Richard Frith Quinton.

Crime and criminals, 1876-1910 online

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this large influx into local prisons, the
daily average number of prisoners, both
convict and local, was steadily coming
down, so as to emphasise the decrease
in serious crime that was in progress, of
which further striking confirmation was
afforded by a marked decline in the in-
dictable offences tried, which form the
best test of the graver kinds of crime.

The yearly average number of these in
1870 for the previous ten years had been
19,149. In 1880 this average dropped to

The Education Acts were already
producing excellent results, not only in
netting and civilising the young potential
criminals who roamed the streets, but
also in training and teaching the social
class from which the criminal population


is mainly recruited, when the Summary
Jurisdiction Act of 1879 aboHshed those
long, and frequently unequal, sentences
which had hitherto been bitterly resented
by prisoners, and which had formed the
more or less justifiable pretext for their
refractory behaviour. These two Acts,
then, have had far-reaching effects, both
on the statistics of crime, and the char-
acter of the criminal. The wholesale
reduction of sentences following on the
Summary Jurisdiction Act soon emptied
half the convict prisons in the country,
and nevertheless the local prisons were
not proportionately filled. Marked im-
provement in the general conduct of
prisoners also followed.

Subsequently the Penal Servitude Act
of 1891 enabled the Courts to sentence
convicts to three years penal servitude
and upwards, instead of fi\e years and
upwards as before.

The accompanying figures, taken from
the official returns, will serve to illustrate
the improvement that has gradually taken


place in the general conduct and char-
acter of the prison population : —

Vriso7i Offences.


Convicts. Local Prisoners.

Total No.
of Oftences.




Total No.
of Oftences.














Prison Punishments.





Local Prisoners.





03 "^



be c3


~ 03 CL(



" 03 Oi



rt > o



ce > o
















Female prisoners, more especially con-
victs, in 1880 contributed fairly to these
figures. They were by no means a meek
or mild class. I had some experience
of them at Millbank at that time. They
numbered about 250, and were kept in
a special block or pentagon, so as to be
quite separated from the male convicts
and military prisoners who occupied the
other parts of the prison. The governor
at the time, who could manage quite
successfully 600 military prisoners and
500 male convicts, was as wax in the
hands of the females. If they were at
all refractory, his sole idea was to hand
them over to the medical officer as
patients requiring medical care and treat-
ment, and so to get them out of his
jurisdiction for the time being. He
seemed to have an idea that all women
were mad. His plan led to friction, and
did not work well. A'iolence frequently
took on an epidemic form, and too
often the female pentagon was a pan-
demonium. I give some comparative


statistics showing the decrease in the
number of convicts, and the improve-
ment in their conduct in late years : —

Female Convicts.













I lay some stress on these indications
of improved conduct, to which the Re-
ports of the Prison Commissioners from
year to year bore testimony, as matters
of public interest second in importance
only to the actual diminution in the
numbers of the prisoners themselves.
Their more rational behaviour obviously
rendered them more amenable to those
reformatory influences to which the prison
authorities were directing their efforts.
It further facilitated the relaxation of
some of the more severe features of the


prison code, while it led to a complete
revolution in the ideas of some people
as to the proper aim and object of a
sentence of imprisonment. Elmira and
its system began to attract attention.
Americans went so far as to maintain
that there should be no penal element
in a sentence, and that prisons should
be purely reformatories for turning out
respectable citizens. This doctrine, that
prisons should cease to be in any penal
sense Houses of Correction, and that a
responsible person who has broken the
law should be, when in prison, a mere
subject for reformatory experiments, has
an unwholesome flavour about it to ordi-
nary thinkers, as leading directly to the
doubtful — if not pernicious — conclusion
that criminals are all moral invalids who
need simply appropriate nursing. From
the prisoner's standpoint it is somewhat
Pharisaical, since he knows that, what-
ever efforts are being made to rehabili-
tate him, he is nevertheless being punished
for the time being by the loss of his


liberty, if in no other way. For these
reasons the adoption of the Elmira sys-
tem does not commend itself as a prac-
tical measure to the people of this country.
It is inconceivable that it would have
been capable of successful application to
the convict of thirty or forty years ago.
Any one who reads the Prison Act of
1865 will see that, in the view of the
legislators of that time, the primary and
essential object of a sentence was that
it should be penal and deterrent. Re-
clamation would seem to have been
aimed at, partly by the penal portion
of the treatment, but, at all events, as
a secondary consideration. The Royal
Commission (1879) on the Penal Servi-
tude Acts also appears to have held
punishment to be the chief consideration,
and even the Prison Act of 1877 still
embodied the penal theory, although it
provided for more reformatory methods
than had been hitherto in practice.

