Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Prisons Incarceration

Prisons. Incarceration, whether regarded as a reformatory or merely as a punitive process, is not a very ancient method of dealing with crime. In ancient Athens and Rome it was resorted to rather as a means of securing the persons of those who awaited trial or were doomed to execution than as an end in itself. At Athens persons who owed money to the State, or were unable to pay fines, could be placed in prison until the obligation was discharged. These continued to be the main uses of prisons up to a very recent period; their usual occupants were debtors or others whom it was necessary to detain for some ulterior purpose. In England, as in other countries, the condition of prisons (owing to the neglect and mismanagement of the State) became a grave social evil, which went on increasing till it excited the reforming energy of John Howard. They were always overcrowded, for gaol deliveries did not take place at fixed intervals, and a criminal's family were of ten allowed to reside with him in the prison. When Howard made his first journey through England, in 1773, he found that most of the gaols were loathsome underground dens, in which the prisoners were kept in a half-starved and almost naked condition, with nothing to lie upon but filthy and rotten straw. No distinction of sex was observed, and the inmates were completely at the mercy of the gaolers, who extorted enormous fees for the most trivial concessions.

The most ordinary sanitary precautions were neglected, and no attempt was made to check the vice and debauchery which naturally throve amid such surroundings. The value of Howard's labours was recognised by Parliament, but it was long before any effective steps were taken in the direction of reform.

