What have they to lose by pilfering, assaulting, robbing, and murdering? So far as creature comforts are concerned, they live better and work about as much, have warmer clothing and better beds, in the meanest jail in the United States than they experience out of it. So far as the duration of life is concerned, they will probably live as long under a sentence of death as they do in the wretched filth they pile up around them, and in the rapid changes of our national weather. The bric-à-brac societies who have exhausted Ibsen, Browning, and the entire science of photography, and who are now devoting themselves to the comfort and well-being of malefactors, might possibly be in good part, were there any reasonable percentage of reformation in the ordinary penitentiary experience; if the enterprising burglar, after serving out his term, burglarized no more, or the cut-throat, released from a long penalty for his crime—as Mr. Gilbert would say—"loved to hear the little brook a-gurgling and to listen to the merry village chime"; but, as a matter of fact, he doesn't. But here is a practical problem quite in the line of refinement. Sooner or later, somebody in this country will be obliged to grapple with the problem of the "dago." Can he be kept out of jail? Can he be made a useful citizen by utilizing the leisure he spends in jails to educate him into some sort of comprehension of the new country in which he finds himself? The proposition that every jail and prison should be made reformatory as well as punitory in its character would require, one would be apt to say, some little looking into. The question as to whether states are bound to reform as well as punish, their wrong-doers, depends largely upon the wider question of the duties of a state to its citizens. The other considerations, as to whether a state should make its prisoners comfortable, should watch over their physical welfare, may be disposed of at once by citing the general propositions that, however models of what they ought to be in other respects, our jails ought to be somewhat more uncomfortable to the prisoner than the most comfortless hovel that the poverty of the habitual criminal provides; as, otherwise, there would never be a class of the community to whom a residence within prison walls would not be a change for the better. Jail soup may be thin, but let the man who loves not thin soup keep out of jail. And let the soup be not thicker than, at least, the thinnest obtainable outside. To reverse the old rhyme, in most cases "Stone walls should a prison make, and iron bars a cage." If flowers are to be distributed by kind-hearted ladies at Easter, let it be to the deserving who keep, rather than to the undeserving who keep not, the law of the land. Of course, these propositions are not meant to contemplate the abnormal instances of squalor and filth, which communities for their own preservation must treat with and rectify.
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/186
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.