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ON A VISIT MADE TO SOME OF
The North of England,
IN COMPANY WITH
WITH SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE
SUBJECT OF PRISON DISCIPLINE.
BY JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY.
The journey, which afforded me the opportunity of visiting, in company with my sister Elizabeth Fry, the prisons, to which the following little work relates, was taken during the eighth and ninth months of the last year. We travelled along the great north road through York to Edinburgh; from Edinburgh, by the eastern coast of Scotland, to Aberdeen; from Aberdeen, by the inland route through Forfar and Perth, back again to Edinburgh ; thence, after a few days spent in that city, to Glasgow; from Glasgow to Carlisle, from Carlisle to Kendal, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield; from Sheffield, by Wakefield, again to York; from York, lastly, to our respective homes, one in the neighbourhood of Norwich, the other in that of London.
The principal object of our journey was conuected with the concerns of our own religious Society, that of Friends; but we also inade a point of inspecting the prisons in the several towns, through which we passed. In the course of this engagement, we observed a variety of particulars, which interested and affected us; and I think it right to communicate to the public the information which we collected, in the hope that it may afford some fresh stimulus, to the zeal already prevalent for improving our system of prison discipline.
It appears the more desirable to take this step, because incorrect statements respecting some of these prisons have found their way, in connexion with our visit, into the provincial newspapers; and it is evidently a matter of importance, that the public should be made acquainted with the real condition of these places of confinement.
The better the actual state of our prisons is known and uuderstood, the more clearly will all men see the necessity of those arrangements, by which they may be rendered schools of industry and virtue, instead of the very nurseries of crime.
In a late interesting publication, the inquiry has been ably instituted, “ whether crime and misery are produced or prevented by our present system of prison discipline.” To that inquiry, the author alluded to, by his description of several ill regulated prisons, has given but too plain an answer : he has at the same time presented to us some prominent instances of a favorable kind; and, on the whole view of bis case, has established the following important proposition—that by those jails on the one hand, which are conducted on bad principles, crime and misery are produced and multiplied : and on the other hand, that prisons, in which the prisoners are classified, inspected, instructed, and employed, have a powerful tendency to that, by which crime and misery will certainly be lessened, viz. the reformation of criminals.
To strengthen and confirm this proposition, by a variety of additional facts, is the chief object of the present work.
My Notes on all the more important prisons which we visited, have been read to the respective jailers, and have been carefully corrected since the date of our visit, by gentlemen on the spot. They may therefore, I trust, be considered accurate : they will not, however, be found to enter minutely into all the various details of each prison, but rather to dwell on those particulars, which are most connected with considerations of an interesting and important nature.
I shall now proceed to lay these Notes before the reader, according to the order in which we actually visited the prisons; and I shall afterwards venture to trouble him with a few General Observations on the subject of prison discipline. I am not sanguine enough to suppose that any remarks of mine will have much effect in forming the views of others; but if they should be the means of inducing any persons, and more especially those in authority, to give to this important subject the consideration, which they have not yet given to it, I shall be satisfied in the belief that my efforts, however feeble, have not been entirely fruitless.
In the course of my work, it has been my particular endeavour to represent and embody the sentiments entertained by my sister Elizabeth Fry, whose experience with respect to prisons is much greater than my own. As I am persuaded of the truth and importance of those sentiments, and as they have been fully confirmed by my own observation, I hope I shall be excused, if I have been inadvertent enough, in any part of the work, to press them upon the reader a little too confidently.
Earlham, near Norwich,
First month, 14th, 1819.
NOTES ON PRISONS,
This jail consists of a small court-yard, two rooms on the ground floor, and two others above them; the rooms severally furnished with a small bed, and measuring thirteen feet square. Of the lower rooms, one is for male criminals of all descriptions, the other for male vagrants : of the upper rooms, one for females, whether debtors, vagrants, or criminals; the other for male debtors.
Fifteen persons have at times been locked up together for the night in the apartment allotted to male criminals, that apartment measuring, as before stated, thirteen feet square. The state of these poor wretches, when thus situated, must have been in a very high degree miserable and unhealthy. In the male vagrants' room there is no light when the door is shut, except through a hole in the door, and of course no ventilation. The criminals in this jail are ironed ; they are allowed eightpence per day and firing, but neither clothing nor soap. They are totally unemployed, and receive no instruction whatever. Forty persons have been confined in this jail at once; but at this time there were only five prisoners here. The doors of the four rooms being necessarily kept open during the day, the prisoners of all descriptions, debtors and criminals, male and female, associate freely together.
Who can wonder that crimes increase ? Who does not perceive the tendency of such an association to convert into felons, the vagrant, misdemeanant, the debtor ? One of the vagrants at this time in the prison was a Scotch woman, who having lost her husband, and
Visited eighth month 20th, 1818, in company with several menbers of the Society of Friends, and two magistrates of the town.
having herself just recovered from a serious illness, was travelling homewards in company with her little child. She complained bitterly of her situation. “What could I do?" she said "I dared not steal; I liked not to beg : destitute and afflicted, what could I do, but apply to the magistrates for a pass ? The consequence is, that I am shut up for a week in prison, and exposed, perhaps, to the worst and niost vicious of men.
"! The case speaks for itself.
We were much gratified by observing that the intelligent magistrates of Doncaster are anxious to correct these lamentable abuses. We were informed of their intention to erect a new prison. May they be encouraged to do this justice to themselves and to the public!.
By 17 Geo. II. cap. 5, it is enacted, that rugues, vagabonds, and beggars, who are found in any parish to which they do not legally belong, should be apprehended, and committed to the house of correction, for any term not exceeding a month, and should afterwards receive a pass from a magistrate. This pass obliges the constable to convey them to the next parish, and entitles the travellers to support from the officers of the parishes, which lie on the direct way in succession, until they arrive at their homes. By 32 Geo. III. ch. 45, it is further enacted, that such passes shall not be given, until the parties for whom they are required have been either privately whipped, or imprisoned in the house of correction for not less than seven days.
It often happens that innocent but distressed persons, journeying homeward, are under the necessity of applying for passes. These they cannot receive, except on the ground of being considered rogues and vagabonds, nor until they have suffered a punishment always disgraceful, and sometimes, in consequence of the bad state of our prisons, not a little terrible. This is a manifest injustice, and ought to be remedied. There is, however, a still greater abuse, which prevails in connection with these Acts of Parliament. When
poor persons, residing in a parish to which they do not belong, become chargeable to that parish, they are to be conveyed by the officers of the parish, under 13 and 14 Car. II. ch. 12, or an order signed by two justices of the peace, to the place of their legal settlement. In order to avoid the expense of this removal-an expense which in most cases devolves on the removing parişh-it is a very common practice to entice such distressed persons into an act of public begging; and after punishing them as rogues and vagabonds, to send them home to their parishes on a common vagrant's pass.
This flagrant but prevalent abuse demands the early attention of the British legislature; for it is not only totally at variance from the principles of common justice, but it strikes at the root of those moral and independent feelings in the minds of the lower orders of the people, which are the best security to society at large. Vid. Nolan on the Poor Laws.