Gamaliel Bradford.

State prisons and the penitentiary system vindicated : with observations on managing and conducting these institutions; drawn principally from experience. Also, some particular remarks and documents relating to the Massachusetts State Prison online

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Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordState prisons and the penitentiary system vindicated : with observations on managing and conducting these institutions; drawn principally from experience. Also, some particular remarks and documents relating to the Massachusetts State Prison → online text (page 1 of 6)
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THE remarks and observations contained in
the following pages, were first prepared for, and
published a few months ago, in the New-England
Palladium. They are now offered to the Public,
in a more collected and durable shape, with a view
of giving them more extensive circulation, and to
invite farther attention to a subject, highly impor-
tant and interesting.



lin/irovements in Jurisfirudericej The ^ihilanthrojmt Howard;
Object of this work to shew the advantages of the Peni-
tentiary System; and notice of other writers oji the subject.

Improvement in the state of society, and in the moral and
physical condition of man, is progressive, and has been gradu-
ally advancing from the barbarity of the first ages of the world
to that degree of polish and refinement which is the boast of
the present time.

During the latter part of the last century, and that part of the

- present which has already elapsed, many useful discoveties in

the sciences have been made, and as they have been brought

into operation, corresponding advantages have resulted to those

nations and people who have adopted them.

As this, however, is emphatically styled the age of inventions
and experiment, many false plans for reforming or improving
upon the customs, and manners, and laws of our ancestors have
been formed and recommended, which, on the test of experi-
ence, have not only failed to be useful, but in some instances
proved injurious. This very naturally leads to a scrutiny of
any new system which may be offered to the Public, and authori-
zes a prudent suspicion of whatever may be proposed in theory,
until suitable and sufficient experiment shall have proved its
merits and utility.

Among many other subjects of reform, the treatment of crim-
inals, and that part of jui'isprudence which relates to criminal
cases and to the punishment of felons and violators of law, has
not escaped the attention of enlightened men. The great Philan-
thropist, Howard, was among the first of benevolent men who

aroused the sympathy of the world, and directed it towards the
misery and sufferings of their unhappy fellow-beings who were
immured in Prisons. He, himself, however, did little more than
explore the clime and open the way, by tracing his own pro-
gress as it were on a map, and thus leave a guide to those who
might be induced to follow him. But he deserved and has re-
ceived a lasting credit, not only for the partial good which his
unwearied endeavours immediately produced, but more particu-
larly for his undaunted spirit and perseverance in the cause of
humanity and benevolence — having encountered all the perils
and hardships of enterprizing discoverers, who venture among
rocks and shoals, and encounter the unknown dangers of an un-
known coast, without a pilot or a chart

The prospect once opened, discovered so much to interest
the feelings of humanity, that many men have exerted their tal-
ents and benevolence, to devise a system of punishment, which
whilst it comported with the peace and safety of society, should
at the same time be tempered with mercy, have regard to the
immediate comfort of the unhappy tenants of a Prison, and
above all, afford opportunity for, and encourage in them re-
pentance and reformation.

A system of this nature was early set on foot in the United
States on the plan of a Penitentiary, and is now in operation in
almost every State in the Union: it is not, however, without its
opposers, but is by many considered as one of those new plans
for reform, which, on experiment, fails of producing the desired
effects. It is the object of the present work to examine this
system, notice the ground of opposition to it, and endeavour to
shew, from facts and experience, that the first principles there-
of are correct, and that with some small improvements, and un-
der any thing like a proper management, it possesses peculiar
advantages over every other method of punishing criminals
heretofore practised, particularly as it respects the following im-
portant oljjects, viz. — the peace and safety of society, expense
to the community, restraining the increase of crimes, and pro-
moting the moral improvement of convicts.

As there has been already much written upon the subject,
and many speculative opinions advanced as to the management
of State Prisons and Penitentiaries, and the treatment of persons
therein confined, it will come within the scope of my present
purpose to notice some of these writings and opinions, and to
confirm or combat them, as they may appear to be well founded
or fallacious and visionary.

