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The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter IX - Alternatives to Imprisonment


IN the present methods of treatment mainly result in the liberation of men and women from prison in a condition that makes it difficult for them to do well—sometimes more difficult than it was before they were sent there—it follows (1) that no one should be sent to prison if there is any other means to protect the public from him ; and further (2) that no one should be liberated from prison unless the community has some guarantee that it will not suffer from him. In short, what happens to the prisoner in prison is of secondary importance to the public. Of primary importance is, what is likely to happen to them when he comes out. The first consideration should be : How can you deal with people who have offended so as to avoid making them worse and to ensure that they will behave better? Unfortunately, one main concern of many is how they can make the culprit suffer. One of the effects of retributive punishment is to make those who undergo it less fit, physically or mentally, than they were before its infliction. We must make up our minds whether we really desire to correct the offender or not, and if we seek his correction we must be prepared to throw overboard theories and practices which obstruct that end, whether they are old or new.

An examination of the reports of the Prison Commissioners for Scotland will suggest to anyone that a good deal might be done to diminish the number of committals to prison. According to the last report published (1910), there were 46,466 receptions of prisoners under sentence. As some were in prison more than once during the year, the number of individuals represented is probably about 23,000, and of these 9775 were in for the first time. [Their sentences ranged from under one day to two years. There were 39,036 sentences of a month or less, and of these 22,696 were seven days or less ; 7949 of that number being of three days or less. These people have not much time to get accustomed to their quarters before they are liberated; and if there were the means, there is neither the time nor the opportunity to make any thorough enquiry into their dispositions and way of living, with a view to help them.    .

As for the nature of their offences, there were 14,644 committals for breach of peace, disorderly conduct, etc.; 12,274 for drunkenness; 1982 for obscene language, etc.; and nearly all these are offences inferring drunkenness. Where did they get the drink? Apparently it was not from the public-houses, for from the tables it does not appear that anyone was sent to prison for breach of certificate. If the source of supply could be discovered and cut off, or at any rate made to flow less freely, it seems obvious that there would be a much smaller prison population. But is there any good purpose served by sending people to prison for a few days? It is true the streets are rid of them, but such as are habituals go out simply revived by the rest and keen as ever for drink. I say the habituals, for time and again these return with sentences of two, three, five, or seven days. As for the casual offender, it would be far better to let him off, when he cannot pay a fine, than to send him to prison, thereby causing him to lose his employment and bringing him to bad company. In 1909 over 40,000 were sent to prison in default of paying a fine. Time to pay fines benefits many, but there are those who are too poor to be helped by it. At present a fine is imposed as an alternative to imprisonment; and as the public is only assured of the culprit’s behaviour for so many days, positive gain, financially and otherwise, would result from placing him in bond outside a prison. At present, if the fine is not paid, the absurd condition of affairs is this: that a person fined in, say, twenty shillings or twenty days may disappear and not pay the fine in the time allowed him; three months after he may be found, arrested, and sent to prison for this failure to pay. The sentence of the court amounted to this : that if he paid twenty shillings he would be at liberty to do as he pleased, but if he failed to pay he would have his liberty restricted for twenty days at the public expense ; they to be secure from misconduct on his part during that time. He has behaved for three times that period at no expense to the public; why, then, should their hospitality be forced on him? As long as people will behave outside prison there is no sense in sending them inside. Whether they are likely to behave can only be discovered after a more exhaustive and a different kind of enquiry than has hitherto been made in each case.

Minor offences form the great majority of our committals, and drunkenness is an element in most of the cases. If a man does not get drink to excess he will not become drunk. Persons and premises are licensed for the convenience of the public, and it is not for the public convenience that anyone should be allowed to have a practically unlimited supply of liquor. One of the troubles of the man that takes drink is that he is not in a state to appreciate his own condition, and he is apt to imagine that he is much more sober than he is. No respectable publican wants to make men drunk; but he wants to make money out of his business, and beyond certain limits he cannot be more particular than his neighbours. It is sometimes very difficult to say when a man is drunk, but it is easy to tell when he is not sober, and he is not entitled to the benefit of any doubt that may exist. It ought to be the business of the vendor to refuse drink to a man who has evidently had as much as is good for him. He may make mistakes, but they will be on the right side if he has to pay for them.

