Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: PANOPTICON PENITENTIARY. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law)
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CHAPTER III.: PANOPTICON PENITENTIARY. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 1.
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The plans of Mr. Bentham upon this subject are already before the public: for the purpose of the present work, it will be only necessarily shortly to explain the three fundamental ideas which he lays down:—
I. A Circular, or Polygonal Building, with cells on each story in the circumference; in the centre, a lodge for the inspector, from which he may see all the prisoners, without being himself seen, and from whence he may issue all his directions, without being obliged to quit his post.
II. Management by Contract.—The contractor undertaking the whole concern at a certain price for each prisoner, reserving to himself the disposal of all the profit which may arise from their labours, the species of which is left to his choice.
Under this system, the interest of the governor is, as far as possible, identified with his duty. The more orderly and industrious the prisoners, the greater the amount of his profits. He will, therefore, teach them the most profitable trades, and give them such portion of the profits as shall excite them to labour. He unites in himself the characters of magistrate, inspector, head of a manufactory and of a family, and is urged on by the strongest motives faithfully to discharge all these duties.
III. Responsibility of the Manager.—He is bound to assure the lives of his prisoners. A calculation is made of the average number of deaths in the year, among the mixed multitude committed to his care, and a certain sum is allowed to him for each; but at the end of the year, he is required to pay a similar sum for every one lost by death or escape. He is therefore constituted the assurer of the lives and safe custody of his prisoners; but to assure their lives, is at the same time to secure the multitude of cares and attentions, on which their health and well-being depend.
Publicity is the effectual preservative against abuses. Under the present system, prisons are covered with an impenetrable veil: the Panopticon, on the contrary, would be, so to speak, transparent—accessible, at all hours, to properly authorized magistrates—accessible to everybody, at properly regulated hours, or days. The spectator, introduced into the central lodge, would behold the whole of the interior, and would be a witness to the detention of the prisoners, and a judge of their condition.
Some individuals, pretending to a high degree of sensibility, have considered this continual inspection, which constitutes the peculiar merit of Mr. Bentham’s plan, as objectionable. It has appeared to them as a restraint more terrible than any other tyranny: they have depicted an establishment of this kind as a place of torment. In so doing, these men of sensibility have forgotten the state of most other prisons, in which the prisoners, heaped together, can enjoy tranquillity neither day nor night. They forget, that under this system of continual inspection, a greater degree of liberty and ease can be allowed—that chains and shackles may be suppressed—that the prisoners may be allowed to associate in small companies—that all quarrels, tumults, and noise, bitter sources of vexation, will be prevented—that the prisoners will be protected against the caprices of their gaolers, and the brutality of their companions; whilst those frequent and cruel instances of neglect which have occurred, will be prevented by the facility of appeal which will be afforded to the principal authority. These real advantages are overlooked by a fantastic sensibility which never reasons.
Let us suppose a prison established upon this plan; and then observe in what manner it contributes to the several ends of punishment:—
It would be placed in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, where the greatest number of persons are collected together, and especially of those who require to be reminded, by penal exhibitions, of the consequences of crime. The appearance of the building, the singularity of its shape, the walls and ditches by which it would be surrounded, the guards stationed at its gates, would all excite ideas of restraint and punishment; whilst the facility which would be given to admission would scarcely fail to attract a multitude of visitors. And what would they see?—a set of persons deprived of liberty which they have misused—compelled to engage in labour, which was formerly their aversion—and restrained from riot and intemperance, in which they formerly delighted; the whole of them clothed in a particular dress, indicating the infamy of their crimes. What scene could be more instructive to the great proportion of the spectators? What a source of conversation, of allusion, of domestic instruction! How naturally would the aspect of this prison lead to a comparison between the labour of the free man and the prisoner—between the enjoyments of the innocent, and the privations of the criminal! And, at the same time, the real punishment would be less than the apparent:—the spectators, who would have only a momentary view of this doleful spectacle, would not perceive all the circumstances which would effectively soften the rigours of this prison. The punishment would be visible, and the imagination would exaggerate its amount; its relaxations would be out of sight; no portion of the suffering inflicted would be lost. The greater number even of the prisoners, being taken from the class of unfortunate and suffering individuals, would be in a state of comfort; whilst ennui, the scourge of ordinary prisons, would be banished.