The subject of prison discipline has been largely discussed
in England, and several works describing the state of their Pri-
sons, the faults in managing them, method to remedy the?e
faults, with various plans for revising and improving their penal
laws, have reached this country. Bcntham, Buxton, Roscoe,
and Gurney, have all borne testimony to the faulty method of
punishing criminals in England, and ventured to point out and
recommend a system, which would nearly resemble what is now
generally practised in the United States. In Great Britain,
capital* punishment has been tried and persevered in, to a de-
gree which has at last become shocking to the nation; transpor-
tation has been found to involve an immense expense; and con-
finement in county jails, where there is no means of exercise
by labor, nor religious instruction for pious or moral improve-
ment, is attended with pernicious effects both to the bodily con-
stitution and to the mind.

Since, then, in the old countries the former mode of treat-
ment and punishment of criminals has been found so defective,
let us not be hasty to abandon the later one which has been in-
troduced among us, but give it a fair experiment, improving as
we go along, from practice, observation, and experience, and in
the end it will be found, that no system of punishment is so well
calculated to insure the peace and safety of society, to promote
the cause of humanity, and alTord an opportunity for reclaiming
some culprits who are not too hardened and depraved, as Peni-
tentiaries and State Prisons.

" In 1817, there were 130S convictions in England for capital offences;
in 1818, there were 1254. See Edinburg Revieio, JVo. 67.


JVecessUy of fiunishment ; its design and effects; Example
improper and ineffectual.

When men become associated in society, it is necessary to
have laws by which this society shall be regulated and governed.
The rights of each individual must be protected, and to this end,
those turbulent and unjust members who would otherwise in-
vade or injure those rights, inust be restrained. Punishment,
inflicted or threatened, seems to be the only elTectual method
that can be devised for enforcing such restraint. Reward may
tempt men to do good, but no dependence can be placed on its
negative operation of preventing men from doing evil. Punish-
ment, therefore, for the promotion of good in society is necessa-
ry — but it becomes an interesting inquiry to be satisfied also, to
what degree of severity it may be carried, and yet be just. It
is not easy, perhaps, to construct such a scale of crimes and
punishments as shall be perfectly adapted to each other. "An
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," seems plausible; but
even if this principle be allowed, and would apply to this and a
few other instances, yet there are a thousand other acts of vio-
lence where it could not be enforced.

The design of punishment, according to some reasoners is
three fold — 1st, to insure the rights and well being of society —
2d, to recompense evil upon the person of the guilty — Sd, to
make him an example to deter others from being guilty also.
These three motives, however, should be reduced to one — and,
in fact, the other two it is presumed are meant to promote the
first, viz. the peace and happiness of society. The idea of pun-
ishing a man for an example to others, is barbarous in the ex-
treme—it is sacrificing a victim to strange gods, and may be
classed with the offerings to Moloch, or the self-immolati6n of
a Bramin's wife. And the second reason is not less objection-

able than this last — for whatever is personal in punishment, or
which in any way exceeds or varies from a strict and abstracted
view to the safety of the public, is vindictive and cruel. The
design, therefore, of punishment is, or ought to be, confined to
this single idea, viz. to promote and insure the public good.

Some of the advocates of mercy have carried their principles
so far as to be against capital punishment in any case whatever,
and contend that man can have no rightful authority over the life
of his fellow man. The universality of the practice, however,
among all nations, as well as the sanction of holy writ, would
seem to imply the propriety, at least, if not the necessity, of tak-
ing life for certain high offences — and there are crimes, murder
for instance, which not only justify by way of equal retribu-
tion, but imperiously demand the taking away the life of the of-
fender. But that this should be done for an example to deter
others, is neither proper, just, nor will it be efficacious. As it
regards the propriety or justice of such a measure, no further
arguments than those above, will be urged against them at pre-
3ent-~-but, as great effect is usually expected from example op-
erating upon the fears of men, I shall offer a few reasons, adding
to them experience, which is worth a thousand, to shew that
there are some mistaken notions entertained on this subject.

