Richard Frith Quinton.

Crime and criminals, 1876-1910 online

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I HAVE attempted in the following pages
to give an outline of the principal changes
that have taken place of late years, and
of the progress that has been made in
our methods of repressing crime and
dealing with criminals, together with
the results that have been achieved
under these methods. On the actual
efficacy or superiority of our system
I feel too diffident to dogmatise. The
subject is one on which widely different
opinions are held by able and con-
scientious thinkers. Further, I can-
not lay claim to any experience as a
writer of books, although I have been
in practical touch with the problems in-
volved in prison administration for several
years. That the system, however, as it
exists to-day, has merits of its own, few


people who have witnessed the practical
results of its working will be inclined
to deny.

My aim has been to give, as moderately
and impartially as I could, the results of
my own observation and experience of
the system as I found it.

Let me premise that for the greater
part of my service I was engaged solely
in medical work at Portsmouth Convict
Prison, and then, in succession, at Mill-
bank, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool,
Wandsworth, and Parkhurst Prisons,
and that during this period of twenty-
five years I had nothing to do with
discipline in an official capacity. A
medical officer in these circumstances is
somewhat favourably placed for observ-
ing the general working of the machine.
He is the recognised and responsible pro-
tector of the prisoner from any undue
harshness of treatment that may tend to
his physical or mental detriment, and he
is very often the confidential repository
of the prisoner's grievances, or complaints


of unfair dealing on the part of the staff.
Later on in my service as Governor at
HoUoway Prison, I was called upon to
carry out disciplinary duties myself over
female prisoners. The recollection that
for so many years it had been my
function to temper the wind of disci-
pline to the shorn lamb who transgressed
the rules served me in good stead, and
exercised a wholesome check on any
tendency I might have had to harsh
measures. Although Carlyle has said
that " Womankind will not drill " (from
his perhaps more limited experience), I
found that female prisoners were quite as
tractable and amenable to discipline as
men, and they could be drilled also.
Many of the younger women in fact
quite revelled in their Swedish drill
under a very capable lady instructress,
who soon imparted to them a martial
step and bearing, so that their best
friends would hardly know them. Suffra-
gettes were of course a little difficult, but
even they were not wholly intractable, or


insusceptible to the exhortations and
blandishments of our very patient and
efficient female officers, who were gener-
ally credited by the Suffragettes with at
least good intentions, even if they were
somewhat lukewarm in the matter of the

The point of view of any official on the
question of prison treatment is of neces-
sity absolutely different from that of any
prisoner, but more especially so from that
of the prisoner who is capable of writing
and publishing his ideas and theories for
the information of the public. It is in-
deed very doubtful if the great mass of
prisoners who are inarticulate as to their
prison experiences would confirm, or
agree with, the opinions put forward
in their behalf by the more cultured
members of their class (for whom as a
rule they have no special affection), who
are much more sensitive to the demerits
of the frugal fare offered by the Prison
Commissioners, and to the disagreeable
restrictions of captivity, than their less


favoured fellow-prisoners who move in
lower social circles. There are in fact
good grounds for thinking, as will be
seen presently, that a large proportion
of this latter class takes much more
kindly to the existing conditions of
prison life than is generally supposed.

Any system of imprisonment, there-
fore, which is entirely lacking in a de-
terrent principle would appear to be a
futile instrument for the repression of
crime. It is equally true, on the other
hand, that no system which does not
contain a reformatory principle is at all
likely to produce satisfactory results. It
is the aim of prison administrators to
combine these principles in their due

But two corresponding classes of re-
formers are also at work, each fighting
for its pet theory. One may be said to
be represented by the stern parent who
thinks that punishment is the first and
most essential step to repentance, and,
in itself, a potent instrument for reform-


ing character. The other is a more
indulgent parent who holds that all
punishment is cruel and demoralising,
and that rose-water methods, combined
with copy-book maxims and creature
comforts, suffice for the conversion of
criminals and for the eradication of
criminal habits. Sentimentalists of the
latter kind overlook the fact that eradica-
tion of a criminal habit, or of any other
habit, cannot be attained even outside a
prison by other than disagreeable means.
It is quite conceivable that the habit, for
instance, of eating peas with a knife could
hardly be dropped by many people with-
out some pangs of regret.

Disciplinarians, on the other hand, are
apt to forget that vindictive treatment of
offenders has never proved a successful
policy, that it rankles in the mind of the
victim, and is much more likely to drive
him to despair than to wean him from
evil courses. " I may as well be punished
for something " — this is his illogical way
of looking at it.


