From Nineteenth Century, December 1894, p.875-889.
Transcribed by Ted Crawfrd.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
To ‘begin at the beginning’ of the subject of criminal and reformation, the length of the sentences inflicted upon prisoners comes up for first consideration. There has been some improvement in recent years (except in political cases of treason-felony) in the matter shortening terms of imprisonment. Much praise is due to Mr. Recorder Hopwood, M.P., for his courageous example in this respect. It may be that in some instances there has been a tendency to make a breach of the law appear a trivial matter by the infliction of a mere nominal penalty, but law tempered with enlightened mercy is certain to earn more respect from the casual criminal classes in the end than law garbed in vindictiveness and enforced sentences of vengeful length. To give a man twenty-four hours for a drunken assault or other street row may be erring on the side of leniency, but to inflict the savage punishment of five years’ penal servitude upon criminal for stealing a few pounds’ worth of property is a far greater outrage of justice. Seven years for attempting to rob a safe compared with three months for battering in a woman’s face is an illustration of how more precious property is in the eye of the law than ‘the human form divine.’ I am convinced that if the judges of the land could form an accurate conception of all that has to be endured in a sentence of penal servitude, there would be an end to the truly monstrous sentences of ten, fifteen, and twenty years for offences against property. There is scarcely a crime known to our age of civilisation, short of that of murder, which ought not to be expiated in a sentence of seven years of this scientific system of refined torture. Incorrigible criminality demands special consideration, though even with re-convicted criminals it is a question whether long sentences are the best remedy. It is certain that deterrence has not been finally secured beyond the length of sentence by means of prolonged detention. Special treatment rather than long imprisonment is what the grave evil of recidivism requires. The indeterminate sentence would afford the best possible incentive to reformatory conduct in all prisoners not hopelessly criminal. Under the existing system good conduct offers little, if any, test of the influences for moral reform which punitive justice exercises upon criminal character. The ‘model’ prisoner as the ‘old lag,’ the experienced thief and rogue, who knows the rules better than the governor; who can quote Scripture with the chaplain; who has no repugnances of feeling religious, moral, or personal – in a word, would no more commit a breach of the rules knowingly than he would throw away his dinner. This is the gentleman who manages by exemplary behaviour to save himself from tasks of labour requiring much physical exertion imposing upon the prison doctor, and who succeeds ultimately in getting a berth in the bakehouse or kitchen, or similar ‘billet,’ reserved for well-conducted convicts. For hopeless cases of this kind there ought to be a severe, but not a vindictive sentence; with no remission for observance of rules, with no berths or billets in any stage of the sentence, but an increased gratuity on discharge for performance of some useful work-task in labour association with men of his class.
The indeterminate sentence, with release on parole on the recommendation of governor, chaplain, and prison doctor for first timers in penal servitude, coupled with the forfeiture of privileges if again re-convicted, would be calculated to encourage greater reformation than the present plan of remission by marks followed by ticket of leave. But I fear such a proposed change in the treatment of criminals is not likely to find much support with the authorities of our time. The will come, however, when a more humane and more enlightened will discover that imprisonment based upon industrialism, and tempered with a human sympathy that shall be guided by a deeper knowledge of comparative criminality, will be made more effective for reformatory ends than the dehumanising system which at present obtains. Meantime shorter sentences all worked out; with rational classification; with freedom to speak when at work and at Sunday exercise; with the of a pipe of tobacco or some equivalent relaxation on for all whose conduct was deserving of this ‘luxury’ on attaining third class; better food in late of the sentence, and a few pounds more on discharge – these are which, if carried out, would remove from the existing heartless, speechless, unnatural plan of sterile treatment the reproach of cruelty and failure.
