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The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter IV - Variations in Routine


THE system makes no provision for individual differences between prisoners and takes no account of the past training which has made them what they are, but it recognises physical differences. It is the duty of the Medical Officer to see that no one is overtaxed or underfed or insufficiently clothed, and to attend to any sickness that occurs. If a prisoner is insane he is removed to a lunatic asylum. If he is ill he is put under treatment.

In the majority of cases the prison hospitals are simply larger and better-lit cells. They are free from anything but the roughest imitation of modern hospital appliances; but as there is no occasion for the treatment in them of prisoners suffering from acute serious illness, they are sufficient for the needs they are required to meet. What is required for the treatment of such as are sick is not so much stone and lime as flesh and blood. Not new hospitals, but trained nurses.

When a prisoner is reported sick or asks to see the doctor, he is automatically freed from the ordinary rules. If the medical man decides that there is nothing in his condition to warrant his being put on the sick list he falls back under prison discipline. If, however, he requires medical treatment, the Medical Officer may prescribe any regimen which he considers applicable to the case, and the Governor has the instructions carried out. It may broadly be stated that cases requiring the constant attendance of a skilled nurse and those demanding serious operative treatment do not need to be treated in Scottish prisons. Section 72 of the Prisons (Scotland) Act, 1877, enables the Governor, in certain cases, to petition the Sheriff for a warrant to remove sick prisoners to hospitals outside. He must present two medical certificates to the effect that the prisoner (1) is suffering from a disease which threatens immediate danger to life and cannot be treated in prison, or (2) a disease which makes his removal necessary for the health of the other inmates of the prison, or (3) that continued confinement would endanger his life. This is one of the wisest provisions in the Act. Cases might occur in which the treatment required would be of such a character as to make it inadvisable to have it carried out in prison.

Assuming that there is no difference in the experience and skill of the prison doctors and their staff from that of the corresponding officials in the general hospital, the conditions in prison are essentially different. In a general hospital there are all sorts of people as patients, and their friends have access to them ; it is a public place compared with the prison. The staff is subjected to continual criticism; not always enlightened, and sometimes unfair, but it exercises a healthy effect on their actions. There is no greater danger to the public than the uncontrolled specialist; and it is a bad thing for him if he is led into any belief either in the infallibility of his judgment, or in its necessary applicability to the case with which he deals. He can perform no operation without the consent of the patient or his friends, even though he believe that operation is necessary to the saving of life. There are cases in which this permission is refused in spite of all the persuasions of the medical man; and in some of these cases, contrary to expectation, the patient gets well. In others death takes place where life might have been saved had consent to the necessary treatment been obtained ; yet it would be an intolerable condition of affairs if the medical man were to have his patients placed at the discretion of his judgment; and no one would propose that the inmates of a hospital should be compelled to submit to any treatment that the doctors in their wisdom might see fit to prescribe.

In a neighbouring country lately the question of compulsory treatment was raised. All the information I have with regard to it has been obtained from the statements, official and otherwise, which have been published. These statements may have been imperfect, but only from them can the public form an opinion, The statements contradict each other, and as they refer to incidents which took place in a prison—a place to which ordinary members of the public have no access—they are bound to leave an uneasy feeling in the mind of the impartial observer.

Certain women, impelled by the desire to advance a political measure, engaged in conduct which brought them into conflict with the authorities. It was claimed on their behalf that they had committed a political offence, and in that respect differed from other criminals; but all offences are political offences. Whether a woman strikes a man because she is angry with him, or because she is angry with a Cabinet Minister whom she does not know, she commits an assault which is a crime in the eyes of the law. Her motive may differ in the one case from the other, but its issue has no difference; and in both cases, in so far as the State takes notice of it, it is a political offence. Distinctions between offences can only end in confusion; distinctions between offenders have never been sufficiently recognised; and no real progress can ever be made in the treatment of the criminal until the differences between one person and another are taken into account. There can be no question that in character, in training, and in their previous history, these women differed widely from the ordinary prisoner, and all the trouble which resulted was due to the failure of those in authority to act upon their knowledge of this fact. That the conduct for which many of the women were sent to prison was unreasonable, few will deny; but it was no more unreasonable than the treatment they received. If they behaved like mad people, so did the officials.

The only way in which one person can show greater wisdom than another is by conduct. If the women were hysterical, the officials did not exactly shine as examples of calmness. The highly strung person who glories in what she believes to be martyrdom, who sees everything in the light of her own ideals, is not likely to be brought to another frame of mind by receiving the treatment which she regards as persecution. These women had made it necessary that they should be restrained from annoying others by their conduct; but it mattered nothing to the public that they should be restrained in a certain way; what did matter was that the nuisance should be effectively stopped. That the method of dealing with them increased the trouble is beyond question; and there is no justification for interference with anybody except in so far as the method adopted has the result desired.

