Charles Richmond Henderson.

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

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Women once fallen are harder to restore to upright living. All
ways are closed to them, and reckless despair holds them in

As women go into business and public employment the danger
of crime increases. The strife and competition and friction of
competitive affairs multiply the temptations and difficulties.

Age.- — Crimes against person and property require a certain
development of intelligence and physical strength. Theft begins
with young children who are frequently tempted by hunger, or
who are compelled by their parents to go upon the streets to beg
and pilfer. When the fires of passion are kindled in middle
adolescence, lust combines with sheer love of fighting to inspire
assaults on the person and disturbances of pubhc peace. The
inmates of reformatories and prisons are comparatively young,
and the ages fall between twenty-one and forty years. The older
men become cautious with experience, leaders and capitalists and
fences, or grow feeble from debauch and take asylum in the poor-
house, while many die prematurely. The criminals belong, on
the average, to the lower vitality class with whom longevity is
relatively rare.

Up to twenty the ratio of feminine crime is notable, and again
in old age. Among the younger groups theft, rape, and crimes of
violence are frequent, and infanticide with women. With riper
years come crimes of cold calculation, frauds, bankruptcy, and

Education. — Statistics guide us only a Httle way in judging of
the influence of ordinary instruction in the elements of knowledge.
Illiterates are naturally from the physically and morally defective

Causes of Crime. 249

classes which furnish more than their due ratio to the criminal
group. But in a country where nearly all can read, crime is
prevalent and the offenders share in universal education, while the
prisoners from a district where elementary schools are less devel-
oped are more frequently unable to read and write. One can
hardly doubt that the training of the schoolroom, the knowledge
and discipline gained, the habits of obedience and punctuality and
industry formed, and the superior personal and social influences
must have a good tendency; but it is difficult to prove this by

" As the school causes its pupils to put on the forms of thought
given them by the teacher and by the books they use, — causes
them to control their personal impulses, and to act according to
rules and regulations, — causes them to behave so as to combine
with others and get help from all while they in turn give help ; as
the school causes the pupil to put off his selfish promptings, and
to prefer the forms of action based on the consideration of the
interests of others, — it is seen that the entire discipline of the
school is ethical. Each youth educated in the school has been
submitted to a training in the habit of self-control and of obedience
to social order. He has become, to some extent, conscious of
two selves : the one his immediate animal impulse, and the second
his moral sense of conformity to the order necessary for the har-
monious action of all.

"The statistics of crime confirm the anticipations of the pubhc
in regard to the good efforts of education. The jails of the coun-
try show pretty generally the ratio of eight to one as the quotas
of delinquents furnished from a given number of illiterates as com-
pared with an equal number of them who can read and write "
(Dr. W.T.Harris in ''Education in the United States,"!, 11 5-1 16).

When it is said that those states which have the completest
systems of education have the most criminals in their jails and
prisons, Dr. Harris replies : " This is true, but its significance is
not read aright until one sees by an analysis of the causes of arrest
that it is not a real increase of crime, but an increase of zeal on

250 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

the part of the community to abohsh the seeds of crime, to repress
the vices that lead to crime. In Massachusetts, for example, there
were, in 1850, 3,351 arrests for drunkenness, while in 1885 the
number had increased to 18,701. But meanwhile the crimes
against person and property had decreased from i860 to 1885
forty-five per cent, making allowance for increase of population.
Life and property had become more safe, but drunkenness had
become less safe."

It is almost certain, on the other hand, that the custom of con-
fining growing boys to the mere conning of book lessons frequently
irritates and maddens them, excites disgust for studies which seem
to have no relations with their lives and give their muscles nothing
to do.

One thing shines out clearly from the records thus far studied :
that the lack of instruction in manual and trade processes and of
personal, moral, and spiritual influences, must be charged with
much of the tendency to crime. The conviction deepens with
teachers that the neglect of careful moral teaching and of rehgious
factors accounts for much of the increase of crime.