The ticket of leave is, in most instances, only a means to compel the unfortunate ex-prisoner to give facilities to the police to throw obstacles in the way of obtaining honest employment. These obstacles may not be intentionally created the police. In Some cases the reporting of the ex-convict may enable those whose duty it is to keep an eye upon his movements to prevent a hopeless thief from palming himself off for purposes of theft upon some unsuspecting employer. In a very large number of cases, however it means that men who have been in a convict prison, once, and who may have found their way there owing to untoward circumstances, intemperance, or temptation and not through calculated crime, are prevented by this police surveillance from obtaining fair play in their endeavour to throw off all trace and suspicion of their past crime and prison experience. Where the ticket; saves, one employer from the risk of harbouring an old gaol-bird in the guise of an honest worker, it prevents twenty men who may be honestly bent upon better ways from obtaining the which would make them independent of criminal practices.
The substitution of short sentences for long terms on the marks and ‘ticket’ system would likewise be more economical. The average cost of a convict’s detention is about £30 a year. Surveillance over ticket-of-leave men costs the State more money. Reducing sentences and abolishing the need for this extra police duty would represent a considerable saving in the administration of prisons even after providing for the extra gratuities on discharge and the better food and few small luxuries which are recommended as a strong and far more humane inducement to reform during imprisonment than the plan of unnatural silence, semi-starvation, and animal-like submission which is the essence of Sir Edmund Du Cane’s plan of reclaiming erring men from crime.
The classification of prisoners in convict prisons is regulated more for mere routine reasons than for reformatory ends. The custom has prevailed of locating men in accordance with the time they have served, or the re1igious creed which they profess rather than for any other intelligible purpose; and so the custom continues to obtain. For instance, an incorrigible pickpocket, a young offender (having one or two county gaol records against him) a country labourer sentenced for some crime for the first time perhaps, a man-beast convicted for some unnatural offence, a clerk who has committed forgery through the evil influences of horse-betting or stock-gambling, and a noted cracksman of a burglar may all be tried and sentenced together, and, if the examining doctor, during probation, so decides, may all go from separate confinement together to a public works prison. Assuming, still, that these six convicts are able-bodied, they may not alone be located together in the same part of their new quarters, but they may also work together at whatever daily occupation it may please the prison authority to put them to. This is the kind of classification which obtained during my nine years’ experience of Mr Edmund Du Cane’s penal system. It may not be in vogue any longer. Possibly a change in a rational and reformatory direction has been made since I left Portland in 1882. I hope so. There is no common-sense reason why there should not be a classification according to the general character of the crimes committed and the number of convictions recorded. Young could be located apart from old offenders; first from second and third timers; confirmed, hopeless recidivists be away from all of whom some chance or hope of amendment might reasonably be entertained, while similar rule should govern the detention of those prisoners whose crimes will not bear description. A classification of this kind ought to make for, rather than tell against, the interests of prison discipline. Rival criminal ‘ambitions,’ the conflict of ingrained criminality with inexperience in crime, the boasting of old hands over the little ‘fame’ achieved by ‘gouks’ (country simpletons), and various other antagonising influences are at work, under promiscuous classification, to provoke breaches of the rules every day. The better arrangement for reformatory purposes would also tend to serve the ends of disciplinary regulations; and if the only argument against such a change is that it would disturb the routine plans which have been adhered to under existing rules, it is a ridiculously weak and insufficient objection to a proposed change which appeals for approval to both experience and common sense.
The method which the evils of association among prisoners have been sought to be remedied under the present system is nothing short of barbarous. Perhaps I ought not imply a censure by comparison upon uncivilised peoples by the term ‘barbarous.’ ‘Inhuman’ will more accurately describe the practice of prohibiting speech among prisoners throughout their entire sentence, long or short. By what authority Sir Edmund Du Cane has been empowered to add this unnatural punishment to that which the law has inflicted I know not. Possibly there is some wide latitude allowed to the central prison authority in the measuring out of punishment to criminals under its charge, and that it was under this discretionary power this plan of needless torture was added by this head official to all the other pains and penalties of imprisonment. Be that as it may, there is no earthly justification for this extra suffering and humiliation, unless it be found in a desire to add the element of vindictiveness to the long category of prison hardships embraced in a sentence of penal servitude.
