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The Criminal and the Community
Part II - Chapter I - Drink and Crime


THOUGH the differences among prisoners in antecedents and faculties must be taken into account if they are to be treated in a rational manner, there are factors which are common to the causation of crime in many cases. Their influence may vary in strength, but it cannot be disregarded.

Drink is denounced—and consumed—by all classes. There are many who attribute all evils to its use, and some of these take the logical course and advocate the prohibition of its manufacture and sale. Others make the theory an excuse for doing nothing to remedy social conditions; for “you never can stop men from drinking,” and if drink be the cause of social evils, and you cannot stop its use, why should they worry?

Any theory of the causation of evil will be fashionable if it offers a superficial explanation of the facts and affords an excuse for doing nothing more troublesome than giving good advice to the poorer classes. Drink has brought misery and degradation on many, through their own indulgence or that of those on whom they have been dependent; if it does not cause, it is often an aggravation of poverty ; and it is with no wish to minimise its ill effects that I protest against exaggerating them. Our social troubles are not traceable to any one cause, and it is not profitable to single out a particular vice and place all evil to its account; nor is the practice more laudable when the vice is not one to which we are ourselves inclined. By all means let temperance be taught and drunkenness be discouraged ; this too we shall do better when we search for the causes of intemperance.

One of the statements most frequently made is that the great majority of crimes are due to drink. It would be more accurate to say that most prisoners were under the influence of drink at the time they committed the breach of the law for which they have been convicted. The great majority are petty offenders. Strike them off and our prison population would at once be reduced by more than a half. They have been drunk and incapable of taking care of themselves, or they have committed a breach of the peace through drink. Their sentences are short and their number is large. Many of them are regular customers and return again and again in the course of the year. Whether we are dealing wisely with them will bear discussion. They do not seem to be any the better for it so far as their conduct shows. They are enabled, in consequence of the rest and regular living of the prison, to start on their next spree in a better condition physically than would be the case if they were not detained there for a time; but this is rather a personal than a public gain. At present they swell our prison statistics anti are a burden on the exchequer. That they should bo mixed up with criminals is no advantage either to us or to them. The cause of their conviction is drink; but it does not make for clearness of statement to add their numbers to those of criminals who have committed crimes against the person or against property.

Crimes against the person are generally committed by people under the influence of drink, or on persons who are intoxicated. A man takes liquor to get out of himself, and is then in a condition to do or say things from which ho would refrain if sober. Some are not improved in temper as a result of their drinking, and are more prone to quarrel and less able to control their passion. It is commonly observed that a man can and does develop a double personality, showing one set of characteristics when sober and another when under the influence of drink. In both states ho receives impressions, and his actions when sober show that the impulses which direct his acts are different from those which dominate him when ho is intoxicated. Just as his sober self is forgotten when ho is drunk, his drunken self is forgotten when ho is sober—not wholly, it may bo, but in part. Ho seems more readily to remember violence suffered than violence inflicted by him. Impressions received in one condition tend to be revived when the person is again in that condition. If when ho gets quarrelsome and hits out ho finds ho has struck one who will strike back, ho generally gets out of the way and avoids the danger from that kind of person on a subsequent occasion. Just as ho learns to keep clear of lampposts and other resistant objects, he learns to stop short of striking one who is likely to hurt him.

The most serious assaults are not so much the outcome of drunken anger as of drunken cruelty ; and, pent up in one direction, it finds vent in another. This passion seems to possess some men regularly, and it is indulged at the expense of those who offer least resistance to it, viz. the female members of their household. With them a habit is formed of assaulting their women-folk, and the habit grows in force and intensity. In most cases of brutal wife-murder that have come under my observation, the fatal assault has simply been the last of a series committed regularly when the culprit was under the influence of drink, and the woman’s death was the final incident in a long-drawn-out martyrdom.

In other cases men who are ordinarily peaceable find themselves in prison charged with assaults of which they have no distinct recollection, the result of sudden passion that has swept their minds when they were intoxicated. Others become so pugnacious when they take drink that they are not content till they are in a row and do not seem to mind whether they get hurt or not. In their case—which seems to be the most common—it is not the lust of cruelty but the delight in battle that stirs them, and though they may get fully as much as they give, it does not deter them from repeating their conduct.

