MoboReader> Literature > Crime and Its Causes

   Chapter 6 CRIME IN RELATION TO SEX AND AGE.

Crime and Its Causes By William Douglas Morrison Characters: 37791

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In the present chapter we shall proceed to discuss the effect exercised by two characteristics of a distinctly personal nature in the production of crime, namely, age and sex.

As sex is the most fundamental of all human distinctions we shall begin by considering the part it plays among criminal phenomena. According to the judicial statistics of all civilised peoples, women are less addicted to crime than men, and boys are more addicted to crime than girls. Among most European peoples between five and six males are tried for offences against the law to every one female. In the southern countries of Europe, females form a smaller proportion of the criminal population than in the northern. This circumstance may be accounted for in several ways. In the first place, it may be the case that women in the south of Europe are better morally than in the north; it may be that the social conditions of their existence shield them from crime; or it may be that the crimes men are most prone to commit in the south are of such a nature that women are more or less incapable of perpetrating them. It is perfectly well known that in the south of Europe women lead more secluded lives than is the case in the north; they are much less immersed in the whirl and movement of life; it is not surprising, therefore, to find that they are less addicted to crime. Nor is this all. The crimes committed in the South consist to a large extent of offences against the person; physical weakness in a multitude of cases prevents women from committing such crimes. In the North, on the other hand, a large proportion of crimes are in the nature of thefts and offences against property. Most of these crimes women can commit with comparative ease; the result is that they form a larger proportion of the criminal population. Assaults are offences women are less capable of committing than men; hence, if we find that the crime of a country consists largely of personal violence, we shall also find that the percentage of female criminals will be relatively small. In Italy, where offences against the person are so prevalent, females only form about nine per cent. of the criminal population; in England, where personal violence is seldom resorted to, females form between 17 and 18 per cent. of the persons proceeded against, and about 15 per cent. of the numbers convicted.

A consideration of these circumstances tends to show that although southern women commit fewer crimes in proportion to men than northern women, this fact is partly owing to the character of the crime. But it is also owing to more secluded habits of life, and to the freedom from moral contamination of a criminal nature which these habits secure.

Proceeding from quantity to quality we find that although females commit much fewer crimes in proportion than males, the offences they do commit are frequently of a more serious nature than the crimes to which men are addicted. According to the investigations of Guerry and Quetelet, women in France commit more crimes of infanticide, abortion, poisoning, and domestic theft than men. They are addicted equally with men to the perpetration of parricide, and are more frequently convicted than men for the ill-treatment of children. English criminal statistics also show that the proportion of women to men rises with the seriousness of the offence. The proportion of women to men summarily proceeded against is 17 per cent., the proportion proceeded against for murder and attempts to murder is as high as 36 per cent. Women are also more hardened criminals than men. According to the statistics of English prisons, women who have been once convicted are much more likely to be reconvicted than men,[26] and the prison returns of Continental countries tell the same tale.

The facts relating to female crime having been stated, it will now be our business to inquire why women, on the whole, commit fewer crimes than men. The most obvious answer is that they are better morally. The care and nurture of children has been their lot in life for untold centuries; the duties of maternity have perpetually kept alive a certain number of unselfish instincts; those instincts have become part and parcel of woman's natural inheritance, and, as a result of possessing them to a larger extent than man, she is less disposed to crime. It is very probable that there is an element of truth in the idea that the care of offspring has had a moralising effect upon women, and that this effect has acquired the power of a hereditary characteristic; at the same time, it must be remembered that other causes are also in operation which prevent women figuring as largely in criminal returns as men.

Among the most prominent of these causes is the want of physical power. In all crimes requiring a certain amount of brute strength, such as burglary, robbery with violence, and so on, the proportion of women to men is small. A woman very rarely possesses the animal force requisite for the perpetration of crimes accompanied with much personal violence. But where the element of personal violence does not come conspicuously to the front the proportion of female criminals to male immediately rises, and in such crimes as poisoning, child murder, abortion, domestic theft, women are more criminally disposed than men. Undoubtedly the lack of power has as much to do with keeping down female crime as the want of will. This is especially manifest in the crime of infanticide. For the perpetration of this crime women possess the power, and the vast number of women convicted of this offence in proportion to men is ample proof that they often possess the will. Of course the temptation to women to commit this kind of crime is often extreme; it is the product, in many instances, of an overwhelming sense of shame; and the perpetrators of infanticide are often far from being the most debased of their sex. Still, the prevalence of infanticide among women is an evidence that, where the temptation is strong and the power sufficient, women are just as criminally inclined as men.

