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DISSERTATION XII.

REFORMATION OF PRISONERS.

Compassion for the poor and the wretched was a prominent trait in the character of Christ. It was this which induced him to leave the realms of light and glory, and submit to a life of toil and suffering, and even to death itself. And so essential to the Christian character did he regard this virtue, that he enjoined it upon his followers as a distinguishing proof of the reality and sincerity of their profession. Not that impenitent sinners will never perform acts of compassion, but that true believers will not fail, prevailingly to do it. In seeking out objects of commiseration, and in relieving their necessities, Christians imitate the glorious example of their divine Master," who went about doing good,” and thus obtain for themselves a delightful satisfaction, and secure an eternal crown of glory. Of the different objects of this description presented to the Christian community, the condition of prisoners is among the most prominent. This subject will now be considered.

I. Let us take a view of the number of prisoners.

In this, our estimate must necessarily be imperfect in some respects, though it is sufficiently accurate to form a general view. The number comparatively is great. In the United States, the average number of persons constantly in prison is supposed to be about ten thousand, and

the whole number annually incarcerated about two hundred thonsand. “ The whole number of prisoners in the Penitentiaries in the United States," in the year 1826,

was about three thousand five hundred, of whom one third part at least were in the state of New York, one sixth part in Pennsylvania; and one tenih part in Massachusetts.” In a large proportion of the States, there are no Peniientiaries. Consequently, the above calculation relates only to those states, where they exist. " It appears," says the first Report of the Prison Discipline Society, 66 from a careful examination of authentic documents, that the whole number of convicts, who have been condemned in the Penitentiaries in the last twenty years is about twenty thousand, and from the best estimate which we are able to make about six thousand of them are now abroad in Society.” If such is the number of prisoners in the United States, where the condition of the lower classes in society is better, perhaps, than in any other country, what must be the number of convicts throughout the world! The mind revolts at the affecting thought that such multitudes are arrested, and that too by the arm of justice, and thrown into prisons, those seminaries of vice, . degradation, and ruin.

II. The wretched condition of prisoners demands our attention.

Their wretchedness is of two kinds, mental and corporal. In prisoners are found the most unutterable abominations. The mind is debased, the heart is hardened, the affections are brutalized, the conscience is seared. This is characteristically true of those who are imprisoned for crime. Till recently all the arts of vice were practised in these nurseries of sin and insamy. All that was heard, seen, or done, had a demoralizing effect. Idleness, gambling, fraud, counterfeiting, stealth, profaneness, lascivious

ness, blasphemy, wrath, consciousness of degradation, and hopelessness in character there prevails. There the arts of villany. were learned in perfection. There evil communications corrupted and destroyed. There was the gate of hell. The county jails were schools of vice, training up subjects for the State Prisons, and the State Prisons were peopling the regions of despair with the most practised fiends. It is said in a Report concerning the State Prison in New Jersey, there is “a combination of men iu Prison, called the staunch gang. . They will lie, and swear to it; they will steal provision, and carry it off; they will lork in the kitchen, and steal other men's provision ; they will threaten each others's lives ; they will make dirks; they will lie, steal and gainble; they will make their own cards. They have rules by which they are bound to each other. They will not tell of each other, if they do they will beat the informer. One had been known to stab another. They consider bim a traitor who informs of their evil deeds." How awfully depraved! Such generally speaking has been the spiritual wretchedness of the convicts of our State Prisons.

But these are not the only evils to which those immured within the strong holds of justice are exposed. There is also bodily suffering. This arises from mal-treatment. The Prisons have been badly constructed. It would seem that it was formerly supposed, that prisoners were not sub-' ject to the laws of nature as other men ; that it was not necessary for them in order to support lise, to be constantly receiving fresh supplies of air. Accordingly, Prisons have been erected not having this accommodation in view. In some, their apartments are without windows, chimnies or pipes, or any other place for the admission of air, except a small orifice in the door,” and even this in some instances has been wanting. The consequence was that

prisoners have been found lifeless, and upon being brought into fresh air bave revived.. Cleanliness has been entirely disregarded in the construction of Prisons, so much so, that in some instanoes visitors have been scarcely able to breathe, and have even been affected as by the reception of an emetic, when entering some of the departments. What then must be the condition of those who are for years not permitted to go out of these places of filth! Water has not only been unprovided in sufficient quantities for bathing, but there has been a want of it.for washing their clothes, hands, and face, indeed sometimes for quenching thirst. In some Prisons no place has been provided for the sick and lunatic. In many instances the former have been found lying on a stone floor, destitute of covering and medicines, and exposed to the uncouth laughter, and heart-rending curses of their negligent companions; and the latter have been permitted to drag out their unfortunate existence without hope to their friends of ever recovering their reason, one of Heaven's best gifts. Says a Report of the State Prison in New Jersey, “ Solitary confinement, or scanty allowance of bread with cold water, is much used. The period of time not unfrequently extends to twenty and thirty days, and this too in the winter season, in cells warmed by no' fire. The suffering in these circumstances is intense ; ihe convicts lose their 'flesh and strer.gth and frequently their health ; they are sometimes so far broken down as to be unable to work when they are discharged, into the yard, and to require nearly as much time in the Hospital to recruit them, as they have had in the cells to break them down.” The object of prison discipline as it has lieretofore existed, seems to have been simply to inflict punishment on the individuals imprisoned, or, rather to exercise a sort of revenge on them, without any regard to producing reforma

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tion in them, and a consciousness of accountability to society and to God, or, of securing the community from repeated depredations. There has been no separation of prisoners at night, when, instead of devising and practising arts of mischief, they might be left alone' to feel the sțings of conscience, and to make resolutions of amendment. Indeed, there has not been so much as a classification of these wretched beings. In some instances, males and females, old and young, condemned and uncondemned, blacks and whites, debtors and criminals, have been found crowded together. The result has been the prostitution of all moral sense in the young, an intercommunication of the knowledge of wickedness among the skilful, and an abandonment of the less guilty, producing in them despair of ever being reinstated in society and compelling them to take up with the vile arts of the pickpocket, the counterfeiter, and the murderer. 66 The crowded night rooms; the one thousand debtors annually, and the one thousand criminals and vagrants; the men and the women; the old •men and the black boys; the idiots, the lunatics and the drunkards; all confined in two buildings at night, and on the Sabbath in which there ca. be no separation, and no effectual supervision or restraint, to prevent gambling and falsehood, profane swearing and lascivious conversation, wrath, strife, back-biting and revenge ;-this is the state of things” of Leverett Street Jail, Boston, as described in the Sixth Report of the Prison Discipline Society:--The employment of prisoners in

many instances has been such as merely to require the exercise of physical powers, and wholly tỏ unqualify them for the business of life, when they should again be restored to society. Now what condition is more wretched. than that in which life is exposed, to say nothing of stripes and dungeons, and tortures, and in which no opportunity

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