Charles Richmond Henderson.

Introduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment online

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1 Dr. A. McDonald has furnished a full description, with ample illustrations, of
the most important psycho-physical and anthropometrical instruments of precision,
and has printed a list of reliable makers, in the " Report of the United States Com-
missioner of Education," 1897-1898, Vol. I, pp. 1141-1204. He has also illustrated
their use in the study of children in the same connection. Compare his earlier
studies, " Education and Patho-social Studies," in the " Report of the Commis-
sioner of Education," 1889-1890 and 1893-1894.



At this point we may review, with new forms of expression, the
historical forces which have resulted in the formation of a crimi-
nal group of the population in all modern countries, keeping in
mind the distinctions, noted in the next preceding chapter. But
we must also study, with care, those particular forces which differ-
entiate criminals from dependents and defectives, even when they
are closely connected.

In apparently the same physical and social environments the
great majority of persons, rich and poor, educated and illiterate,
escape the imputation of crime, even the reputation or suspicion
of criminal taint. From this range of facts one might be induced
to conclude that the sole cause of crime lies in the personal defect
of the person arrested and convicted.

But wide observation, sound reasoning, and practical justice
require us to face another aspect of the situation. With appar-
ently the same normal physical and psychical constitution and
moral disposition, some men become criminals, and others, just as
infirm of purpose, remain honest. And from exclusive considera-
tion of this fact we might infer that outward circumstances were
the potent factors.

From this contrast it is evident that we have here to deal with
very complex elements, and that hasty generalizations are apt to
be wrong, and lead to unfair judgments of individuals and to
unwise practical measures. We are by no means near the time
when any man can fix, with mathematical accuracy, the exact
weight and force of each causal factor which pushes or pulls toward
antisocial actions. Science, law, and philanthropy must perform


2^^ An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

their social ministry by discovery of the actually efficient forces,
proceed to employ all suitable methods of approximate measure-
ment, and suit remedies to ailments as wisely as possible. It is
thus that medical science and art have gradually advanced by
experiment, error, and theory to a great measure of success.
Social therapeutics cannot leap over any stage of this rough and
thorny way to truth. But every year adds to the materials of
knowledge and reveals improvements in instruments and methods
of investigation. When our prisons become the laboratories of
humane science, and specialist experts in psychology, physiology,
and anthropology are added to teachers, chaplains, physicians, and
directors of occupation, we shall still more rapidly accumulate
information which will be valuable for guidance.

The causes of crime are factors of personality and of environ-
ment, and of the reaction of personality upon environment in the
formation of habits and new nature. Personal nature is, at a
given moment, the product of inherited tendencies, of acquired
habits and character, and of the response to external circum-
stances. In this chapter we shall analyze the influential elements
which appear to belong to the physical environment, to social
institutions and customs, and to the actual process of conduct
in the individual man.

1. The External World. — Scientific observation supports ex-
perience and common sense in tracing the influence of climate,
seasons, temperature, food, and other physical forces in human
conduct. The exaggerated estimate of these factors should not
drive us to the opposite extreme of ignoring material conditions
altogether. Few if any persons, even of the highest character, are
absolutely free from the depressing or disturbing influences of the
outward conditions.

Climate. — Statisticians have sought to formulate certain uni-
formities in the occurrence of crime in different climatic con-
ditions. One generalization is that crimes against the person, as
assault and homicide, are relatively more numerous in warm cli-
mates, while crimes against property are more frequent in colder

Causes of Crime. 239

regions. But we are warned to remember that social conditions,
and especially economic arrangements, may be quite as important
as climate in these countries. Marshall suggests : " In warm cli-
mates we find early marriages and a high birth rate, and in con-
sequence a low respect for human life." Mischler thinks that the
apparent excess of crimes against the person in the south of
Europe may be due to the uncultivated condition of the country,
and to the mountain ranges which harbor lawless men. With
better organization of police, courts, schools, earnest churches,
press, libraries, the conduct may be radically different, while
chmate and soil will remain the same.

