Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ That persons

hitherto been enacted, a general discretion on the subject. Were this done, there is one observation I will venture to make, which is, that should some unfortunate association of ideas render the tread-mill a matter of ignominy to common feelings, an enlightened magistracy would scarcely compel an untried prisoner to a species of labour which would disgrace him in his own mind, and in that of the public.

“ S. W. NICOLL. York, August 27th, 1823."

In consequence, we believe, of these opinions, the North Riding magistrates, on the 13th of October (the new bill commencing on the ist of September), passed the following resolution :committed for trial, who are able to work, and have the means of employment offered them by the visiting magistrates, by which they may earn their support, but who obstinately refuse to work, shall be allowed bread and water only."

By this resolution they admit, of course, that the counsel are right in their interpretation of the present law, and that magistrates are forced to maintain prisoners before trial who do not choose to work. The magistrates say, however, by their resolution, that the food shall be of the plainest and humblest kind, bread and water ; meaning, of course, that such prisoners should have a sufficient quantity of bread and water, or otherwise the evasion of the law would be in the highest degree mean and reprehensible. But it is impossible to suppose any such thing to be intended by gentlemen so highly respectable. Their intention is not that idle persons before trial shall starve, but that they shall have barely enough of the plainest food for the support of life and health.

Mr. Headlam has written a pamphlet to show that the old law was very reasonable and proper ; that it is quite right that prisoners before trial, who are able to support themselves, but unwilling to work, should be compelled to work, and at the tread-mill, or that all support should be refused them. We are entirely of an opposite opinion: and maintain that it is neither legal or expedient to compel prisoners before trial to work at the tread-mill, or at any species of labour, and that those who refuse to work should be supported upon a plain healthy diet. We impute no sort of blame to the magistrates of the North Riding, or to Mr. Headlam, their Chairman. We have no doubt but that they thought their measures the wisest and the best for correcting evil, and that they adopted them in pursuance of what they thought to be their duty. Nor do we enter into any discussion with Mr. Headlam, as Chairman of a Quarter Sessions, but as the writer of a pamphlet. It is only in his capacity of author that we have anything to do with him. In answering the arguments of Mr. Headlam, we shall notice, at the same time, a few other observations commonly resorted to in defence of a system which we believe to be extremely pernicious, and pregnant with the worst consequences; and so thinking, we contend against it, and in support of the law as it now stands. We will not dispute with Mr. Headlam, whether his exposition of

[ocr errors]

the old law be right or wrong ; because time cannot be more unprofitably employed than in hearing gentlemen who are not lawyers discuss points of law. We dare to say Mr. Headlam knows as much of the laws of his country as magistrates in general do ; but he will pardon us for believing, that for the moderate sum of three guineas a much better opinion of what the law is now, or was then, can be purchased, than it is in the power of Mr. Headlam or of any county magistrate, to give for nothing-Cuilibet in arte sua credendum est. It is concerning the expediency of such laws, and upon that point alone, that we are at issue with Mr. Headlam ; and do not let this gentleman suppose it to be any answer to our remarks to state what is done in the prison in which he is concerned, now the law is altered. The question is, whether he is right or wrong in his reasoning upon what the law ought to be ; we wish to hold out such reasoning to public notice, and think it important it should be refuted—doubly important, when it comes from an author, the leader of the Quorum, who may say with the pious Æneas,

Quæque ipse miserrima vidi,

Et quorum pars magna fui. If, in this discussion, we are forced to insist upon the plainest and most elementary truths, the fault is not with us, but with those who forget them; and who refuse to be any longer restrained by those principles which have hitherto been held to be as clear as they are important to human happiness.

To begin, then, with the nominative case and the verb—we must remind those advocates for the tread-mill, a parte ante (for with the millers a parte post we have no quarrel), that it is one of the oldest maxims of common sense, common humanity, and common law, to consider every man as innocent till he is proved to be guilty; and not only to consider him to be innocent, but to treat him as if he were so ; to exercise upon his case not merely a barren speculation, but one which produces practical effects, and which secures to a prisoner the treatment of an honest, unpunished man. Now, to compel prisoners before trial to work at the tread-mill, as the condition of their support, must, in a great number of instances, operate as a very severe punish

