HC Deb 31 March 1843 vol 68 cc308-11

On the vote for a sum not exceeding 25,850l. for the expenses of the Pentonville Prison,

Mr. Williams

said, he did not think that too attempt now made in this prison would be successful. The cost of the prisoners was about 33l. each per annum—more than would be expended for the best labour. He saw amongst the items a charge of 100l. for cleaning windows, and surety that labour might have been performed by the convicts.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the estimates had been framed on the the report of the inspectors, and with a due attention to economy.

Mr. T. Duncombe

wished to ask a question with respect to this prison. The separate and solitary system had been adopted. [No, no.] He believed there was not much difference between the two. The solitary system was being confined in a dark cell; and the separate system was being confined in a light one. [No, no.] Well, then, he would call it the separate system. Now, from the report of the Superintendent of the General Penitentiary, where this system had been adopted, he found a great relaxation had taken place in the discipline in consequence of the number of cases of insanity. He wanted to know whether this separate system, which during the last eighteen months had driven fifteen persons insane in the Millbank Penitentiary, was to be pursued in the New Model Prison. A more beautifully arranged prison than the New Model Prison could not be found; but he believed, that a more rigid system even than that pursued in the Penitentiary was to be pursued there. He also understood that the turnkeys and gaolers were sworn or obliged to make some declaration as to secrecy with regard to everything that happened within the walls of the prison; and if twenty or thirty individual were driven mad, or died, or were starved to death, they were sworn to secrecy, and that it was as much as their place was worth to say anything about it. It was right that the committee should know some little of the system to be parsued there.

Sir J. Graham

said, it was quite evident that the hon. Gentleman was not aware of the difference between the solitary and the separate systems. No two systems could be more unlike. In the separate system each prisoner, though confined in a separate cell, was daily visited by various individuals, by the chaplain, the surgeon, the officers of the prison, and by an instructor; and not only was regard paid to the prisoner's learning reading and writing, but he was visited by a task-master, who taught him some skilled labour; and so far from silence being pursued, conversation took place with all these parties, and, so far from the mind being excluded from occupation, a very large portion of the prisoner's time was actively employed. The hon. Member asked whether the system pursued was the same as that which had been pursued in the Penitentiary, and spoke of the evil results which had there taken place. With reference to the experiment in progress, be could only remind the committee that Sir B. Brodie and Dr. Ferguson were two of the governors of the institution. He was aware that melancholy results had been produced by the experiments at Mill-bank Penitentiary, and that the experiment of solitary confinement required to be closely watched; but every precaution was taken. A medical officer of the highest character had been especially chosen by the two gentlemen he had named, who resided in the institution, and saw each prisoner every day, and Sir B. Brodie and Dr. Ferguson attended as governors very frequently. To them the medical officer made reports with reference to the bodily health and mental discipline of the prisoners; reports were also made to the other governors, persons well worthy of trust, who were superadded to these. He admitted that this was a great experiment, which required to be carefully watched, but at the same time he was very sanguine as to its results.

Mr. Hume

agreed in commending the excellent arrangements of the New Model Prison; but it was intended as a model. All its officers were paid; and if this were to be the plan pursued they ought to look to the expenditure and consider whether the counties could afford to introduce the principle. He did not object to the trial, but remembering how completely the Penitentiary had failed as a trial, he would caution the right hon. Baronet not to be too sanguine in his expectations. He was informed that very few of the prisoners who had undergone the discipline, and on whom so much expense had been laid out, could be cal- culated on afterwards to pursue an honest life.

Vote agreed to.

The House resumed.