The penalising of speech begets seventy or eighty per cent. of prison offences, but produces absolutely nothing of a counterbalancing reformatory or moral effect which could not be better obtained by more humane and rational regulations, No prisoner is so depraved by crime as to feel that there is any the least moral or legal warrant for depriving him of the right to say ‘good morning’ to a fellow unfortunate. Liberty, he will admit, he has lost through his crime; the right to inflict the ordinary degradation of convict life upon him he will concede, with a protest against length of sentence or harshness of treatment; but not all the reasoning in the world can obtain from him the admission that the judge who sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment meant to include in that terrible penalty the deprivation of the right to speak to his companions in misfortune during the whole of that period. Nor will all the terrors of bread and water and punishment cells stop him from trying to exercise this natural right. Here, then, we have a fruitful source of disorder germinated by a rule as fruitless of good as it is inhuman in nature and purpose. Nay it can be truly said that this infliction of the dumb torture must inevitably keep alive all the propensities to trickery, deception, and subterfuge which are the most prominent features of criminal character. These cunning faculties are in hourly exercise throughout long and short sentences by the very rule which was instituted with the object of keeping them in check! Surely this is, to say the least, ‘how not to do’ the work of moral reform in the prison treatment of the criminal classes. To argue, as the apologists of this cruel rule do, that it only adds to the other penalties of an imprisonment which is society’s retaliatory measure for crime, and that it tends to deter those who have to undergo this experience from repeating their offences, is to make a fur stronger case for the reinstitution of the rack and the ‘alderman’s daughter’ than for our less brutal but far more refined system of mental torture.
To what extent a real reformation of criminals can be hoped for from the legal chastisement of penal servitude is a wide question. We could only arrive at a more or less accurate conclusion on this point if the social, industrial, and educational condition of the classes from which criminals are recruited had remained what they were, say, when a sheep-stealer was hanged for appropriating forty or shillings’ worth of mutton, or when a woman was burned in Newgate so late as a hundred years or so ago for passing counterfeit coin. Severity of punishment did not erect a successful barrier against crime in those times, nor does it do so now, nor will it ever do so, There is but one kind of criminal in these countries who is prevented from committing the most heinous of all crimes the fear of the particular penalty attached to murder, and that is the ‘bouncing bruiser,’ a compound of Bill Sykes and a prowling thief, who would kill the policeman who arrests him, or the unfortunate woman upon whom he lives, if it were not for the fear of being hanged. This type of civilised savage seldom or never commits murder. It rarely happens that other habitual criminals do either. But they will not be deterred by sentences long or short, few or many, from indulging in their criminal propensities wherever or whenever they see a chance of so doing; and it is the kind of treatment which this class of irreclaimable thief merit when they land themselves within the penal realm in which Sir Edmund Du Cane holds absolute sway that is made to determine the extra punishments, deprivations, and disciplinary regulations that are meted out to every other class of prisoner, Instead of putting these and kindred perverted creatures in a prison themselves, or in a separate wing of a prison, apart from those less inoculated with criminality, they are scattered among all kinds of convicts, who are thus made to suffer the added penalties which the central prison authorities deem it necessary to inflict upon the very worst type of criminal.
Separate cellular sleeping accommodation is about the only part with which there is an all-round agreement among upholders and critics of imprisonment as it is now carried on. It is charged against the London county gaols that the number of prisoners therein incarcerated frequently overtops the number of cells in such prisons. This, if true, is a grave evil, as the practice of placing two or more prisoners in the same sleeping cell is reprehensible in every way. The objection to association at night ought not, however, to obtain in the matter of daily labour. Given always a suitable classification of prisoners, according to crime and the number of convictions, and the question of convicts working out their daily labour tasks in company, under proper supervision, not to be subject for objection on the ground of possible contamination. The objection to association in work-tasks is carrying the idea of isolation to ridiculous and to inhuman lengths. To shut men up in pen-like cells, where they are doomed to sleep and eat, and work, with one or two hours’ open-air exercise each day is simply reducing them to the level of untamed beasts. As a system of mere punishment, apart from all other considerations, it leaves nothing to be desired. It tramples upon every instinct and inclination of human nature, and every faculty by which man is distinguished from a tiger or a dog. To speak, sing whistle or walk; to attempt to ornament the cell; to offer to, or take from, a neighbour an ounce of bread; to exchange a book; to possess a needle or a pin; to stitch a button upon a garment without permission; to look out of the cell-window into the prison-yard; to protest against bad or lightweight food: to refuse to strip naked whenever the warder requires this to be done for the purpose of searching the prisoner – all this with a hundred other nameless, irritating, ceaseless, mind-killing worries and degradations, is what separate cellular life and work means to a prisoner undergoing ‘reformation’ by the Du Cane plan. How in the name of all that is rational can men be reclaimed by means which are directly meant to deaden everyone of the common, not to of the higher, qualities of man? As a method of punishment I grant it goes far. How much further it could be made to go in the way of making sentences more savage and vindictive it would be difficult to say. But, if imprisonment is intended to reform as well as to punish, the advocates of this system of complete isolation are unconsciously upholding a plan which deters by incarceration only, but which buys this strictly limited deterrence at the price of re-conviction and insanity to the extent testified to in each year’s report of our prison administration.