Crimes against the person are unduly high in the South and
West in the United States ; but here we have to consider not
merely climate, but also race conflicts, pioneer conditions, and
uncertain legal control. Such phenomena have frequently dis-
appeared after the frontier population has had time to erect courts
and constabulary, and to build up the agencies of moral regulation
by public sentiment.

Seasons. — It is claimed that crimes against the person are rela-
tively more numerous in summer than in winter, and that crimes
against property are more numerous in winter than in summer.
This is an observed coincidence, but the causal connection is not
certain. Perhaps in winter the pressure of want drives men to
theft, while summer heat increases irritability of temper, and open
air life multiplies opportunities and occasions of friction and
collision. *

Meteorological Changes. — Electric conditions and barometric
pressure, humidity and heat, have their influence on all men, and
the criminal temperament seems to be peculiarly sensitive to such

Diurnal changes, as from darkness to light, furnish the basis for
habits and customs. The night is favorable to theft, burglary,
drunken disorders, and the orgies of brothels. Frauds in business
are naturally consummated in daylight. Steel safes and time
locks modify natural factors in relation to bank robberies.

240 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

Some writers have traced the fragmentary evidence in respect
to mountain ranges and plains, malaria, centres of goitre, and
cretinism, the race characters of hunting and of settled barbarous
peoples. Up to this time the results are uncertain.

2. Social Conditions. — Studies of the conjugal relations of
prisoners show that there is a higher ratio of criminality among
the unmarried and divorced than among the married. The ex-
planation of this fact may lie partly in the greater temptations of
the homeless, since men who have given hostages to fortune and
have a stake in the country are steadied by responsibility.
Another aspect of the explanation is that the same temper and
habits which render a man unfit for marriage and disinclined to
its restraints, may be exactly the same antisocial tendencies which
manifest themselves in crime.

Social position affects conduct. Crime is more frequent among
the lower classes than among the upper classes. Criminals are
recruited from their own kind. But it should be added that rich
criminals are more likely to escape detection, arrest, and punish-
ment, and that we must in justice discriminate carefully between
the "lower classes" and the great majority of the worthy and
honest working people of small income. These latter often
belong to the true " upper classes." The real distinction is one
of character, not of income. The crimes of merchants are those
of cunning and intrigue rather than of force. The immoral and
cruel acts of employers which drive men to strike are usually
within the technical forms of law, and are not outwardly sensa-
tional and tangible, while the beating of a non-union workman is
covered by a statute.

Density of population is ordinarily accompanied by proportion-
ate increase of crime. Cities are hotbeds of lawlessness, as com-
pared with rural neighborhoods, although England is apparently
an exception to this rule. The city is the refuge and hiding-place
of people with a dark record ; it offers many occasions of conflict
in its thronged streets and competing industries \ it sharpens the
struggle for existence ; it flaunts the allurements of wealth and

Causes of Crime. 241

luxury in the face of poverty and excites envy ; and it harbors the
soUcitors of vice.

There are many customs, even of the charitable, which favor the
growth of crime. An Italian was arrested for begging. It was
discovered that he had put out the eyes of two children in order
to fit them for the trade of exciting pity and collecting alms upon
the street from careless and unreflecting people. Almsgiving on
the street, without investigation, thus becomes the direct cause
of mutilation and cruelty. The custom of carrying concealed
weapons intensifies the tendency to homicide ; and where the
duel code of so-called "honor" is fashionable, it constantly sug-
gests murder and even makes it a mark of distinction. Where
the feud or vendetta is customary the value of human life is held
cheap. Public sentiment favorable to whipping, torturing, and
lynching provokes criminal impulses in the entire population, and
therefore it was that severe punishments and public executions
did not repress crime, but increased it.