A prisoner may be a tailor, a watchmaker, a bookbinder, a printer, totally unaccustomed to any such species of labour. Such a man may be cast into jail at the end of August,* and not tried till the March following, is it no punishment to such a man to walk up hill like a turnspit dog, in an infamous machine, for six months? and yet there are gentlemen who suppose that the common people do not consider this as punishment !--that the gayest and most joyous of human beings is a treader, untried by a jury of his countrymen, in the fifth month of lifting up the leg, and striving against the law of gravity, supported by the glorious information which he receives from the turnkey, that he has all the time been grinding flour on the other side of the wall! If this sort of exercise, necessarily painful to sedentary persons, is agreeable to persons accustomed to labour, then make it voluntary-give the prisoners their choice-give more money and more diet to those who can and will labour at the tread-mill, if the tread-mill (now so dear to magistrates) is a proper punishment for untried prisoners. The position we are contending against is, that all poor prisoners who are able to work should be put to work upon the tread-mill, the inevitable consequence of which practice is, a rcpetition of gross injustice by the infliction of undeserved punishment; for punishment, and severe punishment, to such persons as we have enumerated, we must consider it to be.

ment.

* Mr. Headlam, as we understand him, would extend this labour to all poor prisoners before trial, in jails which are delivered twice a year at the Assizes, as well as to Houses of Correction delivered four times a year at the Sessions ; i.e. not extend the labour, but refuse all support to those who refuse the labour-a distinction, but not a difference.

But punishments are not merely to be estimated by pain to the limbs, but by the feelings of the mind. Gentlemen punishers are sometimes apt to forget that the common people have any mental feelings at all, and think, if body and belly are attended to, that persons under a certain income have no right to likes and dislikes. The labour of the tread-mill is irksome, dull, monotonous, and disgusting to the last degree. A man does not see his work, does not know what he is doing, what progress he is making ; there is no room for art, contrivance, ingenuity, and superior skill-all which are the cheering circumstances of human labour. The husbandman sees the field gradually subdued by the plough ; the smith beats the rude mass of iron by degrees into its meditated shape, and gives it a meditated utility; the tailor accommodates his parallelogram of cloth to the lumps and bumps of the human body, and, holding it up, exclaims, “ This will contain the lower moiety of a human being." But the treader does nothing but tread; he sees no change of objects, admires no new relation of parts, imparts no new qualities to matter, and gives to it no new arrangements and positions ; or, if he does, he sees and knows it not, but is turned at once from a rational being, by a justice of peace, into a primum mobile, and put upon a level with a rush of water or a puff of steam. It is impossible to get gentlemen to attend to the distinction between raw and roasted prisoners, without which all discussion on prisoners is perfectly ridiculous. Nothing can be more excellent than this kind of labour for persons to whom you mean to make labour as irksome as possible ; but for this very reason, it is the labour to which an untried prisoner ought not to be put.

It is extremely uncandid to say that a man is obstinately and incorrigibly idle, because he will not submit to such tiresome and detestable labour as that of the tread-mill. It is an old feeling among Englishmen that there is a difference between tried and untried persons, between accused and convicted persons. These old opinions were in fashion before this new magistrate's plaything was invented ; and we are convinced that many industrious persons, feeling that they have not had their trial, and disgusted with the nature of the labour, would

a

refuse to work at the tread-mill, who would not be averse to join in any common and fair occupation. Mr. Headlam says that labour may be a privilege as well as a punishment. So may taking physic be a privilege, in cases where it is asked for a charitable relief but not if it is stuffed down a man's throat whether he say yea or nay. Certainly labour is not necessarily a punishment : nobody has said it is so ; but Mr. Headlam’s labour is a punishment, because it is irksome, infamous, unasked-for, and undeserved. This gentleman however observes, that committed persons have offended the laws; and the sentiment expressed in these words is the true key to his pamphlet and his system-a perpetual tendency to confound the convicted and the accused.

“With respect to those sentenced to labour as a punishment, I apprehend there is no difference of opinion. All are agreed that it is a great defect in any prison where such convicts are unemployed. But as to all other prisoners, whether debtors, persons committed for trial, or convicts not sentenced to hard labour, if they have no means of subsisting themselves, and must, if discharged, either labour for their livelihood or apply for parochial relief ; it seems unfair to society at large, and especially to those who maintain themselves by honest industry, that those who, by offending the laws, have subjected themselves to imprisonment, should be lodged, and clothed, and fed, without being called

upon for the same exertions which others have to use to obtain such advantages. Headlam, pp. 23, 24.