Most of the theories advanced by
these reformers fail to take note of the
" natural history," if I may so speak, of
the personnel that has to be dealt with
under the schemes which are so con-
fidently proposed for our adoption, al-
though they are so ill-adapted to some
of the types of criminal I have attempted
to describe. The habits and ways of the
criminal class are frequently inscrutable,
and invariably unlike those of normally
constituted people. Some defect or weak
spot in character is constantly found to
accompany criminality. Want of self-
restraint, lack of moral principle, callous-
ness of temperament, selfishness, idle
habits — these are formidable obstacles to
reformatory effort which too often prove
insurmountable. There are many to
whom you may preach and deliver
lectures who will not listen. Others
who may be liberally supplied with
books will not read. The woman who
will curl her hair with the pages of a
library, or even a devotional book, is


not a hopeful subject for intellectual
improvement. Administrative authori-
ties, who have to provide for the moral
and intellectual advancement of full-
grown criminals, receive many counsels
of perfection which are totally inappli-
cable to the material they have to deal
with. Brilliant results in such a field
can hardly be expected, but I think I
have shown that signs are not wanting
of steady progress having been made
during the last three decades not only
in the reformation of criminals but also
in the reduction of crime.

August 1910.



Local prisons taken over by the State in 1878 — Move-


ment of Crime — Habitual crimi nals — Rescue work
-^=T5ai^average population of prisons, 1880 and
1909 compared — Conduct of prisoners — Convict
prisons in 1876 — Assaults — Malingering — Food


Dietary punishment — Work — Assaults and insubordina-
tion — Punishments and offences — Elementary Edu-
cation and Summary Jurisdiction Acts — Female
prisoners — Change of views as to the aim of a sen-
tence — Prevention of Crime Act, 1908 — The New
Authority and the Progressive Stage System . . 26


Sanitation — Increase of medical staff — Treadwheel —
Unproductive labour — Mat-making in prisons sac-
rificed to the competition clause of the Act of 1877
— Discipline had to be reconciled with industrial
progress — Orders for work from Government de-
partments — Development of industries — Associated
labour — Classification — Grievances ... 53




Habituals in convict and local prisons — Preventive de-
tention — The attractions jx£ a J i f e -o£xrime-;;j[gjdaIi
convicts of an idle type — Psychology and motives
oTTHe professional criminal — Insanity — Habituals
u§teful-in prison — Drink and crime... _ ... 73


Habituals in local prisons a different class — Vagrants
and our method of dealing with them — The incor-
rigible rogue — Habits of idleness less in females —
Weak-minded prisoners — Physical defectives —
Drunkards — Failure of the Inebriates Act — Sifting-
out needed in prisons to aid reformation of
criminals ........ 96


The Borstal System — Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society
— Prison population likely to decrease when the
new Acts come into force — Better classification
will result — Some system of selection needed for
a scientific treatment of criminals — Cost to the
State of proposed changes — Failure of the short
sentence system for some classes — The prevalence
of an idle class — Borstal treatment for females . 120


Borstal System continued — Objects of it twofold —
Range of experiment hampered — Apathy of the
Courts — Deductions from experiment — Physical
and mental state of material to be dealt with —



Description of the machinery of the scheme — Some
dangers in the use of Borstal Institutions — Pre-
ventive detention 143


Evolution of the prison system — Prisons in the time of
John Howard — Gaol fever — Legislation on prisons
—Building of Pentonville in 1840— Act of 1865—
Separate system — Hard labour — Progress in Ee-
form after 1865 — Act of 1877 — Public begin to
take an interest in prisons — Departmental Com-
mittee appointed in 1894 to inquire into the whole
subject 166


Penalties not severe under present system — Adminis-
tration of English and American law — Prisoners
under sentence of death — General conditions of
life in prison— Penal system is a compromise —
Industry and good conduct expected of prisoners
— Reformatory treatment impracticable for minor
offenders — Machinery for investigating grievances
— Writings of ex -prisoners — Deterrent and refor-
matory effects — Success of system depends on re-
duction of criminals — Press comments — American
prisons 196


Hardships of imprisonment exaggerated — Comments
on imprisonment by ex-convict in the Hibbert
Journal — Scheme of reformers — Extension of
associated labour — Arguments against total aboli-
tion of separate system — Advantages and disadvan-



tages of association — Discipline a necessity for
prisoners — Penal systems of other countries —
Identification — Criminal statistics — Recidivism —
General efficacy of our system and its leading
principles — Activity of habitual criminals — Alleged
failure of the system — Proposed developments
under the Bill to be introduced in the autumn of
1910 — Theories of punishment — The system un-
suited to some class of prisoners — Difficulties of
reformatory work in large prisons .... 228



Local prisons taken over by the State in 1878 —
Movement of Crime— Habitual criminals — Rescue
work — Daily average population of prisons, 1880
and 1909 compared — Conduct of prisoners — Convict
prisons in 1870 — Assaults — Malingering — Food.