The very desire to prevent men being supplied with drink to excess has resulted in making the law, with regard to the supply of drink to intoxicated persons, something very like a dead letter. I have known a man to be convicted for being drunk and incapable at a police court, and though it was shown that he left a public-house in that condition after having had several drinks there, when the publican was brought to the same court on a subsequent date, to answer a charge of breach of certificate in respect that he had supplied drink to a man who was drunk, the charge was found not proven. The fine for such a breach of certificate would not have been nearly so great as the cost of defending the charge ; but a conviction would have resulted in the endorsement of the licence, and might have caused its withdrawal. Now as the man depended on the licence for his livelihood, this was practically a sentence of death. In these cases the magistrates are exceedingly unwilling to convict and in consequence charges are seldom made.

If the penalty inflicted in the police court did not result in a larger penalty imposed by the licensing court, there would be less difficulty in dealing with the licence holders; and if drunkenness is to be prevented they must be dealt with. Of course a man may get drunk in a private house or in a club ; making it more difficult for him to become intoxicated in a public-house would not prevent that; but even so, it would tend to keep the streets free from disorder; and if a man will take more drink than he can carry, it is alike better for his own health and for the public convenience that he should do it in private. There have been many complaints about clubs during recent years, and that some of them are vile places there can be no question. The evidence given in the court as to how these objectionable places have been conducted shows their character quite clearly, but in the worst cases the very fact that such evidence was in possession of the authorities is a grave reflection on their competence to suppress disorder. In some cases the clubs were little better than dens of thieves, to which half intoxicated persons were lured to be robbed by people whose character was well known to the police. Raiding them avails little, but warning off those who would enter might avail much. Men in uniform placed at the doors would act as a sign to warn the unwary. The knave preys on the fool. Warn off his prey and he will starve.

If through a subsidence or otherwise there is a hole in a street into which a man might stumble and break his leg, the place is barricaded off and a watchman placed there to warn the careless. Nobody would think of leaving the trap open, even though a sufficient ambulance service were provided to carry off the injured. When a place that is known to be a trap for the foolish is discovered, on the same principle it might be profitable to warn those who would enter it, rather than to wait until they had suffered loss and then seek to seize and convict those who had robbed them. There are more ways of closing an ill-conducted club than by withdrawing its licence; but after all has been said, most of the drunkenness that disgraces our streets has not resulted from the consumption of drink either in private houses or in clubs, in spite of what the trade may say to the contrary. Indignation against clubs on the part of liquor-sellers is not due to zeal for temperance, but springs from jealousy of their own monopoly. They seem to think that men should not take drink unless they are permitted to make a profit in the process; and it is just this question of profit that lies at the root of any effective dealing with the matter.

Our attempts to punish the drunkards are often ludicrous. It might not be so ridiculous to try to get at those who make a profit off the drunkard. He makes a loss; we make a loss; someone has profited. We punish him; we punish ourselves; neither of us are profited at all. There is surely something wrong here. Those who are incapable of taking care of themselves, or who are disorderly in their conduct through drink, when taken into custody by the police, might quite profitably be permitted to go home when they are sober, unless their conduct is becoming a habit; in which case some other method of dealing with them requires to be considered. The disgrace of arrest will appeal as effectively to any person with a sense of shame as proceedings before a magistrate would do. When a fine—the cost of the trouble he has caused—has been inflicted on such an offender, time for payment should always be allowed. A man will never earn money in prison to pay the costs of his prosecution, but if allowed to go about his business he may do so. Even if he can only earn his living without paying a fine, behaving himself the while, he has done more than it would have been possible for him to do in prison.

There has been a strong tendency of late years to deal with persons coming before the courts for the first time, even when the charge is regarded as a serious one, in some other way than by sending them to prison. They are put on probation for a period, and if nothing is known against them for that time they are discharged. Probation rightly managed would solve the problem of their treatment in the great majority of cases. Imperfect as the method employed at present is many have been benefited because under it they have escaped imprisonment. It is most commonly adopted in the case of those who have committed offences against property; yet if the principle on which it can be justified—the principle of substituting correction for punishment—were intelligently recognised, it would be applied in all cases, no matter what the offence; provided the offender was regarded as a suitable subject on consideration of his history and character. At present the offence more than the offender determines the sentence; and there is a greater likelihood of a person who has committed a petty offence being put on probation, than there would be if in the eye of the law the offence he had committed were regarded more seriously.

