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But this system, the object of so much sanguine hope to its philanthropic projectors, was nowhere crowned with success. It is in the state of New York in particular that we are here to regard its operation. The great body of the convicts were thrown together in the prison, in numbers which soon became improperly crowded, and were kept at work through the day. The only punishment which their keepers had a right to inflict, for violation of the discipline, was solitary confinement, with bread and water. A small proportion of them, who before the reform of the penal laws would have been sentenced to death, were confined in perpetual solitude, unrelieved by the solace of labor. The system was found not only totally ineffective to reform, but on the contrary most perniciously active to corrupt and to harden. It was an enormous drain on the public treasury. It soon ceased to have any terrors for the depraved; while to young offenders, thrown for the first time into the midst of the polluted atmosphere and the fatal society assembled in the rooms of the prison, it was certain and irrecoverable ruin. And partly from the increase of population, but in probably a still greater degree from the tendency of the system itself to manufacture new rogues and to continue old ones, it became so overstocked as soon to make it necessary annually to pardon out large numbers of offenders for no other reason than to accommodate the reception of the fresh influx! Though adapted to the suitable accommodation of not more than between three and four hundred, it was at times occupied by upward of seven hundredcrowded and herded together beyond any possibility of proper classification. A report made to the legislature in 1817, by commissioners appointed to examine into the subject, stated that, within a period of five years, 740 had been pardoned, while only 77 had been discharged by the expiration of their sentences. In the two years, 1816 and 1817, the number of pardons was 573. A report made to the senate in 1822, by the Hon. Samuel Miles Hopkins, states the whole number of convicts committed since 1796 to have been 5,069, of which number there had been pardoned not less than 2,819. The necessary effect of such a system to promote the multiplication of crime, need scarcely be adverted to. It will be sufficient to state that, of twenty-three convicted of second and third offences in the year 1815, twenty had been previously pardoned, and only three discharged by the ordinary course of law. The average number of deaths was about seven per cent. Fires and insurrections were of not unfrequent
The first suggestion of the necessity of another penitentiary in the interior of the state, was made in the annual report of the officers of the prison in 1809. The friends of the existing system, notwithstanding the annually-developed evidence of its total failure for every other than the worst purposes, still clung to their old ideas; and the admitted evils, manifest in the existing establishment, being ascribed to its crowded condition, when the erection of a second prison, at the village of Auburn, was determined upon in 1816, it was hoped that ampler space of accommodation, and smaller subdivisions of numbers, would yet produce the salutary results originally expected. The south wing of this building was completed in 1818, containing sixty-one double cells, and twenty-eight rooms, each of which was to contain from eight to twelve prisoners. But, for reasons obvious to those at all familiar with the vicious tendencies of imprisoned convicts, this plan was soon found to be the most fatal that could be adopted; and it was evident that it would be better to throw fifty criminals together in the same room, than to divide them in small numbers, and especially in pairs. The subject was much discussed at about this period, in both the legislature and the community at large; and in 1819 the erection of the north wing was ordered, to consist entirely of cells for solitary confinement. By a law of this year, too, for the first
time the use of the whip was permitted when deemed necessary for the maintenance of the discipline of the prisons.
At about the same period the public attention in the state of Pennsylvania also was much engaged with the same subject. In the year 1817, the manifest failure of the old system, as prevailing in the Walnut-street prison, led to the passage of a law for the construction of the Western penitentiary at Pittsburgh, and in 1821 for the Eastern penitentiary at Cherry hill, near Philadelphia; in which it was determined to adopt entirely the system of uninterrupted separate confinement. Desirous of making a similar experiment, the legislature of New York, on the 2d of April, 1821, directed the agent of the Auburn prison to select a number of the most hardened criminals, and to lock them up in solitary cells, night and day, without interruption and without labor; and in December of the same year a sufficient number of cells were completed for the purpose, and eighty criminals placed in them.
The result of this experiment, which was founded on the recommendation of a committee of the legislature, was disastrous in the extreme. Human nature could not endure the solitary horrors of such a doom. Within the year, five of the eighty died; one became insane; another, watching an opportunity when his keeper opened his door for some necessary purpose, in a fit of despair precipitated himself from the gallery, running the almost certain chance of destruction by the fall; and the rest sank into a state of such deep depression, and of failing health, that their lives must have been sacrificed had they been kept longer in this situation. Under these circumstances the governor pardoned twenty-six, and the remainder were withdrawn from their cells during the day to work in the shops of the prison. From this period, 1823, this system of uninterrupted solitude was abandoned at Auburn.
The failure of this experiment for a time seemed to endanger the success of the whole penitentiary system. The ardent hopes of its friends were nearly exhausted; and even some, whose feelings revolted at the idea of capital punishment, began to fear that it would again become necessary to resort to the more frequent use of the scaffold. But, as it is stated in a report by the late agent of the Mount-Pleasant prison, Mr. Robert Wiltse, made in March, 1834 (from which document we have already drawn considerably in the preparation of this narrative), Captain Elam Lynds, who was at this time the agent of the Auburn prison, was too wise to give up the idea that the beneficial moral influences of solitude might yet be combined with some successful system of congregated labor. He felt convinced that this result could be attained by a union of the two opposite principles — by confining the convicts to solitary cells at night and on Sundays, and compelling them to work during the day in large workshops in absolute silence, and under such a vigilant inspection as should preclude, so far as possible, all intercourse in any manner between them.
