Richard Frith Quinton.

Crime and criminals, 1876-1910 online

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selves. It is easier to ascribe his pecu-
liarities, on the one hand, to heredity, and
label him "an original sinner," or "a con-
genital thief," or "an instinctive criminal,"



or, on the other hand, to parental neglect,
or to vicious environment, and pronounce
, him " a waste product of a defective
social system," than to analyse his code
of ethics, or his way of looking at the
^ \ ^ problem of existence. It is at all events
^ certain that his line of life has for him

some mysterious attraction, or rather fas-
cination, which induces him to face risks
that normally-minded people would con-
template with horror.,. He is, to all in-
tents and purposes, a gambler of a very
reckless sort, who counts neither cost
nor risk, and he constantly returns to
the tables to recoup his losses, or perhaps
break the bank, if luck favours him. He
has apparently no hope of acquiring a
competence, but merely a satisfactory
haul which will enable him to have a
' • V good time so long as he is at liberty.
" Hand to mouth " and " sufficient unto
the day " seem to be his working for-
mulae. It is only in fiction we read of
the ex-convict retiring to the country,
becoming a churchwarden in his parish,


and a village philanthropist, and abandon-
ing liis predatory habits in favour of the
milder excitements of a rural existence.

It was said that the notorious burglar
and murderer Charles Peace had at one
time an ample fortune, but, despite the
hairbreadth escapes he had from capture
on several occasions, he ran to meet his
fate on the gallows with unerring cer-
tainty in the end.

Habitual criminals, as a class, supply
a very large number of physical and men-
tal defectives to the prison population,
but the professional criminal section does
rrot figure largely in the insanity statistics..
Out of a convict population of 3100 in
1908-9, 23 convicts were certified insane.
Of these 11 had been guilty of violent
ofT'enees against tlie person, 5 of offences
against property with violence, and only
4 of offences against property without

Similarly out of a local prison popu-
lation of 18,923 prisoners, 135 were
certified insane. Of this number only


12 were guilty of fraud, burglary, house-
breaking, &c., while 40 had been con-
victed of petty larceny, 30 of vagrancy,
and 12 of drunkenness.

The man who adopts crime as his
vocation is by no means a useless person
in prison. It is to him chiefly that
prisons are indebted for that shining
cleanliness which characterises them.
He scrubs the floors, polishes the iron-
work, and is ready and expert at all
the hundred and one jobs which ordi-
narily devolve on the housemaid. He
also cooks the food, bakes the bread,
serves the diets, repairs the boots and
clothes, attends the sick, works in the
shops, and looks after most of the
sanitary needs of the establishment. All
these duties he performs with readiness
and alacrity under the supervision of
his officers, who, for the most part,
prefer an old hand for these purposes.
From the outset of his sentence he aims
at getting work out of his cell, and he
concentrates all his energies on this


object, so that he may have as much
freedom as prison hfe allows. His great
failing is tobacco, and if he can only
avoid trafficking for this, and keeping
clear of a few other pitfalls which, un-
fortunately, his state of comparative
freedom may place in his path, he can
generally do his time, as he puts it,
" on his head," which is his peculiar
idea of ease or comfort. Why he can-
not earn a living out of prison by steady
work such as he willingly does in prison
is one of those mysteries still awaiting
solution. I have known a man of this
class, who was a skilled hand at cabinet-
making, and turned out some excellent
work for the prison during each of his
sentences. He could certainly have
earned wages outside that would have
kept him far more comfortable tlian he
could hope to be in prison, but never-
theless he came back time after time.
So painstaking and trustworthy was he
at any jol) on wliich he was employed,
that his officer lamented wlien liis sen-


tence was expiring, and looked forward
with pleasure to having him back again,
knowing, as he did, that he was certain
to return before long, like a moth to a

