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The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter VI - The Inebriate Home


IT cannot be seriously contended that our methods of dealing with offenders make for their reform. It may be that some of those who do not return to prison have been checked in their career by the treatment they have received, but as a matter of fact, there are a great many people sent to prison who ought never to have been there at all. In my opinion it is beyond dispute that our methods result in the making of criminals; that in the majority of cases imprisonment not only does no good, but does positive and serious harm. It should not be forgotten, however, that there is no ground for supposing that the prison system is intended to reform those who come within its operation. It keeps them off the street for a time and prevents them from annoying those who are at liberty; but this cannot be done without financial cost to the community, and it is only done at a very serious loss in other respects. The same amount of money spent in helping them to do well as it costs to imprison them for doing ill, would prevent many of them from offending; but before this could be done more would require to be known regarding the individuals than the mere fact that they have offended against one or other of our laws.

It is necessary not only to find out where and how the criminal has gone wrong, but also where and why we have gone wrong in our method of treating him. Profitable as it would be, no serious attempt has been made to do this. The most that is done is to admit the inefficacy of prison treatment and to devise some theoretical improvement on it. It seems easier for some people to reason in vacuo—in their own heads— than to examine the facts and face the consequences. Of late years the public has permitted one institution after another to be foisted on it at the bidding of people who have not shown even the most elementary knowledge of the subject with which they were dealing, and of faddists who want to regulate other men’s lives by their own. Their opinion of the offender may be interesting and it may have a value different from what they place upon it; but it is not nearly as interesting, as helpful, or as valuable as the offender’s own opinion of the cause of his fall and of his needs.

The imprisonment and reimprisonment of the habitual offender had become a scandal. It was recognised that inebriety made men and women a danger and a nuisance to the family and their neighbours, but no greater a nuisance than the system by which we dealt with them. Everybody agreed that imprisonment made them no better. It made them abstainers only for the time they were in custody, but it did nothing to destroy the desire for drink. So an Act of Parliament was passed to enable them to be placed in an institution of another sort. If the prison failed to reform them, the Inebriate Homes have proved a more costly, a more ghastly failure. Instead of finding out the cause of the failure, a departmental committee, after examining anybody but those who had been in the homes, has recommended that further parliamentary powers should be granted to the committees managing them and courts sending inmates to them. The rational method of procedure would have been for intelligent and impartial persons to examine those cases which had been improved, and to estimate how far the improvement was due to the treatment received. This would not have been a difficult task, for the cases were few; and having accomplished it, it would have been equally profitable to examine the many cases of failure and to seek the causes of that failure. It is much easier, however, to collect the opinions of officials, of philanthropists, of those who are interested in prescribing for the conduct of others— in short, of people who are called authorities on a given subject, because nobody has been bold enough to challenge them—than to obtain the confidence and open the mouths of those whose wrongdoing it is sought to correct. It is a grotesque statement that the Inebriate Home failed because the wrong people were sent to it; also it is not true. It would be nearer the mark to say that the home failed because it was not suited for the treatment of inebriates. For after all, the very people for whom it was designed to afford treatment were among those sent there.

The patients chosen for treatment in the Inebriate Home were carefully selected by a physician experienced in the treatment of mental diseases. Some of them were mentally affected as a consequence of their drunkenness, and there is room for supposing that some took to chink partly on account of a mental defect; but inebriety is not a physical disease, it is not a mental disease, although it may have some relationship to physical and mental diseases. It was because of its being a social disorder that the State undertook to consider these persons. This being so, each case could only be rationally considered in relation to the social condition of the inebriate. Information about the state of their various internal organs might be useful, but it could never replace in importance or interest information as to their social condition.

The treatment failed because it was not adapted to the persons to be treated, but was adapted to the state of mind of those who, on the strength either of an academic qualification, or a belief in their fitness to judge people who are of a lower social condition, had prescribed a method without any real knowledge of the persons to whom they sought to apply it. The public pays too much attention to the utterances of those in authority, and it is difficult to avoid the habit of mistaking for knowledge what is only a different kind of ignorance from our own. A thing is not true because somebody says it; it may be true in spite of that; but it would repay the trouble were official utterances more closely scrutinised than they are. Zeal, honesty, integrity, may be present in the official, and he may be a very talented man as well, and yet he may lead matters into a sad mess. The less he is questioned, the more he is suffered to go on unchecked, the worse for him and for those whose servant he is. The good servant may become a very bad master. Then all official persons are not equally able. If a man has not wit, it is not likely to be developed in him by giving him a title or a uniform. If he has not much wisdom, he is not likely to become less foolish even though you place him in the seat of Solomon. The fact that a man holds a position is not proof of his fitness to fill it; and respect for an office makes it all the more incumbent on honest men to scrutinise and criticise the actions of the person who occupies it. Loyalty to the public service is too often confused with servility to those in the upper ranks, resulting in something very like a conspiracy to magnify their importance (which would be a small matter), and to induce the public to attach an undue weight to what they say, though their statements may appear foolish enough. All this is quite heterodox doctrine, and in practice will not tend to make a man’s path smooth; but the orthodox method of assuming that the higher in authority a person is, the abler and wiser he must be, has not resulted so satisfactorily that it should escape challenge.

