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The Criminal and the Community
Part III - Chapter X - The Better Way


IF our courts of first instance were places where more exhaustive enquiries took place and greater consideration were given to the needs of the cases coming before them; if the aged and destitute were cared for and prevented from offending; if minor offenders were either liberated on their own promise of good behaviour or that of their friends; if people were put on probation under conditions that gave them a favourable chance of conforming to the laws ; there would still be a number to whom such treatment could not be applied.

There are some people who are not fit to be at liberty. They are so reckless of their own interests and the interests of others that, when uncontrolled, they become a danger. Some of them are insane, and the lunacy authority should attend to them. Others, through indulging their temper, are in the way of becoming insane ; but their mental unsoundness

is not so marked as to cause the lunacy specialists to certify them. That is no reason why it should not be recognised. At present they annoy those around them with more or less impunity until they attain to the ideal standard of insanity, in the process of their graduation paying visits to the prison. There, is no reason why they should not be dealt with from the beginning. There is only precedent taking the place of reason.

They are unfit to be at liberty without supervision, because they are not capable of self-control; but many of them could be trained in the habit. At present they are allowed to run wild for a time and then severely put down. Their life alternates between periods of riot and periods of repression, and their natural unsteadiness is intensified. If they knew that the period of riot had definitely ceased—that they were not again to be allowed to do what they liked if it implied harm to others—they would set about to control the temper that is in danger of finally controlling them.

They boast of being able to stand our punishments, and even invite them ; they might as easily be trained to qualify for our rewards had we any to offer. They may be brutal and sometimes are, though brutality is no longer a common characteristic of prisoners in prison; but it does not follow that, bad as some of them may appear, they are incorrigible. Their conduct and reputation make it difficult to obtain guardianship for them. What can be done with them? If they are liberated at any time they are a menace to the safety and the comfort of the citizens. It is because some writers have recognised this that they suggest the lethal chamber as a suitable place for them. It is a bold thing to propose the wholesale killing of other people except in name of war, and if there were any danger of the proposal being adopted it is not at all likely that it would be made. It is designed to shock us, and it fails to do so because we think we know that it will not bear discussion. As a matter of fact, at present we destroy the lives of these people in another way. Instead of curing them of their evil propensities we twist them still further, and kill any sense of public spirit in them as effectively in the process as we could do if we suffocated them. If they were put in the lethal chamber that would be an end to them. As it is, we have to set apart respectable citizens, not to make them better, but simply to watch them marking time before engaging in another period of disturbance.

If they are not killed they must be kept. We have got past the killing stage. It is time we adopted a more rational way of keeping them. Either they have to get out some day, or they have to be imprisoned till their death. In the latter case we need not trouble about them beyond seeing that they are not harshly treated, and that those over them do not develop in some degree the qualities condemned in the prisoner; but if they have to come out again it behooves us to see that they are not set free in a condition that makes them less able to conform to our laws than they were when we took them in hand. Otherwise all we have gained by their incarceration is the privilege of keeping them at our expense.

As all institutions have this in common, that the longer a man lives in them the less he is fitted to live outside, it follows that the shorter time a prisoner is cut off from the ordinary life in the community the less chance there is of his developing habits which will be useless to him on his return. The system of shutting people up for longer or shorter periods, and then turning them loose without supervision of a helpful kind and without provision for their living a decent life outside, is quite indefensible and has utterly failed in practice.

A prison ought merely to be a place of detention, in which offenders are placed till some proper provision is made for their supervision and means of livelihood in the community. If this were recognised existing institutions would be transformed. Those who refuse by their actions to obey the law of the community, and to live therein without danger to their neighbours, would as at present be put in prison; but they would not be let out except on promise to remain on probation under the supervision of some person or persons until they had satisfied, not an institution official, but the public opinion of the district in which they were placed, that the restrictions put on their liberty could safely be withdrawn. The prison in which they would be placed would not be a reformatory institution where all sorts of futile experiments might be made, but simply a place of detention in which they would be required each to attend on himself until he made up his mind to accept the greater degree of liberty implied in life outside. The door of his cell would be opened to let him out when he reached this conclusion; but it would not be opened to let him out, as at present, to play a game of hare and hounds with the police. Alike in the case of the young offender and the old, the only safety for the citizens and the only chance of reformation for the culprit he in his being boarded out under proper care and guardianship in the community. The proper guardian for one person would not be proper for another. At present the same set of guardians—the prison officials—look after all kinds of people who have offended.

