Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the combat with the great army of depredators was unceasingly waged by the champions of law and order in France, to whom in the long run victory chiefly inclined. As yet none of the new views held by prison reformers in other countries had made any progress in France. No ideas of combining coercion with persuasion, of going beyond deterrence by attempting reformation by exhortation; of curing the wrong-doer and weaning him from his evil practices, when once more sent out into the world, obtained in French penology. At that earlier date all the old methods, worked by the same machinery, still prevailed and were, as ever, ineffective in checking crime. An active, and for the most part intelligent police was indefatigable in the pursuit of offenders, who, when caught and sentenced travelled the old beaten track, passing from prison to prison, making long halts at the bagnes and concluding their persistent trespasses upon the guillotine, but that was all.
French prisons long lagged behind advanced practices abroad, not only in respect of their structural fitness and physical condition, but also in the measure in which the method of conducting them effected the morals of those who passed through them. When the question was at last presented, it was considered with the logical thoroughness and carried out with the administrative efficiency characteristic of the French government, when impressed with the necessity for action in any given line.
The question for the French prison authorities—as indeed it is the question of questions for the prison government of all nations—is now: “What can be and shall be done for the reform of the convict rather than for his mere repression and punishment?” The material aspects of the French prison system have attained almost to perfection. These, as well as the moral aspects of the subject, which that very physical perfection inevitably presents, it is the purpose of this volume to consider.
The site occupied by the castle of St. Angelo is identical with that of the tomb, mausoleum or mole erected by the Emperor Hadrian, A.D. 135, for himself and his family. Powerful rulers from the earliestages have been greatly concerned to raise fitting receptacles for their ashes. The famous pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most striking illustration of this vanity, and the influence was felt in other countries, especially in Rome. Many fine monuments survive, some in still recognisable ruins, some in ever green memory, perpetuating this desire. We may instance the tomb of Caius Cestius—the only specimen of a pyramid existing in Rome—which still stands near the Porta San Paolo, partly within the walls, partly without, for the Emperor Aurelian ran his wall exactly across it. It is 125 feet high, built of brick cased in white marble, now become black with age; and its chief modern interest is that the English cemetery is close at hand, the last resting place of the poets Shelley and Keats. The Cestian family was distinguished, but nothing very positive is known of this Caius except that he held office as praetor of the people in the seventh century B.C.
The conflict of opinions as to prison treatment has raged continuously and as yet no uniform plan has been adopted for the whole German Empire. Each of the constituent states of the great aggregate body has maintained its independence in penal matters and the right to determine for itself the best method of punishing crime. At one time, after 1846, the theory of complete isolation was accepted in all German states, although the means to carry it into effect were not universally adopted. Reports from the United States had deeply impressed the authorities with the merits of solitary confinement, among others the well known Professor Mittermaier, one of the most notable judicial authorities of his time. But reaction came with another no less eminent expert, Von Holtzendorff, whose works on prison administration are still held in great esteem. After visiting Ireland, he was won over to the seeming advantages of the progressive system, the gradual change from complete isolation to comparative freedom, and he strongly favoured the policy of cellular imprisonment. His proposals laid hold of the practical German mind, and to-day the scheme of continuous isolation finds little support; it left its mark, however, in several prisons which will be referred to in the following pages.
The whole history of France is summed up in the persistent effort of the King to establish an absolute monarchy, and three centuries were passed in a struggle between nobles, parliaments and the eventually supreme ruler. Each jurisdiction was supported by various methods of enforcing its authority: All, however, had their prisons, which served many purposes. The prison was first of all a place of detention and durance where people deemed dangerous might be kept out of the way of doing harm and law-breakers could be called to account for their misdeeds. Accused persons were in it held safely until they could be arraigned before the tribunals, and after conviction by legal process were sentenced to the various penalties in force.
The prison was de facto the high road to the scaffold on which the condemned suffered the extreme penalty by one or another of the forms of capital punishment, and death was dealt out indifferently by decapitation, the noose, the stake or the wheel. Too often where proof was weak or wanting, torture was called in to assist in extorting confession of guilt, and again, the same hideous practice was applied to the convicted, either to aggravate their pains or to compel the betrayal of suspected confederates and accomplices. The prison reflected every phase of passing criminality and was the constant home of wrong-doers of all categories, heinous and venial. Offenders against the common law met their just retribution. Many thousands were committed for sins political and non-criminal, the victims of an arbitrary monarch and his high-handed, irresponsible ministers.
The prison was the KingÕs castle, his stronghold for the coercion and safe-keeping of all who conspired against his person or threatened his peace. It was a social reformatory in which he disciplined the dissolute and the wastrel, the loose-livers of both sexes, who were thus obliged to run straight and kept out of mischief by the stringent curtailment of their liberty. The prison, last of all, played into the hands of the rich against the poor, active champion of the commercial code, taking the side of creditors by holding all debtors fast until they could satisfy the legal, and at times illegal demands made upon them.
