On the Penitentiary System in the United States and
Its Application in France
By Gustave de Beaumont & Alexis de Tocqueville
OBJECTIVES OF PENITENTIARY SYSTEMS:
We find in the United States two distinctly separate systems: the system of Auburn and that of Philadelphia.
Sing Sing, in the State of New York; Wethersfield, in Connecticut; Boston, in Massachusetts; Baltimore, in Maryland; have followed the model of Auburn.
On the other side, Pennsylvania stands quite alone.
The two systems opposed to each other on important points, have, however, a common basis, without which no penitentiary system is possible; this basis is the isolation of the prisoners.
Whoever has studied the interior of prisons and the moral state of the inmates, has become convinced that communication between these persons renders their moral reformation impossible, and becomes even for them the inevitable cause of an alarming corruption.
This observation, justified by the experience of every day, has become in the United States an almost popular truth; and the publicists who disagree most respecting the way of putting the penitentiary system into practice, fully agree upon this point, that no salutary system can possibly exist without the separation of criminals.
For a long time it was believed that, in order to remedy the evil caused by the intercourse of prisoners with each other, it would be sufficient to establish in the prison, a certain number of classifications. But after having tried this plan, its insufficiency has been acknowledged.
There are similar punishments and crimes called by the same name, but there are no two beings equal in regard to their morals; and every time that convicts are put together, there exists necessarily a fatal influence of some upon others, because, in the association of the wicked, it is not the less guilty who act upon the more criminal, but the more depraved who influence those who are less so.
We must therefore, impossible as it is to classify prisoners, come to a separation of all.
This separation, which prevents the wicked from injuring others, is also favorable to himself.
Thrown into solitude he reflects. Placed alone, in view of his crime, he learns to hate it; and if his soul be not yet surfeited with crime, and thus have lost all taste for anything better, it is in solitude, where remorse will come to assail him.
Solitude is a severe punishment, but such a punishment is merited by the guilty. Mr. Livingston justly remarks, that a prison, destined to punish, would soon cease to be a fearful object, if the convicts in it could entertain at their pleasure those social relations in which they delighted, before their entry into the prison.
Yet, whatever may be the crime of the guilty prisoner, one has the right to take life from him, if society deems merely to deprive him of his liberty. Such, however, would be the result of absolute solitude, if no alleviation of its rigors were offered.
This is the reason why labor is introduced into the prison. Far from being an aggravation of the punishment, it is a real benefit to the prisoner.
But even if the criminal did not find in it a relief from his sufferings, it nevertheless would be necessary to force him to it. It is idleness which has led him to crime; with employment he will learn how to live honestly.