The Pennsylvania Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy (Vol. IV, No. II, April 1849)
TERMS:—ONE DOLLAR A YEAR IN ADVANCE.
UNDER THE DIRECTION OF “THE PHILADELPHIA SOCIETY FOR ALLEVIATING
THE MISERIES OF PUBLIC PRISONS,” INSTITUTED 1787.
VOL. IV.—NO. II.
E. C. AND J. BIDDLE,
SOUTHWEST CORNER OF FIFTH AND MINOR STREETS.
“Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.”
When we consider that the obligations of benevolence, which arefounded on the precepts and examples of the Author of Christianity,are not cancelled by the follies or crimes of our fellow-creatures:and when we reflect upon the miseries which penury, hunger, cold,unnecessary severity, unwholesome apartments, and guilt, (the usualattendants of prisons,) involve with them, it becomes us to extendour compassion to that part of mankind who are the subjects ofthose miseries. By the aid of humanity, their undue and illegalsufferings may be prevented; the links which should bind the wholefamily of mankind together, under all circumstances, be preservedunbroken; and such degrees and modes of punishment may be discoveredand suggested, as may, instead of continuing habits of vice,become the means of restoring our fellow-creatures to virtue andhappiness. From a conviction of the truth and obligation of theseprinciples, the subscribers have associated themselves under the titleof “The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries ofPublic Prisons.”
For effecting these purposes, they have adopted the followingConstitution.
Article I.—The officers of the Society shall consist of a President,two Vice-Presidents, two Secretaries, a Treasurer, two Counsellors,and an Acting Committee, all of whom, except the ActingCommittee, shall be chosen annually, by ballot, on the secondSecond-day, called Monday, in the month called January.
J. MC ARTHUR JUNR ARCHT.47
VOL IV.—NO. II.
Art. I.—HOUSES OF REFUGE.
I. Twenty-first Annual Report of the Managers of the Philadelphia Houseof Refuge to the Legislature and to the Contributors thereto. 1849, pp. 32.
II. Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Managers of the Society for theReformation of Juvenile Delinquents to the Legislature of the State andthe Corporation of the City of New York. 1849, pp. 50.
We need, in some parts of the United States, a grade of penalinstitutions between what are called Houses of Refuge, or ofReformation for Juvenile Delinquents on the one hand, and thehighest and best class of penitentiaries on the other.
As they are at present, our institutions of this class are neitherschools nor prisons. They employ the inmates at labor andinstruct them, as far as practicable, in the elements of usefulknowledge and thus far they resemble the Industrial Schoolsof Europe. But they are places of close confinement—theyhave regulations and a police, not unlike those of a prison, andtheir inmates are sent thither as offenders—though juvenileoffenders. The worst that can be said of some of them is,that they are incorrigible truants—of others, that they are pastparental control, (and in this respect, perhaps, “more sinnedagainst than sinning;”) but some are adroit thieves and boldburglars—some skilful forgers—some incendiaries, and someassaulters with intent to kill. Their ages, too, range fromeight to sixteen or even eighteen, and their size and physicalstrength are equally various.
This is a motley group to bring into the relation of schoolmatesor fellow-apprentices, and their care-takers must possess50rare endowments, so to administer discipline, as to preventmuch harm from being done to some in connection with all thegood they do to others. For, that they have done immeasurablegood, no one who has investigated their operations andresults, can for a moment doubt. They have fully justified thehigh anticipations which were entertained concerning them atan early period of their history. “No disciplinary institution inour country,” said the Rev. Dr. Alexander of New Jersey,“promises to effect more for society, than a House of Refugefor juvenile delinquents. If it were ever lawful to rejoice inan event produced by crime, it would be, that these unhappyyouth are, by the commission of a crime, snatched from thesink of pollution in which they have been immersed, and putto regular business, and educated as well as most children inthe land.”1
Having fully sustained their claim to confidence, as a systemof reformatory means, we naturally desire to see themrendered as effective as possible. And to this end we wouldhave them adhere punctiliously to the original design for whichthey were instituted. This was not to inflict a penalty, but tointerpose a shield—not to bring suffering upon the guilty,but to supply instruction, wholesome discipline and kind officesto the neglected and exposed. They may easily be pervertedby opening their doors to youth (“young in years, but old insinning”) who are thought to require some milder disciplinethan the penitentiary affords, but whose offences are really asrank and as indicative of deep-seated depravity as those of theoldest and the worst.
