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The Criminal and the Community
By James Devon (1912)

Medical Officer of H.M. Prison at Glasgow with an Introduction by Professor A. F. Murison, LL.D.


Job xxxii. 10, 11.


THE importance of the subjects handled in this volume requires no demonstration. Already, and for long, the treatment of them has naturally engaged the sympathetic study of philanthropists, and more recently it has attracted the earnest attention of scientific inquirers. Hitherto, however, the results have been far from satisfactory; and there is ample room for further discussion, especially from the standpoint of a thoroughly practical man with large experience both of criminals and of the social conditions that breed them.

Nowadays there is a growing sense of social interdependence; there is a more general and a more definitely realized aim to elevate the condition of the less fortunate of our fellow-citizens; there are express efforts of scientific investigators to discover a firm basis for practical reforms; and practical reforms are urgent. Such tendencies of thought and feeling may be expected to go far to ensure a warm welcome to this volume.

Dr. Devon’s book is executed on a breadth of scale never before attempted. It has three distinct parts: The Criminal; Common Factors in the Causation of Crime; The Treatment of the Criminal. His exposition is perfectly clear; he sees precisely, and he states directly, simply, and definitely what he sees and what he thinks about it, very frequently driving home a point with epigrammatic force. If he throws overboard unceremoniously what he regards as mere lumber accumulated by the industry of speculation divorced from experience ; if he betrays some impatience with existing theories and systems; if he advances his own views with confidence—the handling is at any rate piquant, and brings the matter promptly to a head.

We are supposed to have travelled far from the mediaeval brutality of prison life, but have the changes: not been superficial rather than deep ? Setting asidq^ the catalogue of minor regulations and regarding the broad spirit of prison life, one cannot but recognize that the conditions still prevailing have much in common with the past. If we look for the really essential changes during a hundred years, we find just these: (1) a surface cleanliness of apparent perfection; (2) conversation, prison visits, and arrangements tending towards a decent sociability between prisoners and prisoners and between prisoners and the public reduced and rendered difficult by multitudinous bye-laws. On the one hand, a cleanliness obtainable only by irritating industry disproportionate to its proper value; on the other hand, a reduction of such facilities as are most likely to prevent a prisoner from degenerating to a social alien, an automatic machine, or a lunatic.

The after-effects of a long sojourn in prison are not readily realizable: it would require a very lively imagination to picture the life and its inherent possibilities. The fact that some prisoners do manage to get through their existence without falling into despair may be taken rather as a tribute to the chances of exception confounding rule than as a proof of conversion to virtue through punishment. It is too much to expect that an ordinary man that has been incarcerated for a period of seven, or five, or even three years, can become, on his liberation, once more a “respectable” member of society. His spirit has been cowed; his self-respect has been annihilated; he has been disqualified for reabsorption in the community ; he has been prepared to gravitate once more towards crime and prison.

Another unfortunate aspect is the position of the prison warder. Apart from the care of those under him, he is subject to so much personal discipline—is so much the slave of “Rules”—that his life often becomes little superior to that of his charges. In point of social origin or of intellectual attainments he is not inferior to the ordinary policeman; but, while the policeman is taught by society, the warder spends most of his time in an atmosphere of degradation, fatal both to character and to intellect.

We are pretty well agreed that consideration and sympathy should be extended to the first offender, except in case of sheer brutality—and, as Dr. Devon points out, even a man that commits an act of brutality is not necessarily a brute—for the first offender is usually the victim of “accidental misconduct.” In the case of the habitual offender, who returns to prison time after time for various transgressions, it would seem judicious to keep him permanently from actual freedom, but to treat him more as a diseased and positively dangerous man than as a noxious animal. At any rate, first offenders should not be herded together with case-hardened criminals.

Dr. Devon argues stoutly for the liberation of prisoners when responsible citizens come forward to undertake for necessary periods the guardianship and care of them. On this point it is important to note his precise position : it is not for a moment to be thought that he advocates any reckless liberation of scoundrels upon society. Let us see his actual words: “Unconditional liberation has ended in disaster to all concerned. Conditional liberation can only be expected to produce good results if the conditions are reasonable. 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. . . . The prison in which they would be placed would not be a reformatory institution where all sorts of futile experiments would be made, but simply a place of detention in which they would be required each to attend on himself until he had 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 had 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.” The argument hinges on the conditions.