Another class of assaults is that committed on persons who are under the influence of drink, and who by their misconduct have provoked their assailant. They are relatively few, and the assault is rarely so brutal in character or so serious in result; though occasionally it may end tragically. X 12 was a young man who married a girl of respectable character. They were both sober and industrious. She had been engaged in a factory before her marriage and had very little practical experience of housekeeping. She was not accustomed to household routine, and as her husband did not get home for his meals she had a lot of time on her hands. Her house was in a different part of the city from that of her parents, and she had to make friends for herself. Unfortunately she got into the company of some who gossiped together and moistened the talk with drink. At first she abstained, but by and by she began to do like the rest; and unlike them she could not control herself. She showed a tendency to excess which they tried to discourage for their own sakes as well as hers. Her husband discovered her misconduct, and in order to break her of it removed to another district. For a time she did well, and her relatives helped her. But again she drifted in her search for company into that of those who took the “social glass.” It is wonderful how a woman when she has once taken to drink finds a difficulty in making friendships with other women who have not done so, unless she becomes a militant teetotaler. In the present instance the young wife had relapse after relapse over a series of years, and her husband seems to have done all in his power to save her. She had two children, and when sober she attended to them adequately; but her fits of drinking began to occur more frequently, and in them she became more reckless. After one, in which she had sold out the household furniture and disappeared, she returned penitent and he set up house again with her. She kept sober for some weeks, they were getting things together, and he was trusting her with some money. One Monday evening he went home from his work to find the house partially stripped, the children neglected, dirty, and in tears, and his wife in a dazed condition waiting to receive him with maudlin apologies. In his anger he pushed her from him. Her body struck the corner of the table, and shortly after she fell and died. She had sustained rupture of an internal organ and she bled to death in a few minutes. The result was altogether disproportionate to the amount of violence used and was in a sense accidental, but her death could as truly be attributed to drink as many of those which result from the assaults of drunken persons.

Drink plays an important part in the commission of sexual offences, but it is not more generally a factor in such cases than in those of simple assaults. In the great majority of these charges against men under middle age it is found that the assailant was at the time under its influence, however; and in the most atrocious and unspeakable cases it is rarely absent unless when there is insanity present.

Of late years there has been an increasing desire on the part of the legislature to secure proper care for children, and to punish those who by negligence or cruelty allow their offspring to suffer. Cases have been reported that reveal a shocking state of affairs, and parents have been prosecuted and sent to prison for their callousness and cruelty. Of all prisoners these are usually the most hopeless and useless ; the most entirely selfish in their outlook; the most inclined to grumble and shirk work; the persons with the keenest sense of their rights and the lowest sense of their responsibilities—this from a merely superficial observation of them. The care of the children falls naturally to the women; the provision for them to the men. The men have excuses to offer for the condition of the children, and these excuses are sometimes valid; for a man cannot be at the same time working outside to support his family and looking after them in the house. If the woman is given the money to defray the necessary expenses, and neglects their care, it is difficult for her to stand excused. In practically all the cases drink enters into the question, and its presence explains but does not excuse the neglect.

It is a good thing for the children that they should be removed from the care of parents who are cruel to them either by neglecting or by maltreating them, and it is well that those who are inclined to carelessness should know that their conduct may form the subject of complaint; but a person may be physically fit to have children and mentally incapable of taking care of them. A large proportion of those women who have been convicted of cruelty to children are in this sad case. The evidence has been of the clearest that they have squandered their substance, indulged their appetites, and shamefully ill-used their offspring, but only after they have been placed out of the reach of drink is it possible to say whether at their best they are capable of undertaking the obligations they have incurred by becoming mothers. In some cases their mental condition has been so bad as to justify their removal to lunatic asylums ; in other cases the mental defect is quite perceptible and is obviously such as to unfit them for their duties, but is not sufficiently marked to enable them to be cared for by the lunacy authority. Drink has been held accountable for their conduct and it has had a share in its causation, but it has masked the permanent flaw behind it, whether that defect has existed before the subject gave way to drink or has resulted from drink. In the case of these women it is a serious matter to allow them to return to duties they are unfit to discharge, especially as there is a probability that the condition of the family may be aggravated by its increase. Among women convicted of cruelty to children there are very few who are not mentally defective as far as my experience goes.

Just as drink causes some people to become savage, it incites others to mischief. If a man lift things that do not belong to him and carry them off, that is theft and punishable as such. If the culprit could state the case to the magistrate as a lawyer would, it would be classed as malicious mischief; but if he had the necessary training, or could afford to pay a lawyer, he might not be in court at all. It is not yet an uncommon thing for young bloods to destroy or take away the property of others, but they are not charged with theft as a result of their exuberance. They are not usually charged at all if they compensate the owners. Students of medicine have been known to return from a symposium with a miscellaneous collection of articles which they had conveyed without authority from shop-doors, in addition to an occasional door-bell handle or knocker. If any of them had been convicted of theft in consequence of this conduct, he would as a result have been struck off the register and been prevented from entering the profession for which he was training. A conviction for malicious mischief would have no such grave result. The consequence is quite as serious in the case of a labouring man. It is not merely that the sentence is heavier ; that is the least of it; it is the reputation of being a thief that is attached to him on his discharge which he will find difficult to overcome. It is bad enough for his prospects of honest employment that he should have been in prison, but if the cause was not dishonesty he may be regarded as merely foolish. If his offence has been theft it is another story. Explanations are not wanted—nor thieves; and the dog with the bad name may set about in despair to deserve it, becoming a recruit to the ranks of the professional criminals. In such cases the man’s downfall may be attributed to drink; but he might reasonably attach some of the blame to our stupidity in dealing with him.