It has also to be borne in mind that women are very frequently the instigators of crime and escape punishment because they are not actually engaged in its commission. In almost all cases where robberies are committed by a pack of thieves, a part of the preparatory arrangements is entrusted to women, and women lend a helping hand in disposing of the spoil. It is the men, as a rule, who receive all the punishment, but the guilt of both sexes is very much the same. In many cases of forgery and fraudulent bankruptcy among the well-to-do classes, for which men only are punished, the guilt of women is equally great. Household extravagance, extravagance in dress, the mad ambition of many English women to live in what they call "better style" than their neighbours sends not a few men to penal servitude. The proportion of female crime in a community is also to a very considerable extent determined by the social condition of women. In all countries where social habits and customs constrain women to lead retiring and secluded lives the number of female criminals descends to a minimum. The small amount of female crime in Greece[27] is an instance of this law. On the other hand, in all countries where women are accustomed to share largely the active work of life with men, female crime has a distinct tendency to reach its maximum. An instance of this is the high percentage of female crime in Scotland. According to the Judicial Statistics for the year 1888 no less than 37 per cent. of the cases tried before the Scotch courts consisted of offences committed by women. It is true only 11 per cent. of these offences were of a serious nature-the remainder being more or less trivial, but, even after taking this circumstance into consideration, the unwelcome fact remains that Scotch women commit a higher percentage of crimes in proportion to men than the female population of any other country in Europe. The proportion of English female offenders to male is not half so high; it was only 17 per cent. in 1888, and is showing a tendency to decrease, being as high as 20 per cent. for the twenty years ended 1876. The proportion of female offenders in Scotland to the total criminal population is moving in an opposite direction. The late Professor Leone Levi, in a paper read before the Statistical Society in 1880, stated that Scotch women formed 27 per cent. of the persons tried before the criminal courts; they now form 37 per cent., a most alarming rate of increase.

It hardly admits of doubt that the high ratio of female crime in Scotland is to be attributed to the social status of women. In no other country of Europe do women perform so much heavy manual work; working in the fields and factories along with men; depending little upon men for their subsistence; in all economic matters leading what is called a more emancipated life than women do elsewhere; in short, resembling man in their social activities, they also resemble him in criminal proclivities. Scotch criminal statistics are thus a striking confirmation of the general law revealed by the study of criminal statistics as a whole; namely, that the more women are driven to enter upon the economic struggle for life the more criminal they will become. This is not a very consoling outlook for the future of society. It is not consoling, for the simple reason that the whole drift of opinion at the present time is in the direction of opening out industrial and public life to women to the utmost extent possible. In so far as public opinion is favouring the growth of female political leagues and other female organisations of a distinctly militant character, it is undoubtedly tending on the whole to lower the moral nature of women. The combative attitude required to be maintained by all members of such organisations is injurious to the higher instincts of women, and in numbers of cases must affect their moral tone. The amount of mischief done by these public organisations for purposes of political combat is not confined to women alone. The overwhelming influence exercised by mothers on the minds of children is notorious; and that influence is not so likely to be for good where the mother's mind is contaminated by a knowledge of, and sometimes by practising, the shady tricks of electioneering.

