Transcribe Page

House Journal 1822 (30-318937-021B.pdf)

31 Collected, as you are, from every portion of the State, and representing the interests of each district and town as well as the whole, you must be possessed of much local knowledge, which, when brought into legislation will be of essential service. Our great care should be to 'enact laws mild in their character, plain in their construction and equal in their operation. It is of high importance, that the general laws be such as to provide for the exigencies, for which they are enacted; and to my mind it is of almost equal consequence, that when well matured,' and passed with due deliberation, they remain without change, unless necessary for the purpose of remedying some material defect. The principles of laws, that have been long in operation, become familiar ,to the people ; they have been expounded by the Courts, and decisions have taken place under them, so that whatever might originally have been ambiguous has become certain

The Constitution of this State having provided that the Governor "shall from time to time give the Legislature information of the condition of the State, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge expedient," I now proceed to discharge that part of my official duty. On examining the statute book, find, that by the Act of June 27, 1820, in cases of the condemnation of convicts to punishment by solitary imprisonment, and confinement to hard labor, the sentence was ordered to be executed in the county gaols; and the counties were required, under the direction of the Courts of Sessions, to provide enclosed yards, connected with the prisons where convicts might be kept at labor. It is presumed that the execution of the law was found either very inconvenient or impracticable, as by the Act of March 19, 1821, this part of the former law is repealed, and the Court is authorized to order the punishment by solitary imprisonment to be executed in the county gaols, "as far as the situations of the prisons, the state of the convict, and the circumstances and aggravation of the offence shall render proper."

By the operation of the latter act, the punishment by confinement to hard labor seems to be substantially abandoned, or at least suspended for the present. Indeed, it is entirely impracticable, without the addition of yards to the prisons, erected and secured with reference to that object. By repealing the law, by which this was required, the Legislature seem to have been of the opinion that it was inexpedient to have thus provided.

Before the separation of Maine from Massachusetts, in all, or nearly all cases, where convicts for the more aggravated offences were sentenced to a long period of confinement, the sentence was ordered to be executed in the State Prison. This relieved the counties from a considerable proportion of their prisoners, and particularly from those of the most dangerous character. Since that time, all have necessarily been confined in the county gaols, and the consequence has been, so great an accumulation of prisoners, that some of the gaols have been inconveniently crowded. There is reason to believe, that, with the growth of our population, the number of convicts will not diminish, but, considering our contiguity to the provinces of a foreign Government, that they will rather increase. Should this be the fact, it will become necessary for many of the counties to enlarge their prisons, or for the Legislature either to erect a State Prison, or substitute some other mode of punishment in the place of imprisonment. The restraint of personal liberty, either with or without hard labor, seems to be pointed out by the general practice of civilized nations, as a suitable mode of punishing crime against the peace and security of society. It is certainly desirable, to connect with imprisonment such a system of penitentiary discipline, as will have a tendency to reform the criminal, as well as to deter him and others by the punishment, from a repetition of his offence.

In some instances where penitentiaries have been established under favorable circumstances, this effect in a considerable degree may have been produced. But the experience of this country will not warrant the belief, that confinement to hard labor, where the convict is in habits of daily intercourse, which the vigilance of the keeper cannot entirely prevent, with others whom the laws have pronounced infamous, and who perhaps before had become hardened in iniquity, has much tendency to reform the criminal. The number of culprits, reclaimed in our State penitentiaries, bears a very small proportion to the whole number sentenced, and will not perhaps equal the number of those, who are fortified in their vices and confirmed in their evil habits, by the contagion of bad example, and the corrupting influence of prison society. It may be added, that constant occupation, and the society of such persons, as, from the temper and habits of the prisoner, he would be likely, under any circumstances, to select for his companions, mitigates, in no inconsiderable degree, the sense of confinement. Solitary imprisonment is more terrible to the guilty, as a punishment, and reason and experience warrant the belief, that it is more effectual to reclaim them. In unoccu-

Description: The journal of the House of Representatives documents the proceedings in the chamber, including actions taken on bills, petitions and reports from committees read, and votes taken. The journals are not transcripts and therefore do not include floor speeches that are found in the modern Legislative Records.

Link to document in Digital Maine

Language: English

Date: 1822

Image 41 of 332