Facing the Prison Problem

“Almost anything will be an improvement. It cannot be worse. It cannot be more brutal and more useless. A farm, a school, a hospital, a factory, a playground—almost anything different will be better.”


The prison is a makeshift and an escape. It is not a solution. We would hide our sins behind its walled towers and barred windows—conceal them from ourselves. But the prison is an open grave. It returns what we would bury behind its gray walls. Its darkness and isolation only make the sins we would forget fester and grow, and return to stalk in our midst and plague us more painfully than ever. We would cover up our sins of omission—for that is what crime and criminals largely mean in the world—by adding sins of commission. That is imprisonment. Having failed to straighten the lives of criminals in childhood—to bring sweetness and light, understanding, comfort and good-will when it was needed, we justify our negligence by scorning the spirits we have thwarted, by breaking the bodies we have bent.

It is our attempt to escape accountability for the crimes we have committed against the men and women we call criminals. The prison is a reflex. It mirrors our hardness, our weakness, our stupidity, our selfishness, our vengeance, our brutality, our hate—everything but love and forgiveness; everything but our understanding and sympathy, everything but our intelligence and scientific knowledge.

Properly conceived, the prison should be our special means of redemption. It should be a healing ground for both the spirit and the body, where the unsocial should be socialized, the weak strengthened, the ignorant educated, the thwarted made to grow; where a kind of resetting takes place for the tasks of life, and where the strength to meet responsibility is returned to those who have lost it and awakened in those in whom it has remained dormant; a place where the joy of living and laboring is born anew. Crime is a consequence. It is not a cause. We are responsible for its existence.


‘The first thing is politic, — just politic, that is it, — just politic. You get a Republican and maybe he is a good sucker, and then in a year or two you get a Democrat, and he is a bad one, or the other way around.’

One of the others interposed: ‘Jimmy is right. He knows what he is talking about. Why not make the prison like a business, where you pick the right man and let him stay as long as he makes good.’

Here Jimmy broke in: ‘Let him stay—I tell you it’s all politic.’

We were sitting around the large stove in the yard of Auburn Prison, talking about prison problems. The stove, a large field range, was surrounded by about thirty prisoners, who were busily cooking extras. Some were frying pancakes, some broiling steaks, some were cooking tomato soup, and a group of Italians was preparing spaghetti. While this was going on, others were feasting on the food already prepared, mostly seated on the ground in groups of three or four, with boxes as improvised tables. There was chattering and good-humor the circle round. It was Saturday afternoon, and the men were out in the yard—eleven hundred men. While the group I was with busied itself about the stove, others were playing handball or checkers; still others were walking about the yard, talking. Some were sitting in the shade, reading; some, congregated in groups, were throwing horse-shoes. It was a busy, quiet, cheerful crowd.

I had been let loose in the yard to visit with the men—and had found many friends. I was told by the sergeant, a tall, broad-shouldered, red-headed, round-faced fellow, with large blue eyes and a quiet voice, a man possessed of enormous reserve powers, that this stove was one of the campaign pledges which this administration had promised to the men—the prisoners’ administration chosen at the last election. ‘We carried this pledge out, but the others have been more difficult. Our campaign pledges included the organization of an automobile class, a drawing class, and the stove. So far we have only one thing—the stove; and I say the boys enjoy it.’ That was quite obvious to me who had shared a large plate of spaghetti.

I had asked what, in their opinion, was the first need in prison and they had agreed: ‘Take politics out.’

That is a good place at which to begin. Professionalize penal administration. The ordinary warden is chosen for his political allegiance; a good political reason, that, but socially no reason at all. The prison problem looked at from the administrators’ point of view is a problem of education and health, complex and many-sided. It involves deep knowledge of human nature, insight into the complexities of social life, appreciation of the possibilities of personal growth and of human motives, willingness to face questions of sanitation, personal habits, hygiene, workmanship, and coöperation, in a careful, scientific, and deliberate fashion. It is not merely a job to hold down, but a problem—or, rather, a thousand problems, requiring analysis, examination, and experiment. A man, to be fitted for the job, — and ideally there is no such person, — approximately fitted, in spite of all the shortcomings of human weakness, must be the best-trained and best-prepared person in the field, and must have a broad basis of human sympathy and understanding.