It has been a subject of some controversy who was entitled to the credit of having originated this system; a point necessarily difficult to decide, when it is considered how naturally, during the progress of its experimental growth, the suggestions which might proceed informally from the various minds engaged in and about it, would flow into one general current of opinion, common perhaps to several. Captain Lynds, hav. ing unquestionably been the first to complete, mature, and execute the plan, has generally received from public opinion the credit of its invention- an honor which justice would probably require to be divided with Mr. John D. Cray, one of the master-workmen or architects employed in the construction of the building.
The experiment was tried. Captain Lynds, a man of remarkable energy and firniness of character, who had formerly served in the army of the United States, and who retained all the habits of rigid and severe military discipline there to be acquired, assembled the convicts together, and giving them the rules by which their conduct must be governed, told them that they must henceforth labor diligently, and labor in perfect silence and non-intercourse; and that, for every infringement of the rules, a swift and summary punishment should follow, of corporeal chastisement. This was soon proved to be no unmeaning threat; and in a short time, seconded by the able and unwavering exertions of his assistant-keepers, he succeeded in establishing this new discipline with a degree of efficiency scarcely conceivable to those who had not the opportunity of witnessing it* Inspected in 1824 by a committee of the legislature, a high eulogium was passed upon it, and it was sanctioned by the formal approbation of that body.'
The Auburn system, therefore, in its mature and complete state, may be said to date from the year 1824.
But it was soon found that its adoption must render necessary the construction of another prison for the eastern portion of the state, that of Auburn containing, as it was enlarged in 1824, only 550 cells. An act was therefore passed to that effect on the 7th of March, 1824 ; under which three commissioners were appointed — Stephen Allen, Samuel Miles Hopkins, and George Tibbitts -- to select a suitable site. The village of Sing-Sing, on the Hudson river, thirty-three miles from New York, was selected, and a piece of ground purchased containing an inexhaustible quarry of white marble, which it was designed to make not only the material for the construction of the building, by the hands of the convicts themselves, but also a profitable article on which their future labor should be employed for the benefit of the state. To Captain Lynds, who had chiefly presided over the construction of the Auburn prison, as well as having performed the whole service of organizing its system of discipline and labor, was intrusted the charge of bringing forth the new establishment, as it were, out of the bowels of the earth. Were it possible to question its truth, as a literal historical fact, the manner in which he carried this into effect would be deemed incredible. According to his own plan, he was directed to take a hundred of the convicts from the Auburn prison, to remove them to the selected site, to purchase materials, employ keepers and guards, and make them commence the construction of their own future abode. The novel spectacle was exhibited on the 14th of May, 1825, of the arrival of this band on the open ground which was to be the theatre of operations, without a place to receive, or even a wall to enclose them. The remarkable moral energy of the man effected it with a success which must always remain astonishing. The first day sufficed to erect a temporary barrack for shelter at night; and ever after they continued in unpausing labor, watched by a small number of guards, but held under perpetual government of their accustomed discipline, and submission to the power whose vigilant eye and unrelaxing hand they felt to be perpetually upon them and around them. It was finished according to the original plan, in 1829, containing 800 cells; to which 200 more were ordered to be added by an act of the following year. Another story being therefore raised for this purpose, the final completion of this vast and massive edifice was in the year 1831. A sufficient number of cells having been completed in May, 1828, the convicts in the old prison at New York were removed to Sing-Sing, and that building abandoned and sold.
In the year 1835, the legislature directed the erection of another building at Sing. Sing, adjacent to the main prison, though unconnected with it, for the reception of the female convicts, who heretofore had been kept together by the city of New York, at its local prison establishment at Bellevue, at a cost to the state of $100 per annum for each prisoner. They were there in a miserable and disorderly state ; that mode of maintenance being found replete with all the evils which it had been the object of the improved penitentiary system, as applied to the males, to reform. This was completed, in an elegant style of architecture, in 1840, and the convicts removed to it, and placed under the charge of a matror, whose admirable management soon brought them to a condition of good order, neatness, and industry, before supposed impossible by those who had witnessed their former character and conduct.*
* This system of discipline has since given place to one of less severity, in which corporeal punish ments are prohibited.--Ed.