When we speak of examples in punishment, or of a person
being punished as an example to others, the meaning is, I pre-
sume, that the punishment is to be public, that a crowd is to be
brought together to behold the spectacle, in order that the suf-
ferings of the guilty person may be seen, may be contemplated,
and thus be made to impress the surrounding multitude with
terror, and serve as a warning to deter them from practices,
which will incur such punishment and such sufferings. But,
after all, such exhibitions are very limited in their extent. If a
person is to be hanged, not one in a thousand in the community
sees the tragedy performed, and those who do, it is believed,
have a variety of other sentiments to attend to, besides the idea
of its being an example for them to profit by.


Rut punishment of a criminal is only the execution of the
threatened penalty of the law, and whatever force, examples in
punishment can have towards deterring men from violating the
law, must arise from the idea that all such violations will cer-
tainly be punished. But all violations of law are not certainly
punished, for they are not always detected, and frequently for-
given when they are; and whilst there is hope of escaping with
impunity, present good, or present gratification, will always
outweigh distant and uncertain danger. The threats, there-
fore, of the law, so far as it is believed that these threats will
be enforced, must have equal tendency to deter, as the actual
execution of them. All therefore which is imputed to the in-
fluence of example from public executions, may be referred
to the fear of punishment, and that fear has already had its in-
fluence upon the minds of men from knowing the penalty of
the law. In the play of George Barnwell, the leading the
criminal off to execution, has all its serious and mournful ef-
fects which could be produced, was he actually suspended from
the gibbet on the stage.

Ideas derived from quite different sources, are often associat-
ed and combined together in such a manner, that it is difficult
to separate them, and appropriate each to its natural origin.
Let us endeavour to look at this thing called " example in pun-
ishment," naked, stript of all other associations, and considered
abstractly. Suppose there was no law, or general rule of conduct
concerning murder — and suppose a person for once however,
brought to the gallows for killing another; what would be the
feelings excited upon such an occasion, and what effects would
sueh a spectacle produce? Sympathy and compassion for the
unhappy being who was suddenly to be launched into eternity,
would undoubtedly, be among the first and most prevalent sen-
timents of the beholders — but would it have the most distant ef-
fect towards discouraging or preventing murder in future by
others, if they were not threatened that this should be their fate,
if they committed such an act. I think not. It is therefore
the threatenings of the law, and the certainty, or the belief in

the certainty, that these threats will be executed upon the guilty,
which has all the influence to operate on the fears of men, to
deter them from crime. Examples may be kept out of sight.
Moreover, all men know that crimes are to be punished, they
are taught this from their infancy — and whether they ever see
punishment inflicted or not, they are more or less restrained by
this knowledge and belief, from violating the laws. Example
can only increase such restraint, from a stronger impression
perhaps, at the moment, of the certainty of such punishment.
But such impressions soon wear off, especially when, upon a
little reflection, they are perceived to be not well founded.

To bring experience in aid of my position, reference might
be made to the practice for a century past, in Great-Britain,
where public executions have.been multiplied, and crimes have
been found to multiply v/ith them.* But leaving this general re-
ference to that country, for want of present documents to enable
me to descend to particulars, let us look at our own, where re-
cent occurrences will be found to be very apposite to, if not con-
clusive of our argument. Not long ago there was a robberyf
of the mail near Baltimore; the robbers were apprehended and
executed. It is believed, but I do not assert it as a certain facf,
that this was the first instance in America of any person being
executed for robbing ihe mail. A short time afterwards, the^
mail was again robbed in New-Jersey, and since that, we have
heard of at least half a dozen mail robberies.