At this time the commonest form of punishment was death, which might be incurred by petty larceny no less than murder. The only other penalty for grave offences was transportation, which originated in the Vagrancy Act of 1597. After the establishment of American independence it became necessary to devise some new method of punishing criminals, unless the death penalty was to be still further extended. An Act was therefore passed substituting hard labour at home (1776), and two years later the Penitentiaries Act, which was partly the work of Howard, provided the means of giving effect to the preceding statute. In this Act all the principles now recognised in prison legislation - including solitary confinement, care for the health of the prisoner, and the attempt to effect his reformation - are very clearly enunciated. It was nearly 40 years, however, before any penitentiary of the kind suggested was actually completed. In the meantime the hulks established in 1778 (and not entirely discontinued till 1857) formed a very inadequate substitute. The discoveries of Captain Cook revived the idea of transportation, and in 1788 the first batch of Australian convicts was landed at Port Jackson. The evils attending this method of punishment had already become manifest before Millbank Prison (q.v.) was at last opened (1816) in accordance with the Act of 1778. Millbank was the first of a new class of prisons, the history of which it will be well to follow out before returning to those of the ordinary kind. The report of a parliamentary committee condemning transportation in 1838, and still more the growing repugnance of the Australian colonies to admit convicts, forced on the attention of the Government the urgent necessity of erecting penitentiaries at home. A system was accordingly devised by Sir George Grey, then Home Secretary, which (with some modifications) remains in force at the present time. William Crawford had recently returned from a mission to the United States, in which he had been much impressed by the salutary effects of the "Pennsylvanian System," which provided for the complete seclusion of each prisoner. The Government determined to adopt it, but this could only be done gradually, owing to the expense involved in erecting buildings containing so many separate cells. As absolute loneliness had frequently led to disastrous results in America, it was thought advisable that prisoners should not be entirely deprived of all human society. Pentonville Prison, erected in accordance with the new plan under the superintendence of Sir Joshua Jebb, was opened in 1842. At Pentonville, Millbank, and certain provincial prisons which suited the purpose, convicts passed through the first of the three stages assigned to them in Sir George Grey's scheme. Here during a period of nine months, in which a strong effort was made to bring them under religious and moral influences, the convicts were engaged in some industrial occupation, with no society but that of the prison officials. In the second stage they were associated together in gangs and employed in the construction of public works. The first prisons erected for this purpose were Portland (1847), Dartmoor (1850), Portsmouth (1852), and Chatham (1856). The works thus constructed by convict labour include the breakwater at Portland and the fortifications and part of the dockyard at Chatham. It is impossible to avoid all intercourse between the men when they are at work, but pains are taken to minimise the amount of conversation. At all other times, both by day and night, the prisoners remain in complete seclusion. At the close of the second stage the convict received a ticket of leave, the condition annexed to his release being his removal to a colony till the term of his sentence expired. It was supposed that during the first two stages his character would have undergone a change, and that in a new country, amid unfamiliar surroundings, he would have a better opportunity of making a fresh start in life. The colonies, however, took a different view of the matter; and the opposition raised, among others, by Tasmania and the Cape of Good Hope, necessitated the Penal Servitude Act of 1853. By this Act penal servitude took the place of transportation in all sentences under 14 years, the term to which the criminal was condemned being shortened so as to equal in amount the period he had previously passed in prison before receiving a ticket of leave, Thus a sentence to seven years' transportation, became one to four years' penal servitude. Control over the released convicts by means of the ticket-of-leave system was, however, still maintained. The new arrangement did not commend itself to the country at large, mainly owing to the rapid increase in garrotting and similar crimes during the latter part of 1862. Although the connection between these crimes and short sentences and ticket of leave was never clearly made out, a parliamentary inquiry into the whole system was instituted in 1863, as a result of which an Act was passed again, making five years the minimum term of a sentence of penal servitude (1864). The committee also expressed the opinion that convicts were too well treated, and that a less liberal diet and harder work would tend to make the dread of penal servitude more effectual in preventing crime. At the same time, a stop was put to the practice of allowing prisoners large gratuities as a reward for diligence and good conduct. But it still remained the convict's interest to conduct himself well; for by the "mark system," which was now introduced, the period at which he passed from the second to the third stage was made to depend upon the number of marks earned by his industry and good behaviour. Transportation came to an end in 1867, when Western Australia refused to receive any more convicts. The most important changes since that date have been the separation of confirmed criminals from the others, (1878), the formation of the Star Class, consisting of convicts "not versed in crime "(1880), and the reintroduction of a term of penal servitude lasting three years (1891). Each convict prison is under the control of a separate governor, assisted by a staff of officials and c-lerks, together with a chaplain and medical officer, schoolmasters, and a steward at the head of the store-keeping department. The governor is responsible to the Board of Directors (constituted in 1850), one or more of the members of which visit each prison at frequent intervals. A second visiting body, consisting of unpaid members, which acts independently of the other, was formed as a further safeguard in 1880. We may now return to the gaols reserved for "imprisonment," the term which is applied to sentences not exceeding two years. During the period which followed Howard's labours the laudable efforts of Parliament to introduce improvements formed a striking contrast with the actual condition of the prisons. Little or no attention was paid to statutes such as those directing a classification of the prisoners (1784) and requiring the appointment of a chaplain to every gaol (1814). The disgraceful state of Newgate was disclosed by a parliamentary inquiry in 1814, but no alteration for the better was made during the ensuing years, excepting the marvellous change in the character of the female prisoners brought about by the labours of Mrs. Elizabeth Fry. In 1818 there were 59 prisons in which no distinction was observed between the sexes. The labours of the Prison Discipline Society brought the state of the gaols more prominently before the notice of the country and of Parliament, and in 1823-24 Acts were passed laying down general regulations for the maintenance of health and making provision for the education and profitable employment of the prisoners. The Municipal Corporations Act (1835), by abolishing the anomalous privileges which enabled boroughs to evade these enactments, removed one of the chief obstacles to the reform of abuses and the introduction of a uniform system. Uniformity of treatment in regard to solitary confinement, diet, and similar matters was recognised as the great end of legislation in the Acts of 1835 and 1839. By the former of these statutes prison inspectors came into existence, and the latter gave rise to the office of surveyor-general of prisons, whose duty it is to see that the gaols built fulfil the requirements of health and discipline. Since the return of the mission to the United States the advantages of solitary confinement had become generally recognised, and in the six years that followed the erection of Pentonville, 54 prisons were built on the same model in various parts of the country. All previous statutes were embodied in the Prison Act of 1865, which entered into minute details on all points and exacted a penalty for every infringement of its regulations. Yet great diversity prevailed till the passing of the Act o'f 1877, by which the management of prisons was transferred from the local authorities to a body of commissioners appointed by the Home Secretary. These gaols are inspected by "visiting committees" elected by the magistrates each year in quarter sessions. A criminal sentenced to "imprisonment" passes through four stages, the treatment in each stage being less severe than in that which precedes it. The rate of his progress from stage to stage depends on his industry and good conduct.

"First-class hard labour "such as the treadmill, is exacted from him in the first stage, industrial labour in the others.