« PreviousContinue »
the first and the chief place, for it is a matter of justice and humanity, while the other questions, as we have seen, relate solely to points of expediency, or to the means of guarding the community from anxiety and harm. Save the life and the reason of the convict first, and you may talk about reforming him and protecting society against crime afterwards. Nearly all the evidence adduced by Mr. Gray bears upon this point, and his remarks upon other topics connected with prison discipline, though curious and important, as they always evince great sagacity and good-sense, are mostly incidental. On the main question, the evidence he has brought forward seems absolutely decisive; we see not how its effect can be evaded or withstood, even by those whose previous opinions leaned to the opposite side.
The question is simply, whether the system either of solitary or of social labor by day affects so injuriously the health of the convicts who are exposed to it, that any continuance of it in practice is inhuman and unjust. Now there cannot be a better mode of answering this question, than by comparing the returns of the two prisons in which, by the confession of all parties, these systems have respectively been carried out in the most satisfactory manner and for the longest time. The two prisons selected for this purpose are the one at Philadelphia and the one in Charlestown, Massachusetts, this selection being made for the following reasons :
“1. Because they may be regarded as the model prisons here of their respective systems, or certainly inferior to none; and the experience of those where any material abuse is known or suspected to exist would have little weight; and is in truth of little worth, since it is rarely possible to distinguish the effects of a system itself from those of its maladministration.
“ 2. Because they resemble each other in other respects more than any other two prisons in America, which in this respect differ; as for example in the period during which they have been in full practical operation, that is, since 1829 ; — in the number of their white prisoners; - in the mildness of their punishments, and generally in the benevolent spirit in which they have been administered; - and in the important particulars, that both are near large cities, in which the average rates of mortality at large, and, so far as I have been able to learn, the tions of insane in the whole population, are not materially different;— that both are governed by intelligent and able officers, who command the public confidence; that both are under the watchful observation of friendly societies, anxious to contribute by all possible means to their improvement ; and that both are within the view of large, enlightened, and benevolent communities, who, upon the slightest suspicion, would be prompt, no doubt, to investigate and correct every abuse without fear or favor.”
- pp. 61, 62.
As to the comparative health enjoyed by the inmates of these two prisons, Mr. Gray remarks, — " The only mode hitherto known for ascertaining the proportion of deaths or insane cases to the whole number of persons anywhere is to compare the actual returns for a series of years. The opinions of the most learned and experienced are of no avail here ; for those opinions must be founded on the same facts, and the facts themselves are better evidence than the opinions. For the benefit of those who are not always capable of distinguishing statements of facts from those of opinions, we will quote another of our author's pungent remarks. “ The confident and sweeping statements so often made on the subject, such as that this or that system is shown by experience not to be injurious to health, or to be better than all others, &c., though made in the form of assertions of fact, are nothing but mere expressions of opinion ; and when not accompanied by the evidence and arguments on which they rest, are of little value in discussions of this nature."
Full tables are presented by Mr. Gray of the deaths in each of the two prisons for ten years past,
- the whole average number of prisoners, distinguishing the whites from the blacks, being given for each year, and the deaths of the whites appearing in a separate column from those of the blacks in the case of the Philadelphia prison, though not in that at Charlestown, as the records of the latter prison do not furnish the means for making this distinction. The accuracy of these tables is beyond question ; we cannot copy them at length, but we give the following remarks of Mr. Gray on the results which they furnish.
" It has been not uncommon here and elsewhere to insist, that no comparison whatever should be instituted between the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia and any other prison, on the ground, that the greater number of blacks there rendered any such comparison impossible, and it has often been attempted,
under the shelter of this general allegation, to escape from the terrors of the truth. But they are not to be escaped from thus. We will compare the mingled population of whites and blacks together in the prison at Charlestown with the whites alone in that of Philadelphia. The difference is apparent at a glance. In the former it is 1.19 per cent., in the latter 2.18 per cent. Or, to make it more intelligible to readers in general, who do not readily comprehend these per centages and fractions of a man's life, where 119 prisoners die in Charlestown prison, no less than 218 white prisoners die in that of Philadelphia ; an immense differ
But may it not be occasioned by the diversity of soil or climate or temperature? Perhaps so; let us inquire. The influence of these causes, and of all other causes whatsoever not belonging to the prisons themselves, must operate as well without as within them, and affect the whole community no less than the inmates of the prison. What, then, is the fact? The deaths among the white inhabitants of Philadelphia are, as has been stated, 2.42 per cent. In Boston, the deaths, since 1830, are on an average 2.09 per cent., a difference indeed, but by no means sufficient to explain the difference in the prisons; and leaving still a vast residuum to be accounted for. It has been urged, however, that there is a difference in the length of the sentences. This is true. But the difference is in favor of Philadelphia, as the sentences are shorter there than here, and the influence of this cause, therefore, should make the mortality in their prison less than that in ours, instead of more.