The small henchman, from which class the average warden is recruited, is not an expert in anything, — least of all in education and health, — nor does he usually possess an imagination active enough to embrace the thousand opportunities in a prison field. He is usually ignorant. There is hardly a college man among the wardens of our penal institutions. I do not insist that a college education is in itself a full requisite; but it is, by and large, better than no education at all.

Let me illustrate by describing a typical warden. I first saw him in the death-house. He was standing near the electric chair, explaining its details to two old ladies—small and wrinkled, gray-haired, and both over sixty. He is a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a long head, large nose, big mouth, and large gorilla hands. He was explaining in great detail how the electric chair operates. With his sagging stomach and huge bulk, he stood, a giant, beside two white-faced, white-haired pigmies. He talked in broad drawling tones and he said, ‘The man’s head is fitted in here and strapped, the middle of it is shaved, the arms are strapped this way, and the feet here—with the trousers torn open for the current. The witnesses stand here, the reporters here, and the electrician stands here, with his hand on the switch. When all is ready and in good shape, I step forward and raise my hand,’ — pointing a long finger to his breast with an expansive gesture; ‘the electrician pulls the switch, and bump goes the man. And if he does not go bump, we do it over again.’

I watched his pantomime and listened to his recitation with amazement. A boy saying his prize piece before an admiring audience of elders could not have been more self-conscious, and better satisfied with himself. The little, old ladies were captivated by the show, and beamed. We walked into the prison proper, and while sauntering through the corridors, the warden spied a retreating figure in gray. Stretching out his long gorilla hand, he bellowed: ‘Hey, Willie, come back here.’

Willie was a half-witted prisoner. He was small, round and squatty, with a partly bald head, and a foolish grin, which stretched to his ears. He approached bashfully, with his eyes cast down.

‘Sing a song,’ bellowed the warden.

‘I don’t want to sing,’ appealed Willie.

‘’Sing I tell you.’ The warden’s voice was louder still, and more authoritative.

Willie opened his mouth, and in a cracked voice began the song, ‘Sweetie, my sweetie.’

The warden towered over him in all of his satisfied bulk. Willie had hardly begun, when a keeper in the next hall shouted, ‘Goddamn you, shut up in there!’

Willie hesitated a minute, glanced at the towering figure in front of him, and continued. The keeper, club in hand, rushed out of the next corridor, noticed the warden and the visitors, and scuttled off hastily. Later, in his office, the warden leaned back in his chair, his stomach protruding over the desk, lit a big black stogie, and said with a satisfied smile, ‘I treat my boys right.’ He does, according to his lights. He gives them moving pictures once a week.

Such a situation must be made impossible. A centre for the training of prison officials should be established. This school might best be situated near, or in conjunction with, some large penal institution, itself a model of modern administration, and no one should be appointed to a position of responsibility in prison unless he has a good collegiate education. In addition, a prison official should have taken special post-graduate courses in penal problems. No man should be a warden unless he is a certified and trained professional; just as no man is placed in charge of a hospital unless he is a graduate of a recognized medical school.


We must destroy the existing prison, root and branch. That will not solve our problem, but it will be a good beginning.

When I speak of the prison, I mean the mechanical structure, the instrument, the technique, the method which the prison involves. These must go by the board—go the way of the public stocks, the gibbet, and the rack. Obviously the penal problem will remain. That is here anyway. The prison does not solve the penal problem—it does not even contribute to the solution. It is only an aggravation. It is a complication the disease. It is a nuisance and a sin against our own intelligence. Let us substitute something. Almost anything will be an improvement. It cannot be worse. It cannot be more brutal and more useless. A farm, a school, a hospital, a factory, a playground—almost anything different will be better.