The first objection which proposals such as these meet is that it cannot be done. There are a great many people who use this expression when their meaning really is that they cannot do it. There is a difference. Not only can offenders be boarded out, but they are and always have been boarded out. Whenever a man leaves prison he has to board himself out. I do not propose to let loose on the community any more offenders than are let loose at present. Indeed, I do not propose to let any of them loose at all, but simply to do for them, in their own interest and that of their neighbours, what they are doing for themselves to the great loss of us all. When any one of them does reform at present it is only by one way; either he has the necessary supervision from the friends religion has brought him, or an employer has taken an interest in him, or a fellow - workman has given him help, or some friendly hand has guided him. In no case do we give the guardian any control over him; in no case do we pay the guardian for time and work spent. I propose that we should give the power and the pay which are at present given to official persons in prison to unofficial persons outside prisons; in the reasonable hope that the money would be better expended, and in the full assurance that the results would not be worse.

Where are the guardians to be found? They are to be found in all parts of the country when search is made for them. The thing cannot be done wholesale. I do not suggest that the prisons should be emptied in a day. I merely indicate a mark to be aimed at and plead for an effective interference in place of the present ineffective interference. Putting it another way, are there no cases in which this procedure could be adopted? There are many; there are no cases in which it could not be adopted if you had the guardians looked out, but that takes time. It would be foolish, even if it were possible, to wait until you could treat every offender before treating any. It would be wise to begin and treat as many as possible in this way at once. It is not a question of finding so many thousand men to look after so many thousand; it is merely the question of finding one man to guide and supervise another man, the people in the district being the critics and the judges of his success.

At one time, in this part of Scotland, the children of paupers and of criminals, and the orphans of the poor, were brought up in numbers in the poorhouse. They acquired characters in common that marked them off from children outside. When they grew out of childhood, and were turned out in the world to work and to live, many of them gravitated back to the institution or to the prison. It occurred to someone that what these children required was proper parents; and one was boarded out with a family here, and another with a family there, at less cost to the parish than had been incurred in keeping them in the poorhouse. Thousands of children during the last generation have been boarded out in this fashion to their great advantage in every respect; and their after-conduct has been as good— they have been as decent and law-abiding citizens— as the children of any other class in the community. This moral and social gain has been accomplished at less financial cost than that incurred by bringing them up in institutions. It was said that the institution child had been handicapped because of the stigma of pauperism, but the boarded-out child is equally a pauper in respect that he is supported by the rates.

The fact is that the stigma from which the poorhouse child suffered was not the stigma of pauperism, but the stigma of institutionalism.

When the public conscience was stirred regarding the treatment of the insane, great buildings were erected and lavish provision was made for the lunatic. To these places thousands were sent for treatment. By and by it became manifest that in many cases their latter condition was worse than their first. They were better housed, better fed, better clothed, and better cared for; they were protected from the cruelty of the wicked and the neglect of the thoughtless; but they acquired evil habits from each other, and they infected some of their attendants with their vices. Here and there suitable guardians were found for one and another of those whose insanity was not of such a kind as to make it necessary in the public interest that they should be confined to an institution; and now, in Scotland, between five and six thousand are boarded out. That in some cases mistakes are made no one denies; but the cases are few, and on the balance there has been an enormous advantage to everyone concerned.

It has become apparent that not only the inmates of institutions acquire peculiarities which mark them off from persons living outside, but the officials who live in these places also tend to develop eccentricities, and there are proposals made with the object of preventing them from living in; the idea being that the more they are brought in contact with life outside the less they are likely to become narrowed in their views and their habits, and the better they will be able to do their work in such a way as would commend itself to the public whom they serve.

If people can be had who are willing for a consideration to take charge of lunatics, and to fulfil their charge to the satisfaction of the public, it is not unreasonable to suppose that on suitable terms guardians could be found for persons who have offended against the laws, and who cannot be expected to refrain from offending if returned to the surroundings which have contributed to their wrongdoing. The criminal may be presumed to have a greater sense of responsibility than the insane person, and to be more able to take a rational view of his position. In any case, it should never be forgotten that so far as the public is concerned there are only two ways of it; unless, indeed, we are prepared to kill the criminals or to immure them for life. They must either be liberated, as at present, without provision being made for their welldoing, and without guarantees being taken for their good behaviour, even if opportunities were provided; or they must be liberated on condition that they remain under some form of supervision and guardianship.