The year 1878 marks an important
epoch in the history of the Enghsh
Penal System. In that year, following
on the Prisons' Act of 1877, all the
local prisons of England and Wales
became vested in the Secretary of
State for the Home Department, and
forthwith came under the control of
the State. Previously tlie county and
borough authorities in the different
districts of the country had managed
their own prisons, each one acting, to


a great extent, on its own particular
lines. There was no uniformity in
the administration in respect to the
method of enforcing hard labour, or in
respect to discipline or the treatment of
prisoners, or even in diet. It was said
at the time that the various prison
authorities actually vied with one an-
other in their efforts to devise an
unattractive scale, and that prisoners
selected their spheres of influence and
activity in the districts in which they
found labour to be easiest, and food
most plentiful. Some of the prison
buildings were so old and ill-constructed
that the provisions of the law could
not be carried out in them. It was
under these circumstances that the
legislature at length took active steps
to close obsolete prisons, to concentrate
the inmates in better buildings, and to
introduce a vmiform system of manage-
ment under the direction of a Secretary
of State, who was to be responsible to
Parliament. The Act of 1877 accord-


ingly provided for the maintenance of
prisons out of public funds, and for the
appointment of Prison Commissioners
for the purpose of aiding the Secretary
of State in carrying into effect the
provisions of the Act. The general
superintendence of the prisons was
practically vested in the Prison Com-
missioners, subject to the control of
the Secretary of State. At the same
time, however, a ^^isiting Committee
of local magistrates was created for
each prison, to be appointed annually
by Quarter Sessions, and to be quite
independent of the Prison Commis-
sioners, with special powers to hear
complaints from prisoners, to report on
abuses, to punish prisoners for serious
offences against prison discipline, and
to report direct to the Secretary of
State on the general condition of prisons
juid prisoners.

The changes in tlie law, and the
system of centralisation which they
inaugurated, provoked some hostile


criticism at first, but time and experi-
ence have shown that they have been
on the whole salutary in their effects,
that they have been economical in
working", and that they have been
beneficial to all classes of prisoners. No
one, at the present time at all events,
suggests a return to the old system.

One of the first effects of the Act
was the reduction of the number of
prisons from 113 to 69 in the first
year, and to 68 in the second. The
number at present is 57.

The Prisons' Act of 1865 had been
the first real step on the part of the
legislature to deal with criminals on
rational and humane principles. That
of 1877 carried the process a stage
further by systematising the machinery
for carrying the provisions of the law
into effect. Statistical information on
the subject of crime and criminals has
since then been supplied with more
accuracy and regularity, so that the
subject attracts more public attention,


and is easier of investigation for prison
reformers. To those, however, who
are interested in the movement of
crime, the perusal of blue books, with
all their wealth of detail, is a perplex-
ing pastime. Further, the subject has
many inherent difficulties. " Crime "
has different meanings to HlfFerent
minds. Exceeding the speed limit is
not on the same plane of criminality
as embezzlement, yet both are down
in the official catalogue. Again, sen-
tences vary in length from time to
time, and new offences are constantly
being added to the statute book, so
that even experts are puzzled in com-
paring one year s crime bill with that
of another.

The views of an ex-official, who has
lived for years as it were " in the thick
of it," may be liable to an unconscious
optimism, but I think I can discern
some broad general conclusions that
may fairly be drawn from a general
survey of the subject.


It frequently happens that an un-
usually heavy ealendar at the Central
Criminal Court, or the occurrence of
some sensational crime that fills pages
of the newspapers for weeks together,
gives rise to pessimistic general re-
flections on the subject of crime
and criminals. At such times the
habitual criminal gets on the nerves
of the public, and many infallible
remedies are suggested for suppressing
him, either by long terms of seclusion,
or by improving him, through special
courses of training, off the face of the
earth. The methods hitherto adopted
for dealing with him, when he is in
full bloom, either by way of control or
cure, have proved unsatisfactory. Mean-
time, his constant appearance and re-
appearance before the courts in stage-
army fashion tend to place him in false
perspective, and to foster the belief
that little or no progress has been
made in recent years in the repression
of crime. After an experience extend-


ing over thirty-two years of service
as Medical Officer, and Governor, in
several convict and local prisons, with
fair opportunities for observing the rise
and fall of crime, I do not share this
belief. On the contrary, the improve-
ment that has taken place in three
decades is as gratifying as it is re-
markable. Both crime and criminals
have steadily diminished in numbers to
an extent that is hardly realised, and
the habitual class no longer produces
so large a proportion of reckless des-
peradoes as it did in former years.

To what extent our much - criticised
prison system has contributed to these
results, though it has undoubtedly had
some share in the good work, it is
not easy to determine. Other powerful
agencies have been at work, such as the
spread of education and of temperance,
and various philanthropic efforts, more
especially those directed to the rescue of
young offenders, which latter is the most
effective measure yet devised for check-


ing criminal recruiting, and, incidentally,
for thinning the ranks of the habitual
class of offenders. So far as my memory
serves me, Mr. Wheatley of the St.
Giles's Christian Mission was one of the
pioneers — if not the pioneer — of this
movement. He has for many years
done much unostentatious and unrecog-
nised work in rescuing juvenile offenders,
and he is still actively and happily
engaged in his labours.