It is folly, if not worse, to enter upon any course that cannot be carried on indefinitely. If your treatment fails to achieve the end aimed at, that is bad ; if it results in the person with whom you are dealing beating you, that is worse. The law attempted to frighten the women, and the women, by their continued resistance, frightened the administrators of the law. Which presented the most sorry spectacle it is hard to say.

The trouble seems to have begun through the refusal on the part of the authorities to allow the women to wear their own clothing. What harm it would have done to anybody to grant this permission it is difficult to see. If they had fed themselves and clothed themselves it would have saved expense to the public. They believed that the clothing was intended to degrade them; and they might have asked, if that was not the intention, why was the proceeding insisted on? Of course, to permit them to save the State the expense of keeping them while they were in custody would have upset the system; but the system is far from being considered by those who are responsible for its administration to be anything approaching perfection, for it is a fashionable thing amongst them to ask for its improvement, and to justify changes, when they make them, on the ground that they were required. Opposition grew with repression; unreason provoked unreason, and the public heard with considerable uneasiness that a hunger strike was taking place, and that the strikers were being artificially fed.

In certain physical diseases resort to artificial feeding may be necessary, but prisoners suffering from these diseases are not fit for prison discipline and should be treated in a hospital outside. Among the insane are those who obstinately refuse to take food, and therefore require to be fed; but an insane person differs from a prisoner in this important respect, that in the eyes of the law he is free from responsibility and has no will of his own. His friends are permitted access to him. They may, and sometimes do, interfere with the discretion of the medical attendant, and in any case his actions are within their supervision and criticism.

Medical men assume that self-preservation is a primal instinct, and that the person who deliberately sets out to maim himself or to destroy his life is insane, even although intellectually he may appear to be quite sound. If a man become possessed by religious zeal and set out to convert his neighbours to his views, he may incidentally be a considerable nuisance to them. He may stand at street corners and annoy the surrounding inhabitants by his exhortation; but, in Glasgow at any rate, they put up with this on account of the good intention they ascribe to him. If, however, he gives up his business, and prevents other people from attending to theirs by calling on them and arguing with them, people begin to suspect his sanity; and the man who would throw a brick into another’s office at the risk of hurting some of the people employed there, in order to convince their principal that if he did not accept the religion the missionary preached he would go to hell, would probably be dealt with as a lunatic. The conduct of some of the women was quite as eccentric, but people may do insane-like things without being insane. That, however, is no reason for disregarding their eccentricities, which should be taken into account when dealing with them. If the women required to be fed artificially, it by no means follows that it was a proper thing to do so in prison. It certainly was indiscreet, and it is difficult to see how, if it was justifiable to resort to this measure in order to save the life of a prisoner, it could be argued that a medical officer would not be equally justified in cutting off the injured or diseased arm of a prisoner, in spite of his protestations, in order to save his life. It is one thing to place the liberties of men, and another thing altogether to place their lives in the hands of officials.

There is no official and no number of officials— by whatever name called—good enough to be entrusted, unchecked by public observation, with the lives of their fellow-citizens; and there is no criminal bad enough to be immured from the public gaze and placed wholly under the control of anyone. It is not that the officials are bad; they are no worse than unofficial persons and no better, and there is far more danger from those who have gained a reputation for humanity and for enlightened opinions, even when they have deserved the reputation, than from the others, because the former are likely to be left more to themselves on account of their good name. Few who read this could be trusted to do as good a day’s work at the end of the year as they did at the beginning, if there were not someone to check and criticise them.

Here and there, now and then, there are violent outcry and excitement because of some administrative scandal, and there is seldom much in it; but there is no continued and intelligent interest in administration on the part of the public. If a man do not fulfil his contract his employer may accept an excuse once or even twice; but if his failure continue he will find himself out of a job, and someone less incompetent or unfortunate will be sought and put in his place. In the public service excuses and exceptions are so much the rule that it would be easy to form a library of blue books containing them, printed and paid for at the public expense.

Only ordinary cases of domestic sickness need be treated in prison, and such ailments or injuries as are dealt with in the outdoor department of a general hospital. In Scotland there is little inducement to prisoners to feign sickness, as there is no automatic change in their diet or location as a result of their being placed on the sick list. The doctor may or may not remove them from their cells and alter their diet. So far as the Act of Parliament is concerned the treatment of the sick lies wholly in his discretion, and there is no power granted to any authority to interfere with or overturn his decision. He may be questioned as to the reason for his conduct; and if foolish enough or weak enough to be persuaded into altering it, in order to please some higher official, he may do so ; but the Act of Parliament is absolutely specific in the matter, and refers the sick not to the Commissioners, but to the surgeon of the prison.