Idleness, intemperance, and vicious connexions, are the three principal causes of corruption among the poor. When habits of this nature have become to such a degree inveterate, as to surmount the tutelary motives, and to lead to the commission of crimes, no hope of reformation can be entertained but by a new course of education—an education that shall place the patient in a situation in which he will find it impossible to gratify his vicious propensities, and where every surrounding object will tend to give birth to habits and inclinations of a nature altogether opposite. The principal instrument which can be employed on this occasion is perpetual superintendence. Delinquents are a peculiar race of beings, who require unremitted inspection. Their weakness consists in yielding to the seductions of the passing moment. Their minds are weak and disordered, and though their disease is neither so clearly marked nor so incurable as that of idiots and lunatics, like these they require to be kept under restraints, and they cannot, without danger, be left to themselves.
Under the safeguard of this continual inspection, without which success is not to be expected, the penitentiary house described includes all the causes which are calculated to destroy the seeds of vice, and to rear those of virtue.
1. Labour.—It is admitted that constraint, instead of inspiring a taste for labour, is calculated to augment the aversion to it. It must, however, be recollected that, in this case, labour is the only resource against ennui—that being imposed upon all, it will be encouraged by example, and rendered more agreeable by being carried on in the company of others; it will be followed by immediate reward, and the individual being allowed a share in the profits, it will lose the character of servitude, by his being rendered, in some measure, a partner in the concern. Those who formerly understood no lucrative business, will, in this new course of education, obtain new faculties and new enjoyments; and when they shall be set free, will have learned a trade, the profits of which are greater than those of fraud and rapine.
2. Temperance.—We have already had occasion to show that nearly all the crimes committed at Botany Bay either originate or are increased by the use of spirituous liquors, and that it is impossible to prevent their use. Here the evil is arrested in its source: it will not be possible to smuggle in a drop of this poison; transgressions will therefore be impossible. Man yields to necessity: difficulties may stimulate his desires, but an absolute impossibility of satisfying them destroys them, when they are not supported by long established habits. There is much humanity in a strict rule, which prevents not only faults and chastisements, but temptations also.
3. Separation into Classes.—The Panopticon is the only practicable plan which admits of the prisoners being divided into little societies, in such manner as to separate those whose vicious propensities are most contagious. These associations can hardly fail to afford opportunities for the performance of reciprocal services, for the exercise of the affections, and the formation of habits favourable to reformation. The relation of master and scholar will gradually be formed among them; opportunities will thus be given for bestowing rewards for instruction—for exciting emulation in learning, and the creation of a sentiment of honour and self-esteem, which will be among the first fruits of application. Ideas of improvement and lawful gains will, by degrees, supplant those of licentiousness and fraudulent acquisition. All these advantages arise out of the very nature of the establishment.
Why should not unmarried prisoners be allowed to intermarry? It would operate as a powerful spur to those who aimed at attaining this reward, which should only be bestowed on account of orderly conduct and industry.
These little societies present an additional security, arising from their mutual responsibility. It is both just and natural to say to them, “You live together, you act together; you were able to have prevented this crime, and if you have not so done, you are accomplices in it.” Thus the prisoners would be converted into guardians and inspectors of each other. Each cell would be interested in the good conduct of every one of its members. If any one of them should be distinguished for its good order, some distinction might be bestowed upon it, which should be visible to all. By such means, a feeling of honour might be excited even in the abode of ignominy.
4. Instruction.—Indigence and ignorance are the parents of crime. The instruction of those prisoners who are not too old to learn, confers upon them many benefits at once: it affords great assistance in changing the habits of the mind, and elevating them, in their own estimation, from the class of beings who are degraded on account of the inferiority of their education. Different studies may usefully fill up the intervals of time, when mechanical operations are suspended—both prudence and humanity dictating the occupation of those intervals, instead of abandoning to themselves minds to whom idleness is a burthen difficult to bear. But the object is much more important, especially with regard to young offenders, who form the largest proportion of the whole. The prison should be their school, in which they should learn those habits, which should prevent their ever entering it again.
The services of religion ought to be rendered attractive, in order that they may be efficacious. They may be performed in the centre of the building, without the prisoners quitting their cells. The central lodge may be opened for the admission of the public; the worship adapted to the nature of the establishment may be accompanied with solemn music, to add to its solemnity. The chaplain engaged in its performance would not be a stranger to the prisoners: his instructions should be adapted to the wants of those to whom they are addressed: he would be known to them as their daily benefactor, who watches over the progress of their amendment, who is the interpreter of their wishes, and their witness before their superiors. As their protector and instructor, as a friend who consoles and who enlightens them, he would unite all the titles which can render him an object of respect and affection. How many sensible and virtuous men would seek a situation which presents, to a religious mind, opportunities for conquests more interesting than the savage regions of Africa and Canada!