The present tendency to create a greater number of openings in trade and industry for women is not to be dismissed as pernicious because of its evil effect in multiplying female crime. After all, an enlarged industrial career for women may be the lesser of two evils. According to the present industrial constitution of society a very large number of females must earn a living in the sweat of their brow, and until some higher social development supersedes the existing order of things it is only right that as wide a career as possible should be opened out for the activities of women who must work to live. At the same time it would be an infinitely superior state of things if society did not require women's work beyond the confines of the home and the primary school. In these two spheres there is ample occupation of the very highest character for the energies of women; in them their work is immeasurably superior to men's; and it is because the work required in the home and the school is at the present moment so improperly performed that our existing civilisation is such a hot-bed of physical degeneracy, pauperism, and crime. One thing at least is certain, that crime will never permanently decrease till the material conditions of existence are such that women will not be called upon to fight the battle of life as men are, but will be able to concentrate their influence on the nurture and education of the young, after having themselves been educated mainly with a view to that great end. European society at the present moment is moving away from this ideal of woman's functions in the world; she is getting to be regarded in the light of a mere intellectual or industrial unit; and the flower of womankind is being more and more drafted into commercial and other enterprises. Some affect to look upon this condition, of things as being in the line of progress; it may be, and to all appearance is, in the line of material necessity, but it is unquestionably opposed to the moral interests of the community. These interests demand that women should not be debased, as criminal statistics prove that they are by active participation in modern industrialism; they demand that the all-important duties of motherhood should be in the hands of persons capable of fulfilling them worthily, and not in the hands of persons whose previous occupations have often rendered them unfit for being a centre of grace and purity in the home. It cannot be too emphatically insisted on that the home is the great school for the formation of character among the young, and it is on character that conduct depends. In proportion as this school of character is improved, in the same proportion will crime decrease. But how is it to be improved when the tendencies of industrialism are to degrade the women who stand by nature at the head of it? Indifferent mothers cannot make children good citizens; and the present course of things industrial is slowly but surely tending to debase the fountain head of the race. At the International Conference concerning the regulation of labour held recently at Berlin, M. Jules Simon, at the close of an excellent speech to the delegates, pointed out the remedy for the present condition of things. "You will pardon me," he said, "for concluding my observations with a personal remark, which is perhaps authorised by a past entirely consecrated to a defence of the cause which brings us here. The object we are aiming at is moral as well as material; it is not only in the physical interests of the human race that we are endeavouring to rescue children, youths, and women from excessive toil; we are also labouring to restore woman to the home, the child to its mother, for it is from her only that those lessons of affection and respect which make the good citizen can be learned. We wish to call a halt in the path of demoralisation down which the loosening of the family tie is leading the human mind."

Passing from the question of sex and crime we shall now consider the proportions which crime bears to age. According to the calculations of the late Mr. Clay, chaplain of Preston prison, the practice of dishonesty among persons, who afterwards find their way into prisons, begins at a very early age. In a communication addressed to Lord Shaftesbury, in 1853, he said that 58 per cent. of criminals were dishonest under 15 years of age; 14 per cent. became dishonest between 15 and 16; 8 per cent. became dishonest between 17 and 19; 20 per cent. became dishonest under 20.

I have little doubt that these proportions are still in the main correct, and that the criminal instinct begins to show itself at a very early period in life. In Staffordshire "it is an ascertained fact, that there is scarcely an habitual criminal in the county who has not been imprisoned as a child."[28] But it is after the age of twenty has been reached that the criminality of a people attains its highest point. A glance at the subjoined table will make this clear:-

Population of England and Wales in 1871- Prisoners in Local Gaols in 1888-

Under 5 13.52 Under 12 0.1

5 and under 15 22.58 12 and under 16 2.8

15 and under 20 9.59 16 and under 21 16.1

20 and under 30 16.66 21 and under 30 30.2

30 and under 40 12.80 30 and under 40 24.3

40 and under 50 10.05 40 and under 50 14.7

50 and under 60 7.32 50 and under 60 6.4

60 and upwards 7.48 60 and upwards 5.4

These figures show that in proportion to the population, crime is, as we should expect, at its lowest level from infancy till the age of sixteen. From that age it goes on steadily increasing in volume till it reaches a maximum between thirty and forty. After forty has been passed the criminal population begins rapidly to descend, but never touches the same low point in old age as in early youth.

Females do not enter upon a criminal career so early in life as males;[29] in the year 1888, while 20 per cent. of the male population of our local prisons in England and Wales were under 21, only 12 per cent. of the female prison population were under that age. On the other hand, women between 21 and 50, form a larger proportion of the female prison population, than men between the same ages do of the male prison population. The criminal age among women is later in its commencement, and earlier in coming to a close than in the case of men. It is later in commencing because of the greater care and watchfulness exercised over girls than boys; but it is more persistent while it lasts, because a plunge into crime is a more irreparable thing in a woman than in a man. A woman's past has a far worse effect on her future than a man's. She incurs a far graver degree of odium from her own sex; it is much more difficult for her to get into the way of earning an honest livelihood, and a woman who has once been shut up within bolts and bars is much more likely to be irretrievably lost than a man. If it is important to keep men as much as possible out of prison, it is doubly necessary to keep out women; but it is, at the same time, a much harder thing to accomplish. This arises from the fact that the great bulk of female offenders enter the criminal arena after the age of twenty-one, and can only be dealt with by a sentence of imprisonment. If females began crime at an earlier period of life, it would be possible to send them to Reformatories or Industrial Schools, and a fair hope of ultimately saving them would still remain; but as this is impossible with grown-up persons, prison is the only alternative, and it is after imprisonment is over that a woman begins to recognise the terrible social penalties it has involved.

