Words sometimes become tainted and fall into bad repute, and are discarded. Until the day of Elizabeth Fry, on the official records in England appeared the word “mad-house.” Then it was wiped out and the word “asylum” substituted. Within twenty years’ time in several states in America we have discarded the word “asylum” and have substituted the word “hospital.”
In Jeffersonville, Indiana, there is located a “Reformatory” which some years ago was known as a penitentiary. The word “prison” had a depressing effect, and “penitentiary” throws a theological shadow, and so the words will have to go. As our ideas of the criminal change, we change our vocabulary.
A few years ago we talked about asylums for the deaf and dumb–the word “dumb” has now been stricken from every official document in every state in the Union, because we have discovered, with the assistance of Gardner G. Hubbard, that deaf people are not dumb, and not being defectives, they certainly do not need an asylum. They need schools, however, and so everywhere we have established schools for the deaf.
Deaf people are just as capable, are just as competent, just as well able to earn an honest living as is the average man who can hear.
The “indeterminate sentence” is one of the wisest expedients ever brought to bear in penology. And it is to this generation alone that the honor of first using it must be given. The offender is sentenced for, say from one to eight years. This means that if the prisoner behaves himself, obeying the rules, showing a desire to be useful, he will be paroled and given his freedom at the end of one year.
If he misbehaves and does not prove his fitness for freedom he will be kept two or three years, and he may possibly have to serve the whole eight years. “How long are you in for?” I asked a convict at Jeffersonville, who was caring for the flowers in front of the walls. “Me? Oh, I’m in for two years, with the privilege of fourteen,” was the man’s answer, given with a grin.
The old plan of “short time,” allowing two or three months off from every year for good behavior was a move in the right direction, but the indeterminate sentence will soon be the rule everywhere for first offenders.
The indeterminate sentence throws upon the man himself the responsibility for the length of his confinement and tends to relieve prison life of its horror, by holding out hope. The man has the short time constantly in mind, and usually is very careful not to do anything to imperil it. Insurrection and an attempt to escape may mean that every day of the whole long sentence will have to be served.
So even the dullest of minds and the most calloused realize that it pays to do what is right–the lesson being pressed home upon them in a way it has never been before.
The old-time prejudice of business men against the man who had “done time” was chiefly on account of his incompetence, and not his record. The prison methods that turned out a hateful, depressed and frightened man who had been suppressed by the silent system and deformed by the lock-step, calloused by brutal treatment and the constant thought held over him that he was a criminal, was a bad thing for the prisoner, for the keeper and for society. Even an upright man would be undone by such treatment, and in a year be transformed into a sly, secretive and morally sick man. The men just out of prison were unable to do anything–they needed constant supervision and attention, and so of course we did not care to hire them.
The Ex. now is a totally different man from the Ex. just out of his striped suit in the seventies, thanks to that much defamed man, Brockway, and a few others.