Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION IV.: OF SEPARATION INTO COMPANIES AND CLASSES. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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SECTION IV.: OF SEPARATION INTO COMPANIES AND CLASSES. - 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 INTO COMPANIES AND CLASSES.
A mode of separation according to a plan of division into classes, being exhibited in Plate III., something will be expected to be said in explanation of it.
As to this part, the draught had two objects: one was, to show in what manner the inspection principle might be applied in undiminished perfection to an uncovered area, and that without prejudice to any number of divisions, which, in what view soever, it might be found convenient to make in it: the other was, to show in what manner the mischiefs so much lamented by Howard and other prison reformers, as resulting from promiscuous association, might be diminished by a division of the prisoners into classes, accompanied by a local and physical separation correspondent to that ideal one.
Dissatisfied with the division into classes, though carried to a degree of improvement hitherto without example, I turned my thoughts to the preservation of the degree of seclusion observed in the distribution of the prisoners among the cells, viz. a division into small and regulated companies: and it was in the course of this inquiry that I hit upon the plan of airing, of which the marching parade is the scene.*
The mischiefs in question being, by means of this plan of airing, obviated, if I am not mistaken, as far as the nature of things will admit, all other plans which fall short of obviating those mischiefs in equal degree, and accordingly the above-mentioned plan of division into classes, are consequently superseded: in this one, therefore, of the two points of view above mentioned, the divisions exemplified in the draught are of no use.
A few additional observations, for the purpose of placing in the clearest light the relative eligibility of the several possible modes of disposing of prisoners in respect of society among themselves, may not be altogether ill bestowed.
The principal and most simple modifications of which the management in relation to this head is susceptible, stand expressed as follows:—
Of these courses, the first stands reprobated on all bands. The second I have rejected for the reasons given at large in Part I. Section 6. The third is that which I have preferred to the second, for the reasons given in the same section. The fourth is that which occurred to me at first as preferable to the first and second, but stands superseded by the third. The fifth is that established by the penitentiary act, and the plans which follow it, partly as it should seem for want of viewing the evil in its full magnitude, partly for want of knowing how to obviate it. The utmost improvement to which that system would naturally conduct is the exchange of this fifth mode for the seventh. The sixth is mentioned here only to complete the catalogue, its inutility being indicated by the same considerations which show the sufficiency of the third.
Companies and classes—where is the distinction?—Here: in companies, the numbers are determinate; in classes, indeterminate. In the plan represented by the draught, the classes, though more in number than have ever yet been discriminated, would still, in an establishment of any magnitude, be few: but though they were as numerous as the cells by the number of which that of the proposed companies is determined, the division according to classes would never coincide with or answer the purpose of the division into companies. Why? Because the number of individuals in each class being essentially indeterminate, some classes might be empty while others overflowed; and in those that overflowed, the number would consequently exceed the measure pitched upon as the greatest that could be admitted without departing from the ends in view.
Of the separation according to classes, as contradistinguished from the separation into companies secured as by the airing plan, the chief inconveniences are the two following: it leaves the convicts still, as we have seen, in crowds; and if pushed to any length, and carried into effect by separation-walls, it is proportionably attended with a great addition to the expense.*
That it leaves the prisoners in crowds is evident; for separation according to classes implies association as between individuals of the same class: of whom, though the separation resulting from the classification were to be carried ever so far, the numbers would still, as we have seen, be indeterminate.
Crowds, among men whose characters have undergone any sort of stain, are unfavourable to good morals. This property belongs to them independently of any mischievous communications that may result from the qualities of individuals. They exclude reflection, and they fortify men against shame. Reflection they exclude, by the possession they take of the attention, by the strength as well as variety of the impressions they excite, by the agitation which is the accompaniment of the incessant change. Their effect in hardening men against shame is not less conspicuous. Shame is the fear of the disapprobation of those with whom we live. But how should disapprobation of criminality display itself among a throng of criminals? Who is forward to condemn himself?—who is there that would not seek to make friends rather than enemies of those with whom he is obliged to live? The only public men care about is that in which they live. Men thus sequestered form a public of their own: their language and their manners assimilate: a lex loci is formed by tacit consent, which has the most abandoned for its authors; for in such a society, the most abandoned are the most assuming, and in every society the most assuming set the lead. The public thus composed sits in judgment over the public without doors, and repeals its laws. The more numerous this local public, the louder its clamour, and the greater the facility it finds of drowning whatever memory may be left of the voice of that public which is absent and out of view.
