Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III.: OF SEPARATION AS BETWEEN THE SEXES. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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SECTION III.: OF SEPARATION AS BETWEEN THE SEXES. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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OF SEPARATION AS BETWEEN THE SEXES.
In all plans of penitentiary discipline, the distribution of the prisoners into classes is a point that has been more or less attended to. In this classification, the object regarded as most important has been the separation of the sexes. In the present plan, provision for that purpose has not been neglected. On this head, as on most others, the provision made must be governed in some degree by the peculiar structure of the building. The means employed in buildings of the ordinary form have little or no application here.
Two modes of effecting the separation offer themselves at first view. The one is, to provide for female convicts a building and an establishment entirely separate: the other is, to allot to this purpose, if the same building is employed for both sexes, at least a separate ward. The unfrugality is an objection that applies with more or less force to both these expedients.
It applies with particular force to the case of a building and establishment altogether separate. The numbers to be provided for being variable, a fixed provision must ever be attended with a loss. The fluctuation to which the total number of prisoners, male and female taken together, is liable, is a distinct object, for which, upon this plan, provision has been already made. But the proportion between males and females is equally liable to vary and to fluctuate. Provide two establishments, one for males and a separate one for females: the one may be comparatively empty, while the other overflows; at the same time that no relief can be afforded by the superabundance of room in the one, to the deficiency of it in the other.‡
The same inconvenience will still obtain in a greater or less degree, in the case of separate wards. Whatsoever be the proportion fixed, cells will be vacant in one part, while they are wanting in the other.
The best arrangement, were the numbers such as to need it, and the proportions suitable, might be to have three Penitentiary Panopticons; one always filled with males, another always filled with females, and a third to receive, in such proportions as accident furnished, the overflowings of the other two. The difficulty here in question having no place in either of the unmixed establishments, I proceed here on the supposition of a mixed one.
Conceive such a Panopticon divided into two sides: that on the right of the entrance I call the male side; that on the left the female. For the male side, I provide as many male inspectors as shall be found requisite; adding, at least, one female, whom I style the matron, for the female side. To each sex I allot a separate staircase, running from top to bottom. No female is ever to set foot on any part of the male staircase: no male on any part of the female. Neither is any male, in passing from his cell to the male staircase, to pass by any of the women’s cells: he is to come round to the male staircase, however distant: and so, vice versa, in regard to females.
Supposing females enough to occupy the whole female side of two stories of cells, thus far there is no difficulty. I place them in the lower pair of cells, subjected to inspection from the main or lower story of the inspection-tower, viz. that which is underneath the chapel, and in which the annular inspector’s gallery incloses a circular inspector’s lodge. The left-hand semicircle of the whole circuit, lodge, and inclosing gallery together, I allot to the matron, with her female assistant or assistants, if such should be found necessary. The right-hand I appropriate to the male inspector with his subordinates. In the lodge, a moveable screen marks their respective territories. In the encircling gallery, a similar screen or a curtain answers the same purpose.*
As far as sight is concerned, two pieces of canvas, hung parallel to each other at about 18 inches distance (the thickness of the partition-walls of the cells) across the intermediate area and the cell-gallery, will serve effectually enough to cut off from the prisoners of each sex all view of those of the other, even where the cells are contiguous. In regard to conversation, the males on the one side the separation-wall, and the females on the other, must respectively be prohibited from approaching within a certain distance of the end of that wall; that is, from approaching within that distance of their respective grates: and to enforce the observance of this prohibition, as well as to save the parties from unintentional transgression, a moveable interior grate, or lattice-work, very slight and very open, or netting, may be placed within each of the two cells at the requisite distance from the main grate.†
As far as hearing is concerned, the separation, it is evident, would be effected in a manner still more simple and effectual, if between the males on the one side and the females on the other, a whole cell could be left vacant. If, then, the numbers are such as to leave any such vacant cells, the vacancy will of course be left in the spot where it answers the purpose of separation. Should the number of cells occupied by females be even, but less than the number contained in the female side of two stories of cells, the mode of effecting the separation is almost equally simple. The set of moveable partitions must be shifted accordingly, viz. the curtains crossing respectively the inspector’s gallery, the intermediate area at that height, and the cell-gallery, and the screen which separates the matron’s side from the male side of the lodge.
If the number of female cells, though still even, should be greater than as above, two modes of making provision for it present themselves. One is, to enlarge the matron’s side of that floor at the expense of the male inspector’s, as the latter was, on the former supposition, enlarged at the expense of the former: the other is, to leave the division even, and take what farther cells are requisite for females from a higher pair of cells; parting off the corresponding part of the inspection-gallery, the annular-well, and the cell-galleries, as before.
Is the number of cells an uneven one? The mode of effecting the separation is again somewhat different, though still scarcely less obvious than before. In this case, the female part in one of the stories of a pair of stories of cells would extend further than in the other: hang the separation-curtain in the annular area as you please, a female cell must be exposed to the view of a male inspector, or a male cell to that of a female one. To obviate this irregularity, one of the cells must be left vacant. If the number on the establishment should be short of the full complement, it would be only leaving the vacancy here, instead of elsewhere: if it should have the full complement, or more, the inhabitants of the vacant cell must be turned over to other cells, which will thus be in the case already explained of having a super-complement.
On the sunk story, from which the exit is into the yards, and in particular at the exit, the separation is still more perfectly effected, and more easily managed. A single piece of canvas, let fall from the inspector’s bridge across the intermediate area, does the business at once.
