Criminal Sociology. Enrico Ferri 1905


1. Desjardins, in the Introduction to his “Cahiers des Etats Generaux en 1789 et la Legislation Criminelle,” Paris, 1883, gives a good description of the state of public opinion in that age. He speaks also of the charges which were brought against the advocates of the new doctrines concerning crime, that they upset the moral and social order of things. Nowadays, charges against the experimental school are cited from these same advocates; for the revolutionary of yesterday is very often the conservative of to-day.

2. Vol. ii. of the fourth edition of “The Criminal” (1889) is specially concerned with the epileptic and idiotic criminal (referred to alcoholism, hysteria, mattoidism) whether occasional or subject to violent impulse; whilst vol. i. is concerned only with congenital criminality and moral insanity.

3. In a discussion at the Medico-Psychological Society of Paris; “Proceedings” for 1881, i. 93, 266, 280, 483.

4. A recent example of this infatuation amongst one-sided, and therefore ineffectual critics is the work of Colajanni, “Socialism and Criminal Sociology,” Catania, 1889. In the first volume, which is devoted to criminal anthropology, out of four hundred pages of argumentative criticism (which does not prevent the author from taking our most fundamental conclusions on the anthropological classification of criminals, and on crime, as phenomena of psychical atavism), there are only six pages, 227- 232, for the criticism of psychological types.

5. Starke, “Verbrechen und Verbrecher in Preussen,” Berlin, 1884, p. 92.

6. Moreau, “Souvenirs de la petite et grande Roquette,” Paris, 1884, ii. 440.

7. Wayland, “The Incorrigible,” in the Journal of Mental Science, 1888. Sichart, “Criminal Incorrigibles.”

8. Fliche, “Comment en devient Criminel,” Paris, 1886.

9. Quarterly Review, 1871, “The London Police.”

10. Thomson, “The Psychology of Criminals,” Journal of Mental Science, 1870.

10. Starke, “Verbrechen und Verbrecher,” Berlin, 1884, p. 229.

11. For instance, I will recall a fact which Morel has related of himself, how one day, as he was crossing a bridge in Paris, he saw a working-man gazing into the water, and a homicidal idea flashed across his mind, so that he had to hurry away, for fear of yielding to the temptation to throw the man into the water. Again, there is the case of Humboldt’s nurse, who was attacked one day by the temptation to kill her charge, and ran with him to his mother in order to avoid a disaster. Brierre de Boismont also tells us of a learned man who, at the sight of a picture in a public gallery, was tempted to cut the canvas, and ran away from his impulse to crime.

12. Bentham, in his “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,” enumerates the following circumstances as necessary to be considered in legislation:–temperament, health, strength, physical imperfections, culture, intellectual faculties, strength of mind, dispositions, ideas of honour and religion, feelings of sympathy and antipathy, insanity, economic conditions, sex, age, social status, education, profession, climate, race, government, religious profession.

13. There is, however, some difference between the manifestation of the activity of a group of men and that of the aggregate society. Between psychology which studies the individual, and sociology which studies the society, I think there is room for a collective psychology, to study more or less defined groups. The phenomena of these groups are analogous, but not identical with those of the sociological body properly so called, according as the union is more or less definite. Collective psychology has its field of observation in all unions, however occasional, such as the public street, the markets, workshops, theatres meetings, assemblies, colleges, schools, barracks, prisons, and so forth. Many practical applications of the data of collective psychology might be given. An example will be found in a future chapter, when I come to consider the psychology of the jury.

14. Coiners and forgers of notes constitute .09 per cent. of the total of condemned persons in France, and .04 per cent. in Belgium; but they reach .4 per cent. in Italy, on account of the greater circulation of banknotes.

15. No doubt there may be a difference of opinion on this subject in France, where public opinion is too much exercised over the problem of depopulation. I agree with M. Varigny (“La Theorie du Nombre,” Revue des Deux Mondes, Dec. 15, 1890) that the population of a country is not the sole, or even the principal consideration. Apart from physical characteristics (race), intellectual and moral qualities, and the productiveness of the soil on which M. Varigny dwells, we must take into account, as it seems to me, the unquestionable law by virtue of which the struggle for existence, amongst individuals as amongst nations, becomes gradually less vehement and direct. War, which is an everyday matter with savages, grows constantly more rare and difficult. The varying social and international conscience of civilised humanity is not to be neglected, and it must be reckoned with as a positive factor in considering the destiny of nations. Men continue to speak of the perils of war (in which numbers stand for a great deal, but are not the exclusive element) as though the social conscience of our own day were still the same as that of the Middle Ages. In several respects, on the other hand, the thinner population of France is one cause of its wealth, and therefore of its power. Germany has a more numerous, but also a poorer population. And I do not believe that the actual power of nations, on which their future depends, consists in loading a people with arms after enfeebling it by military expenditure, which from the year 1880 has indicated a distinct epidemic mania on the continent of Europe.

