THE PRISONS DEPARTMENT.
The report of the Inspector of Prisons for the year 1888 is, like all Captain Hume’s reports, remarkable for its outspokenness. He does not mince matters; .nor does he ever attempt to show that the condition of things in bis department is all that could be wished. The experience of every year, for instance, only confirms his opinion, “formed some time since, that “the theory and practice of the prison “ system now fairly well established in New “Zealand is better and milder iq many re- “ apects than the prisoners deserve.” In the same paragraph, however, he says that it “ has undoubtedly proved itself both deterrent and reformatory.” If, this is really the case, a mild' treatment would seem to suit the moral peculiarities of colonial offenders. But we arc not sure that there is anything exceptionally deterrent or reformatory in the prison discipline of New Zealand. Captain Hume appears to found hia opinion in regard to this particular matter on the fact that there, has been a considerable decrease in the, of those who passed through the prisons during the last two years. In 1887 the decrease was 169, and last year it was 243. Now, as a large proportion of those who, “pass through the prisons ” are committed for drunkenness, or for offences whichspringfrom drunkenness, and as Sir Julius Vogel and Sir Haekv Atkinson' have both told ns in their financial statements that the people are drinking less dutiable liquor, the decrease in question ought perhaps to be ascribed to the temperance reformer, rather than the gaoler. The dull times may also have something to do with it; though there seems to be reason for believing that as a community we are really becoming more temperate. There is one very gratifying instance of decrease, that, namely, of previously-convicted females. Compared with 1884 the decrease was 10 in the once-convicted class, 7 in the twiceconvicted, and 147 in the thrice or oftenerconvicted. In the last class there was, strange enough, an increase of 128 males. The large decrease in the female prison population, which Captain Hume attributes to'the introduction of. the separate cell system, but which, we suspect, must 1)0 part'y due to other causes, has enabled him to recommend the closing. at an .early date of the Addington Gaol. It is to be regretted that the separate cell system' cahnot be carried out iu all the prisons, as it is of the utmost consequence from the reformatory point of view that prisoners should not be allowed to herd together. The Inspector is, accordingly, extremely anxious that the prisons now building at' Auckland and Mount Cook should be pushed on to completion with all possible speed, and that a new one should at once be built at Dunedin. Anything like a proper classification of prisoners is impossible until these permanent improvements are effected. - The total number of offenders who passed through the prisons during 1888 was 5,180, the males numbering 4,242 and the females 938; and thedaily averagenumber of prisoners in gaol was 591 males and 86 females, being an increase of 25 males and 14 females. The average percentage of prisoners according to population was ,099, a decrease of .001 as comnared with that of the previous year. Out of 3,650 males and 839 females, a large proportion could neither read nor write—viz., 391 males and 123 females. The gross cost of maintenance for the year was £44 3s Id per head, as against £494s 4d, and the net coat (exclusive of the work done at the fortifications) £33 9s 4d. The work just mentioned as excluded, however, is of an average value of £7 6s; so that the actual cost of maintenance is reduced to £26 3s 4d. This shows, as the report says, that the prisons are now conducted as economically as efficiency will admit. It does not appear that the escapes, which have been so much talked about, were caused through any undue cutting down of the expenditure. Captain Home says that these might have been prevented had the officers concerned taken proper precautions. In each case a searching inquiry was held, and proper punishment meted out to those who had neglected their duty. Misadventures of this kind will occur in spite of every precaution, but the frequency with which they happened for some time would almost seem to indicate a want of discipline. The Inspector again calls attention to the painful and disgraceful fact that children — some of them under ten years of age—are still sent to the common prisons, to be further contaminated by intercourse with adult criminals. This is an evil against which Captain Hume has written and protested ever since his appointment; and when we think of the large sums of money which Government after Government have expended on useless works for purely political purposes, it is little wonder that those who take a proper interest in the welfare of . the community should complain bitterly of the manner in which juvenile offenders are punished. They should neither be sent to the common gaols nor to the industrial schools, but to a reformatory specially provided for such cases. It is difficult to reform adult criminals, but something may be done with the young, and it is the duty of the State to prevent, them sinking deeper while undergoing punishment. “ The fact,” says Captain Hume, «; of as many as 22 unfortunate infants under “the age of ton years having been confined “in our prisons during the past year is “indeed a serious blot on our administra- “ tion, and it is to be earnestly hoped that “ this most important subject will before “ long receive the serious consideration it ‘ ‘ deserves. ” There were also 88" confined between ten and fifteen years of age, and 241 between fifteen and twenty, though in this last class there was a decrease, as compared with the previous year, of 95. The Inspector speaks out very strongly, too, on the practice of punishing drunkenness with imprisonment. He says it is “a sham and a delusion, the Outcome of shortsightedness and folly,” and that the sooner it is realised that drunkenness is a disease, instead of a crime, the sooner we may. look for some improvement. Inebriety he holds to be a disease beyond doubt, and he accordingly concludes that to punish it as we now do is an expensive and useless cruelty. This, however, is still to a certain extent a disputed question. All moral evil is in a sense disease, but disease against which it is the duty of human beings to strive; jmd> es drunkenness is not purely a physical evil, it would perhaps be somewhat hazardous to acquit the drunkard of all responsibility in respect to his peculiar failing. It is all the same an extremely difficult subject, though it is becoming more and more apparent that some special kind of treatment for drunkards is one of the necessities of odr advancing civilisation. An unfortunate drunkard in this Colony, says Captain Hume, has not the slightest chance of being admitted into a hospital, even when in a dangerous state of delirium tremens, . The health of the prisoners has-been fairly good during the year, and would have been better but for the custom of sending persons to gaol suffering from the effects of drink. Another cause which adds to the sick list is that a considerable number of unfortunates, who from old age and infirmities are unable to earn their own living, come to prison as vagrants instead of being sent to somp refuge or home. Provision for this class, as well as for the worst kind of drunkards, is made in the Government Charitable Aid Bill, though whether it is of the proper kind is ailother matter. What may be called the moral health of the prisons was much the same as usual. There was a slight ihcreaseinthenuin-
fcer of punishments, but these were mostly of a minor kind. The Inspector thinks that gaolers might be allowed some discretion in punishing minor offences, and that the introduction of the lash would havea wholesome effect In preventing prison offences of a more serious description. But the tendency of the times is against both of these suggestions. Captain Hume reports very favorably on the operation of the Probation Act. During 1888, out of a total of 82 offenders admitted to probation, 40 satisfactorily carried out the conditions of their licenses and were duly discharged, one was roarrested and im prisoned, and 40 are still working out the conditions of their privilege in a satisfac tory manner. This measure has so far been a wonderful success ; it prevents an otherwise unavoidable increase of criminality, and it saves the Colony a considerable amount of money. The saving in this way last year alone was nearly £3,ooobut the saving in the other respect—-the saving of character—is infinitely more important.
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THE PRISONS DEPARTMENT., Evening Star, Issue 8007, 9 September 1889
THE PRISONS DEPARTMENT. Evening Star, Issue 8007, 9 September 1889
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