Side by side with this, the State might well note the advantage of pursuing the scheme of letting first offenders out on probation ; giving them guidance and help in welldoing, and impressing upon them the inevitable consequence of restraint in case of violation of the law. In this way the transgressor—unless he be of the stuff of which arrant evildoers are made— seems more likely to feel repentance instead of remorse. He is shown clearly the power and the certainty of the law; and at the same time he avoids the stain a prison life must inevitably have left, even though the imprisonment had been of a comparatively short duration.

Dr. Devon expounds, with irresistible logic, an argument in favour of a proper training of the class most in need of it. It must not be forgotten that ignorance cannot be expected to reason, and that poverty is heavily handicapped. Many offenders do evil simply because they have never known good. To punish these with blind and brutish vehemence is only a little less callous than ill-treatment of mental derelicts and little children. The principal aims of a prison system are presumably to punish offenders and to induce them not to offend again. In neither case can the present system be regarded as successful: it provides neither a proper punishment nor an effective deterrent. That the influence is brutalising cannot be ignored: the savage become bestial, the refined become tragically shamed outcasts.

It is not to be anticipated that Dr. Devon will at all points and at once conciliate agreement. Probably he is the last man to expect it. Perhaps it is even undesirable that his views should be accepted without keen discussion. But Dr. Devon is a seasoned warrior, well accustomed to fight his own battles ; and no man is readier to acknowledge frankly a sound criticism.

Dr. Devon begins and ends on the same note: absolute necessity for the “recognition of social conditions as they exist.” Yes, “as they exist”; and not otherwise. His official position as medical officer of a large prison for more than half a generation, and a long experience as one of the examiners for the Crown for criminal cases in the West of Scotland, give him a right to a hearing on the medical and official aspects of the subject. There have been other writers that could claim official knowledge of the subject but Dr. Devon’s qualifications on the social side are exceptional. He was helping to earn his own living before he was eleven, and his knowledge of the conditions of life among the working class has not been acquired from the outside. He had a practical acquaintanceship with the work of the unskilled labourer and of the artisan before he began the study of medicine; and his professional life, spent mainly in the poorhouse and the prison, has given him opportunities for outside observation of conditions with which he had had an earlier and more intimate acquaintance. He has been emphatically a man of the people, going in and out among his fellow-citizens of all classes for many years—lecturing, sharing confidences, advising and counselling every day, and, in a word, familiarising himself with every aspect of the diversified social life around him; an incalculable advantage when utilized by a keen intellect and a sympathetic heart.

It will be found, then, that he has brought together the two factors of the problem—the Criminal and Society—with a solvent power beyond any previous effort. I believe that his book is the most illuminating and the wisest that has ever been written on the subject.




Chapter I - The Criminal and the Criminologists
Classification of criminals—The treatment of the criminal not a medical but a social question—Technical differences between crimes and offences—Changes in the law—Vice and crime—The beginner in crime—Common characters of the “criminal class”—Atrocious crimes exceptional— So-called scientific studies of the criminal—How figures mislead—Composite photographs and averages—Estimate of character from physical examination—Causal relationship to crime of these characters.

Chapter II - Heredity and Crime
Does heredity account for one quality more than another?— Impossibility of forecasting the conduct of others—Do criminals breed criminals ?—The fit and the unfit—Unequal endowments—Ability and position—Inherited faculties and social pressure—Crime tne result of wrongly directed powers—Original sin and heredity—Heredity behind everything.

Chapter III - Insanity and Crime
Insanity and responsibility—Removal of the insane from prison—Crime resulting from insanity—Case of theft—Of embezzlement — Of fire-raising — Insanity and murder charges—The result of an act not a guide to the nature of the act—Observation of prisoners charged with certain offences—Insanity as a result of misconduct—Cases—The mentally defective—Cases.

Chapter IV - Physical Defects and Crime
Physical defects beget sympathy—Rarely induce crime—May cause mental degeneration—Case of jealousy and murder.

