Richard Frith Quinton.

Crime and criminals, 1876-1910 online

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language she said — " Shure it didn't hurt
her, sir." In reply to the charge of
throwing the utensil she said — " Shure
it didn't hit her, sir." She made no
attempt at denial, but claimed judgment
by results.

Confirmed female criminals, however,
are specially dangerous as corrupters of
novices, and will make pupils of them
if they get a chance.

It must be obvious, then, that these
contaminating influences are not imagi-
nary evils. They constitute a real and
strong objection to the principle of


association for all prisoners. In local
prisons, however, where men work in shops,
or under cover, they can be better con-
trolled, and, if a good classification is
in force, injurious results are less likely
to follow. Indiscriminate association
would take us back to the eighteenth
century prison system, and must be
avoided at all costs ; but a cautious ex-
tension of the principle to well conducted
prisoners in local prisons under proper
safeguards, and for the purposes of work,
is a reasonable and promising means for
ameliorating the lot of the prisoner. To
carry the principle further, and to extend
it to the dining hall and the reading
room would probably be for him a curse
rather than a blessing. The most amiable
of persons grow weary of their compan-
ions on a short sea voyage, even though
they may be people of blameless life,
but the prospect, from a social stand-
point, of eternal convict, from whom
there is no escape, being served up with
meals would certainly add to the horrors


of imprisonment for a considerable number
of the better sort.

But how would discipline be likely to
fare under this programme of social
amenities so confidently recommended
to us ? This question will, no doubt, be
lightly brushed aside by enthusiasts for
a free system. There is at present a
spirit abroad denoting impatience of re-
straint and discipline which is not a
wholesome sign of the times. Free
education, which has been so beneficial
in other respects, seems to have brought
with it some false conceptions of freedom
which are not favourable to discipline.
Those who have been brought up under
it at all events are found to resent dis-
ciplinary measures that were not irksome
to their predecessors.

P^or an unruly class who defy law and
order when they are out of prison a code
of discipline is absolutely essential if they
are to be controlled in prison. This code,
which is necessarily strict, is designed
in the interests of prisoners, and is by



no means unreasonable. Eighty per cent,
of convicts, and ninety-two per cent, of
local prisoners per annum, avoid breaches
of it. But, however necessary such a
code may be for prison authorities, it
is still more so for prisoners, if they are
to acquire that power of self - control
which is the only foundation for refor-
mation of habits and character, and the
lack of which is generally the cause of
their downfall. Association on such
generous lines as are suggested is not
conducive to the practice of discipline.
Nor is it apparently altogether in con-
sonance with our national character, so
that until all personal antipathies, class
distinctions, and other peculiarities are
abolished, and all traces of feudalism are
wiped out, it is not likely to take root
in this country.

The penal systems of foreign countries
differ so widely from each other, and
from our own, that the statistical infor-
mation which they supply does not give
us an adequate basis for comparing their


criminal records with our own. There
are, however, no positive indications that
life and property are less secure in Eng-
land than in these countries. Our insular
position and comparatively limited area,
combined with a very efficient system
of identifying criminals, enable us to
trace more easily the habituals ; and
these are the persons who count most
in the perpetration of serious crime.
With such advantages in our favour it
is probable that we get more accurate
and more complete records of criminality
than larger countries possess, and that
we see ourselves, if not at our very worst,
at least in the worst light attainable.
Moreover, our criminal statistics must not
be invariably taken at their face value.
I am inclined to think that sometimes
they are so full as to be mystifying, if
not misleading, to the casual reader,
and that they tend to magnify, in some
directions at all events, the real situation.
Those who are responsible for their issue,
and who understand their significance.


add to them qualifying explanatory notes,
but these are generally ignored by super-
ficial inquirers who rely more on the
multiplication table aspect of figures.
Take the case of recidivism as an ex-
ample. The actual figures show clearly
enough that the percentage of local
prisoners with previous convictions has
gone up in the past decade from sixty-
four to over sixty-sev^en. I have already
shown the very questionable deductions
that have been drawn, from the high
rate of recidivism amongst convicts and
prisoners generally, as to the failure of
the prison system in deterring or re-
forming criminals. But it is very doubt-
ful if these figures denote any actual
increase in criminality. More previous
convictions are proved because the system
of identifying offenders by finger-prints
is now almost infallible, and more con-
victions take place because habitual
offenders get short sentences, and more
frequent opportunities.