The official reports of Girgenti Inebriate Home were a great deal more satisfactory than the results, and the home might have been in existence yet if the representatives of the public had not informed themselves of the real state of affairs. A few cures are put to its credit at a calamitous expense. The cost of keeping a woman there amounted to between twenty-five and thirty shillings per week, and the odds were proved to be against her being reformed after three years’ treatment. In other words, the public were guaranteed that all persons sent to the home could be kept sober at a cost of from sixty-five to eighty pounds each per year, but they had no reason to believe that when this payment ceased on their part the patient would take her place in the community and remain a sober citizen. If she was not made better, did she become worse as a result of her treatment there? In some respects she did. You cannot meddle with the lives of others without result, for it is impossible to leave them as you find them.

I remember being visited one morning by a woman who had left the home after a three years stay there. She had been drinking before she called on me, and she had some complaints to make regarding her treatment there. The complaints were trifling in character, and were more in the nature of gossip than anything else. I told her that she had cost the community some 200 to keep her during the last three years, and they seemed to have made a bad bargain. I advised her to think a little less of her grievances and a little more of the comfort of her neighbours, and dismissed her with the usual censure and advice; but she had a case against the State, although she was not able to express it clearly. I would put it for her thus: “When you interfered with my life I had fallen into the habit of drinking, but in the main I earned my own living and meddled very little with others to their annoyance. I had my friends, whom your judgment might not approve, but between them and myself there were common ties. We sympathised with each other and helped each other. You undertook to reform my life, to break me of my bad habits, to make me more fit to earn my living without offending against your laws. You have ruled and governed me for three years. You put me in a home where my life was regulated for me; you gave me as companions people with whom I had never associated before; you compelled me to live in their company; you taught me nothing that I find of any use to me outside; you kept me from drinking. It may have been a poor pleasure, but it was the only one I had. You did not take the taste for it away, and you have given me nothing to replace it; and now I am three years older, and you turn me loose on the streets of the city to which I belong, and in which I am now through your action very much a stranger, and invite me to work for my living in competition with others. I could work and did work before you meddled with me; I could work yet, but I must have something to fill my life as well as work, and I have taken to drink again, because it is the only thing I know that meets the need I feel. I am worse off than I was before you started to reform me. Then I had friends, now I am alone ; for they have gone their own way: some to death, all of them from me. There is nobody from whom I can have the sympathy and the help I once had. My friends had their faults and they knew mine; that was why we were friends. All you can offer me is patronage, advice, direction from people whom I don’t know and who don’t know me. The one thing that I want, which is fellowship, I have not got. You have taught me to depend on others. You have made me obey your rules, and now you set me free to make rules for myself, and leave me to drift back into the place where I was ; to face the same difficulties, the same temptations, without the companionship of those who had grown into my life. You have taken three years from my life and you have given me nothing for it. Give me back my life or justify your interference with it by fitting me to become a better citizen than I was.” This is something like what the woman appeared to feel and tried to say, and there is really no answer to it. It is not a wise proceeding to treat the lives of men and women as toys with which we can play, and throw them aside without practical regard for consequences when we are tired of the game. If we do not direct them, they will direct themselves, and the less fitted they are to do so the worse for us. I remember one woman who was an inmate of a home, but who had been employed on a farm outside under licence. Her behaviour was excellent; she was a good worker, although she had had over a hundred convictions for drunkenness before her admission to the home. She always had been a good worker in the intervals between the drinks. She conformed to the terms of the licence, whatever these were, and seemed to be a reformed character. I suggested to her that it was perfectly clear that, though she could not resist the temptations incident to life in the slums of a great city, she might continue for an indefinite period to live a useful life in the country. She replied, “As soon as my three years are up I am going back to the town,” and she kept her promise, with the result that she went back to her drinking. In her case it was proved that she could behave for a long period when the only alternative presented to a regulated life outside an institution was a more rigidly regulated life inside an institution. She preferred the outside farm to the home, but she preferred the streets of the city to either, and her case raises the question whether it is advisable to withdraw all control from those like her. She did not require to be continually overlooked by officials in order that she should conform to the law. Her life was left under the inspection of the inhabitants of the district in which she worked, and it is quite conceivable that she might have been working there yet, if she had not known that the reward of restraining herself would be not so much a change in character, as freedom from any supervision when a fixed term had expired.

The cause of the failure of the Inebriate Home did not lie in the character of the inmates or of the officials who were placed over them, but in the defect inherent in all institutions; the fact that the manner of living in them differs essentially from anything that obtains outside. They are all founded more or less on the military model, and the military model and the industrial model are different. Far more than most of us suspect we are the creatures of habit:—often of habit acquired slowly, gradually, and unconsciously. To remove ourselves from one place to another implies the breaking off from some habits, but it also implies the formation of others. It did not need the experience of the Inebriate Home to let us know that men might be removed from the opportunity of drinking for long periods and, on return to their former conditions, resume the habit. Years of imprisonment, where teetotalism is rigidly enforced and where the diet is of a non-stimulating character, did not make the men who were submitted to it abstain from drinking on their release. The objectionable habit can only be cured through being replaced by something which is of equal interest, has greater power, and enables the man to live his life without being a nuisance to his neighbours.

