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other officers are appointed by them, and are removable at their pleasure. They have never exercised this power in any instance. The inspectors must be held doubly responsible under such circumstances, for the acts and omissions of the agent and the subordinate officers.
So loosely have the supervisory powers of the inspectors been exercised, that although nearly all the assistants-keepers now at the prison, entered upon the duties of their appointment several years ago, they did not take the oath of office until August last.
Among the consequences which have resulted from the neglect of the important duties of the inspectors, are the following: "All the assistant-keepers exercise discretionary and unlimited power in the punishment of the convicts under their care respectively, for any and all offences or omissions of duty, subject, however, to the provisions of the sixth section of act of 1835, requiring from them a written report of the extent of all punishments inflicted by them, and the offences committed."
But an erroneous construction is given to the statute by the assistant keepers and agent, in consequence of which, punishments inflicted by the agent, and by his deputy, and by the assistant keepers, in the presence of either the agent, or deputy, do not necessarily come before the inspectors. The assistants do not, in all cases, report the punishments inflicted by them in the absence of the agent, and his deputy, but sometimes report the number of stripes inflicted by them, by "guessing at the number."
The principle which seems to have been adopted and pursued at the prison is that, "of governing the convicts wholly by the fear of punishment, while, at the same time, no incentive to obedience, and diligence, or skill in the performance of their task, is held up to their view, save an exemption from stripes." The committee justly remark that, by reason of this error in discipline, "the reformation of the convict, one of the most important objects of our penitentiary system, is abandoned and lost."
"During the years 1837 and 1838, the complaints of the want of food by the convicts, were more frequent and numerous than at any other period."
The "extra rations" furnished in cases of such complaints, were "sometimes insufficient," and convicts, "who were sent by their
keepers to the kitchen for food, were frequently beaten and driven away without it by the superintendent."
By reference to pages 5 and 6 of the report, it will be seen that during a long period, the provisions furnished have not been of a suitable kind, or sufficient in quantity.
"Not only have different degrees of punishment been meted out by different keepers, but cruel and unreasonable punishments have often been inflicted."
Such punishments have been "repeated during several successive days," and upon convicts, "in more than one instance," who were "insane."
"One witness deposes to one thousand lashes inflicted upon a maniac convict within the space of three weeks." "Convicts have been disabled" by severe corporeal punishment, and then have been "sent to the hospital to be cured." Others while actually "in the hospital," and "on the sick list," have been punished in the same manner.
It is proved and admitted, that contractors for the labor of convicts (in no sense officers of the prison), have sometimes been permitted to inflict severe chastisement upon the prisoners. In violation of every principle of law, and every dictate of natural justice, assistant keepers have, with the knowledge and permission of the agent, inflicted punishment upon a convict on his coming into prison, for insults offered to such keeper by the prisoner before his conviction.
Two convicts, who had been discharged from their imprisonment upon the ground that their terms had expired, were taken up by order of the agent, and recommitted, and detained in prison, as a punishment for alleged offences committed by them after their discharge.
Most of the facts hereinbefore stated, are general statements of the committee of the assembly, derived from the testimony submitted to them. I regret to be obliged to say that they are sustained by evidence which would justify even stronger statements than those presented by the committee.
There is reason to believe that convicts have been driven to suicide by the cruelty of officers of the prison, and that others, some of whom were insane, have died in consequence of like inhumanity.
It is stated in the testimony, that a female convict was scourged with whips until the blood flowed from her wounds.
Convicts have been beaten with unlawful and dangerous weapons.
The privation of food has been carried so far, that convicts have been rendered incapable of performing their allotted labor, and have sometimes been punished for their failure to perform it in that condition.
A prisoner's hands were fastened in a vice, and in that situation he was severely whipped, with the agent's permission, by a person not an officer of the prison, but a servant of a contractor.
Sympathy for the sufferings of our fellow-men is so inseparable from our nature, that it will follow them in their most degraded and most depraved estate. I am aware that this sympathy sometimes operates to embarrass the administration of justice. But I have no reason to believe that either the committee by whom this report was made, or the witnesses generally from whom the facts stated were obtained, are liable to any suspicion of having acted under the influence of excessive sympathy. These facts come before me in a manner demanding my action in the premises, and from as authentic sources as any information which we may ever hope to obtain in relation to the conduct and management of our prisons.
It is possible, and not improbable, that the testimony submitted in the report may be in some instances erroneous, and in others exaggerated, or too deeply colored; but after making all reasonable exceptions, and admitting all possible extenuation, it is still manifest that the stateprison at Mount Pleasant is governed by the arbitrary will of one individual, who is held to no lawful responsibility; and that a discipline prevails there which is arbitrary, capricious, and unequal, and often as contrary to law as it is revolting to humanity.
It is not the least remarkable feature in the case, that the officers of the prison seem to justify the cruelties complained of, on the ground that they are indispensable to the successful government of the prison.
It is quite certain that such inhumanity was never contemplated by the founders of our penitentiary system, nor has it been generally known by the people that it was practised. If our system of imprisonment, with silent dormitories, and social labor, can not be maintained without the infliction of such punishments as are disclosed by this report, then it was established in error,
and it ought to be immediately abandoned. But such is not the case. Human nature has some generous and virtuous motives left in its most depraved condition. Equality and justness, kindness and gentleness, combined with firmness of temper, would, with very few exceptions, secure the cheerful obedience of even the tenants of our stateprisons. I believe that there is at least one prison in this country, in which our system has been adopted, and in which not a blow nor a stripe has been inflicted within a period of several years.*
There is a constant tendency among those who are invested with power over their fellow-men, to exercise that power capriciously, and tyrannically. It is inconsistent with the genius of republican institutions, that any department should be exempt from a constant and jealous supervision. Such supervision is vastly more important when the agents are secluded from all public observation, and when those upon whom abuses fall are defenceless, and forgotten by their fellow-citizens. The inmates of our prisons are cut off from the enjoyment of society, but they are not removed beyond the sympathies of the people, nor are they sunk below the guardian care of the government. That guardian care in regard to the prisoners at Mount Pleasant, was committed to the inspectors of the prison. Being fully convinced that they have been unfaithful in the discharge of their responsibilities, no course remains for me but to recommend their removal.
* In Massachusetts.-Ed.
RESISTANCE TO THE CIVIL AUTHORITY IN THE COUNTY OF ALBANY.
DECEMBER 10, 1839.
WHEREAS the sheriff of the county of Albany, on the 5th day of December instant, represented to me that he and his deputies had on several occasions been resisted in executing various civil process of the supreme court against citizens of the said county, and had found it impossible to execute such process; and that therefore, on the second day of December instant, he had summoned the power of his county, or so much thereof as seemed expedient, and with that power, consisting of several hundred unarmed citizens, had proceeded to the towns where execution of the said process was required to be made; aud that he was met by a large body of men, who effectually resisted him and prevented his further progress in the discharge of his duty; whereupon he had returned to the city of Albany and then applied to me to call out a sufficient military force to enable him to execute the said process;
And whereas, being unwilling to adopt that final remedy of the evil thus complained of, until every effort of a less serious character to maintain the supremacy of the laws should have. been made, I directed the sheriff to obtain warrants and attachments against the persons who had resisted him in the discharge of his duty, and to proceed with the armed power of his county to execute the said process, warrants, and attachments;
And whereas, it has been made known to me that the said sheriff, together with the armed power of the county, assembled in pursuance of such directions, has been met by a large body of persons with an evident intent, accompanied by threats, of preventing him from executing the said civil and criminal process, and that the said armed power of the county is insufficient to enable him to perform his duty: