September 10, 1887

Toronto, Ontario Canada


LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: The cordial welcome extended to the National Prison Congress in the city of Toronto was fully anticipated, but is none the less gratifying on that account. We have been in no doubt as to the reception we would meet.


The work which John Howard began, more than a century ago, in England, and to which he gave his life, is not circumscribed by national boundaries, and the interest in its aims, purposes, and success is not confined to any race or tongue. And yet it must be admitted that prison reform is nowhere universally or generally popular. It is simply not considered by the majority of men. Rev. Dr. Haygood spoke wisely when he said to the Congress last year, at Atlanta, that the most serious obstacle in the way of prison reform is the prevalent sentiment of despair of prison reform. Society is silent and inactive in the presence of many recognized evils, because society has no faith; they are accepted as inevitable and endured because they are believed to be beyond cure. But in a world that God governs, no notion can be more false or harmful; in God’s world what ought to be done can be done. The longer it may take to remedy a recognized evil, to right an admitted wrong, the sooner will wise men set about; the harder the task, the more zealously good men will do their duty in trying to accomplish it.


The National Prison Congress comes to this flourishing city, knowing full well in this interesting part of North America are many men who have given to the subject of prison reform serious reflection, but knowing also that, in all probability, here, as in all other civilized communities the majority even of the intelligent and well-disposed have not considered it. The leading object of desire with the members of the National Prison Congress wherever they have assembled in national session heretofore, has been to induce the people to study the subject, to become informed about it, and thus to create that enlightened and favorable public opinion which is the essential precursor of successful reform.


To introduce the subject to this audience it may not be out of place to repeat a few things as to the history, character and proceedings of this Association which are very familiar to all its members.


In 1869, the late Dr. Rev. E.C. Wines, “the learned, devoted and persistent leader of American reformers in prison discipline,” prepared the following draft of a call for a National Congress: “The undersigned, deeming prison discipline a vital interest of society, as well as one of the gravest of social problems, and, on both grounds worthy of the closest study and freest discussion, cordially unite in calling a National Congress for conference on criminal punishment and reformatory treatment, to be held in the autumn of 1870 in Cincinnati,”



The call received ninety-one signatures, classified as follows: Twenty-five wardens of prisons, seventeen superintendents of juvenile reformatories, eight members of boards of State charities, and fifteen general philanthropists.


In pursuance of this call was the first National Prison Congress held in Cincinnati in October, 1870. Its most important action, perhaps, was the appointment of a committee to take steps for the organization of a permanent National Prison Association, The objects of the Association as stated in the resolution of the Cincinnati Congress and afterwards in its charter and constitution are as follows:


1.      The amelioration of the laws in relation to public offenses and offenders and the mode of procedure by which these laws are enforced.

2.      The improvement of the penal, correctional and reformatory institutions throughout the country, and the management, government and discipline thereof, including the appointment of boards of control and other officers.

3.      The care of, and procuring suitable employment for discharged prisoners, and especially for such as may or shall have given evidence of a reformation of life.


The National Prison Association has held successful and instructive meeting in Cincinnati, Baltimore, Saratoga, St. Louis, Detroit, and Atlanta, Georgia, and special meeting in New York, Chicago, and other cities. Present, and taking part in all the proceedings of its meetings have been the most distinguished experts who have the control and management of the leading penal and reformatory institutions of America. If you name the famous prisons and reformatories and the eminent specialists at their head, you will find that you have named prominent and influential members of this society. In like manner the eminent students and writers-those who have investigated at home and abroad the whole subject of prison and prison reform-are active participants of this Association. Practice and theory, experiment and speculation, observance and experience, the man of books and the man of works are here side by side. No one familiar with the debates and writings of the society can fail to have noticed the increasing harmony in principle, purpose, and methods of all the elements brought together in its meetings. An unreflecting writer has said that prison reform and sentimentalism are convertible terms. Nothing could be further from the truth, Here the reply given to this sneer last year at Atlanta.