The process is popularly described as giving the offender another chance. It is a loose expression, which may mean anything. It sometimes does mean giving him another chance to offend, and that is all. It is intended to give him another chance to behave; and this assumes that he has already had the chance ; an assumption that is not always warranted if the facts were considered. Clearly it is of no advantage to the public that an offender should have a chance of again committing a breach of the law; and if he is to be liberated from custody, it would be a reasonable proceeding to see that he is placed under such conditions as would make it easier for him to obey than to break the law. Putting him on probation ought not to mean returning him to the conditions under which he failed to resist temptation. Rather should it imply placing him under less unfavourable conditions of life. What is actually done amounts to this, that the offender, instead of being sentenced, on conviction, to imprisonment, is ordered to appear in court after so many months, in order that his case may be disposed of ; and is allowed to be at liberty provided he consents to live under certain conditions prescribed by the court, his conduct to be reported on by a probation officer, whose duty it is to give him such counsel and aid as is possible without expense to the rates.

The probation officer may be a police official; not necessarily a police officer, but under the control of the police. Now if there is one thing that is more clear than another in Glasgow and other urban areas in the West of Scotland, it is that the poorer classes are suspicious of the police and the machinery of the law that masquerades in the name of justice—for it is a burlesque of justice to examine only one side of a case; to decide how far the individual is to blame for offending against the laws of the community, without making any enquiry into the question how far the community is to blame for inducing the offence ; and this is felt, if it is not clearly expressed, by all who are liable to transgress. A tacit conspiracy against the officers of the law is not only apparent in the case 'of the poorer classes, but in the case of all classes, when they are brought into conflict with it. The old Roman father who sacrificed his son to the laws, and whom we were asked to admire for his heroism when we were at school, is not a common phenomenon. He has left few descendants, which is probably a good thing. Now the father strives to shield his son; the sister puts the best face on her brother’s conduct; and the neighbours would far rather condone the fault of the culprit than expose liis misdeeds. They feel that our methods are wrong whenever they come intimately in contact with them, and they obey their instincts and feelings; that is all. They can see that it is wrong, that it is foolish, to interfere with a man to make him worse, no matter under what pretence, when they know the man; although they will readily admit that you must punish the offender whom they do not know. So the probation officer may be misled into a wrong report regarding the person under his charge when that person behaves pretty much the same as he did before he was first arrested, the conditions under which he is living not having undergone any material change. The probation officer has his hands full, having quite a number of people to visit and report upon daily. These people being widely separated from one another geographically, he is merely discharging the duties of an inspector ; and he cannot give individuals the attention their cases may require in order to their improvement.

Before a prisoner is discharged from the criminal lunatic department, the authorities see that an approved guardian is provided for him outside. The conditions on which he is allowed to be free are distinctly laid down, and the guardian is given the same authority over him outside as the attendants had when he was inside. If he breaks through any of the conditions imposed on him the guardian may report his misconduct, when he is liable to be brought back within the walls of the department. The same thing may happen if complaints of his behaviour are made by neighbours or associates. He has to be visited at intervals by some citizen of known character and integrity, whose duty it is to certify that the patient is fit to be free ; and at unexpected times a medical officer from the department may call and see him, his guardian, and others, in order that there may be a reasonable security for the public.

It has been said that there is too much fuss made over these cases, but I doubt it. The public security is the first consideration, and there has seldom been any cause given for complaint on the part of the prisoner so liberated. He is not set free and left to return to the associations to which he has reacted badly in the past. He is not left to struggle for existence and probably to fall under the struggle. He is placed under conditions which make it easier for him to do well than to do ill; and if he will not conform, his rebellion is checked at the beginning.

It is not the duty of his guardians and visitors merely to look for evidences of his evil tendency. They have to help him to do well. These guardians are usually people who, for some reason, have a friendly interest in the man whose care they undertake. They are not paid for their work—though they should be, if necessary, as it costs less to keep a man outside than to keep him inside a lunatic asylum, and it is better to pay people who have a personal interest in the subject of their care than to pay those who have only an official interest in the persons with whom they deal.

Contrast this state of affairs with probation as it is worked. In the one case the guardian is carefully selected and is not appointed to act, however willing he may be, if there is not ground for assuming that he is also able. In the other case it is assumed that the guardians who have failed to exercise supervision over the offender will be better able to do so when the culprit has appeared before a magistrate. In both cases there are official visits to the prisoner discharged on licence, and in the case of the offender on probation these visits are more frequent.

In so far as the officer can do so, he tries to help the wrongdoer ; but if he has many under his charge the best will in the world cannot enable him to do more than a little for each. This little is as much as is required in many cases ; and, imperfect as it is, the practice of the probation system has been justified by a certain amount of success. Where it has failed has been in those cases where the conditions laid down have been of such a character that the offender is morally unable to conform to them. I do not suggest that the conditions were in themselves unreasonable, or that the standard of behaviour demanded has been too high judged by the needs of the community, but only that the demand made on the offender was greater than his circumstances permitted him to meet.

