Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 7 May 1845 - Page 7, BY MR. F. M. INNES.



Separate imprisonment differs from what is ordinarily understood by solitary imprisonment-in the following particulars :—' In providing the prisoner with a large, well ventilated, and lighted apartment, instead of immuring him in a confined, ill-ventilated, and dark cell: in providing him with everything that is necessary to his cleanliness, health, and comfort during the day, and for his repose at night, instead of denying him those advantages; in supplying him with sufficient food of wholesome quality, instead of confining him to bread and water; in alleviating his mental discomfort by giving him employment; by the regular visits of the officers of the prison, of the governor, surgeon, turnkeys, or trades' instructors, and particularly of the chaplain, instead of consigning him to the torpor and other bad consequences of idleness, and the misery of unmitigated remorse; in separating him from none of the inmates of the prison except his fellow-prisoners, instead of cutting him off as far as may be from, the sight and solace of human society; in allowing him the privilege of attending both chapel and school for the purposes of public worship and education in class (securing on these occasions his complete separation from the sight and hearing of his fellows), instead of excluding him from divine service and instruction; in providing him with the means of taking exercise in the open air, whenever it is necessary and proper, instead of confining him to the unbroken seclusion of his cell.' (Inspector's report, 1838.) Itis contended by the advocates of the separate system, that as a mode of punishment it prevents contaminating intercourse among criminals, without requiring for that purpose the addition of those punishments which are attached to breaches of regulation in prisons on the silent system; and that it obviates the necessity of that minute supervision by prison officers likewise characteristic of the silent system, and which, in its operation, is found to be humiliating and degrading without being effective: that it diminishes the probability of a prisoner being recognised after his restoration to society as having been the subject of penal infliction, and thereby favours his permanent reformation; that it presents the mind' of the prisoner in the most favourable circumstances for receiving new and right impressions; that it does not disturb these impressions in their progress to becoming settled habits; that labour being given as a mitigation, not an aggravation, of confinement, in a separate cell, it is ever afterwards associated in the mind with what is agreeable, instead of with what is degrading and repugnant, as in the case of those prisons where it is imposed as a punishment.

By the opponents of the separate system the compatibility of the enforcement of that system with the maintenance of the sound state of body and mind of the prisoners has been questioned. The assumption that all association of criminals must necessarily be degrading has been disputed; and it has been urged that it is the object for which men are associated, and the principles by which their association is regulated, not the original character of the individuals brought together, which determines the effect of this association on the individuals. Accordingly it has been contended that while it may be perfectly true that association for exemplary or vindictive punishment is deteriorating, it remains to be proved that association for reform would be so; and it is further con tended, that in a process contemplating reform, success will be aided by association, as in the case of societies for the promotion of temperance and the like. In reply to the argument respecting the recognition of the criminal after release, it is said the argument may be allowed all its assumed weight if it can be shown that, consistently with justice, the conviction of an offender may take place without the knowledge of more than the parties immediately concerned in his prosecution, or that his release will not involve a renewal of any of the connections of place or person which subsisted before imprisonment. That solitude is favourable to the inculcation of new principles is allowed, but it is urged that the cultivation of principles in the mind is only one-half of a process of conversion, and that without a sphere of action they can neither be matured nor satisfactorily tested. These and other objections have been urged by writers to whose works the reader is referred; but it is generally agreed that a satisfactory determination of the question at issue can only be derived from experiments, to enter on which there is less reluctance, seeing that every mode of secondary punishment which has yet been tried has disappointed the expectations in which it originated. (Australiana; or Thoughts on Convict Management; and A General View of the Social System of Convict Management, 4c., by Captain Maconochie; The Merits of a Home and of a Colonial Process; of a Social and of a Separate System of Convict Management, by F. M. lnnes; Reports of the Inspectors of Prisons.) The separate system originated in this country in the year 1790, and was first tried in the county gaol, Gloucester. A model prison on the separate system has just been completed, and no less than 14 more are projected in different parts of England; the success or failure of which will determine whether the system shall or shall not become general.


In reference to the occupations which will be pursued by prisoners in separate confinement in this country, there appears to exist some uncertainty. At Millbank penitentiary the males are employed in weaving, shoemaking, tailoring, bed-making, and junk-picking; the females in needle-work. In the report of MM. de Metz and Blouet (Paris, July 5, 1837) the following list of trades which may be pursued in prisons on the separate system is introduced :—Manu factures of polished steel, clasps, hooks, scales, whalebone, jewellery in copper, bon nets, boots and shoes, purses, buttons, bronzes, brushes, picture-frames, cages, canes, pasteboards, baskets, girdles, chains, woollen shawls, footstools, shoes, chimney pieces, carving, corslets, stays, spun and twisted cotton, cutlery, pencils, glasses, breeches; thimbles, ebony-work, fans, tin work, fringes, scabbards, lace, gloves, wood engravings for types, laces, lamps, spectacles and eye-glasses, mother-of pearl ornaments, tea and coffee services, umbrellas, combs, pearls, rackets, paper-rulers, cloth and paper bags, sandals, bellows, mousetraps, snuff-boxes, and aprons.


Any estimate of the expense per prisoner of the separate system must, until that system has been for some time in operation, be liable to dispute. At Millbank penitentiary (which is allowed to be an imperfect criterion) the net annual expense of each prisoner, deducting his earnings, is said to be £24 6s. 6d. (Lord John Russell's Note on Transportation and Secondary Punishments.) It is urged by the advocates of the system that the sentence of imprisonment in a separate prison need be only a half or two-thirds the duration of a sentence to any other prison for it to be as severe and as much dreaded, and that the difference of expense will be thus made up.




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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].