In a similar way the total number of


offences under their different headings,
which bulk so large in the public eye,
are open to some misconception. These
are, of course, useful as affording a
measure of the volume of crime and of
the activity of criminals, but they are
likely to mislead as to the numbers of the
latter. A minor offender, for instance,
may account for many of these offences in
a year, so that in some of the returns one
individual is counted over and over again.
Now, this constant cropping up of the
same individual in criminal statistics is
a source of much confusion if we attempt
to form any estimate, based on figures,
of the success or failure of our prison
system in repressing crime, which is ob-
viously the best practical test that can
be applied to it. For these reasons I
prefer seeking guidance rather from the
average numbers of the criminals them-
selves, than from the volume of crime
for which they are responsible. The rise
or fall of crime is, in fact, best tested by
a study of the rise or fall in the criminal


population. It is said that the increase
of recidivism means, not only the failure
of the prison system to reform, but also
an increase of crime. Neither of these
points can be established. If crime is
really increasing where, it may fairly be
asked, are the criminals ? They must
be either in convict prisons, or in local
prisons, or at large. They cannot be in
the convict prisons, where the numbers
have gone down from 10,000 to 3000
in the past thirty years, despite the rise
in the general population during the same
period. Nor are they to be found in the
local prisons, where, in like manner, the
numbers have dwindled from 20,000 to
18,000. It must be borne in mind, that
any increase in serious crime that might
not be reflected in the average population
of convicts, would show clearly in the
average population of local prisoners,
since the addition of even a few hundreds
of sentences, ranging from one year
to two, would make a considerable
impression on this latter average.


Lastly, if they are at large, and still
engaged in criminal pursuits, we must
conclude that police methods of detection
are more inefficient than they were a
generation ago. We know, however,
that this is not the case. We must
conclude, therefore, that the decline in
the numbers of the criminal class is a
reality, and, further, that it means an
actual decrease in crime. What the
extent of this decrease actually is it is
not possible to show in figures ; but when
we remember the broad fact that a total
criminal class, which in 1880 could fur-
nish a daily average population of 30,000
prisoners, representing crimes of all kinds,
major and minor, at a time when the
population of the country was 25,000,000,
can at the present time furnish a daily
average population of 22,000 only, when
the general population of the country
has risen to 35,000,000, it is clear that
the decrease in crime must be very sub-
stantial and much greater than is generally


The period under review, which has
been marked by many reforms and much
progress, has been specially remarkable
owing to the activity of the habitual
criminal. He has had a very free run,
which he is not likely to enjoy in future.
The numbers of his class have diminished,
rather from the cutting off of recruits
than from any material success in the
measures taken for his reclamation. Had
the system of preventive detention re-
cently enacted been in force during this
whole period, we should undoubtedly have
had still better results to show in the
reduction of crime ; but the constant
recurrence of his activities has baffled
the authorities, and swelled the volume
of offences.

If these conclusions of mine are correct
in regard to crime, and if such decrease
is accepted as a fair test of the efficacy
of our penal system, it follows that the
system is not the "failure" it is often
alleged to be. The general principles
on which it has been slowly built up


would appear to be that it should be
punitive without being vindictive, refor-
matory without being demoralising, and
deterrent without being inhumane. It is
undoubtedly more suited to our national
requirements than any foreign system that
is yet known to us, and it is capable of
further improvement and development
on the lines of the principles above stated.
To abolish the whole structure, or to
completely revolutionise it, at the dicta-
tion of a clamorous class of persons who
draw their inspiration for the most part
from disaffected ex-convicts, and who
think more apparently of the personal
comfort of prisoners than they do of
practical business-like measures for re-
forming them by means of the inculcation
of self-help, would seem to be an act
of doubtful expediency.

