NEW YORK State last year had a law forbidding the use of motive power machinery in its State prisons; forbidding contract labor of State prisoners; and forbidding the selling or giving the product of any convict labor. It seems that that law was passed in the month of August, 1888. And what the law had accomplished from that time up to the month of April, 1889, the New York Independent tells in its issue of April 18. It says:—
“The prison is crowded. Discipline is becoming impaired. The men are deteriorating. They are begging for work, sending by hundreds to the head keeper with the same old petition. The best evidence of the evil of the Yates law is that they are going crazy under it. About a dozen have been sent to the asylum from Sing Sing, and three dozen in all during the last six months, or more than twice the number during the same time in the previous year. These are of the first fruits; and as to what may be counted on hereafter, let the prison officers tell us officially:—
“Warden Dunston, of Auburn:—
“‘The enforced idleness of the convicted criminal demoralizes his mental, and wrecks his physical, system.’
“Warden FulIer, of Clinton:—
“‘To avoid the debilitating effects, mental, moral, and physical, that are the sequel to the confinement of prisoners in their cells without occupation, and in answer to the personal appeals of men for work, I have made for them such employment as I could.’
“Warden Brush, of Sing Sing:—
“‘Idleness in a prison is horrible to contemplate, especially to prison officials, who understand fully the consequences. The prisoners soon become restless, unhappy, and miserable. Time with them passes slowly their bodies soon become unhealthy, and the mind must become diseased. In fact, nothing but disease, insanity, and death can be expected from this condition.’
“Physician Barber, of Sing Sing:—
“Confinement in their cells five-sixths of the time in almost solitary idleness appears to be forcing them back upon themselves,—a prey to the baneful influences of impure thoughts, corrupt conversation, disgusting personal habits, physical and mental prostration and moral degradation.’
“General Superintendent Lathrop:—
“Idleness is the bane of a prison, whose malign influence no prison administration, however humane, ingenious, and energetic, has ever been able to overcome.’”
That is the effect of enforced idleness in a prison where its effect can be definitely determined. Enforced idleness can never do anything else than to force men back upon themselves with the result stated by Physician Barber. Yet in the face of all this evidence of the corrupting influence of enforced idleness, the National Sunday-law workers still go ahead in their efforts to secure a national law by which everybody shall be compelled to be idle one-seventh of the time perpetually. Then, when they get their Sunday law, if a man will not be idle every Sunday he shall be imprisoned; and then, if they should extend the New York system to other States, when they once get them into prison they can compel them to be idle anyhow.
But in view of the facts set forth by these prison officials upon the destructive effects of idleness, every man who has any care for his mental, moral, or physical well-being, ought to oppose, with all his might, the making of any such law, and then, ought to refuse to obey any such law when it is made. In view of these evidences, we do not wonder that Dr. Crafts pronounces idleness to be Sabbath-breaking. It is one of the very worst sort of wickedness. The idle man is thrown back upon himself, and nothing good can ever come from it, even though it be done voluntarily. But when men are compelled by law, under pains and penalties, to be idle, they are forced back upon themselves, with the fearful results recorded above. And those who are responsible for making the law which forces men into such a condition as that, cannot be guiltless. The more that Sunday laws are tested, the more hideous they appear in their essential wickedness.
A. T. J.