Cornhill Magazine,  3 (1861), 409–32.

The Irish Convict System. Why it Has Succeeded

[Thornton L Hunt]




Statistics, Error, Physiognomy, Photography, Lecturing

    Complains that 'Statistical figures [...] never suffice to show us the true substance and nature of any two things compared; they do not indicate the actual distinction, they only mete it' (410). In the Irish penal system new inmates have their 'identity [...] at once registered in the prison books in the shape of a photographic portrait'. These photographs allow the easy identification of former prisoners who later return to crime, as well as making clear the different physiognomies of the various criminal classes. While most inmates exhibit merely 'weariness and indifference', some criminal countenances show 'cunning enough to satisfy the preconceptions of the most self-satisfied scientific physiognomist'. (414) The Irish system also makes a 'judicious use of lectures' and allows prisoners to attend talks on subjects such as 'the composition of the air; [...] the ocean, its description and natural history; [and] the structure and distribution of plants' (417).

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