The proportion of offenders under sixteen years of age to the total local prison population of England and Wales, has decreased in a remarkable way within the last twenty or thirty years. The proportion of offenders under sixteen committed to prison between 1857-66, amounted to six and three-quarters per cent. of the prison population, and if we go back behind that period it was higher still. In fact, during the first quarter of the present century, the extent and ramifications of juvenile crime had almost reduced statesmen to despair. But the spread of the Reformatory system and the introduction more recently of Industrial and Truant Schools for children who have just drifted, or are fast drifting, into criminal courses, has had a remarkable effect in diminishing the juvenile population of our prisons. At the present time the proportion

of juveniles under sixteen to the rest of the local prison population is only a little over two per cent. and it is not likely that it will ever reach a higher figure. It might easily be reduced almost to zero if children destined for Reformatories were sent off to these institutions at once, instead of being detained for a month or so in prison till a suitable school is found for them. Some persons object to the idea of sending children to Reformatories at once, on the ground that to abolish the terror of imprisonment from the youthful mind would embolden the juvenile inclined to crime and lead him more readily to commit it. Others object on the ground that it is only right the child should be punished for his offence. In answer to the last objection, it may pertinently be said that a sentence of three or four years to a Reformatory is surely sufficient punishment for offences usually committed by small boys. With regard to the first objection, our own experience is that the ordinary juvenile is much more afraid of the policeman than of the prison, and that the fear of being caught would operate just as strongly upon him if he were sent straight to the Reformatory as it does now. The evils connected with the present system of sending children destined for Reformatories to prison are of two kinds. At the present time many magistrates will not send children to Reformatories who sorely need the restraints of such an institution, because they know it involves a period of preliminary imprisonment before they can get there. Secondly, it enables a lad to know what the inside of a prison really is. On these two points let me quote the words of an experienced magistrate. "I have many times," said Mr. Whitwell, at the fourth Reformatory Conference, "when having to deal with young people, felt it very desirable to send them to a Reformatory, but have shrunk from it because we are obliged to send them to prison first. I think it should be left to the discretion of the magistrates and not made compulsory. I feel very strongly indeed that it is most desirable to keep the child from knowing what the inside of a prison is. Let them think it something awful to look forward to. When they have been in the prison they are of opinion that it is not such a very bad place after all, and they are not afraid of going there again; but if they are sent to a Reformatory and told that they will be sent to a prison if they do not reform, they will think it an awful place." These are wise words. It is impossible to make imprisonment such a severe discipline for children as it is for grown-up men and women, and as it is not so severe, children leave our gaols with a false impression on their minds. The terror of being imprisoned has, to a large extent, departed; they think they know the worst and cease to be much afraid of what the law can do. Hence the fact that society has less chance of reclaiming a child who has been imprisoned than it has of reclaiming one who has not undergone that form of punishment although he has committed precisely the same offence. In England, many authorities on Reformatory Schools are strongly in favour of retaining preliminary imprisonment for Reformatory children; in Scotland, experienced opinion is decisively on the other side. On this point, the Scotch are undoubtedly in the right. The working of prison systems, whether at home or abroad, teaches us that any person, be he child or man, who has once been in prison, is much more likely to come back than a person who, for a similar offence, has received punishment in a different form. The application of this principle to the case of Reformatory children decisively settles the matter in favour of sending such children to Reformatories at once. If this simple reform were effected, the child population of our prisons would almost cease to exist. In the year 1888, this population amounted to 239 for England and Wales under the age of twelve, and 4,826 under the age of sixteen, thus making a total of 5,065 or 2.9 per cent. of the whole local prison population.

In the preceding remarks on juvenile offenders under 16, it has been pointed out that the great decrease in the numbers of such offenders among the prison population is mainly owing to the development of Industrial and Reformatory Schools. In order, therefore, to form an accurate estimate of juvenile delinquency, we must look not merely at the number of juveniles in prison; attention must also be directed to the number of juveniles in Reformatory and Industrial Institutions. Although these institutions are not places of imprisonment, yet they are places of compulsory detention, and contain a very considerable proportion of juvenile delinquents. All juveniles sent to Reformatories have, indeed, been actually convicted of criminal offences, and in 1888 the number of young people in the Reformatory Schools of Great Britain (excluding Ireland) was in round numbers six thousand (5,984). These must be added to the total juvenile prison population in order to form a true conception of the extent of juvenile crime. It is almost certain that if these young people were not in Reformatories they would be in prisons, for, in almost the same proportion as the Reformatory and Industrial School inmates have increased, the juvenile prison population has decreased.

