From the journal of The Lady Eileen
Mercy Onmey's situation has made me look more closely at the interesting institution they call the Casterbridge Union Workhouse.
The way it works seems to be this: They get all the people who can't get proper jobs, and who they don't think are making a contribution to society. And rather than let them starve in the streets they gather them all into the Workhouse. Once they're in, they're subjected to near-starvation rations, looked down upon and generally badly treated. They're kept in cramped conditions, given unpleasant tasks to do at the whim of the Governor and staff and eventually thrown out into the world. Everyone hopes the experience may help them to work hard and be more useful in future.
It's funny, but I seem to have seen something like it before. Can't remember where...