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The sustained attack against solitary confinement in England in the years after the Napoleonic Wars led members of the new generation of prison reformers, such as Elizabeth Fry, to advocate a regime of 'separate confinement' in which group labour was combined with cellular confinement. In advocating this important modification to the new discipline, the reformers were strongly influenced not only by the reaction against the original regime in England but also by events that had taken place in the United States. It is to those events that I now wish to turn, because, as we shall see, they were not only influential in the further refinement of the penitentiary in England but were to be important in the development of the penitentiary in Canada.

In the United States the dramatic shift from the old-style prison, with its relatively free association with the outside world and its established prisoner counter-culture, to the strict discipline of the penitentiary closely paralleled developments in Europe. In 1776 the Quakers had established a Prisoners' Aid Society in Philadelphia which was subsequently revived in 1787 under the name of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. In 1788 the society issued a memorial which, based on its members' study of the practice and theory of the treatment of prisoners, endorsed the regime of solitary confinement and hard labour as the most effective method of reforming criminals.43

That endorsement was legislated in an act of 1790 which authorized that a special block of cells should be constructed 'for the purpose of confining therein the most hardened and atrocious offenders ...sentenced to hard labour for a ...term of years.'44 Following this enactment, a new addition was made to the city jail on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, which has become known in the literature as the cradle of the American penitentiary system. The most hardened offenders were confined in single cells and were kept strictly isolated from each other at hard labour for a period fixed by the court. Their only contacts with the outside were visits by prison officials and members of the Philadelphia Society.

When overcrowding of the old prison at Auburn, New York, required additional carceral capacity, the choice of the cellular system.was based on the experience in Pennsylvania. A committee appointed to draw plans for the prison system in the new facility recommended that the prisoners be classified in three groups. The most hardened criminals would be held in solitary confinement; another group would be kept in solitary for three days a week, and a third (the youngest) would be permitted to work in association in the workshops. Torsten Eriksson has described the implementation of these plans.

On December 25, 1821, 80 men, the worst criminals they had, were put into the new cell block. They were given no work, and they were not allowed to meet or speak with anyone other than the prison chaplain (not even the guards)- unless they were ill. Prisoners were forbidden to leave their cells to relieve themselves, even though there were no toilet facilities in the cells. The air was fetid. The French criminologists, Gustav de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, who provided this information, described the results:

'This experiment, of which such favourable results had been anticipated, proved fatal for the majority of prisoners. It devours the victim incessantly and unmercifully; it does not reform, it kills. The unfortunate creatures submitted to this experiment wasted away so obviously that their guards were appalled. Their lives appeared to be in danger if they remained in prison under the same treatment; five of them had already died in one year; their spiritual condition was no less disturbing; one of them went out of his mind; another took advantage of a moment when a guard had brought him something to hurl himself out of his cell, running the almost certain risk of a fatal fall.'

This was the death sentence of the system of solitary confinement without labour.45

As we shall see, that death sentence still awaits execution in the Canadian penitentiary of today.

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