Savage instinct, however, could not find full satisfaction even in cruel and violent death, but perforce must glut itself in preliminary tortures. Mankind has exhausted its fiendish ingenuity in the invention of hideous instruments for prolonging the sufferings of its victims. When we read to-day of the cold-blooded Chinese who condemns his criminal to be buried to the chin and left to be teased to death by flies; of the lust for blood of the Russian soldier who in brutal glee impales on his bayonet the writhing forms of captive children; of the recently revealed torture-chambers of the Yildiz Kiosk where Abdul Hamid wreaked his vengeance or squeezed millions of treasure from luckless foes; or of the Congo slave wounded and maimed to satisfy the greed for gold of an unscrupulous monarch;Ñwe are inclined to think of them as savage survivals in "Darkest Africa" or in countries yet beyond the pale of western civilization. Yet it was only a few centuries ago that Spain "did to death" by unspeakable cruelties the gentle races of Mexico and Peru, and sapped her own splendid vitality in the woeful chambers of the Inquisition. Even as late as the end of the eighteenth century enlightened France was filling with the noblest and best of her land those oubliettes of which the very names are epitomes of woe: La Fin d'Aise, "The End of Ease;" La Boucherie, "The Shambles;" and La Fosse, "The Pit" or "Grave;" in the foul depths of which the victim stood waist deep in water unable to rest or sleep without drowning. Buoyed up by hope of release, some endured this torture of "La Fosse" for fifteen days; but that was nature's limit. None ever survived it longer.
No doubt different methods are employed in the great Empire of India; but they also are the outcome of experience, and follow lines most suited to the climate and character of the people for whom they are intended. Cellular imprisonment would be impossible in India. Association is inevitable in the Indian prison system. Again, it is the failure to find suitable European subordinate officers that has brought about the employment of the best-behaved prisoners in the discipline of their comrades: a system, as I have been at some pains to point out, quite abhorrent to modern ideas of prison management. As for the retention of transportation by the Indian government, when so clearly condemned at home, it is defensible on the grounds that the penalty of crossing the sea, the "Black Water," possesses peculiar terrors to the Oriental mind; and the Andaman Islands are, moreover, within such easy distance as to ensure their effective supervision and control.
Nearer home, we may see Austria adopting an English method,Ñthe "movable" or temporary prison, by the use of which such works as changing the courses of rivers have been rendered possible and the prison edifices of Lepoglava, Aszod and Kolosvar erected, in imitation of Chattenden, Borstal and Wormwood Scrubs. France has also constructed in the outskirts of Paris a new prison for the department of the Seine, and she may yet find that the British progressive system is more effective for controlling habitual crime than transportation to New Caledonia. In a country where every individual is ticketed and labelled from birth, where police methods are quite despotic, and the law claims the right, in the interests of the larger number, to override the liberty of the subject, the professional criminal might be held at a tremendous disadvantage. It is true that the same result might be expected from the Belgian plan of prolonged cellular confinement; but, as I shall point out, this system is more costly, and can only be enforced with greater or less, but always possible, risks to health and reason.
At this distant time it is indeed interesting to observe how thoroughly John Howard understood the subject to which he had devoted his life. In his prepared plan for the erection of the prison he anticipates exactly the method we are pursuing to-day, after more than a century of experience. ÒThe Penitentiary Houses,Ó he says, ÒI would have built in a great measure by the convicts. I will suppose that a power is obtained from Parliament to employ such of them as are now at work on the Thames, or some of those who are in the county gaols, under sentence of transportation, as may be thought most expedient. In the first place, let the surrounding wall, intended for full security against escapes, be completed, and proper lodges for the gatekeepers. Let temporary buildings of the nature of barracks be erected in some part of this enclosure which will be wanted the least, till the whole is finished. Let one or two hundred men, with their proper keepers, and under the direction of the builder, be employed in levelling the ground, digging out the foundation, serving the masons, sawing the timber and stone; and as I have found several convicts who were carpenters, masons, and smiths, these may be employed in their own branches of trade, since such work is as necessary and proper as any other in which they can be engaged. Let the people thus employed chiefly consist of those whose term is nearly expired, or who are committed for a short term; and as the ground is suitably prepared for the builders, the garden made, the wells dug, and the building finished, let those who are to be dismissed go off gradually, as it would be very improper to send them back to the hulks or gaols again.Ó
This, however, was only the beginning of the action. Heavy columns of the enemy now appeared in sight, cavalry and infantry, with numerous artillery crowning the eastern hills. A portion occupied the redoubts abandoned by the Turks, and the attitude of the Russians was so menacing that it seemed unlikely we could stay their onward progress.
For the moment no troops could be interposed but the British cavalryÑthe two brigades, Light and HeavyÑwhich had their encampment in the plain, and had been under arms, commanded by Lord Lucan, since daybreak.
"We must have up the First and Fourth Divisions," Lord Raglan had said, when he arrived on the battle-field soon after eight in the morning; at first he had treated the news of the Russian advance lightly. Many such moves had been reported on previous days, and all had ended in nothing. "Let the Duke of Cambridge and Sir George Cathcart have their orders at once. We must trust to the cavalry till the infantry come up. Tell Scarlett to support the Turks."
But the Turks had given way before General Scarlett could stiffen their courage, and as his brigade, that of heavy cavalry, trotted towards the redoubts, other and more stirring work offered itself. The head of a great column of Russian horse, three thousand sabres, came over the crest of the hill and invited attack.