The suggestion for the destruction of the prison building is not revolutionary. It is not even novel. It is a practice of old standing, to keep prisoners outside of prisons; a practice not universal, but sufficiently widespread to justify the suggestion that it could be made universal without prejudice. In many prisons a number of the men are kept outside of the prison proper. Men building roads, men working on prison farms, trusties around the place, are often allowed to remain outside the walls—in some cases, hundreds of miles away from the prison, with only a guard or two. In the United States Naval Prison at Portsmouth, during the war, more than half the prison population lived in wooden barracks, surrounded by a small wire fence, and with only prison inmates for guards. In the South—Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana—the men live so much outside the prison that the old structure is useless and an anomaly. In Arkansas, for instance, I found that the prison, built to hold six hundred men, contained thirty—most of them condemned to death; the rest were away on a farm. Prison farms are not ideal, but they are an improvement on the old cell-block. Those who argue that the old prison, with its isolated cells, its narrow windows, its high walls, its constant dampness and semi-darkness, is essential to the proper handling of the prison population are simply revealing their own incompetence, fear, lack of insight into the technique of association. The old prison is a relic of a dead past. It is a hang-over; a weight, and a hindrance against the development of new methods and new ways.

An old prejudice dies hard, and the old prison building is an ingrained prejudice carved out of stone. It is saturated with the assumption that criminals are desperate, vicious, sin-ridden, and brutal beings, who needs must be confined in buildings founded on despair and made strong against the craving for freedom; that man is incorrigible and hard, and that hardness and pain are his proper due. But all of this is mainly prejudice. The men in prison are unfortunate rather than vicious, weak rather than bad. They need attention rather than neglect, understanding rather than abuse, friendship rather than isolation. Those who would redeem the community from constantly sinning against the prisoner must achieve this new attitude toward the man behind the bars. The buildings are by-products of our prejudice. That is the first thing that must be battled against.

This hang-over is still so strong, that there are at present two prison buildings being constructed out of newly chiseled stone. The stone is new and white, the plans are penciled upon paper still unspoiled; but the spirit, the idea, the belief, the ideology, in which these buildings are being reared, are old, worm-ridden, petrified. But they are being constructed. Two of the largest states in the union—Pennsylvania and Illinois—are constructing them, spending millions of dollars upon a useless and condemned type of institution.

The Pennsylvania structure is simply a modern adaptation of the old cell-block type; essentially the same thing, but with new trappings. The building in Illinois is of greater pretensions. It is reputed to be escape-proof, and is hailed as a model of modern ingenuity. As a matter of fact, it is not new at all. It is an old idea. Jeremy Bentham, in 1792, suggested it under the entertaining title of ‘Panopticon,’ and described it as a ‘mill for grinding rogues honest, and idle men industrious.’ In its modern form, I tis a circular structure containing some five hundred cells. It is built so that there is air and sunshine in every one of them. Its unique feature is that one prison guard can watch the population of the whole building all of the time. Placed in the centre of the structure, like the hub of a wheel, raised about three stories, protected by iron walls and a closing trap-door, he can control all the cells from his point of observation.

More than that, eh can look into all the cells all night and all day. The cells are made of glass and iron, and he can see straight into them, and watch each and every movement that any man makes at any time. There is to be no escape from watchfulness. That is what the guard is there for. The men are never to be themselves. There is to be no privacy. In the old days you could get away from the hard look of the keeper for a while. You were counted frequently, it is true, but the keeper did not stand in front of your door and stare into your cell the twenty-four hours of the day. He added you up and walked on, and you could hear his footsteps go down the aisle, hear his numbering grow faint with distance, and know that for a time you were free from observation. The little trafficking, the passing of a contraband note, the exchange of a little tobacco, the quiet whispered conversation—all of these then began again and made prison life endurable. To be eternally watched is maddening. Now, there is to be no escape from the watchful, suspicious, hard look, which questions every one of hard look, which questions every one of your motions and is doubtful of every one of your attitudes: now the look will never waver, and the prisoner will feel a hole burning through his back even in his most serene moments. This what we are being offered in the name of reform. And millions of dollars are being spent upon it.