Chapter V - The Study of the Criminal
The reliability of prisoners’ statements—Deceit or misunderstanding 1—Frankness and knowledge required on the part of the investigator—The prisoner’s statement should form the basis of enquiry—Information and help obtained from former friends—The diffusion of knowledge so obtained —The prevention of crime and the accumulation of knowledge.



Chapter I - Drink and Crime
Drink commonly accredited with the production of crime— Minor offences usually committed under its influence— Drink a factor in the causation of most crimes against the person—Double personality caused by drink—Drunken cruelty—Drunken rage—Assaults on the drunken—Sexual offences—Child neglect—Mental defect behind the drunkenness of some offenders—Malicious mischief and theft— Drunken kleptomania—The professional criminal and drink—Thefts from the drunken—Amount of crime not in ratio to amount of drinking in a district—The vice existent apart from crime, in the country—And in the wealthier parts of the city—Drunkenness and statistics— Summary.

Chapter II - Poverty, Destitution, Overcrowding and Crime
The majority of persons in prison there because of their poverty—Poverty and drink—Poverty and petty offences—Poverty and thrift—Poverty and destitution—Case of theft from destitution—Poverty and vagrancy—Unemployment and beggary—Formation of professional offenders—The case of the old—The degradation of the unemployed to unemployability—No ratio between the amount of poverty alone and the amount of crime—A definite ratio between density of population and crime—Slum life— Overcrowding—Cases of destitution and overcrowding— Overcrowding and decency—Poverty and overcrowding in relation to offences against the person—The poor and officials—The absence of opportunity for rational recreation —The migratory character of the population—The multiplication of laws and of penalties—Transgressions due to ignorance and to inability to conform—Contrast between city and country administration—Case of petty offender—Treatment induces further offences—The city the hiding-place of the professional criminal—Crime largely a by-proauct of city life.

Chapter III - Immigration and Crime
The stranger most likely to offend — The reaction to new surroundings—The difficulty of recovery—The attraction of the city—The Churches and the immigrant—Benevolent associations—The alien immigrants—Their tendency to hold themselves apart—Deportation—A language test required—The alien criminal—His dangerous character—The need for powers to deal with him.

Chapter IV - Social Conditions and Crime
The millionaire and the pauper—Ill-feeling and misunderstanding— Social ambitions — Case of embezzlement — Preaching and practice—Gambling—The desire to “get on ”—The need to deal with those who profit by the helplessness of others—Political action—Its difficulty—Legislation and administration — The official and the public— Personal aid—Fellowship.

Chapter V - Age and Crime
The inexperience of youth—The training of boys—Case of a truant—Another case—Intractability—The foolishness of parent and teacher—The absence of mutual understanding —Recreation—Malicious mischief and petty theft—The cause thereof—The need for instructing parents—Pernicious literature—The other kind—The modern Dick Turpin—The boy as he leaves school—Amusements—Repression— Blind-alley occupations—The adolescent—Physical strain of many occupations—Unequal physical and mental development—The street trader—Hooliganism—Knowledge and experience—The perils of youth—Old age.

Chapter VI - Sex and Crime
The position of woman—The posturing of men—Love and crime—Two cases of theft from sexual attraction—The female thief—Case—Blackmailing—Jealousy and crime—Two murder cases—Case of assault—Fewer women than men are criminals—Their greater difficulty in recovery— Young girls and sexual offences—The perils of girlhood —Wages and conduct—Exotic standards of dress—Ignorance and wrongdoing—The domestic servant—Her difficulties—Concealment of pregnancy cases—The culprit and the father—Morals—The fallen woman—Bigamy.

Chapter VII - Punishment
The universal cure-all—The public and the advertising healer —The essence of all quackery—The quackery of punishment—Rational treatment—Justice not bad temper— Retribution—Our fathers and ourselves—Their methods not necessarily suitable to our time—Capital punishment —The incurable and the incorrigible—Objections to capital punishment apply in degree to all punishment—The “cat”—The executioner and the surgeon—Whipping and its effect—The flogged offender—The act and the intention —-Pain and vitality — Unequal effects of punishment —Fines and their burden—Who is punished most —Punishment and expiation—Punishment and deterrence—Social opinion the real deterrent—Vicious social circles—Respect for the law—Prevention of crime.