X 32 was a girl under fifteen years of age, rather big for her years, judged by the standard of the district in which she was brought up. She was employed as a message-girl and stole money from her employers. In the aggregate she appropriated a considerable sum before she was found out. She was put on probation, broke her bond, and was sent to a reformatory. Two questions arose from her conduct. (1) Why did she steal ? and (2) Why did she break her bond ? As to the first question, the answer was quite apparent. She wanted little things which she could not get and she took the money to get them. Her peculations were not observed and they increased. Indeed, on one occasion she spent such a large sum of money in treating a party of school friends, that it is difficult to understand why the tradesman who executed her order did so at all, seeing what she was. It is one of the commonest things for young people to help themselves to things that are not their own. It is rarely considered thieving except they take money, or goods to sell; but dishonest appropriation of property is so common, not as a continued practice, but as an incident in the lives of young people, that I question if one of those who read this has not at some time or another in his or her life been guilty of it. This is too frequently forgotten, and if it were remembered as it ought to be children would be treated more wisely than hitherto has been done.

The girl in question was the eldest daughter of respectable working people. Her conduct shocked them; but they were unfit to direct her, for during the day her father was out working, and her mother had as much as she could do to attend to her household and to care for her younger children. The girl was sent back on probation to this home; a respectable home, but a home where, in the nature of things, she could not receive the care and guidance she required, having developed this propensity; and she broke her bond simply because she was placed under conditions where there was no reasonable probability of her keeping it. Accordingly she was sent to a reformatory, at a cost to the community much greater than would have been incurred had she been boarded out with the consent of her parents under the care of some respectable person in the country, where she could have been freed from the associations that had proved unsuitable to her.

Money may be had, through channels provided by Parliament, for placing people in institutions, reformatory and otherwise ; while the statutes do not provide for expenditure in the way suggested. Accordingly the reason assigned for not doing things which obviously might be done with profit is, that there are no powers, enabling them to act in the way suggested, in the hands of the officials. This, if it is an excuse for inaction, is not a valid one everywhere. When the parents of a child are willing to surrender their rights as guardians on cause being shown, and to allow the young person who has offended to be placed under control of some suitable person, all the power required is in the hands of the judge.

It is recognised that parents, however respectable, may not be able to give their children such attention as they may require should they contract certain diseases; and there is seldom any difficulty in inducing them to have their ailing child removed to an infirmary for treatment. On the contrary, there are more who seek such treatment for their children than can be accommodated. For want of a better term, what we may call a moral ailment in a young person may as readily defy the resources of the parents as any physical ailment could do; and there are many parents who recognise the fact and would welcome assistance; but instead of helping them we are content to wait until the offender gets worse, and then to free the parent from all sense of responsibility and to make his position more painful than it need be by placing the culprit in one of our institutions. We may hope our action will do good, but the hope is not founded on experience.

There is no law that hinders the community from assisting the needy among its numbers, although there may be no provision of funds specifically for this purpose. Whatever may be the case elsewhere, in Glasgow want of money is not the reason why things are not done. We have a large fund called the Common Good of the Corporation. Of late years it has been swollen by profits on the city’s tramways to such an extent that a bonus, under the name of a reduction of rates, amounting to some £40,000 in one year, has been divided among the ratepayers. From this same fund banquets are provided; receptions are paid for; medals are supplied to magistrates; and all sorts of expenditure are defrayed for which there is no authority to rate. A small sum relatively is granted in aid of scientific and charitable organisations, and about £500 is contributed to assist discharged prisoners. If money can be had to defray the cost of food, drinks, and cigars, for those who are quite able to pay for them themselves, and that without any special Act of Parliament, surely it could also be had to prevent offenders becoming hardened in their offences, and to assist those who are willing to undertake the work of guiding and training them in right ways of living. Doubtless the money will be found when it is realised that it is at least as important to the city that people should be kept out of prison and helped to do well, as it is that the eminent and notable among the citizens should occasionally be treated from the corporation funds.