Now nothing can be more unfair than to say that such men have offended the laws. That is the very question to be tried, whether they have offended the laws or not? It is merely because this little circumstance is taken for granted that we have any quarrel at all with Mr. Headlama and his school.

“I can make,” says Mr. Headlam, every delicate consideration for the rare case of a person perfectly innocent being committed to jail on suspicion of crime. Such person is deservedly an object of compassion, for having fallen under circumstances which subject him to be charged with crime, and, consequently, to be deprived of his liberty ; but if he had been in the habit of labouring for his bread before his commitment, there does not appear to be any addi. tion to his misfortune in being called upon to work for his subsistence in prison.” -Headlam, p. 24.

And yet Mr. Headlam describes this very punishment, which does not add to the misfortunes of an innocent man, to be generally disagreeable, to be dull, irksome, to excite a strong dislike, to be a dull, monotonous, labour, to be a contrivance which connects the idea of discomfort with a jail (p. 36). So that Mr. Headlam looks upon it to be no increase of an innocent man's misfortunes, to be constantly employed upon a dull, irksome, monotonous labour, which excites a strong dislike, and connects the idea of discomfort with a jail. We cannot stop, or stoop to consider, whether beating hemp is more or less digrified than working in a mill. The simple rule is this,—whatever felons do, men not yet proved to be felons should not be compelled to do. It is of no use to look into laws become obsolete by alteration of manners. For these fifty years past, and before the invention of tread-mills, untried men were not put upon felons' work; but with the mill came in the mischief. Mr. Headlam asks, How can men be employed upon the ancient trades in a prison ?-certainly they cannot ; but are human occupations so few, and is the ingenuity of magistrates and jailers so limited, that no occupations can be found for innocent men, but those which are shameful and odious ? Does Mr. Headlam really believe that grown-up and baptized persons are to be satisfied with such arguments, or repelled by such difficulties?

It is some compensation to an acquitted person, that the labour he has gone through unjustly in jail has taught him some trade, given him an insight into some species of labour in which he may hereafter improve himself ; but Mr. Headlam's prisoner, after a verdict of acquital, has learnt no other art than that of walking up hill : he has nothing to remember or recompense him but three months of undeserved and unprofitable torment. The verdict of the Jury has pronounced him steady in his morals; the conduct of the Justices has made him stiff in his joints.

But it is next contended by some persons that the poor prisoner is not compelled to work, because he has the alternative of starving if he refuses to work. You take up a poor man upon suspicion, deprive him of all his usual methods of getting his livelihood, and then giving him the first view of the tread-mill,he of the Quorum thus addresses him :“My amiable friend, we use no compulsion with untried prisoners. You are as free as air till you are found guilty ; only it is my duty to inform you, as you have no money of your own, that the disposition to eat and drink which you have allowed you sometimes feel, and upon which I do not mean to cast any degree of censure, cannot possibly be gratified but by constant grinding in this machine. It has its inconveniences, I admit ; but balance them against the total want of meat and drink, and decide for yourself. You are perfectly at liberty to make your choice, and I by no means wish to influence your judgment.” But Mr. Nicoll has a curious remedy for all this miserable tyranny; he says it is not meant as a punishment. But if I am conscious that I never have committed the offence, certain that I have never been found guilty of it, and find myself tossed into the middle of an infernal machine by the folly of those who do not know how to use the power intrusted to them, is it any consolation to me to be told that it is not intended as a punishment, that it is a lucubration of Justices, a new theory of prisondiscipline, a valuable county experiment going on at the expense of my arms, legs, back, feelings, character and rights? We must tie those prægustant punishers down by one question. Do you mean to inflict any degree of punishment upon persons merely for being suspected?-or at least any other gree of punishment than that without which criminal justice cannot exist, detention ? If you do, why let anyone out upon bail? For the question between us is not, how suspected persons are to be treated, and whether or not they are be punished; but how suspected poor persons are to be treated, who want county support in prison. If to be suspected is deserving of punishment, then no man ought to be let out upon bail, but every one should be kept grinding from accusation to trial ; and so ought all prisoners to be treated for

« PreviousContinue »