Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: Means of Safe-custody. - Prisons and Prison Discipline
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II.: Means of Safe-custody. - James Mill, Prisons and Prison Discipline 
Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825).
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Means of Safe-custody.
I. We shall consider, first of all, what is the best combination of means for safe-custody. Dungeons and fetters are the expedient of a barbarous age. In respect of prisons, as of every thing which comes within the precincts of law, the expedients of a barbarous age are, with great industry, retained in those which are civilized. They are, indeed, preserved with a success which, if it were not experienced, would be altogether incredible. As the expedients of a barbarous age still exist in many other arrangements for the purposes of law, so it is but of yesterday that the prisons of our forefathers have been regarded as fit for reform; or that the means which those sages in their ancestorial wisdom devised for attaining the ends of imprisonment were supposed capable of being altered for the better, by their less instructed sons.
It is at last, however, allowed, that inspection is a means for safe custody, which renders unnecessary all but very ordinary means of any other description. Thus, so long as a man is, and knows that he is, under the eyes of persons able and willing to prevent him, there is very little danger of his making an attempt, which he sees would be vain, to effect a breach in the wall, or force open the door, of his cell. Any great strength, therefore, in such wall or door, or fetters upon any part of his body, are wholly unnecessary, since the attempts are sure of not being made, or of being instantly frustrated.
The plan of a prison, in which the power of inspection is rendered so complete, that the prisoner may be, and cannot know but that he is, under the eyes of his keepers, every moment of his time, a plan which we owe to General Bentham, so universally known for his mechanical genius, is described by his brother, in his work entitled Panopticon, or Inspection House; where also a system of management is delineated, and its principles are expounded, so perfectly, that they who proceed in this road, with the principle of utility before them, can do little else than travel in his steps.
An idea of the contrivance may be conveyed in a few words. It is a circular building, of the width of a cell, and of any height; carried round a space, which remains vacant in the middle. The cells are all open inwards, having an iron grating instead of a wall, and, of course, are visible in every part to an eye properly placed in the vacant space. A narrow tower rises in the middle of that space, called the inspection tower, which serves for the residence of the keepers, and in which, by means of windows and blinds, they can see without being seen; the cells, by lights properly disposed, being capable of being rendered as visible by night as by day.
Thus, we have provision for safe custody; and along with it, five other important purposes are gained. First of all, there is great economy; the vast expense of thick, impenetrable walls, being rendered unnecessary. Secondly, All pretence for subjecting prisoners to the torture and degradation of irons is taken away. Thirdly, No misbehaviour of the prisoners can elude observation, and instant correction. Fourthly, No negligence, or corruption, or cruelty, on the part of the subordinate agents in the prison, can escape the view of their principals. And, Fifthly, No misconduct towards the prisoners, on the part of their principals, can remain unknown to the public, who may obtain a regulated admittance into the inspection tower, and regulated communication with the prisoners.
The persons who are liable to be in prison, for safe-custody merely, are of three classes: First, Persons apprehended, and about to be put on their trial, for the commission of a crime: Secondly, Persons convicted of a crime, and about to receive their punishment: and, Thirdly, Debtors.
Under a good system of law, very little provision would need to be made for these cases. It is one of the essential properties of a good system of law to permit as little time as possible to intervene between the apprehension and trial, and between the conviction and punishment, of a person for a crime. There would never, therefore, be many such persons in any prison at a time. And under a good system of law, there never would be any body in a prison on account of debt.* This is mentioned merely to show how little, under a good system of law, the apparatus and expense of a separate prison, for this set of cases, would be wanted.
These persons being inmates of a prison, for insuring their presence merely, the question is, What treatment they ought to receive?
Persons in prison before trial, and debtors, are persons of whom nothing is certainly known, but that they are unfortunate. They are, therefore, entitled to all the benevolence which is due to the unfortunate.
What is done for them in a prison must, however, be done at the expense of the community, that is, by sacrifices demanded of those who are not in prison; and those sacrifices ought, undoubtedly, to be the smallest possible. The question is, therefore, to be settled by a compromise between the principle of benevolence, and the principle of economy.
The principle of benevolence undoubtedly requires that the health of the prisoners should not be impaired; for this, importing the premature loss of life, is in reality the punishment of death, inflicted upon those to whom no punishment is due.
That health may not be impaired, three things are indispensable:—1. A wholesome apartment; 2. A sufficiency of wholesome food; 3. Sufficient clothing.
The principle of economy, with equal certainty, exacts, that all those should be of the cheapest kind.
All this is abundantly clear. It is equally clear, that, with respect to those who are in prison for safe custody merely, the principle of benevolence requires, and the principle of economy does not forbid, that they should be free to use any indulgence, which costs nothing, or which they provide for themselves; and that no farther restraint should be placed upon their liberty than what the custody of their persons, and the rule of economy, which prescribes the limits and accommodations of the place, may demand.
Few words will be necessary to show what is appropriate to the case of the man, who is in prison during the interval between his sentence and his punishment.
By the supposition, in this case, his punishment is something distinct from his imprisonment; because, if not, it is a case which comes under another head, namely, that of persons who are in prison for the sake of punishment; and will be fully considered in another part of this discourse.
If he is in prison for detention merely, his punishment, as meted out and fixed by the judge, being something wholly separate, every particle of hardship imposed upon him, not necessary for his detention, is without law, and contrary to law; is as much injustice and a crime, when inflicted upon him, as if inflicted upon any other member of the community. The same considerations, which, as we found above, ought to regulate the imprisonment of debtors, and persons in custody before trial, namely, the compromise between the principle of benevolence and the principle of economy; apply, without the smallest difference, to the case of persons who, during the interval between their sentence and its execution, are in prison for the mere purpose of preventing their escape.
We foresee a difficulty, or rather an objection, for there is really no difficulty in the case.
Persons come into prisons, who have been accustomed, in the preceding part of their lives, to all degrees of delicate and indulgent living; to whom, therefore, the hard fare prescribed by the principle of economy will occasion very different degrees of uneasiness.
Such persons, when in prison for safe-custody merely (what is required when persons are in prison for punishment, or for reformation, will be seen hereafter), may be allowed to make use of any funds, which they may possess, for procuring to themselves all unexceptionable indulgences. They may be also allowed the exercise of any lucrative art, consistent with the nature of the prison, for procuring to themselves the means of such indulgences. This the principle of benevolence dictates, and there is nothing in the principle of economy which forbids it.
We shall be told, however, that there are persons, who have been accustomed to a delicate mode of living, and who come into prison without the command of any funds, or the knowledge of any art, by which they may soften the hardship of their lot: and we shall be asked what is the course which our philosophy recommends for the treatment of them? The course which it recommends is very clear. Such persons are paupers, and whatsoever treatment is fit for paupers, of the description to which they belong, is fit also for them. If there are any funds, to which as paupers they can apply, the application should be open to them. If there is not any, nor any person to whose benevolence they can resort, the effects of such a destitute situation must be sustained, the same way in a prison, as they must be, when any person falls into it, out of a prison.
[* ]If fraud were committed in contracting the debt, or if the property of others obtained by loan, had been dishonestly spent, or dishonestly risked, such fraud, or dishonesty, being crimes, not a debt, might justly subject a man to imprisonment, or any other sort of due punishment.