It must be remembered that convicts
were, and still are, for the most part


habitual criminals. A census taken in
1880 showed that out of 10,000 in
round numbers, 8000 were habituals.
The latest returns this year show simi-
larly that 84 per cent, of those sent to
penal servitude had previous convictions
recorded against them. Up to the pre-
sent time this habitual class has so
obstinately and successfully resisted all
the efforts that have been made for its
reclamation that, in the interests of the
community, it has been found necessary
to devise a new form of sentence which
tacitly admits the failure of reformatory
effort on this particular kind of prisoner.
The Prevention of Crime Act (1908)
provides that in future a person who is
proved to be persistently leading a dis-
honest and criminal life is to be declared
an " habitual criminal," and to be ordered
a period of " preventive detention," not
less than five, or more than ten, years, to
follow on a period of penal servitude of
not less than three years.

This Act, which is in reality a com-


promise — the original intention of the
framers having been an indeterminate
sentence for persistent offenders — virtu-
ally marks a return to the principle of
a long sentence, but certain mitigations
of the usual conditions of penal servi-
tude are to be conceded to prisoners in
the "preventive detention" period, and
certain privileges and rewards granted
for industry and good conduct. What-
ever success this novel method of treat-
ment may have in reclaiming a class that
has hitherto been found irreclaimable, it
is tolerably certain to exercise a very de-
terrent effect on those who are about to
take up crime as a profession.

In contrasting the state of crime at the
present time with what it was before the
Prison Act of 1877, which handed over
to the State the management of all the
local prisons, I have been careful not to
claim any excessive credit for the new
administrative authority appointed under
that Act. They played no inconsiderable
part, however, in humanising the criminal


himself as well as the criminal code. The
discussion on the Bill, which was intro-
duced by the present Lord Cross, who
was then Home Secretary, led to quite
a reawakening of interest on the part
of the public in regard to the details
of prison affairs, and the treatment of
prisoners. There was a new spirit of
leniency abroad. Many will remember
how public attention seemed riveted on
the plank bed, and how " Cross's plank
bed," as it was persistently styled, came
in for special odium, and how it was
supposed to be a pet device of the
Secretary of State, although he had
simply taken it over as an inheritance
from the Lords Committee of 1863.
Lord Cross's actual connection with the
plank bed was of quite a different sort,
for he put an end to its use for women
(although many local authorities found
advantages in its employment for both
sexes), as well as for men over sixty, and
for children.

Further, several of the local authorities

THE ACT OF 1877 49

did not relish the taking over of their
prisons by the State, so that the Prison
Commissioners entered on office under a
somewhat fierce hght of criticism.

There were, as I have stated, various
agencies, and moral influences, already at
work outside the prisons, which made for
a reduction in the number of criminals,
as well as for their moral advancement.
The Prison Commissioners at once ap-
plied themselves vigorously to second
these efforts by amending the conditions
inside the prisons, so as to foster in the
prisoners themselves a spirit of self-help
and habits of industry.

Starting with the principle that a
system of rewards and privileges should
be held out as incentives to industry and
good conduct, and that the forfeiture of
these advantages should be substituted,
as far as possible, for the wholesale
dietary punishments then in use, as well
as for confinement in dark cells, and
corporal punishment, they at once estab-
lished for all their prisons a system of


progressive stages. This was a truly
beneficent change which, at a stroke,
enabled the prisoner to lighten his
punishment, and at the same time help
to work out his own reformation if he
felt so inclined. The privileges which
were put within his reach as he passed
through the four stages of the system,
or of so much of them as his sentence
covered, were : — the right to pass from
first-class hard labour to easier work of a
more interesting kind, to have a mattress
to sleep on, to have school instruction
and school books in his cell, to have
exercise on Sunday, to have library
books in his cell, to be eligible for em-
ployment in a post of trust in the
service of the prison, to write and receive
letters and visits at decreasing intervals
of time, and to earn a gratuity, increas-
ing in each stage, up to ten shillings in
ordinary cases, and for work of special
value up to two pounds.

This was a veritable charter of rights
at that time for all who were willing to


profit by it. At the end of two years
working the effect of the Stage System
on the punishment Hst was also very
striking and satisfactory, as may be seen
by this table : —

Local Prison Punishments.





Loss of









The privilege of earning remission of
sentence, which was subsequently granted
to local prisoners, and gradually extended,
until at present it applies to all sentences
of more than one month, afforded much
additional encouragement to good work
and good conduct. My own brief ex-
perience of its application to short sen-
tences was very favourable, and showed
that female prisoners at all events ap-
preciated its advantages probably more


in the shorter than in the longer terms.
The average prisoner, indeed, seems to
have a somewhat limited range of vision
in the forward direction, and thinks much
more of next week than of next year in
matters of this kind. Even suffragettes
disliked the idea of forfeiting remission
marks, more especially if forfeiture pre-
vented their going out of the prison with
their own batch, so as to miss the welcom-
ing strains of the band in the Camden
Road, not to speak of the convivial
breakfast that followed.