A large tract of land, a big farm, small barracks, plenty of sunshine and air, and the money for education and for health, for the building of character—these are substitutes for the raising of useless and perverting stone and iron cages, where men may confuse their equals for deeds which they themselves might have committed if placed in their fellows’ circumstances. Professionalization of prison administration and the destruction of the present prison buildings are essentials in any programme for prison reform. But they are only beginnings.


As important as these, and in some ways more fundamental, is the abandonment of the notion of punishment. Punishment is immoral. It is weak. It is useless. It is productive of evil. It engenders bitterness in those punished, hardness and self-complacency in those who impose it. To justify punishment, we develop false standards of good and bad. We caricature and distort both our victims and ourselves. They must be all black, we all white; if not, how could we impose upon others what we would not admit as applicable to our own flesh and blood. But that is not true. The difference between us and them is mainly relative and accidental; and, where real, it is a difference which may be rooted in ill health, in broken spirit, in a deformed temper, in a neglected childhood, in bad habits, in lack of education.

The penal department—the department set aside for punishment—must be eliminated from our state organization. The function of the state should be, not to punish, but to educate. The place of the penal department ought to be taken by a new bureau, dedicated to health, education, and industry—entrusted to experts in these respective fields.


The prison is a great equalizer. All men are fit for it—all they need is to break the law. That done, one is stamped as a criminal, and all criminals are sent to similar places; as if all crimes were alike, and as if all men who committed them were cast in the same mould. There is practically no classification, no examination, no distribution, no elimination—break the law, and you are fit to abide with all men, who have done the same, be the mood and temper as varied as the shadows that creep over the earth.

But men are not alike. They do not commit crimes for similar reasons, even if their crimes are the same. Yet often the old and the young, the weak and the strong, the normal and the erratic, the unfortunate and the vicious, the near insane and the psychopaths, all are herded together. Like the old workhouse, which contained the adolescent and the senile, the vagrant and the felon, the epileptic and the maniac, so the modern prison is an open mouth for all whom we cast aside out of the highways and byways of the world.

One of the essentials of any programme of prison reform is disintegration of the prison population. A general centre for examination and classification of the men and women who are convicted must be provided, and the various groups weeded out and sent to institutions fitted for them. The imbecile, the psychopath, the maniac, the diseased, need not and should not be housed with the healthy and the normal. New York State is now building an institution for the examination and classification of men convicted of crime. Such an institution ought to find its place in the scheme of every state that undertakes to deal with penal problems in a scientific and broadly liberal spirit.


With the reorganization of control and the proper grouping of the prison population should go a fundamental attempt to face the problem of health—using the word in its broadest sense. The average prison has a poorly equipped medical department. The prison is often dirty, unsanitary; the food is often poor, the ventilation old fashioned and insufficient, and the health activities inadequate. The doctor, instead of being the independent and self-assertive individual whom the prison environment needs, is often but a tool of the warden, and remains there at his pleasure. He is usually held in general contempt by the prisoners, and has the unenviable name of Dr. Pill (because a pill is supposed to be his cure for all complaints). A distinctly new attitude to the problem must be developed. The physical condition of the men coming into the institution should be carefully examined into, as many come there with diseased bodies, with old festering sores, with bad teeth; some of the men need minor operations, others general rehabilitation; ill health often lies at the root of their failure. There are only a few institutions about which one can speak favorably in this regard—and one of these is San Quentin prison. There one finds a really definite and sincere effort to face the health problem, and a doctor, in charge who might well be the boast of any institution.