“ Again, it has been alleged, that the health of the prisoners in Philadelphia is at least as good as that of the community around, the mortality being less within than without the prison, since the mortality in the city is 2.42 per cent., while in the prison it is only 2.18 per cent. But this is not so. The mortality is not less within than without the prison, because such is the result of the tables. The greatest proportion of deaths, that which raises the average so high in the general bills of mortality, takes place in infancy and childhood. But the inmates of both these prisons are more than three fourths of them under forty years of age, in the full maturity and vigor of life. There are none in childhood, and scarcely any in old age. Let the mortality among them be compared with that of those of the same age in the community, and mark the result. For want of direct tables for Philadelphia, let the deaths in Boston be taken on the average since 1830, between the ages of 15 and 60 years, and allowing for the difference above stated between the whole number of deaths in Boston and Philadelphia, the result will be that in Philadelphia, the deaths between those ages are 1.47 per cent. That
pp. 97- 99.
sage just cited.
is, where 147 persons between 15 and 60 die in the city, 218 die in the prison. The deaths in Boston between those ages are 1.28 per cent., so that it will be seen, that where 128 die in the city, only 119 die in the prison, and that thus the latter is the more healthy of the two."
Mr. Gray here makes an immense concession, by comparing only the white prisoners at Philadelphia with the mingled population of whites and blacks at Charlestown. In all his statements of facts, indeed, he has scrupulously eliminated the effects of those causes alleged to be peculiar to the Philadelphia prison, and which have hitherto been used to explain away the whole of the startling results of a comparison of the two prisons. After making all the deductions that can be claimed on this account, the remainder still shows a fearful disproportion of mortality against the prison in Philadelphia, though it is certainly far below the truth. To be convinced of this, let us look at the mortality in that prison among the blacks alone, a point wholly omitted in the pas
For ten years preceding 1830, the annual average rate of mortality among the blacks in the city of Philadelphia was 4.75 per cent. for all ages; subtracting from it the rate for those under 15 years of age, — making the calculation on the same principle and from the same facts as those used by Mr. Gray in the case of the whites, - the rate of mortality among the free blacks from 15 to 60 years old is 2.88. the blacks in prison at Philadelphia it is 7.77, or more than two and a half times as great ; that is, the chance that imprisonment on this plan will kill the black convict within one year is two and a half times as great as the chance of his dying within that year if he should remain at liberty. Is it humane or just to subject him to this increased hazard, when the court has sentenced him only to confinement ?
But there are good reasons to believe that the figures as presented by Mr. Gray do not show the whole of this terrible risk even for the whites. In the comparison of the two prisons, no account has yet been taken of the different length of the periods of confinement, or of the number of pardons. From the third report of the New York Prison Association, page 40, it appears that the average length of imprisonment at Charlestown is about five years, while at Philadelphia it is
but two years and eight months,* yet the longer term causes a rate of mortality equal to 1.19 per cent., while the shorter term at Philadelphia makes it 2.18. Now the rate at Philadelphia in prison exceeds what it is out of prison by .71 per cent. (2.18 — 1.47), and this difference, which shows how great are the causes of death that are peculiar to the prison, should be doubled, or in other words it should be added to 2.18, before we compare this prison with another in which the peculiar or prison causes of death have twice as long to work. We have, then, 2.89 as the true rate of mortality at Philadelphia for the purpose of comparison, or 289 white convicts die there while 119 die at Charlestown. The report last cited shows that in 1845 there were 14 persons confined for life at Charlestown, and the longest period there, other than for life, was 35 years, while the shortest period was one year; at Philadelphia, in the same year, there were none for life, the longest period was 11 years, and the shortest only three months. The effect of these differences on the respective rates of mortality is obvious enough, and would justify even a larger allowance than we have here made for them.
The distribution of pardons between the white and black convicts at Philadelphia is quite remarkable, and may afford a clue to the immense and otherwise unaccountable difference in the rates of mortality of the two races while in prison. From the returns for five years preceding the close of 1846,
* This is the average length of the periods which the convicts who entered the prison in 1845 and 1846 were sentenced to suffer; but this average is much diminished by the frequency of pardons. The tables given on pages 41 -49 of the Seventeenth Annual Report of the prison at Philadelphia enable us to show how long the convicts were actually imprisoned. We find that from October, 1829, to January 1st, 1846, there had been 2,059 prisoners. Of these, 467, or 22.6 per cent. of the whole number, were confined one year or under ; 806, or 39.1 per cent., from one to two years; 522, or 25.3 per cent., from two to three years; 198, or 9.6 per cent, from three to five years ; 43, or 2.08 per cent., from five to seven years ; and 23, or 1.1 per cent., from seven to ten years. Now, reckoning the average period for each of these classes as midway between the limits given for that class, – that is, considering the 467 as confined on an average for 6 months, the 806 as averaging one year and a half, and so on, we find that the whole number were confined an average period of one year, eleven months, and seven days, instead of two years and eight months, as stated in the New York Report. The difference of course strengthens our argument very much. But we have no means of ascertaining how much the terms of imprisonment at Charlestown are shortened by the operation of pardons. We are told, however, that during the past five years, one in every 12 of the prisoners at Philadelphia has been pardoned, while at Charlestown during the same years the average number pardoned has been only one in 22. VOL. LXVI. No. 138.