There is, at all times, great reason for distrusting the reformation of criminals. Experience too often justifies the maxim of the poet,
But those who are most distrustful and incredulous of good, must acknowledge at least that there is a great difference to be made in this respect, on account of the age of the delinquents and the nature of their offences. Youth may be moulded like soft wax, whilst advanced age will not yield to new impressions: many crimes are not deeply rooted in the heart, but spring up there from seduction, example, and above all, indigence and hunger. Some are sudden acts of vengeance, which do not imply habitual perversity. These distinctions are just, and not controverted. It must also be admitted, that the plan we have described presents the most efficacious means for the amendment of those who have preserved some remains of honest principle.
Suppression of Power to injure.
Whatever may be its effects in producing internal reformation and correcting the will, the Panopticon unites all the conditions requisite for the prevention of the commission of new offences.
Under this head, the prisoners may be considered at two periods—the period of their imprisonment; the period posterior to their liberation.
During the first, suppose them as wicked as you will, what crimes can they commit whilst under uninterrupted inspection—divided by cells at all times sufficiently strong to resist a revolt—unable to unite or to conspire without being seen—responsible the one for the other—deprived of all communication with the exterior—deprived of all intoxicating liquors (those stimulants to dangerous enterprises)—and in the hand of a governor who could immediately isolate the dangerous individual? The simple enumeration of these circumstances inspires a feeling of perfect security. When we recall the picture of Botany Bay, the contrast becomes as striking as it can be rendered.
The prevention of crimes on the part of delinquent prisoners is also in proportion to the difficulty of their escape; and what system affords in this respect a security comparable to that of the Panopticon?
With respect to discharged prisoners, the only absolute guarantee is in their reformation.
Independently of this happy effect, which may be expected in this plan more than upon any other, the liberated prisoners would, for the most part, have acquired, by the savings made for them out of their part of the profit of their labour, a stock which will secure them from the immediate temptations of want, and give them time to avail themselves of those resources of industry, which they have acquired during their captivity.
But this is not all. I have reserved for this chapter the mention of an ingenious plan, which the author of the Panopticon has proposed as a supplement to this scheme of punishment. He has paid particular attention to the dangerous and critical situation of discharged prisoners, when re-entering the world after a detention, perhaps, for many years: they have no friends to receive them—without reputation to recommend them—with characters open to suspicion; and many times, perhaps, in the first transports of joy for recovered liberty, as little qualified to use it with discretion, as the slaves who have broken their fetters. By these considerations, the author was led to the idea of an auxiliary establishment, into which the discharged prisoners might be admitted when they left the Panopticon, and be allowed to continue for a longer or shorter period, according to the nature of their crimes, and their previous conduct. The details of the plan would be foreign to the present subject. It must suffice to say, that in this privileged asylum they would have different degrees of liberty, the choice of their occupations, the entire profit of their labour, with fixed and moderate charges for their board and lodging, and the right of going and returning, on leaving a certain sum as a security; they would wear no prisoner’s uniform, no humiliating badge. The greater number, in the first moment of their embarrassment, whilst they have no certain object in view, would themselves choose a retreat so suitable to their situation. This transient sojourn, this noviciate, would serve to conduct them by degrees to their entire liberty; it would be an intermediate state between captivity and independence, and afford a proof of the sincerity of their amendment; it would afford a just precaution against individuals in whom an immediate and absolute confidence could not be reposed without danger.
Compensation to the party injured.
In most systems of jurisprudence, when a delinquent has been corporally punished, justice is thought to have been satisfied: it is not in general required that he should make compensation to the party injured.
It is true, that in the greater number of cases, compensation could not be exacted of him: delinquents are commonly of the poorer class,—ex nihilo, nihil fit.
If they are idle during their imprisonment, far from being able to render satisfaction, they constitute a charge upon society.
If they are condemned to public works, these works, rarely sufficiently lucrative to cover the expense of undertaking them, cannot furnish any surplus.
It is only in a plan like the Panopticon, in which, by the combination of labour and economy in the administration, it is possible to obtain a profit sufficiently great to offer at least some portion of indemnity to the parties injured. Mr. Bentham had made engagements upon this head in his contract with the Ministers. In the prisons of Philadelpnia, they levy upon the portion of profit allowed to the prisoner, the expenses of his detection and prosecution. One step more, and they will grant indemnity to the parties injured.
