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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/675

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This was a typical year, and will serve to illustrate for all and at both prisons.

The terms of imprisonment are long: out of 1,300 men in one annual report, 143 were for life, and 392 for ten years or more. Over 300 prisoners had served more than one term, and some were even serving their eighth term. Some at Folsom have reached their twelfth term. The ages of the prisoners have ranged from sixteen to eighty-six, but the danger period is evidently between eighteen and forty.

All of the prison officers agree respecting the bad physical condition of the convicts. Many of them are weak and ill when they enter the prison; many are the victims of unnamable personal vices. The physicians at San Quentin in 1895 reported 27 cases of scrofula, 30 of syphilis, 22 of epilepsy, 29 of opium habit, 62 of rheumatism, 70 of typhus fever, and 124 of general debility. Medical statistics at Folsom show similar conditions, aggravated by the malarial climate of that locality. The death rate, formerly higher at Folsom than at San Quentin, is now considerably lower, owing to the much better accommodations for the prisoners, and the hard outdoor labor required. In 1896 it was but.79 of one per cent.

It is gratifying to observe that the cost of maintenance of the prisoners has been gradually reduced. Nearly thirty years ago legislative committees reported that the cost of running the State's prisons was four or five times as much in proportion to the inmates as that of any other State in the Union, and that the prisoners lived better than the average landowner. More economical methods were gradually adopted, and by 1891 the cost per diem of a convict was 40 cents. This has been still further reduced; at San Quentin to 30.45 cents, and at Folsom to 32.50 cents.

There will always be outside criticisms of the food supplied as "too good for convicts," but it is merely that of ordinary field laborers, with much less variety. Under California conditions it could not well be made cheaper. If the food statistics of the prisons were so compiled as to separate the butter, olives, raisins, canned fruit, etc., properly used on the tables of officers and wardens, from the articles purchased for the prisoners, much misapprehension would be prevented.

As long as the State pays the entire expense bill, however, there will be a natural restiveness on the part of the taxpayers; the prison management, no matter how careful it is, must suffer for the sins of the system. The present directors and wardens are intelligent and honest men, who could put the prisons on a self-supporting basis if they had the authority and the necessary means for the plant required. A comparatively small amount of manufactures would pay the daily