Apart from those who are led into sportive acts when they are in liquor, there are some who take to theft pure and simple. X 13 was a most respectable man about thirty years of age. He was honest and industrious, and except that he occasionally gave way to intemperance he appeared to have no faults or follies. He was not very fond of company, and after his work was done he spent most of his time at home in his lodgings, where he had the reputation of being a quiet, peaceable, and somewhat studious man. He was arrested one night when under the influence of drink, in possession of property which had been stolen by him. On his room being searched the proceeds of several thefts were found, and the remains of articles which had been stolen and partially destroyed. It became apparent that he had been responsible for quite a number of thefts from public places during the two preceding years. His story was that he had no recollection of stealing ; and on the Sunday morning after his first theft he was horrified to find a bag containing articles of clothing in his room. He ascertained from his landlady that he had brought it home the night before, and he told her some story to explain his questions. He made no attempt to sell the property, but destroyed it in detail. He kept off drink for a time, but falling in with some old friends one night, he took too much and again he stole. It preyed on his mind to such an extent that he went on a spree, with the same result. He could tell nobody of his trouble, and he got into despairing and reckless moods in which he flew to drink, nearly always returning with something. He was remonstrated with on account of his growing intemperance, but with very little result; and it was a relief to him when he was found out. How many thefts he had committed was never known, but he had never made a penny by them. He was not a kleptomaniac when sober, and his case is an uncommon one in respect more to the freedom he enjoyed from arrest than to the nature of the impulse which he obeyed; for there are a good many occasional thieves who are quite honest when sober.

Others have fallen from a position as law-abiding citizens, and have lost their self-respect, as well as their position, through habitual intemperance. Their one passion is drink, and they will do anything to get it. They cannot get work and could not keep it if they did, because of their unsteadiness; so they live off others by begging or by stealing.

The most troublesome criminal to those whose duty it is to protect the public, and the most dangerous to the property of his fellow-citizens, is the professional; and no more than other professional persons does he go to business the worse of drink, for that would be taking an unnecessary risk. There are few occupations in which sobriety is not required to ensure and maintain success, and this is true whether the business be an honest or a dishonest one. Not that the thief need be a teetotaler; in his hours of relaxation he may be found proving the contrary; but he cannot afford to drink during business hours. In prison he may say that he is there on account of the drink, but the statement, though it may be true, is misleading. It is a convenient formula, and serves to prevent further enquiry. He knows that those who question him have their prejudices, and he is aware that it is the fashion to trace all crimes to drink—and no further.

Let him frankly confess his failing for liquor and he will obtain some sympathy which may materialise on his liberation. It is literally true in many cases, the statement: “If it hadna been the drink I wadna been here.” But it is also true that he has not been honest when sober. For every time he has been caught there are many thefts he has committed and escaped capture. Continue the enquiry and it is found that what he means is that if he had not obscured his judgment with drink he would not have attempted the job he undertook; or he would have kept a better look-out before he did take it in hand. He is not a thief because of the drink, but a thief who is caught because he has been intemperate. The drink in this case has not proved an ally to crime, but an auxiliary of the police; it has not caused the theft, but has enabled the thief to be caught.

In many cases, however, it assists the professional criminal; for the intoxicated man is an easier prey to him than the sober citizen. He can be assisted home by willing hands that will go through his pockets with skill on the road. He can be lured into dens that when sober he would avoid, and there be robbed at leisure and with little risk. He may even be relieved of his property without any pretence of friendliness, with small chance of his offering effective resistance or causing a hot pursuit. In all these ways he affords opportunity to the thief, and to the extent that the drink places him in this condition it is a cause of crime.

It appears then: (1) that the great mass of prisoners were under the influence of drink at the time they committed the offence for which they have been convicted; (2) that of these the “crime” of the majority is drunkenness, or some petty offence resulting therefrom; (3) that nearly all the crimes against the person are committed by, or upon, people who were intoxicated at the time; (4) that many offences against property are partly the result of drink; (5) that the majority of crimes against property are not due to drunkenness on the part of the criminal.

But the amount of crime in Scotland is not in proportion to the amount of drinking in any district. The consumption of drink is not confined to our cities and towns, and excessive indulgence sometimes takes place on the part of people who live in the country, yet no considerable proportion of our prison population comes from the courts of country districts or of small towns. The vice may be present without issuing in crime, though the drink itself has the same effect on the drinker whether he be living in the town or in the country.