In the publications of Howard and other prison-reformers, two sorts of associations I observed, affording so many standing topics of regret: mixture of debtors with criminals; and mixture of the as yet unhardened with the most hardened and corrupted among criminals. Other associations might also here and there be noticed in the same view: such as that between minor delinquents and such classes of criminals whose offences were of the deepest dye; that between convicted and unconvicted criminals; and that between criminals under sentence of death, and others whose lot was less deplorable. But it was in the two instances first mentioned that the impropriety seemed to present itself in the most glaring colours.
In a penitentiary-house, one only of all these mixtures can come in question; viz. that between the hardened with the unhardened, the raw with the old offender.
Under the penitentiary act, and the plans of management that have been grounded on it, the condition of the prisoners alternates between the two opposite extremes: a state of absolute solitude during one part of the twenty-four hours; a state of promiscuous association in crowds during the remainder. This plan, it has been shown, unites the ill effects of solitude and association, without producing the good effects obtainable from the former. To vacant minds like these, a state of solitude is a state of melancholy and discomfort; which discomfort, by the perpetual recurrence of promiscuous association, is in the way of reformation useless. It is the history of Penelope’s web reversed: the work of the night is unravelled by the day.†
The distinctions observed in the formation of the classes will not be altogether lost: they will serve as guides in the formation of the companies. For this purpose, two rules present themselves:—1. Put not in the same company, corrupt and uncorrupted; 2. The more corrupt the individuals, the less numerous make the company. The choice as to numbers will be in general between four, three, and two: these considerations may serve to determine it.
As to the principles which determined the characters of the several classes, I took them from the source that all principles are naturally taken from—common opinion and the authority of others. This in the first instance: but for a definitive choice, I have done by them as I do by all principles, as far as time and faculties permit—I have subjected them to the test of utility. The bulk of them have stood this test; others have given way. The distinction between old offenders and raw offenders amongst males, and that between the dissolute and the decent among females, are in the former case: that between the daring and the quiet among males is in the latter.
As to the two distinctions adopted, I shall leave them on the same basis of common opinion on which I found them.
The other being rejected, something in the way of reason may be expected to account for the rejection. This reason will not be long to seek. Quiet or daring is a distinction that respects safe custody and obedience. But in a prison thus guarded, and under a government thus armed, the importance of this distinction vanishes altogether. From four—no, nor from four hundred, were they all loose together, and all Herculeses, could such an establishment have anything to fear: entrenched behind the surrounding wall—armed and invisible against the defenceless and exposed, a single female might bid defiance to the whole throng. The least number of rulers that could possibly be made to suffice for inspection and instruction, would be amply sufficient for mastery. As to obedience, it follows in the most perfect degree from the inability to hurt, the exposure to chastisement, and the absolute dependence in respect of the means of sustenance. In a situation like this, the distinction between the quiet and the daring is therefore obliterated, the most transcendent audacity being cut down to the scantling of quietness.
What misled me was the apprehension manifested in the common plans with regard to nocturnal escapes, and the anxiety not to suffer even two to be together during the night, notwithstanding the almost promiscuous association admitted of in the day. If, then, escape and rebellion, said I, are so much to be apprehended, the more daring the character of those who are left together, the greater the cause for apprehension; and if the quiet are left with the daring, the daring may corrupt them, and make them like themselves. True; but a number of men in whom the obnoxious quality is already in full vigour will be still more formidable than an equal number in a part of whom only it hath as yet taken place. Whatever, then, be the reason for separating the quiet from the daring, the reason is still stronger for separating the daring from each other. But in a place like this, audacity, be there more or less of it, must in any case be equally without effect. The distinction, therefore, is in every point of view of no use.