Work is a problem in prison. It is an unsolved problem. The prisons are not only houses of bad temper and bad humor, but they are often houses of idleness. It is no exaggeration to say that about one third of the men in prison are idle. They sit about in houses of indolence and sloth, they lie around in their cells, locked up with nothing but futility for company, or they loaf in the prison-yard. Those who work are also idling. There is no incentive to labor. There is no stimulus to do a good job, there is no joy in the work done. The machinery is antiquated, the management bad, the product poor. The men do not like the work, they do not learn anything while doing it, and are literally unpaid for their labor. It is slave labor. It is not free. It is not interesting. It is not remunerative. It is done under compulsion, in fear and brooding. Not more than one or two persons, Stillwater for instance, are comparable in their industrial equipment to the ordinary factory where similar work is done; and the men are assigned to their tasks without regard to their aptitude, and without any attempt to discover their interests. The results are poor all around. The institutions with a few exceptions, are not self-supporting; the men do not earn any money; the work is badly done. In some institutions the men get nothing for their labor, in some a cent and a half per day, in some two, or four cents. There are a few men in a very few men in a very few institutions who earn as high as a dollar and more per day, but these are highly exceptional.

If we are ever to escape from the unfortunate condition in which our penal institutions find themselves, we must reorganize the prison industries, provide work that may become the basis of a trade in the world outside, and pay the men for their work. Pay them what they earn, and make earning possible. Give some basis for zest and interest, for ambition and motive. Give them an opportunity to support their families and keep their home ties alive. There is no need to rob a man of his earning capacity just because we have found it necessary to take his freedom of movement from him. It serves no purpose but to kill ambition, to develop laziness, to engender bad habits, to destroy workmanship where it existed, to kill the joy of life, and to return men to the world less fitted to face its hardships and meet its problems than they were before being committed for violation of the law. A little imagination, a little good-will, a little interest, a little freedom from the interferences of the politician, and the whole thing could be readjusted and made to fit in a new and better way than it has ever done before; but this cannot be without a fundamental educational reorganization of the prison. The proper kind of education is one of the central needs of the prison problem.


Imprisonment is negative. It takes all. It gives nothing. It takes from the prisoners every interest, every ambition, every hope; it cuts away, with a coarse disregard for personality, all that a man did and loved, all his work and his contacts, and gives nothing in return. It is this that makes education so essential. Education is always a challenge. It is constructive. To educate is to give something. It is to give the means to a new life, a new interest, a new ambition, a new trade, a new insight, a new technique, a new love, a drawing out of self, a forgetfulness of one’s failings, and the raising of new curtains—the means to self-discovery.

All of this is a novel undertaking for the prison. Education is a charm and challenge—not only a means to a better livelihood, but also a means to a better life. It is not only what the man learns that is important, but what happens to the man while learning. One cannot acquire a new skill, develop a new interest, be brought into contact with a world of new ideas, without becoming different—essentially different—in one’s reactions to the world about one, and in one’s demands of it.

There is no systematic educational effort in the American prison system. The warden is not often interested in education. Being himself usually unlettered, it is probably too much to expect that he should be. As one goes across the country, from prison to prison, the situation is almost heart-rending. Here are some hundreds and thousands of men, who have years of their lives to give to education, but are denied the opportunity. It is true, of course, that most prisons have what they call education; but that word is used to describe the teaching of the three R’s to illiterates, and upon occasion an insistence that the men complete the sixth, and more rarely the eighth, grade.

But even this teaching is poorly done, in a bad spirit, and under poor organization. What one finds beyond that is little enough. Education is often frowned upon, and made impossible. I remember one poor fellow telling me, with tears in his eyes, that he wanted to take a course in mechanical drafting from a correspondence school, but this was not allowed because a man could write only one letter a month, and that on a single sheet of paper. It is true, of course, that here and there one finds a few prisoners taking correspondence courses, but it is rare, and always much boasted of.