Econo7nic conditions and crime. Poverty alone cannot be
regarded as a decisive factor. Poor countries are not especially
prolific in crime, and the ratio of evil-doing does not vary accord-
ing to wealth and want. Among the few rich there seems to be
as much wickedness, in proportion to numbers, as among the
many poor.

But swift and unexpected industrial and commercial changes,
especially hard times, put character to unusual strains and increase
the number of lawbreakers. Progress in industrial processes makes
it more difficult for men to support existence in their accustomed
ways. Poor countries, like Ireland, Spain, and Hungary show a
smaller ratio of theft in the population than rich England ; but
when economic progress and commercial vigor take deep hold of
these backward countries, attacks upon property will probably

Food and Famine. — The connection between scarcity and crime
has not yet been made out with accuracy. In particular periods
of extreme want, the social bond is sometimes relaxed and the

242 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

elementary forces of hunger take their own course ; but, on the
other hand, spectacular suffering enlists sympathy and social help
on a large scale, and the better traits of humanity come to expres-
sion and mitigate the suffering and despair.

Beliefs, — It is not extreme want alone, acting on the body,
which urges men to desperate steps, but psychical influences must
cooperate. It is a belief about the injustice of social conditions
which awakens rebellion and revolt.

Take, for example, the behef that "property is robbery," and
even when wages rise there will be a generally diffused irritation
in presence of large fortunes gained by speculation. In addition
to the envy of success which all men feel to some extent, and
which of itself embitters the soul, there is a very general convic-
tion, honestly held by multitudes of persons, not only of wage-
workers, but professional men, that many of those who are very
rich have obtained their wealth at the cost of the community and
without returning an equivalent. This belief is widely diffused
and in some social circles is practically universal. " No man can
honestly amass a million dollars in a few years," is a saying com-
monly believed. Imagine the situation of a poor man pinched by
hunger, with an opportunity of taking a small part of the immorally
acquired wealth to meet his pressing wants ; and this social behef,
often fostered by politicians more or less sincere, provides the
justification of a crime. Under ordinary circumstances the risk
of theft will not be taken, but in special trials the sense of wrong
supports the physical craving in the unlawful act.

Take another belief, that the members of a trade have an ex-
clusive right to earn wages in that trade, especially if they belong
to a union. This behef justifies riOts and the beating or killing of
non-union men who take the places of strikers. It is not extreme
want, but a form of the sense of duty, which impels to such acts.

These two beliefs act together, since the union men believe that
in the struggle with their enemies, their employers, a man who
takes sides against them is a traitor to his class and cause, a feel-
ing akin to patriotism.

Causes of Crime. 243

The belief itself may be unreasonable and based on ignorance,
but it is a very real social force and moves men at times toward
violation of law. Its roots must be studied, and what is just in
it must be considered if we are to counteract it. The use of police
force will not go far unless the belief itself is rationally treated.

Industrial Education. — In close connection with poverty as a
crime cause must be considered the effects of lack of industrial
skill and habits. According to the census of 1890 of 52,894 con-
victs, 31,426 were ignorant of any kind of trade, and of the latter
23,144 were native-born Americans. Efficiency in production is
the basis of the wage rate, and absence of skill and habits of labor
diminish efficiency and open the path to ruin. When we come to
consider education in relation to our subject this fact must be
borne in mind.

The influence of religious denominations has been studied, but
without decisive results. The view of some criminologists, that
criminals are very religious, seems to have little support in
American experience. Much depends on the kind of discipline
and the standards of membership in the various denominations.
Where the theory is that members must maintain at least a
respectable standard of morality or be excluded from member-
ship, there are few criminals ; while under the theory that mother
church must cherish even her bad children to the last, and carry
the burden of their disgrace, especially if emphasis is placed
rather on ritual and obedience than on social morality, we may
expect different statistics. It is very rare that a habitual or pro-
fessional criminal is a member of a church in good standing at
the time of his arrest.