It is much easier for a man to carry out an instruction received from above, than to assert and act on the powers conferred on him by statute ; but it is not right to do so, and in so far as he is subservient he is unfaithful to his trust. Patients cannot be treated by correspondence. No man, however highly placed, is infallible. Better that the man on the spot should accept his responsibilities frankly, even though he do make mistakes, than that he should look to someone who is not present to direct him in a case of difficulty. No medical man need want for help from his neighbours, and he can easily get someone of approved skill to assist him in the diagnosis or treatment of a difficult case. It is quite proper that his actions should be scrutinised, but it is quite wrong that the scrutiny should take place in private. The statute has recognised this principle, and has ordered that a public enquiry should take place on the occasion of the death of any prisoner in prison. The relatives of the prisoner are there entitled to put any questions to the officials, personally or through an agent; and the Sheriff has to be satisfied that all reasonable care and skill have been exercised in the case.

Private official enquiries give opportunity for petty persecution on tho part of any Jack-in-office who fancies his abilities are equal to his position, and whose spleen may be raised against better men than himself. No man eminent in his profession would bo likely to be guilty of such conduct, but the occupation of some positions does not necessarily imply professional eminence, though it may infer social influence.

The Medical Officer has not an arduous task in treating the sick. His work practically consists of patching up old offenders, in the knowledge that he is prolonging their lives and their uselessness, to the injury of the public. Many of them would have been dead long ago as the result of their excesses had they not been interfered with. It is well that their lives should be prolonged and their health improved, but only if some security is taken that they use their powers to better purpose in the future than they have done in the past. There is no sense in the State doing anything for anybody without a reasonable guarantee, that the person benefited will not use the benefit to the injury of the community. Many are cured of diseases in various public institutions, and turned loose to live on others for the rest of their lives. There is an increasing number of young people who, having suffered from some serious illness, have been saved from death, but have been left permanently crippled to some extent in one or other of their organs. They are not fit for the work they once engaged in, but they are fit for some work, and so far as can be seen, they have no intention of performing any. A number of them drift to the prison and on the strength of their infirmity try to get special treatment. The special treatment they require cannot be had there, nor is there any place at present where it can be had.

The untried prisoner is permitted to wear his own clothing, provided it is clean and that he can have it changed with sufficient frequency. He may hire furniture and pay for the cleaning of his cell. He may have visits from those of his friends he desires to see; and he may correspond with them, provided that in the conversation and correspondence there is nothing said or written regarding the charge against him. All letters to and from him are read and censored on behalf of the Governor. Prisoners are not allowed to see and converse with their friends without the presence of a prison official. The prisoner is put in a box with a latticed front, and his visitor is placed in another box opposite. Between the two boxes there is space for a warder to move. He can see the occupants of both boxes, each of whom can only see the person in the box opposite. When a number of prisoners are having visitors at the same time, there is a shouting and gabbling that makes conversation difficult. Convicted prisoners and convicts of the first class may receive a letter and a visit from a friend once in three months, provided their conduct and industry have been satisfactory. Before their entry into the first class convicts may receive one, two, or three letters and visits in the year, according to the class they have reached. After being a year in the first class they may be placed in a special class, receiving a letter and a visit once in two months.

The prisoner sees his agent in view of but outwith the hearing of the warder. He may have his food sent in to him by his friends, provided it is sufficient in quality and amount, but he may not have part of a meal sent in. He may also receive newspapers, magazines, or books. Any or all of these privileges may be granted or withdrawn at the discretion of the Visiting Committee. It is questionable whether it is right that they should be granted as privileges. The man is, in the eyes of the law, presumed to be innocent of the offence charged against him; and his detention is only justifiable on the ground that he might fail to appear at court for trial. That being so, he ought not to require permission from any committee or official before he is allowed to feed, clothe, and amuse himself; and he should only be prevented from doing so if his act is detrimental to his own health or that of the other inmates of the prison. This might cause more trouble to the officials concerned, but the primary object of the system ought not to be the saving them trouble.

The untried prisoner may have a pint of wine or a pint of beer daily, but on no account is he permitted to smoke. This is a curious restriction nowadays, and there is not the faintest show of reason for its exercise. The proper attitude towards the untried prisoner is not that implied in the question “Why should he be allowed to do this?” The question ought always to be “Why should he not be allowed to do what he wishes?” and this would be the question if the theory that presumes an untried prisoner’s innocence were put in practice. He is detained for the convenience of the public, not for his own, and his liberty should be curtailed as little as possible consistent with good order.

There are very few civil prisoners in Scotland. Failure to pay aliment may entail on a prisoner imprisonment, at the instance and expense of his creditor, for a period of six weeks. At the end of that time the prisoner is free from similar proceedings for six months, but the costs are added to his original debt. He has some of the privileges of an untried prisoner. Failure to pay taxes may cause a man to be imprisoned under similar conditions. Persons sent to prison for failing to have their children vaccinated are treated by the same rule, and persons condemned to indefinite imprisonment for contempt of court.