Sanitation — Increase of medical staff — Treadwheel —
Unproductive labour — Mat-making in prisons sacri-
ficed to the competition clause of the Act of 1877 —
Discipline had to be reconciled with industrial pro-
gress—Orders for work from Government depart-
ments — Development of industries — Associated labour
— Classification — Grievances.

Many other subjects claimed attention
from the Commissioners at this period,
such as better means of instruction for
prisoners, improvements of prison Hbraries,
systematising the methods of Discharged
Prisoners Aid Societies, and sanitation.
Of these the last mentioned was an
urgent problem. Several of the prisons
that were retained were of old con-
struction, and far from being up-to date
in their sanitary arrangements. AVe read
of one, in the first report of the newly
appointed medical inspector, which had
water pumped into the cells from a river



at a point 200 yards below the outfall
of the county infirmary, where there
had been a constant succession of typhoid
cases for a long period. In that year,
1878-79, there were fourteen cases of
typhoid fever in the prisons, five of
which were in one prison in an infected
district. The death-rate, nevertheless,
at the end of this first year of adminis-
tration under the new authority was
reduced to 8 "3 per 1000 of the daily
average population — the lowest of any
year on record at that time, and 2 per
1000 lower than the average of the
previous five years. No more valuable
test could be afforded of the effect of
the recent changes in hygiene and diet-
ing. A new scale of diet had been
adopted on the recommendation of an
expert committee, and it was at once
introduced in all prisons.

In later years the mortality was still
further reduced. In 1895-96 it was as
low as 6-3 per 1000, and in 1908-9, 48.
For many years past any zymotic dis-


eases that may appear in prisons are
almost invariably imported from outside,
and they never get a foothold under the
sanitary conditions that have been adopted
in all prisons. If, in fact, prisons were
judged on their health records only, they
would appear to be sanatoria outside of
which health proper is unattainable.

The medical staff of the prisons
generally had to be largely reinforced
under the exigencies of the new system.
Several of the large prisons were still
under the medical care of general prac-
titioners, who could not devote to their
duties as much time as the details of
work, inseparable from government con-
trol, demanded. Not only was a very
strict physical examination of each in-
dividual necessary before he could be
classed for work, but every detail had
to be duly recorded on reception, and
all particulars of subsequent applications,
as well as a clinical history of his case,
if he went to hospital, had to be written
down, on the general principle that his


prison medical history should be available
in a complete form. Periodical reports
and returns were also regularly estab-
lished, and the work all round was
doubled — in the interests of the prisoner.
It became necessary, therefore, to appoint
to the prison service medical officers
who could give all their time to the
work in the large prisons. Some of
the older subordinate officers looked
askance at many of these innovations,
which encroached on their time, and
for which they could not see the necessity.
I came in contact very soon with one of
them who took me under his protection
and guidance on my joining for duty at
a large prison. My proceedings at first
amazed and scandalised him. That I
should want to strip and examine in-
dividually a string of seventy or eighty
men, and enter particulars of each there
and then, seemed to him pure unreason.
He told me the number of years he had
been in the Reception Ward, and, out
of the depths of his experience, solemnly


warned me that all prisoners alike were
" blag - yards and impostures " — his
favourite generalisation — that my pre-
decessor had had " too soft a 'eart "
(with a pitying look that implied his
head was no better), and so on. He
kept a jealous eye on my entries ex-
empting men from the treadwheel, which
he looked upon as a moral panacea of
the very best kind. A vagrant, who
was very well known to him, having
presented himself one day suffering from
heart disease, I duly excused him this
kind of hard labour. When I told the
officer, in reply to his usual inquiry,
that the man had heart disease, he looked
very sceptical, and then said—" Well,
I believe he put it on coming up in the
van." It was inconceivable to him that
the heart of a vagrant, which is not
generally overworked, should be subject
to any disease. During the time I was
at his prison, this recalcitrant old officer
stuck to his ideals, and never took to
" newfangled notions about vetting a


parcel of blag-yards and impostures as
if they were enterin' for the Grand

It is rather remarkable that the tread-
wheel, which is now looked on as a
mediaev^al relic, should have so long sur-
vived the progressive tendencies of the
times. This was the fault of the legis-
lature rather than of the administrators,
for the Act of 1877 still recognised first-
class hard labour, of which treadwheel
work was the statutory type. At this
time, indeed, the wheel was a glorified
kind of machine. We read in one of
the reports that it was " the most suc-
cessful application of human force as a
force, and that no shirking was possible,"
&c. Other expedients for enforcing first-
class labour, such as cranks, capstan, shot
drill, &c., were in use at many prisons,
but it was recommended by an advisory
committee that the treadwheel should
in future be the recognised machinery
for the purpose.