16. It is interesting to observe that Carrara, in spite of his public advocacy of the jury, wrote in a private letter in 1870 (published on the unveiling of his monument at Lucca):–“I expressed my opinion as to the jury in 1841, in an article published in the Annals of Tuscan Jurisprudence–namely, that criminal justice was becoming a lottery. Justice is being deprived of her scales and provided with a dice-box. This seems to me to be the capital defect of the jury. All other defects might be eliminated by a good law, but this one is inseparable from the jury. . . . Even amongst magistrates we may find the harsh and the clement; but in the main they judge according to legal argument, and one can always more or less foresee the issue of a trial. But with juries all forecast is rash and deceptive. They decide by sentiment; and what is there more vague and fickle than sentiment. . . . With juries, craft is more serviceable to an advocate than knowledge. I once had to defend a husband who had killed his wife’s lover in a cafe. I challenged the bachelors on the jury, and accepted the married men. After that, I was sure of success, and I succeeded. . . . This is the real essential vice of the jury, which no legislative measure could overcome.”

17. In Dublin, for the trial of the murderers of Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish, in 1883, the empanelling of the jury was very difficult, for nobody was willing to expose himself to the vengeance of the fanatics.

18. The actual state of the law in Europe, so far as regards the jury for common crimes and offences, is as follows:–England, Scotland, Ireland, and Switzerland have the jury for assizes and courts of first instance. France, Italy, Cisleithan Austria, Istria, Dalmatia, Rhenish Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine, Bavaria, Bohemia, Gallicia, Belgium, Roumania, Greece, Portugal, Russia, and Malta, have the criminal jury only. Spain had suspended it, but restored it in 1888. Prussia, Saxony, Baden, Wurtemberg, have the criminal jury and echevins (bodies of citizens sitting with the judges) for correctional and police cases. Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, have the echevins. Holland, Norway, Hungary, Slavonia, Poland, Servia, and Turkey, have neither juries nor echevins.

19. As regards recidivism and the enormous numbers tried, England is in as bad a position as Italy and France. See my articles in Nineteenth Century, 1892, and Fortnightly Review, 1894.–ED.

20. Proceedings, i. 138-70, 551-7, 561-3. Now and then, however, a prison expert of more positive tendencies maintains “the very great use, or rather the scientific necessity, of the classification of prisoners as a basis for the punitive and prison system” (Beltrani Scalia.)

21. M. Lunier, writing in 1881 of epileptics, and the method of treatment and aid appropriate to them, says that of 33,000 known epileptics in France, 5,200 only are in private or public asylums, whilst 28,000 remain with their families. From these figures it would appear very probable that these 28,000 epileptics left at liberty commit crimes and offences.

22. In every case I think that executions should take place in prison, and by means of a poison administered as soon as the sentence takes effect. In North America electricity has been tried, but executions by this process appear to be as horrible and repulsive as those by the guillotine, the garotte, the scaffold, or the rifle. (See the Medico-Legal Journal of New York, March and September, 1889.) From the “Summarised Information on Capital Punishment,” published by the Howard Association in 1881, I take the following figures on capital punishment in Europe and America:–

23. Yet the question whether the cellular system should be modified in accordance with the nationality, social condition, and sex of criminals, which has not been brought forward since the Prison Congress at Stockholm, was there decided by the following resolution:–“The cellular system, where it is in operation, may be applied without distinction of race, social condition (as regards townsmen or rural population), or sex, provided that the authorities have regard to these special conditions in matters of detail. Exception may be made in respect of the young, and if cellular discipline is applied to them also, it should be in such a way as not to prejudice their physical and moral development.” (“Proceedings,” 1878, pp. 303, 617.)

24. Even prison experts have been concerned by the vast expense of the cellular system, and the following question was brought forward at the Congress at Rome:–“What modifications would be possible, in accordance with recent experience, in the construction of cellular prisons so as to render it more simple and less costly, without detriment to the necessary conditions of a sound and intelligent application of the system?” Detailed recommendations were agreed to on the motion of M. Herbette; but the system is unchanged, with requirements which can be only very slightly reduced.