Prisons and Penitentiaries

ONE of the chief distinctions of this century is the adoption of the comparative method of study, and we owe to it the most brilliant and useful results in scholarship and reform, applied to science, religion, social economy, language, art, and archœology. It was by an imperfect use of this method that John Howard called the attention of Europe to the necessity of prison reform ; but it was not until a more comprehensive view began to be taken of criminal law and prison systems in various countries, and of the relation of crime to pauperism, to taxation, to economic legislation, and of the criminal class to the neglected class, that any substantial progress began to be made, and the question ceased to be a merely humanitarian one, that is, one of the cruel or the humane treatment of prisoners and convicts, and was seen to be one of the most vital problems that can engage the attention of statesmen. It was then that the idea of prevention was apprehended to be as important a part of social economy as punishment. The idea is still very slowly working its way, — as slowly as the notion among physicians that the prevention of disease may as profitably occupy their attention as its cure.

The application of the comparative method to the subjects of prison systems, reformation of criminals, and the prevention of crime has been conspicuously the life-work of the late Dr. E. C. Wines ; and it secures for his name a high distinction among the few in any age who have with single-mindedness devoted themselves to the welfare of society, which will increase as his labors are more fully understood. The result of eighteen years of special study of his subject is embodied in his work on The State of Prisons,1 just published. It was literally the culmination of his work; for only three days after he had finished the preface, and without warning of diminution of his extraordinary vigor and capacity of labor, he was called out of the world. His pioneer work was done, and in both his life and his manner of leaving it he must be considered fortunate. The work to which he devoted himself will go on, guided largely by the comprehensive principles he has laid down, and the methods he established.

The comparative method which he adopted showed that Dr. Wines was not a mere theorist, but a theorist who built upon and subjected his theories to the test of facts. Probably led to his mission by his intense sympathy with humanity, he was never betrayed into any false sympathy with offenders, and he never let humanitarian zeal obscure his estimation of the actual nature of the class he had to deal with, or its relation to the welfare and safety of society. He believed in the possibility of the reformation of a large per cent, of criminals, not by coddling, but by the application of industrial and moral training under sufficiently vigorous conditions ; and he believed more in the prevention of crime and the diminution of the criminal class by the rescue of children from criminal association and tendency. He expected to accomplish his ends by enlightening the public mind, by instructing it to take a comprehensive view of the subject, rather than by isolated and spasmodic experiments. To this end he diligently collected facts ; to this end he organized the latest International Prison Congress, and thus brought to bear upon every individual state and community the light everywhere educed by experiment, reflection, and the trial of the most varied methods upon all sorts of peoples.

Perhaps the chief value to the world of the life of Dr. Wines is in his systematizing of prison knowledge, as it is illustrated in this bulky volume, and his organization of what is loosely called prison reform (but which is really the reform of society) from the scattered and spasmodic efforts of philanthropists into something approaching the dignity of a science. The immediate value of this book is very considerable, although its statistics are of necessity temporary, and must be revised from year to year. In so comprehensive a plan as a review of all the prison systems of the civilized world, including systems as remote as those of Turkey, Siam, India, China, and Japan, we do not expect to find more than the outline facts. Upon these, however, we can rely ; they have been taken from official sources, verified in this country and in Europe by personal observation. Books of this comprehensive character are usually loose compilations of unverified and perhaps obsolete statistics. This volume is not of that sort; it bears evidence on every page of careful and conscientious editing, and the solid mass of facts is thoroughly digested. In turning over the pages devoted to the state of prison and reform institutions in the several States of our Union, we have been struck by the freshness of the information and the discriminating criticism concerning affairs within our personal knowledge.

The general review of the state of prisons and of prison codes and discipline will be of immediate service in the work of reform, and the statements of the condition and methods of child-saving institutions in Germany, England, France, and elsewhere will serve to stimulate and guide us in the prevention of crime ; but the permanent value of the book is in the exhibition of the author’s comparative system, and in his original discussion of all the questions that enter into the legislation for and the conduct of penal and reformatory institutions. In this respect the book will be a standard authority, and an indispensable one to legislators, prison managers, and those who would study the exceedingly intricate relations of poverty and crime to our “ booming ” civilization. On the topics of the treatment of dependent and neglected children in institutions or in families ; the organization of prisons, the congregate and the separate systems, the government by moral or by physical force, the value of educational and religious agencies, the systems of convict labor (working the prisoners on account of the State; letting their labor by contract to certain persons; and leasing the prison to individuals, with the control of its discipline and industries), the relation of prison labor to outside industries and its effect upon the prisoners, the selfsupport of prisons, and the question of taxation,— on all these anti other related matters, equally important, Dr. Wines is an authority to be studied, because he had singularly acute powers of observation, practical sagacity as to what could and could not be done in the present condition of society, and the widest experience.

  1. The State of Prisons and of Child-Saving Institutions in the Civilized World. By E. CWINES, D. D., LL. D., Honorary President of the International Congress of Stockholm. Cambridge, University Tress; John Wilson and Son. 1880.