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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

Official Prison Reports

Official Prison Reports.

The Committee's attention has also been drawn to the need for more respectful attention on the part of the Commissioners of Local Gaols to the reports and recommendations of the Visiting Justices of those establishments.

It is essential for the better administration of prisons that all the Reports of the Local Visiting Committees of Magistrates to the Home Office should be made public. At present the whole system, both as to the Commissioners' procedure and the observations and recommendations of the Justices, are too much covered by a dense cloud of mystery and concealment. Grave abuses may take place inside prisons, against which the existing system of nominal oversight is no effectual preventive or check.

The reports or letters forwarded to the Secretary of State from the unpaid, but officially appointed, Visitors of Convict Prisons, should also be printed with the Directors' annual Blue Book.

Further, the sub-reports sent to the Home Office from the Governors, Chaplains and Medical officers of prisons, should be printed with the annual Reports, and in full. Until this is done, the Reports on Prisons, as now issued yearly by the British Government, will continue to possess very limited authority, and to deserve only a qualified reliance.

As to the Official Statistics of Prisons, in particular, these are of such a character, that the Committee have, during the past year, felt it their duty to draw public attention, in various journals, to some of the figures published in the Report of the Commissioners of Local Gaols for 1883.

For instance, in that Report, there are enormous sums credited to the "profit"of the prison labour in the respective gaols, from the simple process of pumping the daily supplies of water either by the treadwheel or by hand labour. Stafford Gaol, with a daily average of 559 prisoners throughout the past year, is credited with the extreme estimate of £897 for "pumping water,"and an additional £503 for the ordinary work of "cleaning "(sweeping, brushing, scouring, &c.). At Salford Gaol, Manchester, with 963 prisoners, only £31 is credited for "pumping,"but the "cleaning "amounts to £620. Liverpool (Walton) Gaol credits £301 for "pumping,"and £321 for "nursing,"whilst its "cleaning "is £881. At Devizes (eighty-five inmates), under the euphemistic expression of "grinding corn,"the treadwheel is credited with page 12 £97, and a further £27 for "pumping water."Coldbath Fields (London) takes credit for £229 for "stoking,"and the very easy and almost valueless work of "sorting and tearing old paper "is estimated as worth £433. Many more similarly swollen "returns"appear in this report, which is as objectionable by its omission of needful information as by its insertion of what is worse than unnecessary. One can but wonder how any Department of State could have seriously entertained such figures, to say nothing of actually publishing them.

It is obvious that, by such a mode of managing figures and manufacturing "values,"there need be scarcely any limit to the "satisfactory "returns of prisons—upon paper.

Whereas in reality, the industrial earnings and profits of English prisons have materially diminished under the Commissioners. Such prisons as those of Hull, Salford, Bedford, and Durham, and various others, which were once hives of useful industry, have experienced a very great falling off in this respect during the past five years, so far as bonâ fide, results are the test.