It is unnecessary to fill the present pages with descriptions of these vast establishments of penitentiary labor, beyond a few simple general features common to both. The cells rise in tiers above each other to the height of five stories. These central structures are surrounded with an outer shell or envelope of a second wall, about eleven or twelve feet distant from the interior. Along the front of each range of cells runs a gallery. The size of the cells is seven feet in depth, by three and a half in width, and seven in height; all of stone, with iron doors, of an open-diamond grating from top to bottom, for the combined objects of security, ventilation, and light. To these buildings are attached spacious workshops, surrounding the large courtyards of the prisons, in which different branches of mechanical industry are pursued with the aid of machinery, in some instances on a very large scale; the whole being enclosed in high outer walls, vigilantly guarded by armed sentries, excepting at Sing-Sing, where there is no enclosure around the prison or the shops, the security of the convicts depending entirely upon the sentries. The convicts wear a peculiar striped prison-uniform, of coarse woollen fabric, manufactured within the prisons. Their movements to and fro at the regular hours, in the daily routine of the life of the prisons, are all made in single file, with the lock-step, and with the heads turned all in one direction, facing the constant eye of the keeper of each respective division, for the prevention of intercommunica. tion. At Sing-Sing, they eat their meals singly in their cells; at Auburn, in large eating-halls, at tables at which they are seated back-to-back, and fronting only their keepers. The food is plentiful and healthy, though coarse. A scrupulous cleanliness reigns through every nook and corner of the establishments. The health of the prisoners is good; the average of deaths being about two per cent. per annum. Each prison is provided with a chaplain, whose whole time is devoted to his interesting though arduous pastoral charge, and under whose direction they receive instruction on the sabbath in Sunday-schools. The cells have always been supplied with bibles. + For many years the establishments have not only defrayed the cost of their own maintenance, but have continued to earn annually a large excess to the benefit of the general revenues of the state. The mode employed of using the labor of the convicts is to let it out at certain rates per diem, for fixed periods, to contractors in the different branches of industry pursued.
The proper limits of the present occasion forbid the expansion of this brief account with any further details of the operation of the system, whose gradual growth has been thus related. As has been already remarked, the conflict of opinion between the supporters of the Auburn system, of social labor in silence by day, with solitary confinement by night, and the Pennsylvania system, of uninterrupted separate confinement
* Mr. Seward was a prominent advocate of this measure while a member of the senate of the state, in 1832. His speech in favor of the project is mentioned in the first volume of these Works. He also made it a topic of his annual messages to the legislature while governor.-ED.
| During Governor Seward's administration, he directed that other books, suitably selected for instruir. tion and moral improvement, should be added; and since that time annual appropriations have been inade by the legislature to replenish the prison libraries.—ED.
with labor, has been carried on with no small degree of both carnestness and ability. The advocacy of the Auburn system has been chiefly sustained by the Boston PrisonDiscipline Society, the annual reports of which have continued, from the institution of that society in 1825, to hold it up to the admiration and imitation of the world, in terms of unqualified eulogium. The prisons have been visited by many thousands of strangers, from foreign countries as well as from the other states of this Union, attracted hy the celebrity which they have acquired; and even those whose preference has inclined in favor of the theory of the Pennsylvania system, have not failed to accord a high degree of praise to the many admirable features characterizing ours, as well as to the excellent management with which they have been practically administered. The following states have since erected penitentiaries for the most part in imitation of the model thus afforded : Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio; together with the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada - not to speak of numerous city prisons and county jails.
We are far from desirous of pronouncing even an opinion in relation to this controversy. There are undoubtedly some features in the Auburn system which its best friends would gladly see amended, if it could be done consistently with the efficient maintenance of the general whole of which these are particular parts; nor can it be pretended that the object of the prevention of intercourse between the convicts, by a thousand modes of communication beyond the reach of any degree of vigilance, either has been or ever can be attained, to the degree supposed by many who simply witness the apparent silence that reigns throughout the workshops.
At the last session of the legislature, provision was made for the appointment of a commissioner to examine certain locations in the northern part of the state, with a view to ascertain the practicability of employing the convicts, in a new prison proposed to be erected, in the labor of mining. * The system may therefore be represented as still in a somewhat unsettled state; and a short period may witness the application to it of changes, of which it might not be easy to predict either the extent or the nature - even if it were proper here to engage in any speculation of this character.
A few words, before passing from this subject, are due to another excellent institution which occupies a not unimportant position in the penitentiary system of the state - the institution for the reformation of juvenile delinquents, in the city of New York, commonly known as the House of Refuge. This was the first establishment of this kind in the Union, having been founded in the year 1824; though it presented an example which was speedily followed by other states. It grew out of the philanthropic efforts of a private association of gentlemen in New York, who were incorporated March 29, 1824, under the title of the “Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents;" among whom it will not be deemed invidious to particularize as among the most prominent and active, the late Thomas Eddy and Cadwallader D. Colden, and also Mr. Charles G. Haines, who, as chairman of a voluntary committee, was the author, in 1824, of a very able and valuable report on the history and discipline of penitentiaries in the United States, from which much aid has been derived in the hasty preparation of these notes. It was founded on a basis of private subscription, aided by annual assistance from the state; and is administered by officers chosen by the society, and superintended by its constant vigilance, under a system of general laws
* This resulted in the establishment, in 1845, of the Clinton prison, in Clinton county, sixteen miles vorthwest of Plattsburg, where the convicts are employed mainly in mining.-Ed.