Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

The Select Committee appointed to inquire into the state and

description of gaols and other places of confinement, and into the best method of providing for the reformation as well as the safe custody and punishment of offenders, and to report the same, with their observations thereupon, to the house ;—and to whom the report respecting sentences of transportation, presented in 1812; the report on prisons, presented in 1815; the reports on the police of the metropolis, presented in 1816, 1817, and and 1818; the statement of the number of persons capitally convicted, and the annual returns of commitments presented in the present session; the returns respecting New South Wales, presented to the house on the 6th day of April last; the account of the gaols in the united Kingdom, with the numbers of persons confined in each; and the petition of the corporation of the city of London; were severally referred ;-have considered the said matters, and have agreed upon the following report:

Your Committee have long been engaged in an extensive examination of persons, who appeared to them best qualified to afford them useful information on the various subjects referred to them. These comprise not only the state of the gaols and other places of confinement in every part of the united kingdom, in point of acconmodation, arrangement, and system of management, together with such improvements as might be suggested by experience and judicious observation; but also, in conformity to what appeared to them to be the intention of the House, the condition of transported convicts in New South Wales, with all the circumstances necessarily connected with the administration of that singular and extensive establishment. They have been led to an early investigation of this latter subject, by an attention to the particular situation of witnesses now in England, the benefit of whose testimony might have been lost by further delay. In pursuing this part of the inquiry, they have entered into an examination of the state and natural resources of the country itself, considered as a colony, as well as in its more immediate connection with the system of criminal jurisprudence, and of the manner in which the local government has been conducted, under both those views of the subject.

This investigation has necessarily brought under their observation many subjects of discussion between different individuals and the present governor; in submitting which to the consideration of the house, as they have thought themselves bound to do, they have to remark, that in many instances they have only had the opportunity of hearing the complaint or objection stated, without the possibility of receiving a complete justification and answer. They therefore suspend all comment upon these transactions till the delay of a future session may afford the means of receiving further information.

The time occupied in this part of the inquiry has necessarily interfered with the progress which might otherwise have been made in the examination of some of our domestic establishments; and your committee have been obliged to leave some particulars, and not unimportant branches, entirely untouched. Still less have they been able to prepare and submit to the house, the observations which might be expected from them on the whole of this subject. The importance of it, in all its branches, has been amply felt by your committee; and they therefore trust it will be deemed worthy of future consideration in the ensuing session of parliament. In the mean time, they have thought it right to lay before the house the whole of the evidence which they have taken, and which, for the clearer understanding of it, they have arranged under the distinct heads into which it is naturally subdivided, without regard to the order of time in which the witnesses happened to be examined.

They cannot, however, conclude this statement, without adverting to one particular subject, which has been brought under their notice by the petition of the city of London, and which, from its more immediate pressure, has attracted the particular attention of the committee. They allude to the still crowded state of the gaol of Newgate, and the consequent impossibility of affording the suitable classification to the prisoners confined in it. They have, in this and in other instances, not thought it necessary to repeat the inquiries which have led to the information contained in the reports of previous committees of this house ; but the result of the whole seems to them conclusive, that in order to produce any further reform in the system of imprisonment adopted in that prison, it must either be enlarged in point of space, or some means must be resorted to, for lessening the number of persons there confined, unless a much greater diminution of crime takes place than can reasonably be expected. The former of these objects is necessarily attended with much difficulty, and it is to the latter, that the attention of the committee has been particularly drawn.

They have observed, that the number of criminals tried at the Old Bailey, and, consequently, previously committed to Newgate (which is the county gaol for Middlesex as well as London,) for offences committed in that county, were, in the last year, in the proportion of more than seven to one for those committed in the city of London :- That of these, a very large number, amounting to 1,200, in the last year, were for grand larcenies, pot capital, which would, according to the general practice in other counties, have been tried at the quarter sessions. They have ascertained, from the best information, that if this class of prisoners were not committed to Newgate, which they need not be, if they remained for trial in the county where the offence was committed; and if the convicts under sentence of transportation were regularly removed, as lias latterly been the case, before the next ensuing session; there would be ample room for all such classification of the remaining prisoners as could be required, by means of certain alterations of the interior of the present building, which have been suggested to them. They have been further assured, that such a regular removal of the transports, may in future be relied on, and they have therefore had the more satisfaction in endeavouring to find the means of removing the only other impediment to the execution of this important arrangement. They have further found, that no legal or even practical objection is raised to the trial of these prisoners at the Sessions House, Clerkenwell, further than what necessarily must arise from the time which it would occupy, and the additional accominodations which it might require; objects which, your committee trust, will not be found of sufficient weight to impede a measure of great importance to all parties concerned. They find, that prisoners of this description are usually tried at the Old Bailey, by the recorder, assisted, as his other occupations may require, by the common sergeant, and that many of these trials take place in the evening; a practice which has generally been found inconvenient in other criminal courts in the country, and conse. quently abolished. As these sessions sometimes last for three weeks, and the time for trying the Middlesex grand larcenies, is precarious, it often happens that prosecutors, and witnesses, in such cases, are obliged to attend ten or twelve days; and as the expenses of these prosecutions are in general paid by the county of Middle sex (to the amount of 5,8441. in the last year) it is obvious that a very considerable reduction in this expence must take place, if the time of attendance was shortened, which must be the result, if any mode of separate trial of these offences was adopted: to which consideration must be added, a diminution in the expenses of the individuals concerned, beyond what is covered by the county allowance, as well as the prevention of much personal inconvenience, and interruption of private business. Your committee have adverted to these circumstances, as obviating, in a considerable degree, any objections that might be urged against the adoption of the arrangement above suggested, from the expense which would be thrown on the county of Middlesex, by the support

and maintenance of such prisoners during the whole time of their confinement, as well as by the accommodations which it might be necessary to provide for conducting these trials at Clerkenwell.

In the course of the inquiry on this subject, it had occurred to your committee, that as the time of the chairman of the quarter sessions for the county of Middlesex is so fully occupied, that this proposed addition of business must require the appointment of an additional chairman; and as this description of prisoners are at present usually tried by the recorder or common sergeant, whose official character would give them a weight and authority in discharging these functions, which might not be possessed by private individuals, it might be advisable to recommend the granting a special commission to these officers of the city, in conjunction with the magistrates of Middlesex, for trying such offenders in that county, as often as the sessions are usually held there; and, notwithstanding some objections which have been made to this part of the plan, and which they have not had the opportunity of fully examining, they still think it worthy of consideration.

A third mode has, however, been suggested to them, which, perhaps, on the whole, is the most simple, and has the advantage of producing the least change in existing establishments. It is proposed that the commission under which the gaol of Newgate is now cleared, should be extended, so as to comprise the prisoners committed for grand larceny in any prison in the county of Middlesex; and that the recorder, with the assistance of the common sergeant, should try such prisoners, (as they now usually do), but in a separate court, at the Old Bailey, during the time the other trials are going on before the judges. This would prevent the necessity of any such prisoners being originally committed to Newgate, or sent there immediately previous to the sessions, which would, therefore, equally tend to effectuate the great object which your committee have in view, of diminishing the numbers confined in that prison. It would only be necessary that a certain number, probably not more than twenty, should be daily sent up from Clerkenwell to the Old Bailey, who might possibly be accommodated for so short a time in Newgate, or if that was found inconvenient, in some place of temporary confinement to be provided for that purpose. The only other alteration which this plan requires, would be the erection of another court at the Old Bailey, which, if provided by the city, instead of the county of Middlesex,

« PreviousContinue »