In determining, in any given case, whether to admit or rejectan applicant, the managers of a House of Refuge wouldbe governed, we presume, chiefly by the character, though insome degree by the size and physical strength of the individual,as a subject of mild, parental discipline. The question, howfar a residence in the institution will be likely to bring abouthis radical reformation and the establishment of good habitshas the first place; and another, and scarcely less importantquestion would be, what influence will his admission have onothers? If he is perverse and stubborn, and at the same time51overgrown in size, so as require a disproportionate measureof care and vigilance, (in which case other and more hopefulsubjects must be, to an equal extent, neglected,) his admissionwould seem inexpedient. Provision exists, or should be madefor such an one elsewhere. So, also, if one is presented, deformedin body, deficient in mind, or of sickly constitution, andnot likely to succeed in acquiring the knowledge of a trade,or unfitted to bear the proper discipline, he has higher claimson some other form of public charity. A House of Refuge isnot meant for him, nor is it likely to benefit him.
An institution designed to keep boys and girls in due orderand subordination, ought to be able to dispense with some ofthe more revolting appendages of a prison—such as unscaleablewalls—narrow stone cells—and massive bars and bolts.We admit that all these are necessary the moment it receivesa sturdy, hardened, hackneyed rogue of eighteen, sixteen or evenfourteen; but it is a pity to force upon the whole establishmentthe gloomy appearance of a prison, rather than rejecthalf a dozen youth of extra age and size, whom parents orfriends naturally feel disposed to save from a felon’s doom.
The inquiry of chief interest, however, relates to character.What has been his career up to this time? Who havebeen his associates? To what species of crime has he beenchiefly addicted? Has he, in the fury of unbridled passion, attemptedthe life of another? of his parent, or associate, orenemy? Has he deliberately forged another’s name? Hashe been familiar with scenes of outrage and tumult? Is he afrequenter of the haunts of infamy? Has he good fellowshipwith a large circle of like characters with himself? Thesequestions, or any of them, if answered affirmatively, would gofar to turn the scale against his admission. The acts we havesupposed, indicate in the perpetrator of them, a confirmed habitor propensity, which may, perhaps, be corrected; but not by theordinary discipline of a proper House of Refuge. Nor should theattempt be made to employ it on so unpromising a subject, atthe risk of introducing more evil than we can possibly hope toprevent. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive any good reason whya burglar or incendiary at sixteen, should be called a “delinquent,”and put to school, while the same grade of criminals52at twenty, are called convicts, and sent to the penitentiary.Age, by itself, is a very unsafe criterion by which to determinethe turpitude of crime or the appropriateness of punishment.
We do not say that no cases of this class can occur, in whichthe admission of the party to a House of Refuge, would be expedient;but, as a general thing, we should be disposed to confineits benign influence to those whose proclivity to a criminalcareer is but feebly though decidedly developed; whosedelinquencies exist rather in an impatience or contempt of domesticrestraints, than in deliberate violations of public law.The discipline, as well as the construction of Refuge-buildingsand the usual means of safe custody, evidently contemplate a veryyoung class of boys and girls, say from eight to twelve years ofage, who may be incorrigible truants, disobedient to parents,insubordinate to masters, petty thieves, street-strollers, withouta home or worse,—uneducated, unaccustomed to any kindof restraint. Such youth come under the discipline of anestablishment, like our Houses of Refuge, with a prospect ofgreat advantage.
Even those who have acquired fixed habits of lying, stealing,deceit and violence, are, at this age, physically reducibleto order and industry. They are incapable of using dangerousweapons with effect—they are not likely to combine for outbreaks,nor to plot escapes. With wholesome food, and anhour or two’s recreation every day, they can be made toconform to stringent regulations, without great or long continuedseverity of discipline. Active employment in some handicraft,daily schooling, and proper religious culture, soon worka wonderful transformation in such a class of children, and ifthey can only be continued long enough to make their newcourse of life habitual, so that to be idle shall be as irksome tothem as it once was to work, and to speak the truth shall beas easy as it once was to lie, the benefit of such an institutioncould not be overrated.
If the discrimination we have suggested, should be faithfullyobserved, we should find a very large class of youth whorequire penal discipline of a severer type, and for whom noprovision is now made except in the penitentiary, which isquite as ill adapted