When men or women are placed in association with one another, they have to find some common bond of interest. In every voluntary association this is recognised. Religion causes some to cut themselves off from the world and to devote their lives to its pursuit. Men differing in social positions, in age, in experience, in character, in temperament, join together to form a community. The one thing they have in common is their form of belief. They may differ as widely as possible in their views on other subjects, but these differences are not the thing that holds them together. They would rather tend of themselves to break up the association, since disagreement drives people apart. The differences are only tolerable because of the bond of agreement which is strong enough to compensate them. On this subject and around it they may talk. The experience of each will interest the other, will enlighten him, will at any rate be considered by him. The same is true of political associations. Differences there are amongst the members, but these differences cannot go beyond the point at which some common agreement balances them, without breaking up the association.

Inebriate Homes and other reformatory institutions are not voluntary associations, but there can be no intercourse amongst their inmates that is not based on some experience common to them all. In the Inebriate Homes the common factor is inebriety. However much the inmates may differ in other respects, in this they are all alike : that they have indulged in drink to such an extent that the law has interfered to deal with them, and so the question that every newcomer has to face is, “Why are you here?” They are compelled to associate with one another, and they will get on the better together for each knowing something of the others’ story. Scenes are recalled that had better be forgotten. Time spent in regretting the past while detailing its incident may result, and often does, in a repetition of the evils which are deplored.

Better that the mind should dwell on something else than on the errors of time past. It is a common thing to see a man begin to tell a wild episode or experience of his earlier years, and to observe that beneath his expressions of criticism and regret there is a certain tone of satisfaction that he has been through it, and a lingering reminiscence of the enjoyment he has had in it. He condemns the folly, admits it was a mistake, and shows quite clearly that it was quite a pleasure at the time. Talking over the past brings it back and keeps the memory of it alive, and persistence in this course may cause that which has been regarded with disgust to become a thing that is desired, even a thing that is longed for. I remember a conversation with an inmate on the occasion of a visit I made to an Inebriate Home. I had known her as a habitual offender for years before her reformation was undertaken, and at this time she had been in the institution for more than a year. I congratulated her on the improvement in her appearance, and at the end of our talk she said, “It’s a’ quite true, I am better housed than I ever was. Ma meat is a’ that a body could want, and I get it mair easily than I did ootside. The work’s no o’er-hard, and the officials are kind. There are bits o’ rows, of course, noo and then; whaur there are so many weemen you couldna expect onything else; but there’s naething to complain of. The country’s real bonny in the summer, but I get tired of the country. I am a toon bird like yoursel’, doctor, and I weary for the streets.” I suggested to her that since she was so well off and could be suited on the expiry of her term with a place where she would not have the same inducements to drink as she had had, she should make up her mind to keep away from the town; but she answered, “No; it’s a’ very nice and comfortable, but I wouldna gie a walk doon the Candleriggs for the haill o’ it.” Of course she ultimately had a walk down the Candleriggs, followed by a drive to prison; but it was quite apparent that this longing for her old haunts was the result of her failure to be impressed by interests that were equally absorbing, and that would become more powerful. Had such an interest developed in her, the Candleriggs would have been merely an empty sentiment. It would have occupied the position that “Bonnie Scotland” has in the minds of so many of the Scots who, having taken up their residence abroad, and having become absorbed in their affairs, stay there—afraid to return lest they lose even the sentiment. Just as in the religious community the members are stimulated to welldoing, in the reformatory the association of people whose common bond is their offence stimulates them to wrongdoing, or at least tends to hinder them from breaking off their old interests.

Institutional life has points of difference from life outside, which cause the formation of habits that are detrimental to the inmates when they return to the community. They are lodged usually on the model of the barracks; though this does not apply to the lodging of prisoners in prison, as they have separate rooms. Outside an institution most people do not sleep in dormitories or live in common rooms. They may live and sleep in the same room, but the only lodging outside which is on the same model as the dormitory is the common lodging-house, and that is the last place to which anyone would desire that a reformed offender should go.

In an institution division of labour is carried out for reasons of economy. The superintendent directs that different sets of people should perform different duties. Even if all the persons are changed at intervals from one set of duties to another, with a view to each inmate learning to do all parts of the work which is necessary in order that the place may be kept in proper condition, the habit formed is different from that of the housewife outside, who daily has to go over the whole round of her work. She is not responsible for doing a part, knowing that some other is responsible for some other part. Not only each part of the work engages her attention in its turn, but she is accountable for the whole ; whether she does it well or ill is beside the point, which is, that there is nobody to rule her and no one whom she can hold accountable for her neglect. The habits of housekeeping acquired by the inmates of a home may tend to make them good servants, but they are certainly not the kind likely to make them more fit than they were to undertake the management of a house of their own; for they do not manage, they are managed.


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