This report on Chelmsford Prison is taken from the Parliamentary Report of the Inspectors of Prisons dated 1861. This is available on Google Books.
The prison was in very good order at the time of the last inspection on the 11th June 1860. An infirmary for female prisoners which has long been very much required, was in progress, but the plans had never been submitted to the Secretary of State for approval, as required by the Statutes 2 and 3 Vict cap. 56 s. 12. Ventilators have been put into the windows of the corridor in the women's prison, agreeably to the recommendation in the last report. A new wash-house has been built with separate compartments for washing, a drying closet, and other conveniences.
Some of the loose bricks at the top of the wall were blown down in a gale in February last and very nearly killed a servant of the Governor. As this antiquated method of presenting an obstacle to the escape of prisoners is not considered to be very efficacious, it may well be questioned whether it is prudent to retain it at the cost of positive risk to the lives of the inmates. The prisoners present at the inspection were 174 in number under the following heads:-
The treadmill, as stated in former reports, is not applied to grinding corn for the use of the prison, but only grinds that which may be sent in by strangers, who pay 4s. a quarter for the grinding of wheat, and 2s. for other grain. I would suggest, as a very useful mode of employing prisoners, who are much in need of occupation, the employment of hand-mills for grinding corn, which would be at once useful in assisting to carry out sentences of hard labour, and profitable in preparing food for the prison. Mills of this kind are in use at the house of correction at Wandsworth and elsewhere, and are found to possess both these advantages.
While on the subject of labour I may allude to the injurious waste of time which results from the non-employment of prisoners in their cells in the hours that elapse between the locking up at night and a reasonable hour of going to rest. At the time that the cells of this prison were certified, the inspector stipulated for a supply of gas being laid on to the cells, and the pipes were laid on accordingly; but I learn from the governor that the gas is never allowed to be burned, and that no instance has occurred of its having been used except in some few cases of illness.
It would be hardly credible, without such unquestionable testimony, that in the long winter nights prisoners should be locked up for 14 or 16 hours in darkness when the means are at hand for devoting a part of the time to useful employment and instruction. It is not too much to say that if prisoners were employed, as they might be in mat-making weaving, basket-making, sack-making, and many other trades, much money might be earned as a set off against the expenses of the prison, and the prisoners at the same time much benefited by the regular habits of industy thereby engendered, instead of passing nearly the whole of the day in idleness, for even the hard labour prisoners on the treadmill work only three hours out of the 24.
The prisoners are now allowed an hour's exercise on Sundays, as recommended in the last report, and the debtors are more conveniently placed in the chapel than formerly. The health of the prison was very good at the time of my visit. There had been an epidemic of fever a few months before, which had only been fatal in one case, the subject of which had been admitted into the prison in very weak health.
It would contribute much to economy to supply the prisoners with sheets, it being the present custom to wash the blankets used by every prisoner before using them for his successor, by which they are very rapidly worn out.