How many could be assisted in this manner it is impossible to say, but so far as can be judged a large proportion of those dealt with might be so assisted at comparatively little cost. Whether the number be large or small, however, it should be clearly understood that, the money being there, if they are not helped, it is not for want of power nor for want of means, but for some other reason. There are many things which the law does not enjoin on the corporation; but there are many others that are worthy which it does not prohibit those who are willing from doing ; and if our officials are to be encouraged to believe that they must do nothing to help those who need assistance unless they get an Act of Parliament authorising them to do it, we need not wonder if our rate of progress is slow. The safe rule is to do the thing that needs doing, so long as there is not a positive injunction against doing it. This will cause trouble, no doubt, to the person who follows such a course of action; but I do not believe that any public official who acts on this principle will fail to receive public support and encouragement so long as he seeks to help people to help themselves, whatever view those in authority may take of his actions.

We are too much bound by precedent. Appropriate action is sometimes checked by the consideration that the thing proposed has never been done before. Of course that is no reason for not doing it now; but it takes the place of a reason in far too many cases.

More interest is taken in proposals for dealing with the habitual offender than in any others, although nobody is a habitual to begin with. He is supposed to be the dangerous person. He is a professional plunderer; the villain of the piece. But habitual offenders are not all great criminals. There are those who live by stealing, having become more or less expert at the business; but there are many offenders who, having become careless and drunken, or who, being physically or mentally a little below the ordinary standard of their class, are incapable of keeping a job even if they got it. They are more a nuisance than a danger to their fellow-citizens. This army of destitute persons should be dealt with by the destitution authorities. Taken singly they are not difficult to control and direct, and it would be cheaper and more profitable to have them planted out in the country than to allow them to herd together in the cities, to be successful neither in honest nor dishonest work, and serving as tools and touts for the more skilful rogues.

The most helpless among them are the aged and infirm, some of whom have only become submerged late in fife, and all of whom are quite unable to extricate themselves from the morass into which they have fallen. Now they are in the prison; now in the poorhouse. When they can avoid either of these institutions they live in lodging-houses or on the streets, where their misery is a reproach to our civilisation. They are not interesting ; they are only disgusting; and it has been proposed to shut them up in the poor-house, because they go in and out too frequently.

Yet something might be learned from their point of view. They are sent to prison because they commit petty offences. They are quite unfit to conform to the rules of that institution and are not- improved by residence there. For a few days they are kept off the streets, but nobody pretends that this could not be done more effectively and at less cost. If they prefer the prison to the poorhouse, as is sometimes alleged, they do not prefer the prison to the miserable and haphazard existence they drag out when free ; and as a matter of fact, when the weather becomes suddenly severe or their ailments become more insistent, it is the parish, not the police, to which they apply. They hope to be sent to a hospital. When they recover sufficiently they are out again. May this not afford a presumption that there is something wrong with the poorhouse? Is it reasonable to assume that, having experienced all the bitterness and hardship due to their poverty and destitution—that knowing they will be subjected to hunger, rough usage, and exposure—they prefer to suffer these rather than trust to the tender mercy officially meted out to them, and that they do this through sheer cussedness? For my part, I do not believe that they are such fools. If they prefer to forage for themselves, knowing the difficulty of doing so, rather than live in the poorhouse, it is because, after balancing the advantage and disadvantage, they have found that anything is better for them than life in that glorious institution. To anyone who has lived there, there is no ground for surprise that they should adopt this conclusion.

In the prison a man may have too much privacy. In the poorhouse there is none at all. The inmates having nothing in common but their misfortune, poverty, and destitution, are housed together and live a barrack life. Some attempt is made to classify them, as though you could sort out people, in ignorance of their temperaments and tastes, by their record as disclosed to an inspector. In our own experience people sort out themselves. In any church or club you get people of the same age and of similar good character. They can all be civil to one another if they meet occasionally, but set any half-dozen of them to live together with no relief from each other’s company, and there will be rebellion inside a week.

In the poorhouse the inmates have to suffer one another during the whole time of their stay. Some of them rebel and leave the place, even though they know that they will be more uncomfortable outside. They at least have a change of discomfort. Surely the money spent in chasing them and in keeping them would yield a better return if they were boarded out in comfortable surroundings, where during the few remaining years of their pilgrimage they might get fresh air and some space to move about in. Their very feebleness makes their custody less difficult, and it is no profit to them or to us to make it more arduous than it need be. If it be objected that this would be treating them better than the “deserving poor,” that is only to remind us of the shameful way in which we have neglected those to whom we give that name. The “deserving poor” are the uncomplaining poor; and so long as they do not complain their deserts are likely to be disregarded, even when quoted as a reproach to those whose behaviour has attracted our censure.


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