In the country and in small towns, where the population is stable and where people are not packed together, they have opportunities each of knowing his neighbour, and they take some interest in one another. Indeed, tme often hears complaints of villagers taking too much interest in their neighbours’ affairs. If a man drink more than he can carry, there is usually someone about who will see him home ; or at worst he finds rest until he recovers, without the necessity of interference of an official kind. In the town, although a man may have friends who would be willing to look after him, he is separated from them, not by green fields, but by rows of tenements and multitudes of passers-by who have no personal interest in or knowledge of him ; and if he lie down he obstructs the traffic and has to be taken in charge. He need not be any more drunk than the man in the country, but he is a greater public nuisance.

In the country if a man have his evil passions stirred or inflamed by drink and seek to indulge them, friendly hands restrain him from doing the injury he might otherwise do, and the crime which has been conceived may never be executed; but in the city a man may, and sometimes does, brutally assault and even slay another person, while people are living above, below, and on each side of him ; and no one troubles to look in and ascertain what is going on. Men do not know their neighbours and do not care to interfere in the affairs of strangers. They have learnt to attend to their own business and to leave other things to their paid officials. The officials likewise attend to their business; and the prison cells are filled with men and women who have taken liquor to excess and have had no friendly hand to assist them or to keep them out of mischief. In the absence of this restraint and help, crime is just as likely to result from excessive drinking in the country as in the town.

There is another difference in favour of the country toper that is worth noting. The man who sells him the drink is usually a member of the community in which he lives, and he cannot afford persistently to outrage the sentiments of those among whom his lot is cast. He will not find it to his comfort to obtain the bad opinion of his neighbours; and if he get the name of filling his customers full he may run the risk of losing his license. It is not to his interest to disregard the welfare of his patrons even were he so inclined. Each district has its own standard of what is fair and allowable, and no publican can safely continue to fall below it. In the large towns the licenses are not usually held by men who live in the district. Many of them are in few hands. The licensee is represented by barmen who have a most harassing and exacting time; who work long hours for wages that are seldom what could be called high ; who are engaged selling drink to men the majority of whom they do not know; and who are expected while keeping within the law to sell as much liquor as possible. Public opinion in the district can only touch the publican on his financial side; and then only by a campaign directed to ensure regulations that are sometimes as futile as they are vexatious, and that attack indiscriminately the man who is really trying to conduct his business in a reasonable way and him whose only care is to get as much out of it as he can.

But not only is there drinking in the country as well as in the town. There is no district of the town that has a monopoly of temperance. There are fewer public-houses in the wealthier than in the poorer districts, but there are more private cellars. There is no bigger proportion of teetotalers among men who have money than among men with none ; and business men are as much given to drinking as artisans or labourers. There is a difference in their methods of consumption, the one judiciously mixing his potations with solids, the other taking his amount in a shorter period of time and running a bigger risk of getting drunk. Even when he does get beyond the stage of being quite clear in the head, the wealthier man has the means of getting home quietly, and there may be no scandal and no arrest. Though there may be as much drinking in the district in which he lives as in some of the congested parts of a city, there is less crime in proportion to the number of inhabitants; so that there are other factors than drink necessary to the commission of crime, even when drink is present.

In Glasgow we are accustomed periodically to learn from the testimony of English visitors that we are the most drunken city in the kingdom ; and tourists write to the newspapers and tell their experiences and impressions of sights seen in our streets, quoting statistics of the arrests for drunkenness. This alternates with panegyrics of the city as the most progressive in the world—“the model municipality.” We are neither so bad nor so good as we are sometimes said to be. That the streets of Glasgow-—or rather some of them—are at times disgraced by the drunkenness of some who use them, is quite true; but the fact that some travellers at some times see more drunk people in a given area than may be seen in any English city does not justify the inference that the inhabitants of Glasgow are more drunken than those of other cities. In no English city is there so large a population on so small an area. If there are more drunk in a given space there are also more sober people ; but only the drunks are observed. In Glasgow, moreover, the ordinary drink is whisky, which rapidly makes a man reel. It excites more markedly than the beer consumed so generally in England, which makes a man not so much drunk as sodden. If it were worth the retort, one might point out that even if it be true that in Scotland you may see more people drunk, in England you see fewer people sober.

As for the statistics of arrests they are absolutely useless for purposes of comparison, if only because of the different practices that prevail in different parts of the country in dealing with drunks. It is also well known that a comparatively small number of persons is responsible for a very large number of arrests.

The facts show (1) that drink puts a man into a condition in which he is more liable to commit an offence or crime than he is when sober; (2) that while drinking is common in all parts of the country, police offences and crimes occur mainly in closely populated districts; (3) that the amount of crime and police offences in Scotland is not dependent on the amount of drinking alone, but is mainly dependent on indulgence in drink under certain conditions of city life; (4) that the major portion, and the most serious kind, of crimes against property, are not attributable to drink.


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