Chapter I - The Machinery of the Law
The police and their duties — Divided control — Need for knowledge of local peculiarities—The fear of “corruption” —The police cell—Cleanliness and discomfort—Insufficient provision of diet, etc.—The casualty surgeon—The police court—The untrained magistrate—The assessor—Pleas of “guilty”—Case—Apathy of the public—Agents for the Poor—The prison van—The sheriff court—The procurator-fiscal— Procedure in the higher courts — The Scottish jury.

Chapter II - The Prison System
Centralisation—The constitution of the Prison Commission— Parliamentary control—The Commissioners—The rules —The visiting committee—The governor and the matron—The chaplain—The medical officer—The staff.

Chapter III - The Prison and its Routine
Reception of the prisoner—Cleanliness and order—The plan of the prison—The cells—Their furniture—The diet—The clothing—Work—The Workshops—Separate confinement and association—Gratuities—Prison offences—Complaints —Punishment cells—Visits of the chaplain—Visits of representatives of the Churches—The gulf between visitor and visited—The Chapel—The Salvation Army—Rest— Recreation—The prison Library—Lectures—The airing-yard—Physical drill.

Chapter IV - Variations in Routine
The sick—Prison hospitals—The removal of the sick to outside hospitals—The wisdom of this course—The essential difference between a prison and other public institutions— The treatment of refractory prisoners—The folly of assuming that rules are more sacred than persons—The position of the medical officer in relation to the prisoner—The danger of divided responsibility—The untried prisoner— His privileges—Civil prisoners—Imprisonment for contempt of court — The convict — Short and long sentences.

Chapter V - The Prisoner on Liberation
His condition—His need—Alleged persecution of ex-prisoners —Discharged prisoners’ aid societies — Work — Temptations—The discharged female offender—The attitude of women towards her—“ Homes ”—The women’s objections to them—Pay—The religious atmosphere and the harmful associations—The effect of imprisonment.

Chapter VI - The Inebriate Home
The need to find out why people do wrong before attempting to cure them—Enquiries as to inebriety—The inebriates— Official utterances—Cost and results—The grievance of the unreformed—The time limit of cure—The causes of failure —The fostering of old associations — The prospect of the future spree—The institution habit.

Chapter VII - The Prevention of Crime Act (1908)
The Borstal experiment—Provisions for the “reformation of young offenders”—Is any diminution in the numbers of police expected?—Preventive detention—The implied confession that penal servitude does not reform and the insistence on it as a preliminary to reform — The prisoner detained at the discretion of the prison officials — The powers of the Secretary of State—The change under the statute—The necessary ignorance of the Secretary of State by reason of his other duties—The “committees”—The habits to be taught—The teaching of trades—The ignorance of trades on the part of those who design to teach them—The difficulty of teaching professions in institutions less than that of teaching trades — The vice of obedience taught—Intelligent co-operation and senseless subordination—The military man in the industrial community.

Chapter VIII - The Family as Model
The basis of the family not necessarily a blood tie—Adoption —The head and the centre of the family—The feeling of joint responsibility — The black sheep — Companionship and sympathy necessities in life — Reform only possible when these are found—“Conversion” only temporary in default of force of new interests—The one way in which reform is made permanent.

Chapter IX - Alternatives to Imprisonment
What is required — The case of the minor offenders—The incidence of fines—The prevention of drunkenness—Clubs —Probation of offenders—Its partial application—Defects in its administration—The false position of the probation officer—Guardians required—Case of young girl—The plea of want of power—Old and destitute offenders—Prison and poorhouse.

Chapter X - The Better Way
The offender who has become reckless—If not killed they must be kept—The failure of the institution—Boarding out—At present they are boarded out on liberation, but without supervision—Guardians may be found when they are sought for—The result of boarding out children—The insane boarded out—Unconditional liberation has failed— Conditional liberation with suitable provision has not been tried—No system of dealing with men, but only a method —No necessity for the formation of the habitual offender —The one principle in penology.

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