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Pictures and Illustrations.

John P. Altgeld.


Veto of Bill to Stop the Making of Cigars in Penitentiary.

State of Illinois, Executive Office.
June 11, 1895.

To the Honorable, the Gentlemen of the Senate:

I herewith return without my approval Senate bill No. 106, entitled An act in regard to the employment of convicts.

This bill smacks a little of politics. It seeks to relieve one industry from the competition of prison labor, but it increases the burden of other industries just that much. It provides that no cigars shall be made in our prisons. Had it gone farther and provided that the men now making cigars should not be put to work at any other industry in the prison then it would at least have been free from this element of injustice. But under the law as this bill would leave it the prison officials would be obliged to take the men who are now making cigars and put them to work at other industries, and as all other industries in the prison are already overcrowded, this would increase the burdens of the outside free laborers in those lines, for it would increase the output; merely shifting the burden from one industry to another does not help matters and is unjust. This question of prison labor must be treated on a higher plane and must be solved in such a way as to relieve all free labor of competition with prison labor. The Constitution having been so amended as to prohibit contract labor in our prisons and as the law requires the prisoners to be kept at work this administration has adopted the policy of working the prisoners on State account, and in order to reduce the competition with free labor to a minimum the prison officials have endeavored to increase the number of industries, so that no more than one hundred men would need to work at any one line. A large number of new industries have been introduced, but as we have about 1,700 convicts at Joliet and it is difficult to find new industries suitable for a prison, it has not as yet been possible in all cases to keep the number quite down to this point. But only fifty-eight are working in the cigar shop, so that the cigar industry is as yet hurt less than any other industry. The cigar makers of this State are industrious and loyal citizens and like all men whose bread depends on daily toil they are suffering severely from the depression of the times. I would gladly assist them in every way in my power, but cannot do so at the expense of others, whose condition is just as bad. In my message to the General Assembly in January I stated: "It is to be deprecated that convict labor should in any way, even in the slightest degree, be brought in competition with free labor. If the Legislature can suggest a plan better than the one now in force and which will make less the competition with free labor we will be most happy to co-operate in its enforcement."

I sincerely hoped that the Legislature might furnish a solution of this question and I very much regret that it has not been able to do so. But as long as the law compels the prison officials to keep the prisoners at work this bill would simply aggravate the situation. There is something said in the bill about manufacturing chewing gum and similar articles, which nobody has thought of and which were evidently intended to conceal the principal purpose of the bill, viz.: to prevent cigar making. The argument about uncleanliness is without foundation, as there is not a shop in the country in which


both the surroundings and the men present a more tidy and cleanly appearance than at Joliet.