The social classes of the highest culture furnish few convicts,
yet there are educated criminals. Advanced culture modifies the
form of crime ; tends to make it less coarse and violent, but more
cunning ; restricts it to quasi-legal forms. But education also
opens up the way to new and colossal kinds of crime, as debauch-
ing of conventions, councils, legislatures, and bribery of the press
and of pubUc officials. The egoistic impulses are masked and dis-
guised in this way, the devil wearing the livery of heavenly charity
for a cloak of wrong. Many of the " Napoleons " of trade are
well named, for they are cold-blooded robbers and murderers,
utterly indifferent to the inevitable misery which they must know
will follow their contrivances and deals. Occasionally eminent
legal abihty is employed to plan raids upon the public in ways
which will evade the penalties of the criminal code, and many a
representative of financial power grazes the prison walls on his way
to " success." Poor men read these facts in the newspapers and

Causes of Crime. 251

palliate lawlessness in their own circles, especially in times of

Occupation. — The occupation may have a direct tendency to
form vicious character, as the service of saloons, gambling-dens,
and dishonest kinds of business. But usually the occupation acts
indirectly by drawing to itself persons of the age, sex, and skiU
most exposed to temptation and most liable to yield. An industry
which collects rude, untrained young men into its ranks will show
a relatively high average of crime, quite apart from the nature of the
work and surroundings.

Officials are specially tempted to abuses of trusts and bribery.
In the liberal professions it is said that teachers tend to commit
crimes of impurity. Landlords and farmers are provoked to acts
of violence. Merchants and manufacturers are drawn into fraud,
embezzlement, and forgery. Laborers commit theft, disturb public
order, make assaults ; and those who are irregularly employed are
given to orgies and disorder. Among female servants infanticide
is common. Among women of higher position abortion is fre-
quent. Agriculture furnishes few criminals compared with manu-
facturing industries, and this goes along with rural as contrasted
with urban conditions of life.

Alcoholism. — While statistical authorities differ widely as to the
exact percentage of crime caused by intemperance, they all agree
that it is everywhere a serious cause. The physiologists have made
numerous investigations which prove beyond question that alcohol
disturbs the normal action of the brain, weakens the will and the
inhibitory power of the higher nerve centres, confuses the intellect,
dulls the conscience, and sets free anger and lust without a rein or
bridle. Thirst for liquor leads men to the companionship of the
saloon, where the tone and topics of conversation are frequently
suggestive of antisocial conduct ; where gamblers, thieves, and
prostitutes assemble; where nefarious plots are laid, and where
corrupt politicians ply venal voters with bribes for their suffrage.

The tendency to use alcohol and narcotic poisons is itself a con-
sequence of defective physical conditions. Crime, pauperism, and

252 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

drunkenness are coordinate results of family decay. This decay
itself is the effect of defective nutrition, vicious indulgence, exces-
sive and prolonged excitement of business or study, emaciation and
languor, and depression of spirits. There is a high degree of com-
plexity and many reactions of causes in this deplorable circle of
evils, all tending to ruin.

Hereditaij and Individual Degeneration. — The ultimate prod-
uct of all the depressing forces we have been considering is a
feeble or distorted nature, and this defective nature, in turn, is
readily bent toward antisocial conduct. Men " die first at the
top," as Dean Swift said. Combinations of unfortunate ancestral
and parental tendencies produce a weak, disturbed, irritable, ill-
balanced constitution. On this imperfect personality, unfortified
by suitable education, cosmic and social forces play, and degenera-
tion itself is the effect of earlier cosmic and social forces wrongly
directed. The physical deformities are both morphological and
functional, and they induce psychical abnormalities.

" The dissolution of powers acquired and transmitted by hered-
ity, the loss of integrity of the heritage of ancestral adaptations
and of race qualities, are not the only marks of degeneration. The
degenerates have also lost the power of accommodating their
organism to the environment, and to acquire individual qualities.
But inheritance and adaptibility are the two conditions of evolution

— that is to say, of existence. Individuals who have lost their
hereditary powers, and who are incapable of acquiring new ones,
are necessarily conquered in the struggle for Hfe, since survival
belongs to the adapted " (F6r6).

