The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
After nearly half a century spent in deliberation, even when the necessity of the measure was acknowledged, a penitentiary, as-a substitute for transportation, was erected at an expense of more than
|half a million of money; and, after an experiment of years, the mal' aria of has defeated the views of the legislature, and the principal part of the prisoners have all been removed either to the ci-devant Ophthalmic Hospital, , or the hulks at Woolwich.
So early as the year , a plan was formed for a system of penitentiary imprisonment, calculated to reform offenders; and an act was drawn up under the direction of sir William Blackstone, with the advice and concurrence of Mr. Howard. In the preamble of this act (which passed the legislature), a conviction was expressed, that
years after this declaratory statute had passed, it was followed by a new act of parliament for carrying the plan into effect, and a contract was entered into with Mr. Jeremy Bentham for that purpose; but so many difficulties arose in the mode of carrying this measure into execution, that the contract was re-purchased for the sum of and the plan abandoned until the year , when a committee of the house of common recommended that it should be resumed.
was fixed upon as the site of the new Penitentiary, which was almost immediately commenced, under the direction of Mr. Harvey; and so rapidly was the work conducted, that in a part of the building was opened for the reception of convicts. The building is of a sexagonal form, and occupies a space of eighteen acres. In the centre are the apartments of the governor, whence he can have a complete view of the distinct wards which surround him. The rooms for the prisoners are about feet by , and are supplied with a bedstead and comfortable clothing; the prisoners are kept to hard labour, but are entitled to a per centage of their earnings, which is set apart as a fund for them on their discharge.
The Penitentiary was at only intended for male, and an equal number of female convicts; but it is capable of holding : and it appears from a report of the select committee of the house of commons in , that when the committee visited the prison, there were prisoners, of whom were males, and females. Of these had been sentenced to transportation for life, for , and for seen years. The ratio in which the transportation is commuted for imprisonment in the Penitentiary is, that all those who have been capitally convicted are imprisoned for years; those who are sentenced to years transportation for ; and all years' cases for . This commutation is disproportionate, but the smallest term was fixed conformably to an
|opinion expressed by Mr. Howard, that years should be the minimum of imprisonment on the Penitentiary system.
Although solitary confinement and hard labour may in some cases be an excellent mode of prison discipline, yet the experiment at the Penitentiary has not been a successful ; and it is perhaps doubtful, how far a system which is calculated to excite feelings of despair and weariness of thought can be conducive to the reformation of the offenders; though it may insure a dreadful punishment. The motto which Dante gives for the gates of the Infernal Regions, might with little qualification be inscribed on the entrance of the Penitentiary.
An evil attending the Penitentiary at , though it does not apply to the system, is, that although the prisoners are employed in the manufacturing trades, yet, says the report,
At the western extremity of is