Many people hold that drink is the
main cause of crime, as well as of
pauperism, insanity, and various other
evils, and that the spread of temperance
is the best remedy for the prevention of
crime. This is to a large extent true in
regard to special offences. It must be
remembered, however, that excessive
drinking, which is undoubtedly a direct
as well as an indirect cause of much sin
and suffering, is by itself reckoned as a
crime in our criminal statistics. The ex-
citement it produces accounts for many
crimes of violence. Further, the mental
and moral deterioration which eventually
overtake the confirmed drinker, coupled,
in many instances, with pecuniary losses
and other misfortunes, often drive him
to criminal habits. But we must not
infer too hastily that even entire sup-


pression of the drink traffic, if such a
step were feasible, would necessarily lead
to the elimination of the professional
criminal, or to the suppression of the
kind of crime which he practises. The
very worst kinds of crime — those which
demand the exercise of the highest
skill, as well as those which are marked
by the deepest depravity — are too often
found to be the work of those who have
never indulged in excessive drinking.


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

Habitual criminals, as we have seen,
predominate amongst convicts. They
constitute also the backbone of the local
prison population. Here, however, they
are of quite a different character, and
represent, for the most part, minor
grades of criminality. Vagrants, petty
thieves, swindlers, begging impostors,
rogues and vagabonds, violent and dis-
orderly drunkards, are constantly return-
ing to prison on short sentences so as to
be regular habitues of the prisons. There
are, of course, hosts of other offenders
who may be paying their first and last
visit, and who are criminals only by



courtesy. The entire population, how-
ever, represents a much lower degree of
criminality than that of the convict
prisons, as may be seen by an analy-
sis of their sentences: — 36 per cent, of
the males, and the same percentage of
females were sentenced to one week or
less ; 62 per cent, of the males, and
64 per cent, of the females to two
weeks or less ; 93 per cent, of the
males, and 97 per cent, of the females
to three months or less. Only 5'6 per
cent, of the males, and 2 per cent, of
the females were sentenced to six months
and over; and 1*18 per cent, of the
males, and -14 per cent, of the females to
over a year.

These criminals and delinquents form
a very mixed and uneven company.
From the murderer awaiting sentence
of death, to the weak and erring in-
ebriate with a fine of half-a-crown or
three days' imprisonment, there are many
gradations. All sorts and conditions of
men and women are found amongst


them. Although the great majority are
drawn from the lower social strata,
members of the middle and upper classes
put in occasional appearances, and add
their quota to the ranks. I have myself
seen lawyers, parsons, doctors, bankers,
captains of industry, financiers, members
of parliament, and even, on one occasion,
a bishop, who was, however, black in
colour and unsound in mind, and unfit
to be at large at the time when he
committed his offence. Mixed with
these there are, of course, all kinds of
petty offenders against public order.

The proportion of habituals amongst
them is considerable. Men show a per-
centage of 57 with previous convictions
recorded against them, and women a
percentage as high as 78. Drunkards,
petty thieves, offenders against the Poor
Law, and vagrants, account for the most
of these figures. The habitual vagrant
is at present attracting much attention.
A departmental committee was appointed
in 1905 to inquire and report on the


subject, and the Poor Law Commis-
sioners, in their recent report, have also
adverted to it at considerable length.
No less than 25,168 prisoners, or one-
seventh of the commitments from ordi-
nary courts were convicted of begging
and sleeping-out in 1908-9. No legis-
lation has yet been passed for dealing
specially with this unpleasant develop-
ment of vagrancy, but it is suggested
that the habitual vagrant should be
treated in future, not as a criminal, but
as a person needing detention on account
of his mode of life. For this purpose he
is to be defined by statute and identified
by the finger-print system. At present
this class of prisoner seems to prefer
prison to the casual ward.