To say that, of two plans of equal merit, the most economical ought to be preferred, is to advance a proposition which must appear trivial to all those who do not know that the expense of an enterprise is often its secret recommendation, and that economy is a virtue against which there exists a general conspiracy.
In the conract for the Panopticon, one thousand convicts were to have cost the state £12 per head, without including the expense of constructing the prison, which was estimated at £12,000, and the ground at £10,000; upon which, reckoning interest at £5 per cent., £1 : 10s. ought to be added for the annual expense of each, making the total expense of each individual, £13 : 10s. per annum.
It should be recollected, that at this time the average expense of each convict in New Holland, was £37 per annum, nearly three times as much. Besides, the author of the panopticon assured—
1. An indemnity to the parties injured.
2. He allowed a fourth part of the profits of their labour to the prisoners.
3. He was to make a future reduction in the expense to government.
A new undertaking, like that of the Panopticon, intended to embrace many branches of industry, would not yield its greatest profits at first; it would be expensive at first, and only become profitable by degrees. Time would be required for establishing its manufactories, and for the cultivation of the grounds applicable to the support of the establishment; for forming its pupils, and regulating their habits; in a word, bringing to perfection the whole economy of its system. Mr. Bentham had expressly stipulated for the publicity of his accounts; and if the advantages, as was expected, had become considerable, the government would have been enabled to take advantage of them in obtaining more favourable terms in its subsequent contracts. Mr. Bentham reckoned, from the calculations he had made, and respecting which he had consulted experienced persons, that after a short time the convicts would cost the government nothing.
Laying aside everything hypothetical, it is clear that a penitentiary at home ought to be less expensive than a colonial establishment. The reasons for this opinion have been given when speaking of transportation to Botany Bay.
I have shown the excellence of this plan with reference to all the ends of punishment: it remains to be observed, that it attains its object without producing any of those collateral inconveniences which abound in colonial transportation. There is no prolonged sojourn in the hulks—none of the dangers of a long sea voyage—no promiscuous intercourse of prisoners—no contagious sickness—no danger of famine—no warfare with the savage natives—no rebellions—no abuse of power by the persons in authority—in short, an entire absence of the accidental and accessory evils, of which every page of the history of the penal colony affords an example. What an immense economy in the employment of punishment! It will no longer be dissipated and lost upon barren rocks, and amid far distant deserts: it will always preserve the nature of legal punishment—of just and merited suffering, without being converted into evils of every description, which excite only pity. The whole of it will be seen: it will all be useful; it will not depend upon chance; its execution will not be abandoned to subordinate and mercenary hands; the legislator who appoints it, may incessantly watch over its administration.
The success which may be obtained from a well-regulated penitentiary is no longer a simple probability founded upon reasoning. The trial has been made; it has succeeded even beyond what has been hoped. The quakers of Pensylvania have the honour of making the attempt: it is one of the most beauteous ornaments of the crown of humanity which distinguishes them among all other societies of christians. They had for a long time to struggle with the ordinary obstacles of prejudice and indifference on the part of the public—the routine of the tribunals, and the repulsive incredulity of frigid reasoners.
The penitentiary house at Philadelphia is described, not only in the official reports of its governor, but also in the accounts of two disinterested observers, whose agreement is the more striking, as they brought to its examination neither the same prejudices nor views. The one was a Frenchman, the Duke de Liancourt, well acquainted with the arrangements of hospitals and prisons;—the other an Englishman, Captain Turnbull, more occupied with maritime affairs than politics or jurisprudence.
Both of them represent the interior of this prison as a scene of peaceful and regular activity. Hauteur and rigour are not displayed on the part of the gaolers, nor insolence nor baseness on the part of the prisoners. Their language is gentle; a harsh expression is not permitted. If any fault is committed, the punishment is solitary confinement, and the registration of the fault in a book, in which every one has an account opened, as well for good as for evil. Health, decency, and propriety, reign throughout. There is nothing to offend the most delicate of the senses; no noise, no boisterous songs nor tumultuous conversation. Every one, engaged with his own work, fears to interrupt the labours of others. This external peace is maintained as favourable to reflection and labour, and well calculated to prevent that state of irritation so common elsewhere among prisoners and their keepers.
