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Mr. Fisher says: “I believe the jail to be in excellent condition. I have, during the past year, had the building whitewashed on the outside, and the wood work painted; and have made such other repairs as appeared to be necessary for the health aud safe-keeping of the prisoners. I think the jail is second to none in the State.”
NEEDED LEGISLATIVE CHANGES.
The Board desire to call the attention of your honorable body to certain features in the practical working of the correctional legislation of the State,-more especially that part of it which supplies the Providence County Jail with three-fourths of its inmates. The laws reaching the large class of offenders, who find their way to the State Workhouse and House of Correction, are all that could be desired. They need only to be properly administered and faithfully carried out, in all their wise and humane provisions, to accomplish the best results to the individual and to the community. It is mainly owing to the enforcement of these wholesome laws, that our State has been comparatively free from the nuisance of tramps, whose depredations and crimes have been so frequent and alarming in other parts of the country. Were the path leading to the Workhouse widened, so that a considerable portion of those now going to the county jails should find their way thither, the Board believe the change would be in all respects an advantageous one.
To illustrate what is here meant, they beg leave to present a few statistics from the Providence County Jail. They are taken from the
report of the jailer for 1876, as the report for 1877 was received too late for this purpose.
It appears from this document, that there were, during the year, 2,547 commitments to the Providence County Jail. Of these, 802 were by the State; 214 by the different towns in the county of Providence, under the authority of the State; 1,480 by the city of Providence, under like authority; and 16 by the United States.
Of the 802 commitments by the State, 450 were for the want of bail, and 35 for debt. Of the remaining 352, 219 were for the non-payment of fines imposed by the courts,—these fines varying in amount from one dollar to one hundred dollars, the most frequent sum being five dollars. One hundred and thirty-three of the commitments by the State, were on sentences of imprisonment, for terms ranging from ten days to ten months,—the largest number being for thirty days, and the next largest number for three months. The crimes, which led to these last commitments, were theft, assault, defacing buildings, evading fare, malicious mischief, and a few other offences of much rarer occurrence.
Of the 214 commitments by the different towns of the county, 186 were for the non-payment of fines imposed by the justice courts, the fine being, in a large majority of cases, two dollars. The remaining twenty-eight commitments by the towns were on sentences of imprisonment; in twenty-seven instances, for ten days, and, in one instance, for thirty days. The offences, with two or three exceptions, were drunkenness and revelling.
Of the 1,480 commitments by the city of Providence to the County Jail, thirty-five were for the want of bail. All the remaining 1,445, with two exceptions, were for drunkenness and revelling. In six instances the commitments were on sentences of imprisonment for ten days. In all the other cases the commitments were for the non-payment of fines,-most frequently in the sum of two dollars, imposed by the city courts. By the thirteenth section of an Act,-passed October, 1833, -authorizing the city of Providence to establish a House of Correction, the city is precluded from keeping its prisoners
in the County Jail for more than ten days, for any single offence. After a time, varying from one to ten days, -according as friends do, or do not, appear, to pay the fines and costs,—the doors of the jail are opened, and these 1,445 inmates are returned to society, with impaired self-respect and diminished power of resisting the solicitations of a diseased appetite, only whetted by temporary abstinence. In the words of one of the Justices of the Police Court, “They do not remain in confinement long enough to begin to think about amendment.”
To hope for any benefit from such treatment, either to the individual or to the community, is worse than idle. The only real purpose subserved by these ten-day imprisonments, is to enable the city to extract, in about half the cases,—and at how great a cost in pauperism?- from the wretched families of the inebriates, these imposed fines and costs.
The true policy, as it seems to the Board, dictated alike by humanity and by common sense, is to withhold all punishment, especially punishment tending to disgrace and to humiliate, from the unfortunate victim of his appetite, so long as he is harmless and of use to his family; and, when this limit is passed, to send him to a house of correction, where he may remain long enough, not merely to become sober, but to acquire habits of sobriety. The county jail is in no way a suitable place for him.
The Board believe the present to be a favorable time for making such changes in the correctional legislation of the State, and city of Providence, as may be required for the more perfect accomplishment of its ends. It is probable that, during the coming summer, the State Prison, and the jail connected with it, will be removed to Cranston, some seven miles from Providence. If the existing statutes and ordinances continue unchanged, not less than 2,500 persons must, during the year, be conveyed there, and, after remaining for a few days, be brought back to the city,—an average of eight persons every week-day in the year. The expense of this continual transportation of prisoners, to and from the jail, will be considerable,-suffi
cient, it is believed, to make it for the interest of the city to join with the State in effecting the needed legislative changes. It is not improbable that the municipal authorities will, of their own accord, move in this direction, during the present winter.
There is another objection—and no slight one—to these ten-day sentences. It is impossible to keep cells, occupied by so rapid a succession of tenants, in a cleanly and proper condition. In the State Prison and State Workhouse, every new-comer is first subjected to a thorough ablution, and then provided with clean garments belonging to the State. The clothes which he wore there, after being properly cleansed' and repaired, if necessary, are put away and kept for him till the time of his discharge. For those committed on short sentences to the County Jail, there is no such provision. The clothes in which they came there, often very much soiled, and infested with vermin, they continue to wear till they leave. The cells allotted to these temporary occupants have been for many years the opprobrium of the institution. It would be a pity for any part of the new Prison to acquire a like character.
The same defect of short sentences, though to a less extent, has characterized the legislation of Boston and New York. But the authorities of those cities are now fully awake to the evil, and are considering how it may be remedied.
It may be fairly questioned, the board think, whether men are not too readily incarcerated for minor violations of the laws of the State. It would seem that an offence, for which a fine of one dollar is deemed an adequate penalty, should hardly send a man to the County Jail; and yet, during the year 1876, there were nine such imprisonments. Frequent and light punishments only harden the wrong doer in crime, and make him insensible to the disgrace of it. When the transgressor has reached such a point, that punishment becomes necessary for the protection of society, let it be sharp, and let it be certain. Both its deterrent, and its reformatory effect will depend much upon its possessing these qualities. It is never wise to play at punishing
The following cases, taken from the records of the Providence County Jail are instructive, as showing the uselessness of frequent and short sentences for the reformation of character, or for any other good purpose. The list might be extended indefinitely:
M-- C- was born in Ireland, July 1, 1813. She came to this country, when twelve years of age, with her mother and brothers. She lived in Boston till March, 1859, when she was brought by a man to this city and kept in a house of ill-fame. Three months later, she was arrested and sent to the Providence Reform School. She remained here till she was nineteen, when she was returned to her friends in Boston. A few months afterwards she came back to Providence, to open a house of prostitution. Her name appears, for the first time, on the books of the jail, in June, 1863. Her record is as follows: