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THE PRISONS, HOUSES OF CORRECTION, and PENITENTIARIES next claim attention; and an afflicting picture the subject presents to any mind alive to the cries of wretchedness, or affected by the audacious demeanour of hardened vice. It has long excited, and continues to attract, the attention of the wise as well as the philanthropic in all ranks of society; and how can it be otherwise when the sad catalogue of crime existing in this country is reflected upon? If confinement in prisons only makes the vicious more unprincipled; and if punishment only renders the hardened still more daring; surely the whole system must be wrong and demands correction. Mr. Locke truly says, "Of all the men we meet with, nine parts in ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education ;" and as the correctness of this opinion cannot be questioned, let the curious inquirer or the humane investigator ascertain what is the education of our prisons. The lawfulness of imprisonment, even before a verdict, that being necessary to secure the person, will not be disputed; but are the rights of prisoners to be violated? Nay, is it policy to mix the positively guilty with the probably innocent: the old sinner with the youthful delinquent; the hacknied criminal with wavering honesty; the burglar or murderer with the petty larceny thief; and that, too, without any sort of occupation? But what must be thought of the system when unfortunate girls, disobedient boys, and confined debtors, are in many instances mingled with the worst characters?

What can prisoners learn under such circumstances? —what is their situation? "After the commitment of a prisoner is made out," in the language of Thomas Fowell Buxton, on Prison Discipline, "he is handcuffed to a file of perhaps a dozen wretched persons in a similar situation, and marched through the streets, sometimes a considerable distance, followed by a crowd of impudent and insulting gazers; exposed to the stare of every passenger: the moment he enters prison, irons are hammered on to him; then he is cast into the midst of a compound of all that is disgusting and depraved. At night, he is locked up in a narrow cell, with, perhaps, half a dozen of the worst thieves in London, or as many vagrants, whose rags are alive, and in actual motion with filth; he may find himself in bed, and in bodily contact, between a robber and a murderer; or between a man with a foul disease on one side, and one with an infectious disorder on the other. He may spend his days deprived of free air and wholesome exercise. He may be prohibited from following the handicraft on which the subsistence of his family depends. He may be half starved for want of food and clothing and fuel. He may be compelled to mingle with the vilest of mankind, and, in self-defense, to adopt their habits, their language, and their sentiments; he may become a villain by actual compulsion. His health must be impaired and may be ruined, by filth and contagion; and as for his morals, purity itself could not continue pure, if exposed for any length of time to the society with which he must associate. His trial may be long protracted; be may be imprisoned on suspicion; and pine is jail while his family is starving out of it, without any opportunity of removing that suspicion, and this for a whole year:—if acquitted, he may be dismissed from jail without a shilling in his pocket, and without the means of returning home; —if convicted, beyond the sentence awarded by the law, he may be exposed to the most intolerable hardships, and these may amount to no less than the destruction of his life now, and his soul for ever." How, then, in such a course of prison discipline can we expect the decrease of crime by lessening the number of criminals? But we must hasten to the requisite details.

Related pages:


House of Correction

Tothill Fields Bridewell

Giltspur Street Compter

New Debtors' Prison

Clerkenwell Prison

Fleet Prison


King's Bench Prison

Borough Compter

Sheriffs Officers' Houses

Milbank Penitentiary

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819