It is easy to prove that only a part — perhaps a small minority

— of the total prison population are seriously defective. Of most
offenders we may say with confidence that they are not " victims "
of heredity. It may also safely be said that many of those offenders
who are evidently incapable should be in custodial institutions for
life, and not in prisons. But the fact remains that the enfeebled
and disturbed nature called " degenerate " is peculiarly phable before
temptations and stress. Persons of this nature are often educated

Causes of Crime. 253

in vicious homes and surroundings ; they are apt to develop a
craving for stimulants and narcotics which further weaken the will
and rouse the beast within, only to hasten self-destruction after
much mischief has been done. Practically, therefore, we must
consider inherited and acquired physical and psychical defects in
our measures of discipline and prevention.

4. Relative Importance of the Various Causal Factors. — The
physical causes, as climate, seasons, age, sex, are least important,
most rhythmical and regular, and most difficult to regulate by
human action.

The classes in whom the hereditary and insane impulses are
decisive are the smallest and the most regular in number.

The social causes, as deep poverty, work of children in fac-
tories, crowding of cities, bad prison systems, are most influ-
ential with casual offenders. They vary and fluctuate very much,
and are accessible to the modifying power of human agency.
Even with instinctive criminals social causes are operative in
a lower degree.

We may, therefore, conclude that the most important causes
of crime are also those which are most subject to social direction
and control. This conclusion is the foundation of hopeful effort.

5. The Psychical Process of forming a Criminal Character. —
Manifestly we do not have, as a rule, sudden breaks ; no leaps
across wide chasms. We may observe the gradual descent to the
criminal state in the individual and in a family. If we follow the
spiritual history of the individual, we have to do primarily with
acquired characteristics ; if we observe a family through genera-
tions, we deal with hereditary influences, acquired habits, and
depraved environment and education.

Individual Degradation. — Starting with a normal young person,
we may sometimes observe the evolution of a criminal. The
normal person has all the intellectual powers and the nervous
physical basis for true mental action ; all the appetites, desires,
and capacities for emotion; and the power, in some degree, of
self-determination, or directing his own thought and selecting his

254 A^ Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

own objects. Even upright youth have experiences of tempta-
tion which flash hghtning-hke revelations upon the motives of the
social offender. Desires and appetites are going forth instinc-
tively, and in response to objects, in every direction. Man is
not, as is sometimes said, a social being, if by that is meant that
every one does instinctively and with pleasure what the common
good requires. Every child of the most cultivated parents
requires to be taught what his duties are, for he will not know
them by instinct ; and needs to be trained, controlled, disci-
phned, and helped into the ways of social cooperation. The
training of the race for cooperation has been long, difficult, and
costly. We dare not count on the inheritance of acquired virtues.
Science, music, Hterature and good morals are taught to each
human being, and only thus are transmitted. How generally we
see adolescents, especially boys, acting an intensely selfish part,
eagerly seizing and enjoying whatever object they momentarily
desire. The children of refined, unselfish, generous, humane,
self-sacrificing parents are often in this temper. Is it not the
rule ? Shakespeare noticed it and wondered why boys could not
sleep through the storm and stress period. That is impossible,
and in that boisterous passage is found the promise of all that is
best. Boys must learn self-control, and acquire for themselves a
social disposition, even the noblest of them. They have the
appetites of savages, and are as improvident and short-sighted
in respect to consequences ; judgment is limited in range ; a large
and inclusive sympathy hardly exists ; there is little economy of
energy under excitement, and feeble power of sustained effort;
they go straight at objects, as game-fish dart at the glittering

Crime lurks crouching at the door of most vigorous youths.
Sneaking, lying, mean vice are characteristic of weak children
who have been whipped and cowed into slavish fear. Both
kinds of adolescents need careful, firm, steady discipline, until
they can stand alone in maturity, with the momentum of good
habits to help them.

Causes of Crime. 255

Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt, in his address to the Young
Men's Christian x\ssociation, said : " The truth is that each one of
us has in him certain passions and instincts which, if they gain the
upper hand in his soul, would mean that the wild beast had come
uppermost in him."