Phillips, was the first person who had been hung in Boston
for rriurder for a number of years; but in little more than a year
after this public and awful spectacle, five murders| at least,
have been committed here and in the vicinity. Surely if there
is any thing to be learnt from experience, these instances must
teach us, how feeble, and fleeting are the effects of punishment,
considered merely as an example.

* See note to the introduction.

•j" Hare and accomplices.

^ Two of these were decided by a jury to be manslaughter; but such a
decision could not have been foreseen by the perpetrators.




Confinement best mode of fiuniahing criminals; Duty of legit'
tutors to ordain humane laivs; Society secure ivhile the cul-
Jirit is confned; Damage he might do if not.

As all laws are enacted for the public good, or, as I endeavor-
ed to shew in the preceding chapter, the great end and object
of punishment being to promote the peace and security of
society, it would seem to follow that the first and principal
inquiry should be, what sort of punishment is best adapted to
such a purpose, and what treatment towards criminals, who
have violated the law, is the most necessary and proper in order
to prevent a repetition of their crimes? What punishment, will,
taking into view all its consequences, bearings, and effects, pro-
duce the greatest security, to the life, liberty, and property of
the citizens, in preventing the frequency of those crimes and
misdemeanors, by which these rights and blessings are disturb-
ed. Death, of course, stops the progress of every man, the
wicked then cease from troubling. But no one will contend
that so severe a penalty as death, should be annexed to every
crime — the greatest advocates for severity, in their sober mo-
ments of dispassionate reflection, would annex it to few. Our
humane laws make it the reward of very few.

Leaving, therefore, this great and final doom, to await those
whose aggravated guilt may justify such a solemn and trying
scene, and professing to be satisfied with the extent which the
law at present prescribes to it, it becomes important to know,
what mode of conduct must be adopted towards those lesser
crimes, against which the law does not pronounce this awful

Although the idea of reforming a bad man, or reclaiming him
from the ways of vice, and bringing him back to the paths and
practice of virtue, may not be indulged to tho extent which


some benevolent and pious minds ave prone to carry it, yet it
ought undoubtedly to enter into the views of the legislator in the
formation of a penal code. It should be remembered, that
whilst the guardians of the public safety, are engaged in favour
of the rights of society, they have also a duty to perform for hu-
manity, and towards those their unfortunate fellow men, who
may become victims to a system which is to secure such rights.
Whatever opportunity, mean, or inducement, therefore, which
can, consistently with the public safety, be given to criminals
for the purposes of repentance and amendment, seem not only
proper, desirable, and benevolent, but is required of us as men
and as Christians.

Now, the sentence of confinement includes the idea of giving
to the criminal this opportunity and means of repentance, and»
with such, contributes in a two fold degree, towards the great
object of punishment, the peace and security of the public. For
if a convict can be so reformed that he will not, or so eflfectuallv
restrained by confinement, that he cannot injure his fellow-citi-
zens, these primary objects are obtained. But by corporal, or
sanguinary punishment, no man is reclaimed, and it is doubtful
(as has been before shewn) whether the fearof any punishment,
that may be uncertain, will produce any restraint upon the ac-
tions of wicked and uprincipled men. In the former mode of
punishing by the whipping post or the stocks, there was surely
no hope of reforming the culprit, and as he was immediately
let loose upon the public, he then had another opportunity to in-
dulge the same evil propensity to rob and steal, which impelled
him to these acts before, and which is now increased perhaps
by revenge. But confinement effectually prevents a culprit
from doing any injury to society, during the time he is confined,
and if he is of a notoriously depraved character, let his sentence
be of long duration, and the community will enjoy great advan-
tage from this security against his depredations.

Although there are many rogues who are so cunning and
wary, as to elude the vigilance of the police, or the scrutiny of
our public tribunals for a long while, yet they are always taken


at last, and, in process of time, all the most dangerous ones in
the State, will be gradually collected into the place of confine-
ment, and thus, society reap great advantages from such an es-
tablishment, in having these marauders taken out of it.