There is only one institution which has undertaken to face the problem seriously, and that is San Quentin. San Quentin is not a model prison. It has many faults. But its health and educational activities are real contributions to the prison problem. There I found a genuine interest in education, and an ambition to attempt the experiment of turning the prison into an educational institution. Some nine hundred men were registered in eleven hundred individual courses. The chaplain who is in charge of the work, has, with the coöperation of the University of California, made a genuine beginning of what is the most interesting and promising educational experiment in the American prison. He has succeeded in building up a staff of inmates as assistants, and the University provides an occasional lecturer. The work was in full progress, and gave evidence of much enthusiasm.

This undertaking is valuable and significant, but it does not meet the needs of education in prisons. The courses were mostly cultural in character. History, economics, literature, mathematics, and similar topics—with shorthand and typewriting well to the front, and one course in mechanics. All this, of course, has its value. But the men in prison are not essentially adapted to academic training, and can make little use of it.

What the men need, and what the prison needs, is something different, and something new in educational work—new, at least, so far as the prison is concerned. The prison must be viewed as a community—with manifold community problems and with much community work. Such a turning of attention upon the prison as a community provides a wide field of educational activity and interest, and would lay the foundation of trades and knowledge that could be used in the work-a-day world when the men were freed.

Work in prison should be made to have educational value. There are the problems of sanitation, of heating, of feeding, of clothing the men. All kinds of work find a place in the prison, from upkeep to production; and prison, from upkeep to production; and prison education must be so organized as to provide a professional interest in and knowledge of the work done. There is, for instance, kitchen work. It is difficult to maintain an efficient and interested kitchen staff. It does not appeal to the men. Most of them are not going to follow this profession after they are released. The cooking is bad and the sanitation worse.

Professionalize the work. Give it an intellectual and scientific setting. Organize a course in dietetics in connection with your kitchen; teach the value and composition of the various foods, their preparation, the whole question of health as bound up with food, the origins of the various foods, their market—in fact, give all that can be given which has a bearing upon the problem and method of feeding many people. Give all the science, from chemistry to physiology, which would go to make the work interesting, intelligible and valuable as a means of livelihood outside; and, not to be forgotten, which would go to increase the efficiency, the interest and the willingness of the men in prison. This same method could be followed in all work done in the prison; and no work which cannot be done with this kind of educational programme should be permitted.

There is the problem of lighting a prison. Make the electrical apparatus and the electrical needs of the prison the basis for an extensive course in electrical engineering. Give the men all that is possible about the subject—give them something for their time. There are the men working in the boiler room—give them such knowledge of physics, of heating methods, of coal, of the properties of steam, of the organization of the heating-plant, of boiler construction, of the mechanics involved, as would help them to a good job in the world outside, and make them interested and efficient men inside.

Take such a prosaic thing as the making of clothing, of shoes. Organize a course in designing; in the properties of cloth, or leather; in the nature of modern machinery; in the character of the clothing-market, in the organization of the industry; permit individuals to specialize as their aptitude makes it possible.

Almost every prison has a chicken farm of some kind. Organize, in connection with that, a course in poultry—the feeding, raising, marketing, and care of chickens; the construction of coops; the proper care of incubators, and their types; the diseases of poultry and their prevention. This could be done with the farm as a whole, and with fruit-raising. The piggery could be put to similar use. The dairy could be made the basis of a course in dairy-farming, the care of cows, how to judge them—everything connected with the problem of a scientific dairy could and should be given.

Again, there are such things as painting the prison or the barns—the nature of paints, their proper mixing, their chemistry, the estimates involved, and all other things essential. The same method could be followed with road-construction: grading, machinery, materials used, and other aspects of road-work could be studied in the course dealing with this subject.

Such an educational system would return tenfold in the efficiency resulting, in the interest and good-humor and the new outlook upon life which it would create. A new technique involves a re-orienting of the whole individual to his own and other people’s problems. Such training should be compulsory, — just as the work is, — and should be considered a part of the work.

Of course, none of this involves the elimination of the purely cultural courses, but it does involve an emphasis upon this particular type of education and an attempt to give ordinary prison-work the educational value which it lacks. It must be remembered that the men are there for many years, and that there is the time and the opportunity for such an undertaking, lacking in the world outside. And if the men are in prison because of lacking of adaptability, such education would prove an efficacious means to readjustment, to the development of character, and to raising the level of initiative and the increase of insight into the problems of the world.