Not domination and repression, but regulated physical and men-
tal activity for every hour in the day, is requisite. The parents
should know where the boy is every minute of his waking existence.
He is not safe on other terms. He must be busy till he is sleepy,
and he must wake up and get up at a regular minute, or he is in
danger. SentimentaKsm, blind optimism, foolish parental par-
tiaUty and idolatry let the boy go his way of impulse ; and some
day society is shocked to hear of some base deed which clouds all
subsequent life.

We find vice in the satisfaction of natural appetites and desires
in undue measure, at the wrong time and place, at the cost of other
persons, or in any way which brings hurt to health or moral order.
If the satisfaction is attained in a way forbidden by the code, the
vice becomes a crime. Vice and crime are both antisocial acts
out of an antisocial disposition. The materials for hell fire, in
the moral sense, are in every human being ; they are exactly the
elementary pushing forces which create happy famihes, industry,
wealth, enterprise, heroic courage. Vicious and criminal disposi-
tions are simply perversions or exaggerations of natural impulses.
The vicious and the criminal man has no added faculty or appe-
tency. Crime is not a physically transmitted or infective microbe ;
it is like an art or trade which is learned by imitation and practice.

Why does a young man steal and become a thief? Because he
wants a watch, or a ring, or something to eat, or a gift to please
some woman, — good or bad. Other men also desire property,
and take measures to secure it. Steinthal (''Ethik," p. 373) tells
of a thief in Munich who had stolen a hen out of the cellar of a
butcher. The judge asked him in court on trial what he was
thinking when he committed the deed. He replied, " I simply
thought, — there is something to eat." The wrong, even the con-

256 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

sequences to his family and himself, he had not considered. Even
among normal men the desire is often excessive and perverted ;
and questionable, selfish means are used.

Why does a man break the law by an assault? Why does a man
attack another with weapons or kill him with poison ? In order to
" get even," as is done artfully and shrewdly in business. Anger,
malice, grudge, envy, lust, revenge, are not utterly unknown even
among the elect. Go a step too far and the jnan is in the grip of
policemen, courts, prisons.

Acts repeated form habits. Taste is perverted. One seeks his
honor and praise from associates, whoever they may be. The
admiration of the wicked is sweet when no better persons are wit-
nesses. The issue may be disease, insanity, or crime career.

What has been said applies to the evolution of criminal charac-
ter in young persons fairly well endowed. But in the person whose
development of body and mind is arrested, the power to consider,
reflect, and weigh is diminished. The elementary appetites shared
with animals have full sway. We have the development of an in-
stinctive criminal by an abridged process.

The best place to begin the study of the psychology and etiology
of crime is with children and youth. They are at least less skilful
in concealment of their motives, and the play of forces is not so
complex and obscure as in later years.

The theories of child nature, especially of boy nature, are various
and conflicting. According to sentimental poets, optimistic phi-
losophers, and indulgent parents, the boy is a cherub, especially
when he wears a white surplice in a choir, and sings carols at
Christmas. According to more severe observers, with a theory to
support, the boy is a savage on his way upward to civihzation, and
under the necessity of spending a certain period in atavistic fellow-
ship with his forbears, who drank out of the skulls of their foes.
At the Apache stage of culture they fish for poultry with hook and
line, torture cats, freeze snowballs for a battle, " haze " fellow stu-
dents, paint statues, and deal with persons and property without
regard to the ideas of civilized peoples.

Causes of Crime. 257

Probably there are different kinds of boys, with varied histories
of heredity and culture, and this fact accounts for the contra-
diction in theories. But even with the gentlest and kindest of
children there is not that knowledge and foresight of remote con-
sequences which come only with age, experience, and instruction ;
nor can there be the power of inhibition and self-control which
correspond to the habit of self-disciphne in all kinds of situations.

