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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

British Prisons

British Prisons.

The Warders.

The Prison System of Great Britain, notwithstanding various important improvements which have been made during the past half-century, still requires a constant vigilance on the part of the public. It is one of the objects of the Howard Association to promote and maintain this, especially as to certain points of the administration.

One of these is the position and treatment of the Warders, to which during the past year the Committee have continued to direct attention. For notwithstanding the efforts already put forth for improvements in this direction, as to the insufficient numbers, and the too-prolonged hours of duty of these officers, their condition still needs further amelioration at the hands of the chief authorities. However, it is gratifying to notice some progress during the past year.

The Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. John T. Hibbert, M.P., in a courteous letter to the Secretary of the Howard Association, dated May 5, 1884, wrote as follows:—"With respect to your page 11 remarks about the necessity for an increase of the number of Warders, I am glad to say that we have just authorised the appointment of twenty-one additional Warders for night duty, and asked the Treasury to assent to the provision of a free meal for the night warders."

About the same time the Lord Mayor of London, Mr. Robert N. Fowler, at the request of this Association, drew the further attention of the Home Office to the matter, in the House of Commons, and was informed that besides the increase of night warders, the higher ranks of subordinate warders have had some additional leave of absence. It was added that the Treasury officers of the Government are of opinion that if it be desirable to alter the general terms of retirement for the convict service, it should be done by special legislation. This the Secretary of State is not prepared at present to undertake.

It is to be hoped that from time to time further improvements may be secured in reference to the selection and condition of these officers.

A still larger proportion of Warders to prisoners is one of the pressing needs of some of the prisons, especially those for convicts.

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.