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THE system of separate confinement, first
experimented on in England at the model
prison, Pentonville, London, and now spreading
through the country, appears to us to
require a little calm consideration and reflection
on the part of the public. We purpose,
in this paper, to suggest what we consider
some grave objections to this system.

We shall do this temperately, and without
considering it necessary to regard every one
from whom we differ, as a scoundrel, actuated
by base motives, to whom the most unprincipled
conduct may be recklessly attributed. Our
faith in most questions where the good men
are represented to be all pro, and the bad men
to be all con, is very small. There is a hot
class of riders of hobby-horses in the field, in
this century, who think they do nothing unless
they make a steeple-chase of their object,
throw a vast quantity of mud about, and spurn
every sort of decent restraint and reasonable
consideration under their horses' heels. This
question has not escaped such championship.
It has its steeple-chase riders, who hold the
dangerous principle that the end justifies any
means, and to whom no means, truth and fair-
dealing usually excepted, come amiss.

Considering the separate system of
imprisonment, here, solely in reference to England,
we discard, for the purpose of this discussion,
the objection founded on its extreme severity,
which would immediately arise if we were
considering it with any reference to the State
of Pennsylvania in America. For whereas in
that State it may be inflicted for a dozen years,
the idea is quite abandoned at home of extending
it usually, beyond a dozen months, or in
any case beyond eighteen months. Besides
which, the school and the chapel afford periods
of comparative relief here, which are not
afforded in America.

Though it has been represented by the
steeple-chase riders as a most enormous heresy
to contemplate the possibility of any prisoner
going mad or idiotic, under the prolonged
effects of separate confinement; and although
any one who should have the temerity to maintain
such a doubt in Pennsylvania would have
a chance of becoming a profane St. Stephen;
Lord Grey, in his very last speech in the House
of Lords on this subject, made in the present
session of Parliament, in praise of this
separate system, said of it: ' Wherever it has
been fairly tried, one of its great defects has
been discovered to be this,—that it cannot be
continued for a sufficient length of time without
danger to the individual, and that human
nature cannot bear it beyond a limited period.
The evidence of medical authorities proves
beyond dispute that, if it is protracted beyond
twelve months, the health of the convict,
mental and physical, would require the most
close and vigilant superintendence. Eighteen
months is stated to be the maximum time for
the continuance of its infliction, and, as a
general rule, it is advised that it never be
continued for more than twelve months.'
This being conceded, and it being clear that
the prisoner's mind, and all the apprehensions
weighing upon it, must be influenced
from the first hour of his imprisonment by
the greater or less extent of its duration in
perspective before him, we are content to
regard the system as dissociated in England
from the American objection of too great

We shall consider it, first in the relation of
the extraordinary contrast it presents, in a
country circumstanced as England is, between
the physical condition of the convict in prison,
and that of the hard-working man outside, or
the pauper outside. We shall then enquire,
and endeavour to lay before our readers some
means of judging, whether its proved or
probable efficiency in producing a real,
trustworthy, practically repentant state of mind,
is such as to justify the presentation of that
extraordinary contrast. If, in the end, we
indicate the conclusion that the associated
silent system is less objectionable, it is not
because we consider it in the abstract a good
secondary punishment, but because it is a
severe one, capable of judicious administration,
much less expensive, not presenting the
objectionable contrast so strongly, and not
calculated to pet and pamper the mind of the
prisoner and swell his sense of his own
importance. We are not acquainted with any
system of secondary punishment that we think
reformatory, except the mark system of
Captain Macconnochie, formerly governor of
Norfolk Island, which proceeds upon the
principle of obliging the convict to some exercise
of self-denial and resolution in every act of his