Whatever views may be held in re-
gard to ordinary criminals — whether they
are to be considered sinners by choice,
or merely failures of civilisation — there
can be no reasonable doubt that society
is largely responsible for the manufacture
of the vagrant class. Our methods of


dealing with them hitherto have been
inept and futile, and the encouragement
which has lately been given, in the form
of eleemosynary doles, to unemployed
and unemployable indiscriminately, has
tended to the demoralisation of thou-
sands, and converted them into hopeless
vagrants, llie secretary of the Church
Army describes a visit he paid recently
to the Thames Embankment, where his
own officers, and those of other philan-
thropic societies, were engaged in reliev-
ing the distress of the unemployed. The
Church Army offered immediate relief
in rest and food, together with a helping
hand to the gaining of permanent em-
ployment, to those who promised to do
a reasonable amount of work in return,
and to show their fitness for any special
efforts being made in their behalf. The
representatives of other societies offered
rest and food to all unconditionally, with
the result that some 1500 men accepted
their offer, while CO only accepted that
of the Church Army.


No better illustration could be given
of the manner in which paupers and
vagrants are manufactured by well-mean-
ing but misguided people. The loss of
industrial efficiency which is fostered in
Those who are out of work by this
method of treatment is appalling, and
it leads to a moral deterioration of
the individual that can only be com-
pared to that resulting from the drink
habit. ^^

Tramps and vagrants, casual ward
loafers, and the whole tribe of beggars,
are quite as impracticable in captivity
as they are when at large. They are
the despair of prison officials. The in-
corrigible rogue is a type of the species.
Accustomed to beg, or to make children ^
beg for him, he is incurably idle and lazy,
and apparently the most useless and
hopeless of mankind. He refuses to
work or keep his cell clean, he bathes
with great reluctance, and he can sit
for hours together in a state of dreamy
inactivity with his task of work staring



him in the face. Crank labour used to
be specially odious to him. He would
frequently spend a day trying to un-
screw the covering parts of the register-
ing machinery with a trousers button so
as to get at the indicator and move it
on. All his movements are slow, and
even his heart seems to beat at a jog-
trot kind of pace by which, I have often
thought, I could diagnose him with the
stethoscope. I remember one of them
who was ordered fifteen lashes, in addi-
tion to a sentence of nine months hard
labour, for a revolting attack on a child.
He told me when examining him that
he had been " tenderly nurtured," and
that he feared flogging would either
drive him mad or kill him. Strange to
say, however, he went through the ordeal
in quite an unexpected way, counting
the lashes himself in a loud voice, and
always keeping one ahead of the chief
warder — remarking at the end that
numbers seven and thirteen were the
worst. The haste he displayed in his


counting was the only sign of activity
he gave during his sentence.

The chronic fatigue of these offenders
in prison is strikingly illustrated by the
returns of offences, included under the
heading of idleness, for which the vagrant
class is mainly responsible. The total
number of these offences in the local
prisons in 1908-9 was 17,448 males,
and only 92 females. The increase for
the year in the number of vagrants re-
ceived was 4178, and the increase in
offences for idleness was 1360.

Incidentally the figures show that
men in prison are much more idle than
women — a conclusion which quite coin-
cides with my experience at Holloway,
where reports for idleness were very
rare, more especially amongst those who
worked in association and took an in-
terest in their employment. IVIany of
these women turned out an amount of
work that much exceeded any task that
was likely to be set for them by the
prison authorities. I find that out of a


total number of 12,539 females received
at Holloway in 1908-9 there were
only 22 cases of report for idleness — a
sufficiently conclusive indication of all-
round activity and willingness to work
on the part of these women. It may
be observed in this connection that
offences against the Poor Law Acts and
under the Vagrancy Acts — if begging
be excepted — are not common amongst

Amongst these local prison habitual
oflfehders there are many who are of
such a low intellectual and moral type
that they are in many respects irre-
sponsible and practically on the border-
land of insanity. This class of habituals
supplies the main part of that three to
four per cent, of weak-minded persons
who are found in the prison_^iopula,tionr
The care and management of them under
the conditions of a sentence of imprison-
ment are a source of much trouble to the
prison authorities. They are for many
reasons unfit for isolation in cells. They


object to a regular task of work, refuse
to keep their cells or persons clean ; they
cannot be induced to arrange cell furni-
ture in the uniform fashion prescribed
by the rules, and they are much given
to whistling, shouting, and singing in
their solitude, so as to disturb the quiet
of the prison, and provoke other prisoners
to imitate their example. They are very
impatient under, if not wholly insuscep-
tible of, penal discipline, and constantly
incur reports for breaches of the rules,
and become proteges of the medical
officer who has to screen them from
punishment. There are several epi-
leptics, and there are besides, many
aged and infirm, who are in the early
stage of senile dementia, as well as
youths who are congenitally deficient in
intellect, and whose chief education has
been in criminal habits.