How different the case in the common plans of penitentiary management! Each cell is in its interior out of view of everything. Even supposing every prisoner separate, what turnkey or taskmaster could be sure of being an overmatch for each of them, and not only an overmatch at the long run, but secure against assault in the first instance? Suppose the prisoners in pairs, what two, or even what three, of their rulers, could look upon themselves as out of the reach of danger? Any man who has no regard for his own life is master of another’s. In this state of desperation, which unhappily is not without example, a few prisoners might be enough to clear a common prison of its rulers.
Housebreakers seemed to be the sort of criminals from whom, on every score, the worst was to be apprehended. They would naturally be among the most daring; they would be amongst the most skilful and experienced in mischief of all kinds, and in contrivances for escape. True; and the more formidable when single, the more dangerous, were there any danger in the case, if left in the company of each other. But what becomes of danger, from the most audacious and most skilful, even of housebreakers, where there is nothing to favour escape, and every thing to render it impossible?
Having brought the plan of seclusion thus far on in its way to perfection, let us see how far, and in what respects, it still falls short of the mark. Not far, I hope; nor will the distance afford an objection, if it be seen that a nearer approach would be impossible.
One cause of imperfection is, that among any two of the most experienced in mischief, neither perhaps, but might still find some new lesson of mischief to learn of the others. The tracts in which their experiences have respectively run, may happen to have been more or less different. Therefore, though but two of this description were left together, and the plan of mitigated seclusion by division into companies carried to its utmost; still it is not carried so far as could be wished.
Another is, the difficulty that may attend the ascertaining the character of the individual, and consequently the determination of the class to which he ought to be referred.
To the first objection, the answer is short. If this degree of seclusion be not sufficient, there is nothing beyond but absolute solitude. But the ineligibility of that plan has, I hope, been sufficiently made out.* Evil of absolute solitude is certain—it is immediate—it is intolerable—it is universal. Evil resulting from an association thus strictly limited is but contingent—it is remote—it is far from universal;—at the worst, it is not great. What does it amount to? that one of them may suggest to the other some trick he was not as yet master of. What if now and then such a thing should happen? Whatever communications are made in this way will be soon made; and the time in which it would be possible to turn them to account in the way of practice will not come for years. But of this enough has been said already.†
So much as to the suggestion of the means of mischief. Is the suggestion of incentives any more to be apprehended?—a material question; for if the propensity be out of the way, expedients and contrivances will die away of themselves. What should the corrupter insinuate? That there is no danger in guilt?—but the assertion is anticipated and disproved by the very fact of their being there. That there is pleasure in guilt?—but the pleasure is dead and gone: the punishment, that has sprung out of its ashes, is present in every tense; in memory, in sufferance, and in prospect. That shame does not flow from guilt?—they are steeped in it up to the lips: they have a scornful world to gaze at them, and each, but one, two, or at most three companions, to keep him in countenance.
What other corruptive theme should come upon the carpet? Debauchery?—it is not practicable; no, not in any shape: checks unsurmountable; instruments and incentives none.
Profaneness?—nor that neither. Profaneness has clamour for its natural associate: separated from this concomitant, it loses its zest. Clamour they are absolutely debarred from: instant punishment would follow it. But who ever whispers an execration, or a profane oath? What is an execration? what is a profane oath? Morally speaking, a mere vulgar expression of anger, or an abjuration of restraint.‡ But is this a place where anger can be gratified or find vent?—is this a place where restraint can be thrown off? To check swearing, is to check anger and audacity; and to check anger and audacity, is to check swearing. To apparent submissiveness they will be forced; and, after a time, from apparent submission, real will ensue. Men become at length what they are forced to seem to be: propensities suppressed are weakened and by long-continued suppression killed.
A more consolatory, a more inviting, and, as it should seem, a much more natural topic of conversation, is the melioration of their lot, present and future: how they shall earn most by their work, and what they shall do with what they earn, now that they can do nothing but work, and that dissipation in every shape is impossible, and all means of it out of reach: how to make the best of their present situation while it lasts: how to employ the distant, though longed-for period of their release, in such projects of productive industry and innocent enjoyment, as their recovered liberty will allow of, and as it would be among the objects of a good plan of management to hold up to them and to facilitate. To be engrossed by the present moment is among the characteristics of that lowest class of individuals, among whom the species of guilt which lead to this mode of punishment are most apt to be found: it is in a more especial manner the character of such of them as have actually fallen into those snares. The force, as well as evil effects of this propensity, stand demonstrated by the very act by which they fell: being in one instance so powerful, is it rational, then, to conclude that in another it will be of no effect? Where a cause is one and the same, some degree of uniformity cannot but be looked for in its force: where its effects happen to be on the evil side, they ought to be looked out for, and provided against; but neither are the good, merely because they happen to be good, to be thrown out of the account, and regarded as impossible. No—as it was the interest of the moment that ruled him in the one case, so will it in the other. When that irresistible prompter beckoned him into the track of guilt, he fell into delinquency: now that, with a much steadier finger, it points to the paths of innocence, he will confine himself to those paths.