Political Factors. — The corruption of partisan politics, the en-
tire spoils system, favors the increase of crime. The successful
politician is the demigod of the immature youth of a city ward,
and his example is more powerful than that of Washington or Lin-
coln, because these respectable gentlemen are not so well known,
and have no places to fill. Bribery in all its forms stimulates cu-
pidity and dulls conscience. The saloon-keeper is an authority

244 Ai^ Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

and guide in the evil ways of politics. Under a vicious system of
appointments to office the poUce, who should suppress vice, some-
times derive private revenue from gambhng-dens and brothels as
the price of immunity from interruption of their wicked trades.
When the unscrupulous agents of city railways, railroads, and other
great corporations purchase the nominations and control the elec-
tions of aldermen in their own interest and against the public,
crime is fostered through the very institutions of justice and law,
and by those whose intelligence and strength makes them most
responsible and guilty.

The Influence of Association and Suggestion. — It is known that
many of those who are likely to commit crime are peculiarly sus-
ceptible to suggestion, and that they incline to egoism and vanity.
If a large group of such persons are isolated from the higher social
influences, and brought under the sway of vigorous and unscrupu-
lous men, they yield to such leadership. ''Gangs" of boys in
cities are frequently led into enterprises of hazard and theft by
bold and dishonest men. If these crowds of ill-trained youth are
further subjected, as in cities they often are, to the suggestions of
vice and crime found in the cheap and popular " yellow " news-
papers, and in the sensational accounts of burglaries and trials
reported even by reputable journals and in the police gazettes
which are handed about Uvery stables and barber shops and sa-
loons, a current of forces is set up which drifts strongly toward
evil and bears multitudes on its tides. The gaping crowd of idle
spectators of criminal court rooms, waiting hungrily for some sala-
cious morsel or sensational story of infamous cunning, saturates
itself with criminal suggestions. The disclosures of public divorce
trials are degrading. The details are greedily devoured, and act
as fuel to the flame of lawless forces. The incidents of murder
trials make the murderer a hero and centre of admiration. Pic-
tures and reports of brutal prize fights set boys to fighting in
alleys and back yards and on school grounds all over the country.
The desire for notoriety stimulates the youth to imitate these
heroes of the day.

Causes of Crime. 245

Lynching as a Cause of Crime. — Both in the South and the
North resort is had occasionally, and only too frequently, to
punish certain wrongs by torture and death, without process of
law. Miss Jane Addams ^ has made a few strong and wise state-
ments whose very form is worth frequent reproduction. After in-
sisting that there are well-established principles which underUe all
self-government, the disregard of which endangers self-government
itself, she discusses the time-honored false theory that '' criminality
can be suppressed and terrorized by exhibitions of brutal punish-
ment ; that crime can be prevented by cruelty." The tortures of
peasants and laborers by the French nobility of the seventeenth
century so hardened the people that they rejoiced in the carnage
and horrors of the Revolution. The cruel penalties of English law
debased the working-men and turned them into fiends. " Brutality
begets brutality. Children and untaught men learn less by precept
than from imitation. The child who is managed by a system of
bullying and terrorizing is almost sure to be a vicious and stupid
child. . . . Bloodshed and arson and ungoverned anger have
never yet controlled lust." Those who claim to belong to the
superior ranks of society set a dangerous example of disregard of
law in their lynching parties, and from sowing the wind are likely to
reap the whirlwind. Psychologically and historically these lawless,
irregular, and cruel methods can be proved to be causes of the in-
crease of crime. Society can protect itself much more effectively
by fair legal trials and by permanent segregation and confinement
of those who commit base crimes.