Prison reform has nothing in common with the sentimentalism that makes martyrs out of condemned murders, heroes out of convicted felons. It does not send women to the jails of the justly condemned, with rare delicacies and costly flowers; it is ashamed of those who do such things. It does not sign petitions for executive clemency, simply because somebody presents them; it judges those who do such things with indiscriminating sensibility to be foolish and weak people, who have small comprehension of the true principles of the social order. Prison reform believes in the enforcement of law; it insists upon the proper punishment of criminals, as necessary to the security of society and the promotion of virtue, and as best, every way, for criminals themselves.


A recognized high authority on the subject of prison reform, Gen. Brinkerhoff, of Ohio, says: The two dominant ideas in the creation of prisons and in the treatment of prisoners are, or at least should be: (1) the deterrent influence upon those outside, and (2) the reformation of those inside.” With these principles firmly insisted upon, the Association also confidently adopts certain methods. Among them some of the chief are classification of prisons and prisoners, industrial training, productive labor, education and religion. If time permitted, I might go into detail and set forth at large the conclusions that have been reached by the Association on a great number of interesting and important questions relating to prisons and the treatment of prisoners. I think I am not mistaken when I say that among the questions which have been amply debated and investigated, the following are some of those which may be considered settled in the judgment of the Association. Of course it will not be understood that they are in practice settled. Indeed, as to most of them, the work of forming public sentiment, so that the results named will be embodied in legislation, still remains to be done. Hence the necessity for the continued and increased activity of this and other similar organizations.


1.      As to jails, prison reform declares that the county-jail system as administered in the United States is a disgrace to civilization, and that the administration of justice cannot be freed from the charge of maintaining training-schools of crime, until the construction and management of these places be radically changed, so that their inmates shall be separately confined, and all contaminating intercourse be rendered impossible. The county jail should create such separation that no prisoner shall be allowed to associate with any other prisoner.

2.      Prison reform requires that, wherever it is practicable, there shall be separate prisons for women, with officers of their own sex; and that in any prison in which women are held under arrest, or as convicts, matrons or female officers ought to be in constant attendance.

3.      Prison reform urges the adoption of inflexible rules, under which the habitual criminal-the unreformed convict-shall always be held within prison walls. Is it not a reproach to the administration of criminal justice, that well-known professional criminals, after repeated convictions, are still at large preying upon the community and requiring the constant and vigilant efforts of the police to protect life and property.

4.      The friends of prison reform hold that promptness and certainty in the detection and punishment of crime are the chief agencies by which society can protect itself against the criminal class; and that the deterrent forces of the law now lose a part of their value, through the needless delays, uncertainties, and irregularities of criminal jurisprudence; therefore they earnestly recommend such changes in the laws and their administration, that judgment against crime shall be executed with certainty and speedily.

5.      Prison reform would abolish in all prisons vindictive personal punishments. To maintain the best discipline in prison, we must appeal to something better than the lash, the thumb-screw, or other forms of physical torture. There may be exceptional cases, but certainly they are very rare.

6.      Prison reform encourages organized Christian effort to aid and care for prisoners after their discharge. In most cases, now, society give the discharged convict a chance to avoid his old haunts and his old companions in crime. The brand of Cain is upon him, and every man’s hand is against him.

7.      Prison reform recommends the general education of the youth of both sexes in industrial pursuits, employing and training the faculties of both mind and body in productive labor, as an efficient means of preventing crime.


This catalogue of measures, about which prison reformers are in substantial accord, might be largely extended. But I forbear to trespass upon your time. At this meeting of the National Congress, we all lament the absence of Mr. Wm. M. F. Round, the secretary of the Association, and the secretary of the Prison Association of the State of New York. For years he has been able, earnest, and zealous, without compensation employed in the labors of the most exacting office of this Association, We all devoutly trust that the illness which prevents him from being with us to-night may speedily pass away.


Finally, all descriptions of people and all peoples were within the scope of the comprehensive benevolence of John Howard. All civilized peoples have in some measure shared in the blessings conferred by his philanthropic labors. All who have caught the spirit of his reform, whether on this side or on that of a national boundary line, are not merely at one with one with each other, but among the intelligent and the good, their work is always in order, and they find themselves in the best sense of the phrase altogether and always at home.       


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