location: publications / books / Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada / Chapter 2 The Evolution of Penitentiary Discipline in Canada / Solitary Confinement after 1850: The Prison of Isoolation, Canadas Radical Reform

Following the passage of the new Penitentiary Act, the Justice Department requested plans and estimates for a penal prison. In November 1869, the federal cabinet approved an inquiry into the workings of the solitary system at Philadelphia and elsewhere in the United States, and in 1870 official government approval was given for the construction near Kingston Penitentiary of the new penal prison designed for the purposes of solitary confinement.47 Work was begun on the prison in 1870, but was discontinued the following year when prisoner labour was required for more pressing projects elsewhere.48
The 1868 Penitentiary Act transferred control of the penitentiary from the five-member board of inspectors to a three-member board of directors.49 In 1875 the superintendency was again transferred to a single inspector of penitentiaries.50 For the next twenty years the office of inspector was held by one individual, J.G. Moylan. In his annual reports, Inspector Moylan set forth those principles of prison discipline, first enunciated by John Howard, directed to the need to control abuse of power and ensure fairness and justice within the prison walls. They merit reciting:

It is of paramount necessity that prisoners should realize the fact that the rules are carried out fairly and justly. in order that strict and stern discipline be maintained without exciting constant resistance. They must feel, too, that the officers are simply administering the law, and that in any case of abuse of power on the part of an officer, he will be held to a strict accountability.51

Experience shows that there is no greater mistake in the whole compass of prison discipline than the studied imposition of personal degradation as part and parcel of the punishment.52

No one will deny that society has the right to protect itself, yet not by the exercise of undue severity. The offender is sentenced by due course of law to imprisonment, either for a limited number of years or for life; imprison him, then, but do not put him to death, do not drive him mad or destroy his health ...the law does not sanction this severity; reason, humanity, common justice cry out against it. The vilest criminal, who is sentenced only to confinement and hard labour, has as good a right to require that society should not expose his health, sanity or life to danger, as the most virtuous member of the community. His safety in these respects. indeed. is to be watched over with even greater care than if he were a free man unspotted by crime. The reason is obvious; those who are at liberty are bound to take care of themselves; if they fall into peril it is their own fault or misfortune; society is not accountable for what it seeks not to control. But with the convict it is far different; the iron grasp of the law is upon him, and he is as helpless for himself as an infant. Thick walls and iron grates surround him; his fO<xl is selected and weighed out to him; his allowance of light, air and water is determined, his hours for sleep, labour and relaxation are fixed; his dress. his exercise. his habits in every respect are under the constant and irresistible control of his keepers. He is like clay in the hands of the potter ...Convicts are capital subjects for experiment. for they are not allowed to have any will of their own. Everything is done for them upon a system; they are fed. lodged, dressed. taught. punished and rewarded upon theory. The interior of a prison is a grand theatre for the trial of all new plans in hygiene. education. physical and moral reform; the convict is surrendered body and soul to be experimented upon.53

We will have cause to reflect further on Inspector Moylan's graphic description of the prison as a 'grand theatre' and on the prisoners' place behind its enveloping curtain when we consider the modern sequel to solitary confinement.

To Inspector Moylan the experimentation in prison discipline that had gone on in the nineteenth century in Europe and North America had narrowed the field of controversy. 'Here is absolutely the whole question: social or solitary labour by day, which is better? Facts and experience prove the congregated system the more preferable, provided the means exist for isolating the bad and incorrigible from well-disposed convicts.'54 Inspector Moylan proved to be a consistent advocate of the introduction of a scheme of solitary or separate confinement for the 'incorrigible' prisoners and as part of the initial incarceration of all prisoners along the lines of the Crofton model. On the issue of the 'incorrigibles' he wrote in 1878 that 'the pernicious influence of such characters cannot be exaggerated. Habituated themselves to a life of infamy, callous to every sentiment of morality and rectitude, they delight in relating their evil deeds and experience to others who may be mere tyros in the ways of wickedness and sin. It is not difficult to forecast the effect of such intercourse.'55

He explained the rationale behind the separate confinement of the newly received prisoners in terms resonant with the sentiments of Howard and Paul. 'This solitude will afford these persons time and opportunities to enter into themselves, to examine their past lives, their weaknesses, the causes of their fall and misfortunes, in view of amendment and of making firm resolutions against relapse. They will, moreover, become well acquainted with and habituated to the rules and regulations which they are to follow and allow them to share in associated labour or trades.'56

Page 3 of 6