The one remedy which will combine the essential ends of reform and punishment is Industrialism – work, not of the abasing, but of the useful kind; productive labour, instead of treadmills, ‘wind-sawing’, and oakum-picking. Mere mechanical ‘work’ such as walking a treadmill, turning a crank, or separating strands of tar-rope, gives no occupation to the mind, engages no moral or mental faculty that will help the prisoner to take his thoughts away from present surroundings or evil reminiscences. It is the animal-like brooding of men of limited intellect, incapable of enjoying any of the higher pleasures of the imagination, which stereotypes habits of animalism and criminal disposition, and makes the twenty minutes morning religious discourse and the chaplain’s casual visit to the convict cell as ineffective in promoting true moral reformation in the prisoner as to attempt to sweeten the water of the Thames by dropping a basketful of lime over London Bridge once a day. If on the other hand a prisoner’s daily task were to consist of some rational occupation – engaged at or learning some remunerative work; doing something of same value to himself or to the State; ‘something attempted something done’ every twenty four hours, in the way of producing articles of value, or making some ornament or toy – there would be a far different soil for the labours of the chaplain and schoolmaster, and far greater moral results to show at the end of a sentence of imprisonment.
One of the favourite objections against allowing remunerative employment to prisoners is that the Trade Unions have frequently protested against it. I think such opposition arises more from mere prejudice than from any more substantial ground for a grievance. The amount of trade that could be diverted from outside industry by a few thousand convicts and casual prisoners in county goals – assuming that all these would be employed in regular trade occupations – would be very trifling. Probably not 20 per cent. of such prisoners would actually compete with, say, shoemakers, tailors or mat-makers in their respective crafts, while the influence of parliament could easily be invoked at any time by Trade Unionist M.P.’s to prevent anything like unfair competition between the produce of prison labour and that of Trade-Union industry. In places like Dartmoor most of the prison labour can be devoted to land reclamation: while Portland and one or two other convict depots have industries peculiar to the place, which in no way interfere with the interests of liberty labour. The objection would tell more against county than against convict prisons, but even among the larger casual population of the latter there could be no real rivalry that could justify this narrow-minded opposition.
We are all only too familiar with articles marked ‘Made in Germany’ or other Continental countries, The demand for these is increasing rather than diminishing. Almost all the children’s toys sold in Dublin are made, I am told, in villages along the Rhine. Doubtless it is the same with respect to a large percentage of similar goods in demand throughout Great Britain. These are articles which could easily be made in British and Irish prisons by prisoners who are now engaged in turning treadmills, cranks, and similar useless, demoralising ‘work.’ There could not well be much objection on the part of Trade Unionist bodies to the giving of such useful labour to prisons as would offer only a minimum of competitive opposition to those workers who are fortunate enough not to know what an amount of mental suffering is involved in months of silent, detestable ‘labour’ punishment. Anyhow a short-sighted, prejudiced opposition, having little, if any, substantial ground to go upon, ought not to be permitted to place obstacles in the way of substituting rational work for the methods now of making work in prison hateful to those who are expected to resort to industry instead of crime when once again restored to the outside world. A too selfish policy is frequently an unwise one, and it does not look creditable to Trade Unionism to show hostility to such humane regulations of imprisonment as those in question at a time when all parties, persons, and papers are expected to join in obtaining justice and considerate treatment for all who toil and spin in the freedom of organised industry.