It is not possible in a single article to cover all of the needs for a proper prison technique. At best, one can suggest only the most important things. But, before closing, I wish to discuss three more points that should go into any prison programme. The indeterminate sentence, parole, and self-government.

The indeterminate sentence is essential to prison reform. It is stupid to assume that a flat sentence is a proper way of settling the question of crime. As one boy put it to me, ‘Why don’t they gas us, or something. They vie us a young kid of nineteen or twenty, fifteen, twenty, and sometimes thirty years. What for? What good does it do? Do they think we will be better for having rotted for a lifetime? Do they think that we will be reformed! If they want to get rid of us, why don’t they just gas us and put us out of the way!’

The indeterminate sentence suggests that a man sentenced to prison be released, not when an artificial time-period, imposed by a judge in some passing humor, has expired, but when he is fit to return to society. Such a basis of release, to be made possible, would call for the adoption of all the suggestions made in this paper, and, in particular, the educational system. That might well become the best, and certainly an essential, basis of judgment in any release under an indeterminate sentence law. I am speaking of the absolute indeterminate sentence as against the minimum-maximum sentence now in vogue in many states.

With this, or before this can become a universal practice, there should be a much broader development of the parole system. There are many men in prison who ought not remain there a day longer—who ought never to have been sent there. Their release is impossible because of the arbitrary demands of the law, that a certain legal infraction carry a particular time-punishment. In going across the country, I asked the wardens with whom I came in contact the same question: ‘Your present parole system proves that somewhere between 70 and 95 per cent of the men paroled ‘make good.’ You parole about 10 per cent of your inmates each year. In five years you will have paroled 50 per cent. If, instead of waiting five years, you released that 50 per cent right away, would you have just as good results?’

The answer was, almost always, ‘Yes, I think we would.’

As I proceeded, I became bolder and, when I found a particularly intelligent warden, I asked him the same question, but made it 75 rather than 50 per cent. He reflected a few seconds, and said, ‘I think 75 per cent is pretty high, but I feel sure that we could release 50 per cent of our inmates on parole to-night, and get just as good results as we are getting with the 10 per cent that we release during the year.’ On the testimony of the prison wardens themselves, one half of the prison population could be released without proportionately endangering the safety of the community. And every man kept in prison a day longer than the interests of the community demand means an unnecessary cruelty against a helpless individual.


This leads to my last point: community organization. Community organization in prison is Mr. Osborne’s contribution to the subject of prison reform. It is fundamental. Without it no real solution of the problem is possible. It is the one essential element in any programme, and without it all reforms are bound to result in failure. There is a peculiar drive in prison administration under autocratic management, which tends toward abuse, toward cruelty and indifference. Self-government is necessary for the men, but also for the officials.

The testimony of such an experienced warden as Mr. Moyer, former Warden of Atlanta and the present Superintendent of the District of Columbia Penal System, that self-government is a great help to the prison administrator cannot be disregarded. And anyone who has seen it in practice knows its value as a means toward spiritual growth for the men. Those who deny this, who look upon it as a fad, who help to destroy Mr. Osborne’s work, do not understand what they are doing.

In Portsmouth prison the Mutual Welfare League, the instrument for self-government, was discarded, despite the fact that for four years under Mr. Osborne, and later under Commodore Wadhams, self-government had proved a blessing to the men confined, an experience and education which started many an inmate upon a better and happier life than could have been possible under any other penal system. Those who destroy this new movement are of the past; their minds are prejudiced and their hearts filled with fear. For it is fear and prejudice that stand aghast at attempted community organization in prison; at attempts to give to the men behind the bars a part of the responsibility for solving the manifold problems which a prison imposes, and which have never been solved so well, so humanely, so cleanly, as under Mr. Osborne’s administration.