The Borstal Scheme, which has been
devised by the Prison Commissioners for
the special training of young prisoners as
a separate class, is a further development
of Mr. Wheatley's ideas, aiming at the
reclamation of hooligans who have already
embarked on careers of crime as potential
and probable recruits for the habitual
class. The First Offenders Act is a
similar development of the rescue system,
while the recent Act for dealing with the
confirmed habitual offender by means of
a longer sentence under special condi-
tions of seclusion makes a further valu-


able addition to the machinery for the
repression of the criminal habit.

It may be predicted with some con-
fidence that these various measures in
combination will produce excellent re-
sults in future. Meantime the exist-
ing criminal record of the country is
deserving of attention.

Several sets of statistics are published
annually setting forth in full detail the
number of crimes reported to the police,
the total number of committals, con-
victions, acquittals, &c., all duly classi-
fied. These figures show the fluctuations
of crime from year to year, and give some
approximate estimate of its volume. For
my purpose, however, of taking a wider
survey of the moveinent of crime in the
past thirty years, with a view to deter-
mine rise or fall, the daily average
population of our convict and local
prisons seems to me to form the best
and most suitable basis of calculation.

The daily average population is arrived
at by the simple process of counting


heads. It is available in the same form
for the entire period over which the
inquiry extends. It includes all the
serious crime of the country that has
been actually proved in Court, and,
although the serious crimes are diluted
in these statistics with very large numbers
of petty offences which hardly deserve the
name of crime, the great and the small
are nevertheless given their proportionate
value. One sentence of twelve months
in the daily average counts as the equiva-
lent of twelve sentences of one month

The following table shows the numbers
of the prison population in 1880 and 1909,
and the numbers of the population of the
country at each of these periods.


Daily Average Population.



Local Prisoners.






A^^hen increase of the general popula-
tion is taken into account, and when it
is remembered that a considerable pro-
portion of the minor offences represented
in local prisons is due to recent legislative
enactments, and is, to this extent, new,
it will be obvious that the decrease in
serious crime since 1880 has been very-
marked. This latter inference is borne
out in the Report of the Prison Com-
missioners (1909), where it is shown tliat
the number of persons sentenced to penal
servitude per 100,000 of population has
declined since 1880 from O'O to 3-i.

If the crime of the country can be
adequately tested by the numbers of
those who are engaged in it, these
statistics tend to show that it cannot
be reckoned, happily for us, as one of
the flourishing industries of the country
at the present time.

The general conduct of prisoners during
the period under review has undergone
a considerable change. The type of
criminal, too, has materially aTfered. lie


is nowadays a much milder, and more
civilised person than his predecessor of
thirty years ago, who was too often
an ignorant, truculent, and intractable
monster, for whom a very stern code
of discipline was required. If a still
worse type existed in the eighteenth
century, we can hardly be surprised at
the severity of the penal laws, or at
the rough and ready methods of our
ancestors at that time in dealing with
the habitual criminal classes. I can well
remember my own impressions on join-
ing as Assistant Surgeon at Portsmouth
Convict Prison in 1876. The prison then
contained some twelve hundred convicts.
The armed sentries, gates and bars,
fetters and triangles, with other para-
phernalia of the establishment, were
sufficiently stern and gruesome features
to me as a novice entering the service
to relieve suffering, but they counted as
nothing when compared with an actual
acquaintance with the human beings for
whose control and safe-keeping they were


required. I felt that I had been sud-
denly transplanted into a veritable com-
munity of pirates capable of any, and
every, crime under the sun. Although
penalties for misconduct were very severe
at the time, they had apparently but
little deterrent effect.

Savage assaults on warders, threats of
violence on officials generally, and all
kinds of insubordinate conduct were of
daily occurrence. Malingering was prac-
tised, to an extent that is hardly credible,
by desperate men who tried to evade
work. Self-inflicted injuries of the most
serious character often led to amputation
of limbs and other operations. The
practice of placing arms and legs under
railway trucks on the works was so pre-
valent at one convict prison that no less
than twenty-five major amputations were
performed in one year. A prisoner who
had lost an arm in this way, and who had
been supplied witli an artificial one with
an iron hook, told me that it would be
helpful to him outside in " settling dis-


putes," and that it would also get him
another " lagging ! "

Another violent prisoner, who feigned
stiffness of his index finger to avoid
oakum picking, was so irate when the
finger was forcibly bent that, on return-

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Online LibraryRichard Frith QuintonCrime and criminals, 1876-1910 → online text (page 1 of 11)