My personal experience of its working


was that for novices, or for men who
had recently been drinking, it was a
very trying, if not a dangerous, form
of labour. For all it was demoralising.
I have frequently, when inspecting men
at the work, taken off novices and
alcoholics bathed in perspiration, and
apparently terrorised, whilst old hands
close by were not turning a hair or
showing any signs of distress whatever.
The theory that hard labour, in order
that it may be penal, should be at the
same time monotonous and uninterest-
ing, is perhaps intelligible, but an idea
that seems to have been uppermost in
the minds of the legislators who in-
vented it was that it must be unpro-
ductive also, in order to impress on
the prisoner the fact that he is grinding
the wind, and that his labour is in
vain. This was a kind of mental dis-
cipline that was not likely to have
other than an irritating and demoralising
influence on the prisoner, while it was
causing all the time deplorable waste


from an economic point of view. And
yet it was not till 1896 that active
steps were taken for the gradual aboli-
tion of unproductive crank and tread-
wheel labour. At the same time similar
steps were taken in regard to oakum
picking, which was not an improving
occupation, and had ceased to be

It was, however, the Act of 1877
which paved the way for this reform,
that was so long in coming, in regard
to unproductive labour, by laying down
that " the expense of maintaining
prisoners should in part be defrayed
by their labour, and that useful trades
and manufactures should be taught, so
far as consistent with penal discipline
and the avoidance of competition with
outside industry."

It will be seen that the primary aim
of this new industrial scheme was to
make the prisoner contribute to his
own support, while the work done
must not compete with any similar


industry carried on by free labour.
Mat-making was a leading industry in
the prisons at this time. It was easily
taught and learned ; it could be carried
on either in cells or workrooms ; it was
also remunerative, and was altogether
a very suitable kind of employment for
prisoners ; but it had to be gradually
sacrificed in deference to the competi-
tion clause. This made the problem
somewhat difficult for the Commissioners.
Government trading at any time is
hampered by so many official checkings
and red-tape regulations that business
enterprise is generally lulled to rest in
its early stage, and the whole system
is so elaborate in detail, and costly in
consequence, that profit-making is next
to impossible. But penal discipline had
to be maintained at the same time.
To have transformed prisons into manu-
facturing establishments without this
necessary precaution would have been
a fatal error. I had some experience
of such an experiment at one prison


which had been conducted by the local
authorities on a self-supporting, if not
a profit-making basis, under a governor
who had considerable business capacity.
He made gas for the establishment, he
had a successful iron foundry, and carried
on carpentering and cabinet- making on
an extensive scale, turning out hand-
some walnut wardrobes and tables, and
he had even made a billiard table. He
had, besides, some minor industries,
among which was sugar-chopping, on
which he made a respectable profit,
although he reckoned that a new hand
at the work ate the full profits of his
own industry for the first two days,
after which surfeit he became tempta-
tion-proof. The prison was a hive of
industry, and the bees seemed to
enjoy a corresponding sense of freedom.
Escapes, and attempts to escape, were
of frequent occurrence. I met one
morning at the gate two prisoners un-
attended, who had been working outside
the walls with another prisoner under


the supervision of one officer. They
were ringing the bell and clamouring
to be taken in. It appeared that their
companion had bolted, with the officer
in close pursuit, and that the latter had
instructed them to come in and report
the escape.

The Commissioners by degrees man-
aged to reconcile these conflicting con-
ditions by extending the manufacture
of various articles required for prison
use, and by taking orders for work from
other government departments such as
the Admiralty and the Post Office, so
that at present they have what might
be called an old-established family busi-
ness, conducted on lines that are official
and yet remunerative to the State, so
as to give sensible occupation to tlie
prisoners under their charge.

The general effect of these beneficent
arrangements has been to alter funda-
mentally the character of our prisons,
and to give tliem a reformatory and
educative complexion which they did


not possess in the unproductive labour

By way of illustrating the existing
industrial activity of our prisons, I take
the following particulars from the latest
report of the Commissioners. The value
of the labour performed by prisoners
during the year 1908-9, including work
in the service of the prisons valued at
£64,118, amounted to £244,117, and the
average annual earnings per prisoner at
productive and domestic work amounted
to £13, 2s., included under the headings
of " manufacturing, farming, building,
and service of the prisons." The Comp-
troller of Industries reports that he is
doing his utmost "to carry out the
wishes of the Legislature by using in-
dustrial training as a leading factor in
the reclamation of the criminal classes."

It will be obvious from the facts here
stated that our prisons have already

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Online LibraryRichard Frith QuintonCrime and criminals, 1876-1910 → online text (page 3 of 11)