New Treatment of Criminals

New Treatment of Criminals (1868)

There is one law, one court, one penalty awaiting every criminal alike, in what are called our courts of justice. Whatever may have been the culture, or want of it, whatever the temptation or power to resist, the courts have no discretion really, and so are bound to pass sentence according to law and evidence on all alike. The injustice, not to say cruelty, of this, would be less grievous, were our penalties and prisons designed for reformation, as hospital cures instead of modes and means of torture as in the past ages. The New York Tribune, on Christmas morning, proclaimed the following on the treatment of criminals. It is an evangel worthy that auspicious morn; almost literally fulfilling the promise of eighteen hundred years ago, “to open the prison doors to them that are bound.”

In the Irish Times, we find an account of a treatment of criminals so new, so surprising, and successful, as to be worthy of special notice. About twelve years ago Government secured the title to 170 acres of land, at Lusk, 14 miles north of the city of Dublin, overlooking Dublin Bay, and a beautiful wooded country. The object was to make an experiment with convicted criminals in redeeming the land and in carrying on a farm. This was to be what is termed the “intermediate system.” For many years the land had been a common; a part was swampy, much of the surface had been removed by neighboring farmers, and it was of little value. A gang of convicts was brought on, and, under judicious managers, the land was drained, the subsoil brought to the surface, manure was applied and also lime to correct the acidity; houses, barns and outbuildings were erected, and, finally, the tract has been brought to a high state of fertility.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Newspapers Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily, The Revolution, and the National Citizen and Ballot Box.

There are about sixty acres in grain, forty in choice meadow, eight in root crops, four in vegetables, and the remainder in pasturage. So good is the farming that this year, while crops throughout Great Britain are below an average, the crops of the convicts are above. The productions consist of fat cattle, hogs, grain, and considerable milk and butter, and as they have a surplus it is sold at high prices.

At first, it was proposed to have police depots around the farm, to prevent escapes and to punish violations of orders; but this has not been done, and, instead, a few wardens are employed, who act more as overseers and managers than as sentinels.

The order of the day is as follows:

  • 5:00 a. m., bell ringing, when the beds are made;
  • 5:30, officers’ parade;
  • 6:00, breakfast;
  • 6:30, parade;
  • 7:00 to 12:00, work, then dinner;
  • 1:00 to 5:00, work;
  • 6:00, supper, followed by lectures, prayer, lock up, and bed.

At the lectures, the criminals receive instruction in elementary studies, and on social and moral subjects, and in particular, regarding the natural results which flow from labor and from vice. On Sunday they are allowed to attend meetings in the neighboring towns. What are called prison earnings are allowed them, that, after their term expires, they may emigrate, or have means to start again in life where they are not known.

In the vicinity, such is their reputation as faithful laborers, that at present the demand for the discharged convicts from the farmers exceeds the supply. Thus the indolent, the stubborn, and reckless criminal is trained to a life of honest toil, more through encouragement and hope than through coercion and threats. He appreciates his comparative freedom and enjoys the pure air and rural occupation. There can be no doubt that the success of the system lies in the active calling of agriculture, which is the foundation of whatever health and innocence the human race possess.

We submit that this is a most remarkable account. It is obviously the duty of our legislators to reflect upon it, to get further details, and to consider what obstacles prevent the system from being carried out in our own country. If any exist, and if they can be removed, it will be a Christian, even a common, duty to remove them.

We have millions of acres of land which need to be redeemed; when brought into cultivation they will be the most fruitful and enduring of any in our whole domain.

In addition, many who were led into temptation and into crime, because they had no employment, or who did not know what work means, or who did not even know how to seek work where it was to be found, will acquire industrious habits and a taste for rural life, by which, after a time, in some remote locality, they will be proud to live.

About The Revolution

Although its circulation never exceeded 3,000, The Revolution’s influence on the national woman’s rights movement was enormous. As the official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association the paper confronted subjects not discussed in most mainstream publications of the time including sex education, rape, domestic violence, divorce, prostitution and reproductive rights. It was instrumental in attracting working-class women to the movement by devoting columns to concerns such as unionization and discrimination against female workers.

Source: The Revolution, January 15, 1868
Top Photo by Jacqueline Macou

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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