No amount of comparison between the present and the old, or pre-Howard system of prison punishment can justify such inflictions as years of speechless existence, crank-winding, treadmills, and hundred methods of making life a burden, and labour detestable in forms which deprive industry of all reformative efficacy. The system of punishment by ‘labour’ which produces nothing is, of course, more in vogue in county than in convict prisons, and more related to short than to long sentences. Still, this is no rational ground for its adoption as a part of what is meant to be a reformatory treatment of criminals. Anything which makes labour hateful can never become an effective means of reforming men belonging to the working classes. It is the violation of one, if not the first, of nature’s laws. Labour we know to be corrective of many moral, and of not a few physical ills. Productive labour teaches, as well, lessons of self-dependence, which would surely be of use in the task of curing young offenders of the moral evils which non-industrial lives have begotten. But it seems to the prison authorities to ignore all this, or most of it, in their treatment of offenders, young and old, by making manual labour a chief instrument of the most degrading form of punishment – ‘sawing the wind,’ as it is not inappropriately called in prison slang.
This ignorance – or shall I say defiance? – of the teaching of natural laws in the treatment of prisoners is only equalled by the, to me, unintelligible blindness with which the most notorious dispositions of habitual criminals are ignored the prison authorities in repeating the one unchangeable method of treatment in these cases. An old gaol-bird’s punishment grows less severe in proportion to the number of sentences which he undergoes, This is, unconsciously, a humane arrangement, paradoxical as it appears. He gets accustomed to the nature of the thing. He ‘knows the ropes,’ as the saying is, and fares much better on this account on his third or fourth sentence than does the first-timer, who has to face and endure a completely reversed rule of human existence. There is nothing in the meaning of the term penal servitude which the irreclaimable thief dreads so much as real manual labour, requiring average physical exertion. A spade or a barrow, a pick-axe or a cart-collar, has the same effect upon the habitual criminal’s mind, nerves, and irnagination as a similar means of earning a in the outside world would have upon the pride or caste of an aristocrat. He will malinger in order to escape ‘hard graft.’ He will swallow pieces of ground glass, so as to spit blood; put bits of copper wire in his flesh, to provoke dangerous inflammation; sham madness, and resort to scores of other devices in order to save himself from the dreadful infliction of a barrow or a spade. Crank-tasks he does not mind half as much as rational labour, and yet it is to indulge this perverted creature’s ingrained objections to ‘blooming work’ that punishment by irrational, useless, demoralising treadmills and wind-sawing has been developed to such ‘perfection’ under the Du Cane dispensation.
The recidivist is also the pet of the nine months’ separate silent cell practice in the probationary period of penal servitude. He is the one man in prison who cares least about it. There is no ‘hard graft’ associated with this part of the sentence. Oakum-picking is an art in which he is a past master. He gets through his regulation daily quantity in one-fourth the time occupied by the less first offender. Comparative idleness is the ideal life of the old-timer, and the trivial or useless tasks of the separate cell, which represent the most unbearable form of punishment to the prisoner who has done some kind of work for a living outside, are the merest pastime to the re-sentenced thief. Yet it is in the expectation of reclaiming this type of criminal by the ministrations of the prison chaplain, in probationary separate cells, that dooms every other erring or unfortunate mortal who enters the portals of penal servitude to that of its penalty which induces most of the insanity and other mental maladies among prisoners – a dehumanising rule, which condemns a man to pass twenty-three out of twenty-four hours of the day during a period of nine months to the silence of a whitewashed cell, measuring seven or eight feet by twelve.