Foreign Immigration. — Immigration is not, of course, an origi-
nal cause of criminal character, but the incoming of many persons
of dangerous and depraved habits increases the difficulty in many
ways. It seems to be a rather common belief that the principal
source of crime in this country is the importation of unfit natives
of Europe, and especially in recent years. Many apparently think
that if this supply could be cut off we should have few criminals.
This belief ignores the causes of crime which are at work every-

1 The Independent, January 3, 1901, p. 18.

246 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

where, and it should be subjected to careful criticism before it is

The facts relied upon for the beUef that immigration is the
principal source of criminality are usually drawn from the census
of the United States. On the face of the returns of information
about convicts in prisons it would appear that the number of
native white convicts rose from 207 in the million of population
in 1850, to 1233 in 1890; while the foreign convicts at the same
dates were 1074 and 1788 in the million of population. In 1890,
the foreign white population, including foreign born and children
of foreign born, were 32.93 per cent of the population, while 56.81
per cent of the prisoners were foreign ; one half of these were
not naturalized, and one fifth were unable to speak the English
language. Native born persons were 54.87 per cent of population,
and furnished only 43.19 per cent of the prisoners.

On the strength of these figures many have concluded that we
owe our criminality chiefly to the immigration of foreigners of a
low type. That criminals do come to America, and that many
ex-convicts have actually been shipped to us by '' philanthropic "
societies of Europe, there can be no doubt ; but the evil is not
so great as statistics carelessly interpreted might seem to prove.
It should be remembered that the immigrants are in a high ratio
males of the ages at which most crime is committed. It is unfair
to compare the rate of crime of the native population, composed
of men and women in nearly equal numbers, and of aged people
and young children incapable of committing crime, with the body
of young immigrants. A careful analysis of the data proves that
there is actually a higher rate of serious crime among the native born
than among the foreign born, when we take into account those of the
crime age, that is, males from seventeen to forty-five years of age.

While we have grave reasons for making and enforcing the most
stringent regulations of immigration, so as to resist the importation
of defective and criminal persons, yet we must not imagine that
the social causes of crime are exotic, and that we may neglect our
own conduct and lay all the blame upon the foreigners.

Causes of Crime. 247

The Negro Factor. — There can be no doubt that one of the
most serious factors in crime statistics is found in the conditions
of the freedmen of African descent, both North and South. The
causes are complex. The primary factor is racial inheritance,
physical and mental inferiority, barbarian and slave ancestry and
culture, "two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil" (Lin-
coln), sudden and unprepared change of economic and poHtical
status. Before the Civil War and emancipation, all negroes in the
South were under the severe domestic discipline of the masters ;
and then, suddenly, without training and education, full command
of time, income, and even of political power during the unfortu-
nate reconstruction period fell upon them. In Northern cities it
is even worse than in the South, because it is more difficult for
negroes to secure regular employment in the trades. The exclu-
sion policy of trade unions increases their difficulty ; the isolation
of race prejudice cuts them off from the refining influence of the
more advanced races. While these causes remain, unbalanced
by educational helps and competent leadership, an increase of
crime must be expected.

3. The Physical and Psychical Nature of the Individual. —
With the instinctive criminals, relatively few in number, the
inherited nature is quite important as a casual factor ; while in
the formation of the character of the habitual and professional
criminals the educational influences seem to be more important
and decisive. The data here presented apply generally to all
convicts, both real criminals and casual offenders. There remains
the vast task of studying the varying influences of the several per-
sonal factors in offenders of different classes.

Sex. — There are about five times as many male as female
convicts. Among all civilized peoples women are less addicted
to crime than men, and girls less than boys. It is sometimes
said that if we added the numbers of the prostitute women who
are not in prison we should find less difl"erence ; but in reply it
might fairly be said that for every prostitute there are several men
quite as vicious as they. Even if we add the women who act as

248 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

" fences " and aid and abet criminals, we should not greatly
change the relative figures. The fact is that men are by tem-
perament more aggressive than women.

Sex affects the kinds of crime. Women are less inclined to acts
of violence on account of their weakness and self-sacrificing dispo-
sition, the products of function and habits. Their crimes are gener-
ally connected with the maternal functions, as abortion, infanticide.

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 21 of 35)