Some such development as I have
indicated is apparently occupying the
attention of the present Secretary of
State, Mr. Winston Churchill, who
has already outlined a Bill which he


proposes to introduce in the autumn
of 1910. The main objects of this
Bill will be to abolish the ticket-
of-leave system which has proved so ob-
noxious to ex-prisoners, to grant to
persons with fixed residences a reasonable
interval of time in which to pay any fines
that may be imposed by the Courts, to
substitute, for certain offenders under
twenty-one years of age, a kind of de-
faulter's drill to take the place of im-
prisonment, and, under a set of rules
already issued by the Secretary of State,
to accord to certain classes of prisoners,
such as Passive Resisters and Suffra-
gettes, whose offences involve " no moral
turpitude," a special prison treatment
with indulgences in the matter of
supplying their own food, wearing their
own clothes, exercising together, and con-
versing, and enjoying generally various
privileges which are at present attached
to the First Division. Further, the
period of separate confinement is to be
reduced to one month, and lectures and


musical entertainments are to be pro-
vided in convict prisons periodically.

The abolition of the ticket- of -leave
would appear to be a logical consequence
of the new Preventive Detention treat-
ment. If convicts are called on to
undergo a period of probation running
into years before they leave custody, it is
only reasonable they should be spared a
further period of probation under police
supervision after their discharge. H itherto
their great grievance has been the irk-
some duty of reporting themselves to the
police. They will now be free to get a
living, and to lead law-abiding lives, if
they choose to do so, not only without
let or hindrance, but with such practical
assistance as a Committee of officials and
Discharged Prisoners Aid Societies can
render them. The reform is undoubtedly
on rational lines, and it should put an
end for ever to complaints which, how-
ever exaggerated they might be, always
secured for the discharged convict a
considerable share of popular sympathy.


The Secretary of State does not seem to
entertain a very fav^ourable opinion of
Preventive Detention, and calls it in
reality Penal Servitude, but the system
has not yet had the advantage even of
a trial, and if the regulations that are
designed for carrying it out are liberally
framed, there seems to be no reason why
the conditions should not be made to
approximate to those of a labour colony
rather than of a convict prison.

To give further time for the payment
of fines in suitable cases is another
reasonable concession. Defaulters may,
of course, give trouble and evade their
penalties, but the object of keeping
people out of prison is of such paramount
importance to themselves, as well as to
those who are dependent on them, and
to the community in general, that diffi-
culties of this kind may well be ignored.
The same consideration applies with
double force to the case of those offenders
who have not reached their years of dis-
cretion. Every possible effort is justi-


fiable to keep them out of .prison, and
if " defaulter's drill," or any other ex-
pedient is likely to assist in this object,
it is well worth a trial, when, as we
are told, more than five thousand cases
a year are at present available for the

In regard to the special treatment
under the rules intended for Suffragettes,
Passive Resisters, and other militant law-
breakers whose offences do not involve
moral turpitude, the principle of lighten-
ing their self - imposed penalties, and
removing their prison griev^ances, is not
likely to meet with much official or
popular resistance. No one wishes these
very willing martyrs to be treated with
any harsliness or severity. It remains
to be seen, however, whether the con-
templated change of treatment will be
wholly acceptable to themselves. Some
may possibly prefer not only to adopt
the crown, but the whole paraphernalia
of martyrdom, including the prison dress,
which latter has the special merit of


giving a picturesque touch to a street pro-
cession ; but the choice that will be given
them will remove what the majority
hold to be a legitimate grievance.