Here may perhaps occur, as a disadvantage, what, on a general survey, appeared in the light of an advantage—that each inspector, over and above the perfect view he has of his own pair of cells, has a partial view of all the others in the same pile. Hence it will be observed, that notwithstanding the precautions above detailed, a male inspector will have some view of a female cell; and vice versa, though it be less material, a female inspector will have a similar view of a male cell. The answer is, that the boundary line, viz. that at which a prisoner begins to be visible to an inspector in the gallery above or below the one belonging to the cell in question, will appear in practice beyond danger of mistake. Within this line, which may be sufficiently defined by a very simple mark, such as a rope hung across, the female prisoners may be warned and enjoined to confine themselves at stated portions of the twenty-four hours; for in regard to such an imperfect and distant view, decency is the only consideration that makes it very material to place the female part of the prisoners so completely out of sight of the male part of the inspectors: and it is only to certain times and certain occasions that the laws of that virtue will in such a case apply. The imperfect view from a superior or inferior story of the inspection-part is in few instances so extensive but that a female prisoner, in dressing herself, for example, or undressing herself, may be perfectly out of the reach of a male inspector’s eye; and in those few instances, provision may be made, either by leaving of vacancies, or by interposition of screens, in manner already mentioned. All this while, what must not be forgotten is, that a female prisoner cannot be exposed in a manner ever so imperfect to the eye of a male inspector, without being exposed in a much greater degree to the observation of one of her own sex; a circumstance which affords sufficient security against any voluntary trespasses against decency that might be committed by a female prisoner, through impudence, or in the design of making an improper impression upon the sensibility of an inspector of the other sex.
The same consideration will serve to obviate an objection which the slightness of the partitions that separate the male from the female side of the inspection-tower might suggest. The great object in regard to the separation of the sexes is that between prisoners and prisoners; and that object is completely provided for. As to what concerns prisoners on the one hand and inspectors on the other, it is only at certain times that the female prisoners need, or even ought, to be out of all view of male inspectors; at other times, the utmost that can be requisite is, that they should not be exposed to the view of the inspectors of the opposite sex, without being at the same time exposed, in at least equal degree, to those of their own. Neither of these objects is more than what an ordinary attention to discipline is sufficient to insure.
A due attention to the same considerations of time and circumstance will be sufficient to insure the same regard to decency in that part of the discipline which concerns the inspection of the external yards. While the female convicts are taking their air and exercise at one of the walking-wheels, an inspector of the opposite sex, especially at the distance at which he is placed in the look-out, is as unexceptionable as one of their own. When bathing is to be performed by females, it is in a yard into which no prisoner of the other sex need ever set foot, and exposed to no other inspection than that of a female inspector occupying her quarter in the look-out; or, if necessary, the times of bathing might be different for the different sexes, and each inspector might in his turn give place to the other, quitting the look-out altogether.
The good Howard expresses himself much distressed to know what to do about making a choice between the sexes for the management of a penitentiary-house for females.* Female rulers might want firmness: in male ones, probity and impartiality might be warped by the attraction of female eyes. The panopticon principle dispels this, as well as so many other difficulties. Among the prisoners, a coalition between the sexes would be an abuse; among the inspectors, it is a remedy against abuse. The weakness of the matron would find a support in the masculine firmness of the governor and his subordinates: a weakness of a different kind, on the male side of the establishment, would find its proper check and corrective in the vigilance of matronly severity. As to the matron and her subordinates of her own sex, it is not surely too much to assume, that for these stations individuals will be chosen, to whom age as well as character have given an authority not to be shaken by any such improper influence. The mixed inspection, let it be observed, I suppose to be simultaneous: if alternate only, the check would have little force. The male ruler would have carte blanche while out of the eye of his female colleague.
Must the iron law of divorce maintain throughout the whole of so long a term an unremitted sway? Can the gentle bands of wedlock be in no instance admitted to assuage the gripe of imprisonment and servitude? Might not the faculty of exchanging the first-allotted companion, for another far otherwise qualified for alleviating the rigours of seclusion, be conceded, without violation of the terms, or departure from the spirit of the sentence? Might not the prospect of such indulgence be an incentive to good behaviour, superadded to all that punishment can give? These are questions to which a humane manager would surely be glad to find (and why need he despair of finding?) a fit answer on the lenient side.
[‡ ]The colonization plan, if it is to go on, and if it is to be consistently pursued, will add a factitious cause of variation to the above-mentioned natural ones. The average number of female convicts is in a large proportion inferior to that of the males. According to the penitentiary act, it should be at the most only as one to six, since, in the penitentiary-house, among 900 prisoners there were to have been only 300 females to 600 males, and there have always been more than twice 900 males on board the hulks. Were the whole number of females without exception sent to colonize, the number would therefore still remain far short of being adequate to the purpose. As far as concerned the female sex, the only use of a penitentiary panopticon would be to keep them during the interval between one colonizing expedition and another. At one time, then, it may contain hundreds; at another time, none, unless it be the case of married women whose husbands were not comprised under a similar sentence. I know of no case that would afford an exception:—not that of women past child-bearing; not that of those in whom that faculty had suffered a premature extinction; especially as in the latter case the matter of fact does not admit of being ascertained. Even were population out of the question, women would be of indispensable necessity for society and service. In such a situation, everything in the shape of a woman is inestimable. Here a crowd of reflections present themselves, which however must be dismissed, as not being to the present purpose.
[* ]It is scarce necessary to observe, that screens and curtains, and other such moveable partitions intended as obstacles to sight, must be double, or may be single, according to circumstances. Where the eye meant to be eluded can gain a near approach, they must be double; otherwise a slit or a pin-hole would be sufficient to frustrate the design: when such approach is not to be apprehended, a single screen answers the purpose.
[† ]It must have a door of the same materials, with a lock to it, corresponding to the door of the exterior grate.
[* ]On Lazarettos, p. 225.