The general practice in large prisons
is to place them in gated cells with an
officer patrolling to keep them in order,
or to have them in an association ward


under the care of an officer who, by tact
and patience, tries to bring them into
Hne, and extract from their combined
energy a Uttle hght work with clean and
tidy surroundings. Many are quick in
temper, and they quarrel with tongue
and fist in an instant, often before the
officer can intervene. They have as a
matter of course a choice selection of
bad language which it is impossible to
keep in check.

Many, too, have physical defects and
bodily deformities which unfit them for
work. Out of prison they live by thiev-
ing and begging, and they are constantly
returning with short sentences for petty
offences. Some are the dupes of more
knowing thieves, and find their way into
convict prisons, others eventually get
into lunatic asylums, but many remain
on the border land, and never satisfy the
legal requirements or tests of insanity.
The excuses they give for misconduct are
sometimes amusing. One man assaults
another because he does not " like the


looks of him." Another, reported for
singing while at work in the ward,
says he was " only 'umming ' 'Twas in
Trafalgar's Bay,' because the man next
him had only one eye and one arm, and
reminded him of the death of Nelson."

The practice which is followed up to
the present day of dealing with weak-
minded offenders is as irrational as it is
discreditable to our penal system. For
more than twenty years the prison
authorities have been calling attention
to the anomaly and the evil of sending
them to prison at all. It should be
patent to every one that mental de-
fectives, who drift into criminal habits
in their struggle for existence from slieer
lack of a sense of moral responsibility
and of self-control, are unfit subjects for
any form of penal discipline, and that a
penal establishment is no place for them.
The law nevertheless consigns them to
prison, where they are contaminated by
intercourse with other offenders, and
where, too, they have ample oppor-


tunities for contaminating each other.
Further, the system of inflicting short
sentences on them for repeated offences,
entaihng, as it does, brief periods of
freedom during which they prey on the
pubhc, is from an economic point of
view, the most costly and extravagant
that could be devised. Add to the
plundering of the public the cost in-
volved in the constant repetition of
arresting, charging, and conveying to
prison a host of these habituals, and it
will be found that every year thousands
of pounds are lost without the slightest
resulting benefit either to the public or
to the prisoner. No legislation has yet
been attempted for this crying evil,
although it is evident to all criminolo-
gists that some kind of permanent con-
trol is urgently needed for so dangerous
a class.

The Royal Commission which has
recently reported on the care and con-
trol of the feeble-minded, recommends
that feeble-minded persons undergoing


imprisonment may be transferred, after
certification, to the care of the local
authority for treatment in an appro-
priate institution. When this, and other
suggestions of the Commissioners for
deahng with feeble-minded children are
carried out, it is hoped that these
habitual offenders will at last be dealt
with on more humane and scientific

Another large contingent of habituals
is furnished by the drunkards who abound
in local prisons, and far outnumber any
other class of offenders. In 1908-9 the
committals for " simple drunkenness "
and " drunkenness with aggravations "
were close on 03,000, or about one-third
of the total committals from ordinary
courts ; and, altliough there were many
occasional drunkards included in these
figiu'cs, the greater proportion had had
previous convictions for the same offence.
These occasional and chronic drunkards
often seem out of place in prison, and
out of touch with their fellow prisoners.