Ferriani, in his important study of juvenile delinquents, has
brought together a vast number of evidences and illustrations of the
essential traits of depraved children and youth. He insists that
there are very general tendencies to crime in all children, and that
those who are precocious in wrong conduct are characterized by
want of moral sense, absence of modesty, egoism, vanity, cruelty, de-
ception, jealousy and envy, gluttony, anger, hate, laziness, vagrancy,
licentious and depraved habits, alcoholism, and mental defects.

A careful analysis of these vicious traits shows that they all may
be regarded as the manifestations of natural appetites, desires, and
instincts, whose normal exercise is essential to well being, and
which become evil only because they are in excess or defective, or
are misplaced in time, place, and relation. To say that these
young offenders have the " germs " of future crime in them is mis-
leading. The physical craving for food, the appetite called hunger,
is a normal factor in our nature ; its proper function is the pres-
ervation of individual life, and the pleasure which accompanies its
satisfaction insures the performance of the function. When this
appetite is the only interest of a narrow life, and parental control
and direction are lacking, we have a glutton.

There are certain diffused cravings for rest, ease, and comfort
whose purpose is the recuperation of the body after effort, and such
cravings are necessary to health. But when there is no incentive
to activity, or irregular discipline, or where labor has been so pre-
mature and painful as to excite disgust with work, we have the
phenomenon of the lazy, vagrant child, the truant from school tasks,
the foolish girl who begs and then becomes a prostitute to avoid

258 An Introduction to Criminal Sociology.

On the other hand, the craving for exaltation or excitement is a
normal element in a healthy person, but in excess it becomes the
basis for the abnormal appetite for alcohol, for orgies and debauch,
for gambling and cruelty. It seems probable that there is a hered-
itary blood-thirst even in civilized persons, as we see evidenced in
upright and reputable men who enjoy bloody sports — prize fights
{alias " boxing matches "), cock-fights, and sheer joy in war, some-
times masquerading as " patriotism." Is it any wonder that a
street gamin will imitate lords and ladies of high degree ? It is
not difiicult to understand the cruelty of crime in the " lower
classes," if we once overcome class partiality far enough to confess
the real impulses of certain rather fashionable practices among
" gentlemen." General Grant declared that " hazing" is the *' re-
sort of a coward and the amusement of a bully." What is " haz-
ing " ? Some examples will illustrate the methods by which college
boys from the best famihes, not without some support from tradi-
tion and from high authority, entertain themselves. A novitiate is
compelled by his seniors to walk along a public street with his
trousers rolled up to his knees and his bare legs blackened with
burnt cork. One man was compelled to jump bHndfolded into a
canal, and was drowned. A distinguished officer, while a student,
had his arms covered with straw while he was asleep, and this straw
was set on fire and he was awaked by the pain. One young fellow
was made sick with tobacco juice which his comrades made him
swallow. Many have had ribs broken, teeth knocked out, and have
sustained severe and even mortal injuries. The fact that suppres-
sion of the custom is slow, difficult, and uncertain gives us insight
into the mental forces which produce cruelty and the disregard
of personal rights. There is really Httle to choose between com-
placent and enthusiastic admiration of some fashionable boxing
matches and the sandbagging by a footpad. Indifference to pain
is demoralizing enough, but when the sight of bruises and blood
gives actual joy a crowd is not far from the primitive savage state.

At puberty the natural appetite of sex awakes to its office. Can
any student of normal human nature wonder if boys and girls who

Causes of Crime. 259

have been accustomed to familiarity with merely animal conduct of
parents and companions, who have never been trained to modesty,
and who are corrupted by all they see from infancy, should yield
to the powerful impulse of the race ? There is no mystery in the
origin of licentiousness, secret vice, and prostitution when we know
the early surroundings of many juvenile offenders.

Deep in us all, and the foundation of all worthy ambition, is the
elementary desire to be respected, honored, esteemed. The
appreciation of onlo(3kers keeps alive the " infirmity of noble
minds," and even the saint looks forward with yearning and hope
to the plaudit "well done." This same desire, in excess, or
ignorantly directed, becomes vanity, or ambition to gain distinc-
tion among desperadoes.

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 22 of 35)