This part of penal servitude should either be totally abolished or so altered that the period passed in preparatory prisons should be divided between the commencement and the termination of the sentence. To send the habitual criminal away to a public works prison immediately after sentence (provided he has to perform real labour when he gets there) would be inflicting upon him, in his own estimation, the maximum amount of punishment and suffering that an unpropitious fate could possible afflict him with. In marked contrast to the old goal-bird’s indifference to cellular and fruitless labour is the first timer’s and young convict’s suffering this part of the sentence. The smallness of the cell, the absolute silence imposed, the penalties attaching to all movements of the body except those required to pick oakum or coir, the horrible mockery of the noises of liberty beyond the prison boundary: the eye torture of the four whitewashed walls, with their tomb-like atmosphere and embrace, the watchings and worryings of the warder, make up a daily endurance of mental and bodily suffering which no language can adequately describe. The champions of this mode of punishment have to admit that the larger number of the cases of insanity which occur during imprisonment are referable to ‘the early part of the sentence.’ In other words, separate cellular punishment induces madness, while there is no contra account of reformatory results to be shown for this pet part of the present of penal servitude. ‘It prevents contamination through intercourse.’ So would the amputation of the tongue or the infliction of the death sentence, only more so. Contamination can be prevented by rational classification. Separate the old from the young criminals, the professional thief from the offender who has given way to the suggestions of intemperate habits, the temptations of poverty, or the solicitation of ostentatiously displayed wealth, and every reformatory advantage claimed for cellular punishment can be reaped without the evils engendered through the mental and bodily sufferings of solitude.
It is urged, in defence of this probationary nine months’ close confinement that it ‘prepares’ the prisoner for his punishment in penal solitude, breaks his spirit, makes him docile and more manageable. I doubt whether it produces a single one (except to some extent, the first) of these results, any more than it works the boasted moral wonders which it was expected to beget though the facilities it is supposed to offer for the religious and other ministering cares that are believed to be lavished upon convicts passing through this probation. This nine months of separate cell punishment makes men more irritable injures health, and encourages mental disease. The religious teaching and schooling operations carried on during this period are more of a mockery than a reality. A visit once a. month from a chaplain, once a week from a schoolmaster, and occasionally by a Scripture-reader, together with an hour’s tuition each week for illiterate convicts, comprise (with twenty minutes of a religious service for all prisoners every morning) the whole of the spiritual and moral labours bestowed upon prisoners during probation. It is only just and fair to remark, in this connection that Catholic chaplains, though paid very much lower salaries than those of the Church of England, give more time and attention to prisoners under their ministrations, to which fact is due the circumstance that there are numerous ‘conversions,’ such as they are, from the Protestant to the Catholic faith on the part of certain classes of convicts.
A system of separate cell punishment, which would give the prisoner trade or useful employment with leave to ornament his cell, that would break the monotony of his solitude with visits every day from those who would really interest themselves in his reformation – visitors, for instance, like the Redemptorist Fathers who have daily access to the cells of many continental prisons, or select officers of the Salvation Army; visitors who would teach him some useful occupation, and give him daily proof of a kindly human interest in his moral reclamation and after-welfare – such a system could not fail in producing good results. But a treatment of this kind would be reverse of the present cruel and callous method of ‘preparing’ newly sentenced prisoner for the after-experience of penal servitude, and there is little, if any, hope of its finding approval with existing prison authority. Useful labour should be substituted for this useless waste of human energy after a month or two of preparatory punishment in separate confinement. If work will not reclaim all that is reclaimable in young offenders and casual criminals, no amount of unnatural punishment will. Work is the punishment which the hardened offender dreads most. It is the punishment which will be healthiest for the morals, mind, and body of those who are not hopelessly impregnated with criminal disposition. Work is more humane than the torture of comparative idleness in solitude, and more in keeping with the ends which an enlightened law should seek to serve through the infliction of its penalties for offences against society.