In Scotland we claim that we do not imprison for debt other than aliment, rates, or taxes ; but the rule is evaded by process of law, and the Prison Commissioners are used as debt collectors in some cases. Technically this is not so, but in practice it occurs. X31, a woman, has obtained jewellery on the hire-purchase system. She is the wife of a labouring man, and there is room for the suspicion that she has been tempted by the seller. A number of payments are made, then the husband loses his employment, and she is not only cut off from the means of paying her instalments, but has not money to get food. She pawns or otherwise disposes of the jewellery, and is called upon either to pay for it or return it. Her intention may be to pay, but she is not able. She is summoned to appear at Court, and fails to do so. In her absence a decree is granted ordaining her to deliver the jewellery to the person from whom she obtained it, in terms of the contract made between them. Failing to do this, she is seized and carried off to prison, on a warrant obtained for Contempt of Court, inasmuch as she had not obeyed its decree. All her friends become alarmed, and by their united efforts the money to satisfy the creditor may be obtained. If this is not done she may be kept in prison for an indefinite period at his expense. Had she contracted a debt with the grocer for food, or with a dressmaker for clothing, they could not have imprisoned her if she did not pay them, even though they desired to do so. They are thus at a serious disadvantage, so far as the exercise of pressure is concerned, compared with the hire-purchase trader; but the ingenious among them who regret the abolition of imprisonment for debt may revive it in effect by selling groceries and clothes on a hire-purchase contract.

The routine treatment to which the convict is subjected is much more severe than that which is applied to the ordinary prisoner, and it does as little good. [The diet for convicts is more generous than that for ordinary prisoners, however. Male convicts whose conduct and industry have been satisfactory may be liberated on license when three-fourths of their sentence has been served. Female convicts in like circumstances may be liberated on license after serving two-thirds of their sentence.]  It is a system of repression mainly; a sitting on the safety-valve that is apt to provoke outbursts of temper and violence resulting in assault. These may be punished with the lash. A power which is not possessed by the Judges of the High Court is granted to the Prison Commissioners. It is considered necessary in order to maintain the system, but as no one claims that the system is in any degree reformatory, it becomes a question whether it is worth maintaining.

The same man who is at one time a convicted prisoner in an ordinary prison may at another time be undergoing penal servitude. While he is in an ordinary prison there is neither power nor occasion to order him the severe punishments which may be inflicted on convicts. If he need the lash when he is sent to penal servitude, there is at least the presumption that the cause lies as much in the character of the life he is compelled to lead as in the character of the man. The more punishment inflicted on prisoners in a prison the stronger the probability is that the place is badly managed. Repression is necessary, no doubt, but repressive powers should only co-exist with power to reward. Even a donkey will go further after a carrot than when driven by a stick. It never does any good to a man to treat him as a machine, and the tendency to do so under the name of discipline is a root vice of the system. In the convict prison, as in the ordinary prison, during the last few years the grinding mechanical routine has been relaxed, and the amazing discovery has been made that it is easier and better to manage men if you recognise that they are men than to regard them as mere numbers. There has even been talk of reformation resulting from the changes that have taken place, and to judge by some magazine and newspaper articles from the pens of enthusiastic and ignorant visitors, one would think the prison had become a kind of paradise.

That other men’s behaviour towards us will largely be determined on our behaviour towards them is no new discovery, and that more considerate treatment by officials should result in better conduct on the part of prisoners need surprise no one; but that this better conduct necessarily implies that they will live in conformity with the laws when liberated does not follow at all. You may improve a man’s conduct in prison as you may improve his mental condition in a lunatic asylum, but you never know how he will behave outside until you put him there ; and if we acted on the knowledge of this fact we should see that persons liberated from any institution are placed in proper positions outside—that they should be guided and helped in so far as they need guidance and help— so that there would be less excuse for their recurring to their old habits and conduct, and less chance of their relapse into the condition and actions for which we have dealt with them.

Of late years short sentences have been generally denounced on the ground that there is no time to reform a prisoner who is only under the influence of the system for a few days. This would be a reasonable objection if those who are sent to prison for long periods were thereby made better, but that is precisely what cannot be shown; for the longer a person is in prison the less fit he is on liberation to take his place in the community. So that if short sentences are bad, long sentences are worse, from the standpoint of the reformer. A person sent to prison for a few days is usually the cleaner for his experience. Imprisonment has kept him off the streets for a time. It has also caused him to lose his job, and, as usually the short-time prisoner is not a person of means, his position is worse after his imprisonment than it was before. He has to earn his living by his work, if he would avoid coming into conflict with the law; and if he has no means of livelihood it is easy to see that he will find it difficult to avoid recommittal.

In this respect the long-sentence prisoner resembles him, but in addition he has acquired habits in prison that are a hindrance to him outside.


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