, There are now about three hundred and forty* convicts in
the Massachusetts State Prison — whilst there, they can do no
liarm— on the contrary, they do much good — they labour for the
community which supports them — but they would be a fearful
addition to society, -were they turned out upon it to get a support
there — and any other punishment (except death) turns them
over oftener, and leaves them longer to subsist by their depre-
dations on the public. Let us consider the case of a man confin-
ed for five years — during these five years he steals nothing —
none is robbed by him — as far as it respects this individual, the
public tranquility is not disturbed — he probably earns his sub-
sistence, and no man is injured by him. He is out of sight —
his afflictions, if he has any, are his own, without being partici-
pated by the public — whatever punishment he may suffer in his
confinement, falls upon himself alone — society is not made to
suffer with him, by his being dragged before it, harrowing up
the feelings of honest and sympathizing hearts, by seeing him
tormented before them. How different would it probably be,
were the whipping post and pillory still in use,- instead of con-
finement. In the course of the five years, he would most like-
ly be whipped five times, and in the interim between these seve-
ral scourgings, (taking no account of the barbarous effect of
such disgusting scenes,) commit twice the number of thefts.
What might be the amount of the damage of these robberies, it
is impossible to calculate; but as every body knows that thieves
and robbers usually destroy, for fear of detection, or by extrava-
gance and improvidence, ten times as much value as they real-
ize, or as would be necesssry for their support, it may be allow-
ed that some thousands of dollars would be the tax levied on the
community by this sort of land privateering. It is true, this tax

• April, 1820.


would fall on individuals, without being a direct public charge;
but it might be even a greater evil than if it were a public lo&s.
All this then, is saved by confinement to labour, instead of whip-
ping and scourging; and if there were no other arguments in
favour of this milder species of punishment, surely such advan-
tages ought to give it a decided preference among a politic, as
well as among a humane people.


Objections to the Penitentiary System answered; Law of Feb'
ruary, 1818; Conjinevient no slight evil; Certainty of pun-
ishment alone can overcome temfitation; reasons ivhy the
labour of convicts is not more productive; Produces some-

Confinement, in a situation affording moral instruction, and
imposing labor by which habits of industry may be formed, may
encourage some reasonable hope of reclaiming a guilty man, if
not yet hardened in iniquity; and it is certainly the best security
to society against his depredations, during the period of such
confinement. The longer his sentence may be, the greater
will be the advantage derived from it in both these points of
view. It would be well, therefore, for our Legislature to con-
sider, whether it might not be proper, to make the punishment
annexed to what are called the lesser crimes, a longer period of
confinement than is now denounced against them.

The law of February, 1818, providing for an additional sen-
tence against such as have been before punished by confine-
ment to labour, was an excellent addition to our penal code,
and it is unfortunate, as I shall have occasion more particularly
to shew hereafter, that its effects are, in some measure, evaded
by the operation of another and a later law, which provides for


sentencing some convicts to the County Jails, instead of tlis
State Prison.

But it is supposed, by some, that confinement is a species of
punishment not sufficiently severe, that it has no terrors, that
the consideration of its mildness encourages men to brave or
hazard it, and that crimes multiply in a community, in propor-
tion as punishments are less terrible and vindictive. But there
is reason to suspect that these are altogether mistaken ideas.
Confinement is no slight evil. How often are we told, when
our liberties are unlawfully assailed, that freedom is better than
life; that life without liberty is a burden; that, death is prefera-
ble to slavery, Sec? And such language is not altogether the
effusions of patriotism, or the high-wrought sentiments of men
of honour only — it is grounded in the principles of our nature,
and the feelings of all men are responsive to it.

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Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordState prisons and the penitentiary system vindicated : with observations on managing and conducting these institutions; drawn principally from experience. Also, some particular remarks and documents relating to the Massachusetts State Prison → online text (page 1 of 6)