As the privileges to be accorded are
practically the same as those belonging
to First Division offenders, it is to be
hoped that the Bill will instruct the
Courts to place all suitable cases in the
First Division. The very delicate task
of deciding the degree of " moral turpi-
tude " in each case is one which should
be settled by the Court, and not by the
prison authorities. Differential treatment
of prisoners generally in matters of
such importance to them as the wear-
ing of their own clothes, and the sup-
plying of their own food, if left
absolutely to the discretion of prison
officials, is apt to give rise to suspicions
of favouritism, or abuse, which it is very
essential to avoid.

These developments, it will be seen,
and many others of a similar kind
in the direction of such leniency


as may be deemed necessary from
time to time, are still quite feasible
under existing conditions, without resort-
ing to the drastic remedy of " scrapping"
the whole Separate System in deference
to criticism based on the pictorial illus-
trations of separate confinement as pre-
sented to us in a recent sensational
drama. None of the developments will
be found incompatible with the under-
lying principles of our penal system, and
they are capable of indefinite extension
to meet the ever-varying complexion of
criminality, and the latest scientific
methods of dealing with it under an
advancing civilisation. No system is
perfect, nor is any system worth con-
sideration unless it is progressive. I have
already indicated clearly my reasons,
founded on actual facts and results, for
thinking that our system cannot fairly be
accounted a failure, though we are con-
stantly being told that it is so "in the
opinion of those best qualified to judge."
Who these persons may be 1 do not


know, but general references of this kind to
some unnamed tribunal have little weight
in controversy, and should be accepted
with caution. It is quite certain that the
temerity of critics in dealing with complex
problems of prison administration is fre-
quently far in advance of their knowledge
of the subject, and of their appreciation
of its difficulties. The latest and most
correct theories of punishment are advo-
cated for ill-understood criminals with all
the confidence evinced by a quack in
prescribing for unknown and absent
patients. Criminals are not ordinary
people. V^ery often they are suspicious
of, or unwilling to benefit by, any scheme
or theory, however beneficent ; and very
often too they will offer active as well as
passive resistance to the most benevolent
designs. Hence it happens that mere
theories, though never perhaps a hind-
rance, are seldom a help to be depended
on in dealing with such persons as we
find in convict prisons.

Where our system has really proved a


failure has been in its inapplicability to
very large numbers of persons who have
been forcibly and very unwisely brought
under its influence. Reformers are at
last beginning to see that many persons
are being sent to prison who should never
be found there. Wandering lunatics,
mental defectives of all sorts, inebriates,
vagrants, young persons under sixteen,
and many others between sixteen and
twenty-one are now being very properly
ruled out as persons unfit for prison life.
Hitherto these ineligibles have been com-
mitted every year in tens of thousands,
with the absurd expectation that a few
weeks or days of prison treatment would
miraculously transform tliem into useful
members of society. Penal treatment of
any kind for the mental defectives is
irrational, if not cruel ; the ordinary penal
treatment in force in our local prisons for
vagrants and mendicants is attractive
rather than repellent ; but for all these
inehgibles alike it is absolutely useless

and unscientific as a means either of dc-



terrence or moral improvement. Conver-
sions accordingly amongst this class have
been on a very limited scale, and scientific
theories of punishment have been of little
use. I have already shown some of the
difficulties to be met with in altering the
moral outlook of the finished professional
criminal, and in reforming his habits and
character. To educate, discipline, and
train the younger unfinished criminal, so
as to effect his reformation, in an estab-
lishment in which the wants of all this
motley assemblage of other pupils have
to be attended to, has hitherto proved a
task of almost equal difficulty. The
atmosphere and environment in the larger
prisons, to which most of the young
recruits embarking in careers of serious
crime are committed, are distinctly un-
favourable to reformatory work, so that
it seems somewhat surprising that even so
much has been accomplished. The out-
standing fact remains that the numbers
of these recruits have steadily diminished
in the last three decades, so that the


standing army of those engaged in serious
crime is showing clear signs of wastage.
It is very doubtful if results of such a
kind would be attainable under an in-
efficient penal system.

Printed by P.allanttne, Hanson <5r» Co.
Edinburgh i^ London



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