“I was surprised,” said Captain Turnbull, “at finding a woman exercising the functions of gaoler. This circumstance having excited my curiosity, I was informed that the husband having filled the same situation before her, amidst the attentions he was paying to his daughter, he was seized with the yellow fever and died, leaving the prisoners to regret that they had lost a friend and protector. In consideration of his services, his widow was chosen to succeed him. She has discharged all the duties with equal attention and humanity.”
Where shall we find similar traits in the registers of a prison? They call up the pictures of a future golden age depicted by the prophet, when “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them.”
I cannot refuse to transcribe two other facts, which do not stand in need of any commentary:—“During the yellow fever in 1793, there was much difficulty in obtaining nurses for the sick in the hospitals at Bush Hill. Recourse was had to the prison. The question was asked; the danger of the service was explained to the convicts; as many offered themselves as were wanted. They discharged their duties faithfully till the conclusion of that tragic scene, and none of them demanded any wages till the period of their discharge.”
The females gave another proof of good conduct during the course of the contagion. They were requested to give up their bedsteads for the use of the hospital: they willingly offered their beds also.
Oh Virtue! where wilt thou hide thyself? exclaimed the philosopher, upon witnessing an act of probity on the part of a beggar. Would he have been less surprised at this act of heroic benevolence in a criminal prison?
Had this good conduct of the prisoners been only a simple suspension of their vices and crimes, it would have been a great point gained; but it extended much further:—
“Of all the criminals who have been found guilty,” says Turnbull, “there has not been five in each hundred who have been in the prison before.”
At New York, although the result has not been so favourable, it exhibits the good effects of the system:—“During the five years ending in 1801,” says Mr. Eddy, the principal governor of the Penitentiary, in the account rendered to his fellow-citizens, “of three hundred and forty-nine prisoners who have been set at liberty at the expiration of their sentences, or by pardons, twenty-nine only have been convicted of new offences; and of this twenty-nine, sixteen were foreigners. Of eighty-six pardoned, eight have been apprehended for new offences; and of this eight, five were foreigners.”
It must, however, be remembered, that we may guard against exaggeration, that of these liberated prisoners, many may have expatriated themselves, and committed crimes in the neighbouring States, being unwilling to expose themselves to the austere imprisonment of New York or Philadelphia; for it is a fact, that the risk of death is less frightful to men of this temper, than laborious captivity.
The success of these establishments is, without doubt, owing in great measure to the enlightened zeal of their founders and inspectors; but it has permanent causes in the sobriety and industry established, and the rewards bestowed for good conduct.
The rule which has ensured sobriety, has been the entire exclusion of strong liquors: no fermented liquor is allowed, not even small beer. It has been found more easy to insure abstinence than moderation. Experience has proved that the stimulus of strong liquors has only a transitory effect, and that an abundant and simple nourishment, with water for the only drink, fits men for the performance of continued labours. Many of those who entered the prison of New York with constitutions enfeebled by intemperance and debauchery, have regained, in a short time, under this regime, their health and vigour.
The Duke de Liancourt and Captain Turnbull have entered into more precise details. We learn from them, that since the adoption of this system, the charge for medicines, which amounted annually to more than twelve hundred dollars, has been reduced to one hundred and sixty. This fact affords a still stronger proof of the salubrity of this prison.
This exposition, in which I have omitted many favourable circumstances, without suppressing anything of a contrary nature, is sufficient to show the superiority of penitentiaries over the system of transportation. If the results have been so advantageous in America, why should they be less so in England? The nature of man is uniform: criminals are not more obstinate in the one place than the other: the motives which may be employed are equally powerful. The new plan proposed by the author of the Panopticon, presents a sensible improvement upon the American methods:—the inspection is more complete—the instruction more extended—escape more difficult; publicity is increased in every respect; the distribution of the prisoners, by means of cells and classes, obviates the inconvenient association which subsists in the Penitentiary at Philadelphia. But what is worth more than all the rest is, that the responsibility of the governor in the Panopticon system is connected with his personal interest in such manner, that he cannot neglect one of his duties, without being the first to suffer; whilst all the good he does to his prisoners redounds to his own advantage. Religion and humanity animated the founders of the American Penitentiaries: will these generous principles be less powerful when united with the interests of reputation and fortune? the two grand securities of every public establishment—the only ones upon which a politician can constantly rely—the only ones whose operation is not subject to relaxation—the only ones which, always being in accordance with virtue, may perform its part, and even replace it when it is wanting.