Reformation, therefore, mutual reformation, seems in such a state of things happily much more probable than increased corruption, even among those who are already the most corrupt and hardened.
This nearer and less gloomy view of the probable future, I would wish to recommend to the attention of those desponding moralists, who, led away by general and hasty conceptions, look upon the reformation of a thorough-bred London felon as an object altogether hopeless. Had delinquents of this description been frequently seen under such a course of discipline, and the result had been thus unfavourable, the despondency would have ground to stand upon. But in what instance has an engine of anything like such power ever yet shown itself to human eyes?
Should seclusion, pushed to the very verge of absolute solitude, not yet promise enough, will colonization promise more? Turn to New South Wales: 2000 convicts of both sexes, and 160 soldiers (not to speak of officers,) jumbled together in one mass, and mingling like beasts: in two years, from fourteen marriages, eighty-seven births; the morals of Otaheite introduced into New Holland by the medium of Old England.*
[* ]See Part I., p. 104.
[* ]What startled me, and showed me the necessity of probing the subject to the bottom, was the being told by an architect, that the walls alone as expressed in Plate III, might come to two or three thousand pounds. It was high time then to inquire what the advantages were that must be so dearly paid for.
[† ]Sensible of the inconvenience, the contrivers of the system have done what occurred to them in the view of obviating it. No two or more prisoners are to work together without a room on purpose, and one or more inspectors to attend them. This at working-times; while at the times of “meals,” and airings, and “divine service,” the plan of seclusion is given up as unattainable (§ 33.) What can be said of this? Immense means provided, and the end sacrificed, all in the same breath. Enormous expense, and the whole of it thrown away. There must be as many lodging-rooms as prisoners; there may be as many working rooms; and there must be as many inspectors as working-rooms. So far the act is explicit. Now for inference.—Everything to countenance the multiplication of working-rooms in this view; nothing at all to limit it: while in the same section such care is taken to set limits to the magnitude of the lodging-rooms. It is said, that where their employments will admit, they are at working times to be kept separate: is it not said that they shall or may work in such case in their lodging-rooms? Lodging-rooms are mentioned all along as distinct from working-rooms; and where the employment may require two persons to work together, the “room is to be of suitable dimensions.” What is the inference? that it must be distinct from the lodging-rooms, and ought to be of double their size. The declared wish is, that “during the hours of labour, they may be kept separate and apart,” as much as “the nature of the employments will permit,” and yet, wherever the nature of the employment requires two persons to work together, those two persons are to have a room of suitable dimensions (as well as at least one inspector) to themselves. What is the final inference? that to the 900 lodging-rooms, there ought to be 450 working-rooms, of which no one ought to be less than twice as large as a lodging-room, and of which (to provide for employments that may require an unlimited number to work in the same room), any number may be ever so much larger. Had the authors meant a job (than which it is certain nothing was ever farther from men’s thoughts,) what could a favoured architect have wished for more?
[* ]See Part I. Section 6.
[‡ ]A kind of interjection. As there are interjections of grief and of surprise, so there are interjections of anger and audacity: and these interjections are what are called oaths, and so forth. This observation, while it places the moral mischievousness of an expression of this cast in a somewhat new, and perhaps not uninstructive point of view, shows what ground there is for making them the objects of prohibition and temporal punishment, more especially in such a place.
[* ]See Governor Philip’s Account of the Settlement, 4to, 1791, R. p. viii. 67; Mr. White’s ditto, 4to, 1790; and Extracts of Letters and Accounts printed and laid before the House of Commons, in pursuance of an order of April 8th, 1791, p. 3.