If they have been drinking freely before
reception they may develop an attack
of delirium tremens, but more frequently
they are morbidly irritable, morose, and
intractable for a few days, although at
other times perfectly amenable to dis-
cipline. Awarders say they are not quite
sober, but it is seldom prisoners are re-
ceived actually drunk. Remorse at the
position in which they find themselves
may have something to do with their
condition. At all events allowance has
to be made for their morbid state during
the first few days of their sentence, or
otherwise they would be driven into
outbursts of violence. Women, in this
stage of their cups, are utterly unreason-
able and unmanageable unless they are
severely let alone, and allowed to sleep

However quarrelsome and dangerous
this class may be when intoxicated, they
are for the most part quite harmless, if
not amiable, characters in prison when
in their sober senses. Their enormous


numbers go to swell the statistics of
crrrneT^and yet they are not really of
criminal habit, nor are they criminals by
any means to their own thinking. If
you inquire of them whether they have
ever been in prison before, they say " yes,
but for nothing wrong." Noblesse oblige.
They will freely plead guilty to " a drop of jio/^

drink." or " a few words with the missus," f /. ,

•> 'J'

or " a bit of a scrap with a policeman,"
or to any other equivalent euphemism f^vi C^ / 1
for a violent assault, but not to anything /• «'-^

so disgraceful as thieving, while they
distinctly imply that their misfortune
is~~dTiU'to a mixture of sociability and
frailty rather than to criminality. It
must be admitted that this estimate of
themselves and their conduct, which,
by the way, they have held from time
immemorial, is not inconsistent with
scientific theory on the subject of ine-
briety. This theory admits a diminished
responsibility on the part of the habitual
drunkard, and traces inebriety to con-
stitutional peculiarity, depending, as it


does in many cases, on qualities with
which a person is born, although it may
be also acquired by vicious indulgence.
For this reason reformatory treatment
is recommended for inebriates in pre-
ference to imprisonment. Persons who
are born with the constitutional pecu-
liarity of becoming intoxicated by the
use of alcohol before they reach the
stage of satiety, and who have not
sufficient will power or self-control to
cease drinking before intoxication, would
seem to be really helpless in face of
temptation. Drunkards of the occasional
or convivial type, who are supposed to
have this will power if they care to exert
it, are more accountable beings, and more
fit for prison treatment, but even in their
case a continuance of the periodic indul-
gence eventually leads to a confirmed
habit, so as to drive them into the
irresponsible, or partially irresponsible,

The Inebriates Act of 1898 was de-
signed to rid prisons of these habitual


drunkards who were continually return-
ing to prison with short sentences that
had no effect whatever in either reform-
ing or deterring them. Unfortunately
tlie Act has proved a failure in working,
partly from administrative difficulties,
partly from a certain tenderness for the
liberty of the subject, but mainly because
no proper machinery was devised for
carrying out the provisions of the Act.
No obligation was placed on any authority
to provide accommodation or mainten-
ance for inebriates committed to refor-
matories During the first two years
of the working of the Act there was
no State Reformatory in existence, and
recently disputes have arisen between
the State and Local Authorities on the
cost of maintenance, with the result
that there is a regular deadlock in the
working of the Act all over the country,
and prisons still swarm with these un-
happy victims, many of whom in the
early stage of their career, and not

yet at the parting of tlie ways, are



quite capable of being cured under
proper conditions, and by suitable refor-
matory treatment. Unfortunately, how-
ever, owing to the way in which the Act
has been worked, these are the very
persons who have hitherto derived no
benefit whatever from it. So reluctant
have the Courts been to deprive these
offenders of their liberty for the long
periods necessary for cure, that up to
the present only the very worst, and
most confirmed cases of inebriety, which
are practically hopeless as regards cure,
have been remitted to the reformatories.
Most of these have been sent for the
full statutory period of three years, and
have, on discharge, promptly returned
to their former habits, so as to give rise
to the impression that the Act is useless.
Meantime prison authorities witness the
process going on merrily under their
eyes every day of occasionals being trans-
formed into habituals, while the old
habituals flock back to prison just as

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Online LibraryRichard Frith QuintonCrime and criminals, 1876-1910 → online text (page 5 of 11)