The existing prison system is altogether too centralised. Possibly the one to which Sir Edmund Du Cane’s regime is the successor may have erred in the opposite extreme. Local control however possessed features of flexibility and adaptiveness to which the system under discussion is an absolute stranger. There was independent inspection, more discretionary power rested with governors, far more humane regulations and treatment of prisoners obtained, while there was more local initiative and more of the civil element on prison staffs than in the case of the costly and elaborate substitute over which one official in London now presides. It is true, Sir Edmund Du Cane claims that the number of convicted criminals has decreased since centralised control superseded the of local administration. But is this diminution due to the efficacy of centralisation as a successful reformative and deterrent system, or to such external agencies as the spread of education, the increase in opportunities of employment among the poorer working classes, together with the operations of reformatory and industrial schools? It is unquestionably to these latter educational, social, and moral agencies that the credit of decreasing criminality belongs. Influences working for good the bounds of prison walls have lessened crime; but what effect has the new system of treating the inmates on the other side of these walls had upon the reformation of the criminal classes? This is, I think, is the fair way to test the success or failure of the Du Cane methods, and not by claiming for them the credit which belongs to the general progress of society towards a higher social and moral standard of citizenship in the individual. The question to which a straight answer is required is, whether the prevailing system has materially reduced the percentage of re-convictions, and upon the reply which unbiasssd facts and figures give to this question will, in the main, depend the verdict which the Commission now sitting will give for or against the demands for reform.
The growth or decline of recidivism is the standard by which a fair judgment can be come to in this matter, and in this respect the evidence against the present rule of prisons and treatment of prisoners is very strong. In the declining years of the old plan of local management the percentage of re-committals was under thirty-five, while during the past ten years of the present centralised it has been near fifty per cent. If this indictment can be sustained in the evidence which will be given before the Commission, there will be in this one fact alone an unanswerable argument for a change which will make for a reform back towards the old or more forward, towards a more effective system than either. When, however, the imperfect plan of identifying criminals has to be considered, the figure of fifty per cent. becomes manifestly an under-statement of the case against the Du Cane methods. It is now acknowledged all round that the Bertillon plan of identification would, if in operation, make it practically impossible for old offenders to escape from judge and jury as first-timers, as has happened frequently in the past. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to assert, that the percentage of recommitals has increased to at least thirty per cent, since the whole care of prisoners and control of the prisons of the country were made over to a practically irresponsible single official in London. ‘Shorter sentences’ may be blamed by upholders of this centralised rule for part of the increase of re-convictions, but the case against the system which includes sentences that are in reality outrageously long as part of its media in the work of deterrence will be found to be much stronger when the present inquiry brings forth the evidence on both sides.
One of the grounds on which a demand for reform is based is the too military character of the present prison administration. It is claimed that the faults and comparative failure of the existing centralised regime is due to military directors, military inspectors, military deputy-governors, and military warders, who have got hold of the entire corpus of this branch of civil administration. What particular qualification men trained in arms have for the unwarlike work of reforming criminals it is not easy to conjecture. These military men have many excellent qualities, no doubt, but these qualities would not suffice to make them, without training or experience, safe medical advisors, say, for people in need of a doctor’s skill and special knowledge. Why should they be deemed to be the best class of men to be found in society for the work of curing moral maladies? Personal qualifications which include education and character are not monopolised by colonels, captains and lieutenants. They are indispensable qualities, of course, for prison directors and governors but they are to be found in civilians also, and they stand the chance of being associated there with such training, experience and disposition as would render a non-military head of a prison a better administrator and a more broad-minded ruler of the criminals under his charge than a man of military ideas and training. Anyhow, the prison service forms so important a part of the general government of these countries that some special training for tasks so onerous, delicate and responsible ought to be part of any reform which the present Commission may recommend. Such a change has, I believe, been introduced in the prison administration of one or two continental countries. A demand for special fitness in prison officers of all grades will necessarily beget the best qualifications in men who will be induced to join such a service; and why should there not be such a trained qualification demanded for the highly responsible duties appertaining to the management of prisons and prisoners is simply incomprehensible.
Another change which would be sure to meet with public approval is that of independent inspection. At present the inspectors of prisons are appointed and paid by the head of the system. They are, of course, practically all soldiers. How can it be expected that men who look to Sir Edmund Du Cane as their chief will criticise, disparage or condemn the working of his administration? In fact the head of the system is virtually his own inspector; and were he ever so able and experienced a public servant, the power to sit in judgment upon himself in the management of the prisons of the country is carrying the principle of centralisation to lengths as ridiculous as they are unwise.
The changes which, in my judgment, would make for more reformation criminals and for the better management of prisons are:
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