Unconditional liberation has ended in disaster to all concerned. Conditional liberation can only be expected to produce good results if the conditions are reasonable. They must confer in every case the maximum amount of liberty consistent with the security of the public; and the final judges must be the public themselves. The offender should work out his own salvation, and show that he deserves to have all restrictions removed before they are removed. If he is merely required to do so under highly artificial conditions within the walls of an institution, he will soon learn how to get round the officials there. His conduct in the institution can afford no means for judging what his behaviour will be outside under entirely different conditions. Inside he has no choice but to obey. Outside he has to think and act for himself, and has opportunities of acquiring new interests and of learning habits which are likely to persist because they are those of his fellow-citizens who are free.

All sorts of systems have had their trial in dealing with the offender. It has always been recognised that it was necessary to remove him from the place where he had offended. He has been transported to other lands, there to begin a new life; but the conditions under which the operation was carried out were appalling. He has been placed in association with other offenders, and left, with very little supervision, to become worse or make others worse. He has been placed in solitary confinement; cut off from company of any sort; with the result of wrecking his mind as well as his body. At present he is separated from his fellows, but he has no opportunity to come in contact with healthy social life. One system has broken down after another. All systems have failed to deal with him satisfactorily.

There can be no system, but only a method; and that, the method adopted by the physician in dealing with his patient. When he has satisfied himself that the man who comes to him for advice is suffering from a certain disease, he enquires into the past history, the habits and pursuits, and the social condition of the patient; and on the information gained considers his treatment. The course of conduct prescribed for one person may be quite unsuitable for another, although both suffer from the same complaint; and the wise physician knows that he cannot leave out of account the opinion of the patient himself as to what should be done. It is just so with the offender. In many cases he is best able to tell what should be done for him ; and provided it is not something that would result in harm to the community there is no reason why his opinion should not be considered, but every reason why it should. The expert may know a good deal about the offender, but it has been proved over and over again that he does not know how to reform him ; for he has been given ample opportunity, and his prescriptions have ended in failure. The official person is apt to imagine that he and his methods should be above criticism. His office has been magnified for so long that he honestly believes it is necessary that it should be maintained in the interests of the public. No institution can be created which will not result in the formation of vested interests in its continuance; and yet every institution must be judged by its results, and not by the opinions of those who are set to manage it.

With the improvement in the social condition of the people; with an increase in the minimum standard of living; with the abolition, or even the mitigation, of destitution, the whole complexion of things would be altered. That changes in these directions will occur there is every reason to suppose, but meanwhile many fall by the way and many take the opportunity to grasp an advantage to the loss of their neighbours. Under any social condition offences may occur. Whatever laws we make there may always be law-breakers. A man may become possessed by jealousy or wrath and injure his neighbour, or from envy or greed may rob him, but he can only acquire the habit of doing so with our permission. If he is checked at the beginning and placed under control, he will not acquire that habit.

Our present methods have not prevented the growth of the habitual offender, and they have not been designed to help those who have gone wrong to reform.

The great defect in all our systems is that they are not based on a recognition of social conditions as they exist. Most men can and do behave under supervision, and that supervision in many cases could be made as effective outside an institution as inside one. Men prefer a greater to a lesser degree of liberty. At present they have more than one choice. They may conform to our laws and go free; or they may break our laws in the knowledge that if they are caught, on payment of a penalty either in money or in time, they may resume their wrongdoing once more. The habitual offender continues to offend because he prefers to risk imprisonment and live in his own way rather than accept the humdrum, peaceful life of his law-abiding neighbour. When he finds that there is no question of pay in the matter, but that he is simply offered the choice of good behaviour outside of prison, or incarceration within a prison, he will begin to review his position.

There is only one principle in penology that is worth any consideration; it is to find out why a man does wrong, and make it not worth his while. There is nothing to be gained by assuming that individual peculiarities may be disregarded, and there is everything to be lost thereby. If we would make the best of him we should restrict the liberty of the offender as little as possible consistent with the well-being of the community, and enlarge it gradually as reason is shown for doing so. We cannot injure him without injuring ourselves, and we ought to set about to make the best rather than the worst of him.

THE END


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