, like crying craven when in the hands of the enemy: such a want of spirit, as it would be termed, could only be shown by a person of a moral courage, whom it would be vain to look for in a prison. It is braving the only public opinion which has any influence over them—that of the community of crime. It is constantly remarked, that on first entering a prison, the less hardened criminal commences by exhibiting some sense of shame—that he is, after a longer or shorter resistance, subdued to the same quality as his compeers—and the very man who began even with denying the offence of which he had been found guilty, will end by boldly maintaining his claim to a huge catalogue of daring crimes, coloured by, or altogether the product of his imagination. Unless the moral atmosphere of a criminal is changed, it is in vain to hope for a change of conduct: this can only be effected by interdicting utterly the interchange of word or sign with a fellow-convict. The same results follow if only two are placed together: the one is sure to be worse than the other in some respects; and in their communications they keep alive all their old sympathies, ideas, and habits, teach mutually by the aid of their different experiences, and endeavour to obtain a superiority by rivalling each other in boasting of their former atrocities. It would be useless to heap authority upon authority for the truth of this view, for it is now become the settled conviction of every person who has given any attention to the subject. Our own Penitentiary furnishes a striking practical proof. The time of the prisoners is there divided into two portions: during the first half the confinement is solitary, with the exception of