To the population of the Reformatory Schools must also be added a large percentage of the Industrial School population. Since the year 1864, the number of boys and girls in Industrial and Truant Schools has gone on steadily increasing. In that year the inmates amounted to 1,608; twenty-four years afterwards, that is to say, in 1888, the number of children in Great Britain in Industrial and Truant Schools amounted to 21,426.[30] It is true that a considerable proportion of these children were not sent to the schools on account of having committed crime; at the same time it has to be remembered that nearly all of them were on the way to it, and would in all probability have become criminals had the State left them alone for a year or two longer. At the time of their committal the children we are now dealing with were either children who had been found begging, or who were wandering about without a settled home, or who were found destitute, or who had a parent in gaol, or who lived in the company of female criminals, prostitutes, and thieves. Such children may not actually have come within the clutches of the criminal law, but it is sufficient to look for a moment at the surroundings they had lived in to see that this was only a question of time. We must, therefore, add those children, along with the Reformatory population, to the number of juveniles in gaol if we wish to form a proper estimate of the extent of juvenile delinquency. If this is done we arrive at the conclusion that the criminal and semi-criminal juvenile population is at the present time more than 25,000 strong in England and Wales alone; if Scotland be included it is more than 30,000 strong. These figures are enough to show that it is only compulsory detention in State establishments which keeps down the numbers of juvenile offenders; and there can be little doubt, if the inmates of these institutions were let loose upon the country, juveniles would very soon constitute seven, eight, or, perhaps, ten per cent. of the prison population.

Let us now consider the case of young offenders between the ages of 16 and 21. This is the most momentous for weal or woe of all periods of life. During this stage, the transition from youth to manhood is taking place; the habits then formed acquire a more enduring character, and, in the majority of cases, determine the whole future of the individual. If youths between the ages just mentioned could by any possibility be prevented from embarking on a criminal career, the drop in the criminal population would be far-reaching in its effects. It is from the ranks of young people just entering early manhood that a large proportion of the habitual criminal population is recruited; and if this critical period of life can be tided over without repeated acts of crime, there is much less likelihood of a young man degenerating afterwards into a criminal of the professional class. It is most important that the professional criminal class should be diminished at a quicker rate than is the case at present; and, in spite of police statistics to the contrary, it is a class which has not become perceptibly smaller within the last twenty or five and twenty years. A proof of this statement is to be seen in the fact that offences against property with violence display a tendency to increase, and it is offences of this nature which are pre-eminently the work of the habitual criminal. It is a comparatively rare thing to find a habitual criminal stop mid-way in his sinister career; the accumulated impressions resulting from a life of crime have too effectively succeeded in shaping his character and conduct, and he persists, as a rule, in leading an anti-social life so long as he has physical strength to do it.

The only hope, therefore, of diminishing the habitual criminal population, is to lessen the number of recruits; and as most of these recruits are to be found among lads of between sixteen and twenty-one, it is to these lads that serious attention must be directed. Every year a certain proportion of youths ranging between these two ages shows a pronounced disposition to enter permanently upon a criminal life by repeatedly returning to prison. The deterrent effect of short sentences has ceased to operate upon them, and all the symptoms are present that a downright career of crime has begun. In such circumstances what is to be done? A plan has been proposed by Mr. Lloyd Baker for dealing with refractory and unmanageable Reformatory children, the substance of which is to send them to another institution of a stricter character than the ordinary Reformatory School, and which for want of a better name he calls a Penal Reformatory. It is very probable that something in the nature of a Penal Reformatory is just what is wanted to prevent a youth on the downward road from finally swelling the proportions of the professional criminal population. If Great Britain ever established such institutions, she would then possess a graded set of organisations for dealing with the young, which would cover the whole period of youthful life. The Truant School would catch the child on the first symptoms of waywardness, the Industrial School would arrest him standing on the verge of crime, the Reformatory School would dual with actual offenders against the law, and the Penal Reformatory would grapple with habitual offenders under the age of manhood.[31]

After the age of manhood has been reached, and the main lines of character are formed, punitive methods of dealing with criminal offenders must assume a more prominent position, and the prison should then take the place of the Reformatory. In youth the deterrent effects of punishment are small, and the beneficial effects of reformative measures are at their maximum. In manhood, on the other hand, this condition of things is reversed, and the deterrent effects of punishment exceed the beneficial effects of reformative influences. An interesting example of the value of punishment for adults, as compared with other methods, is given by Sir John Strachey in his account of infanticide in certain parts of India. "For many years past," he says, "measures have been taken in the North-West Provinces for the prevention of this crime. For a long time, when our civilisation was less belligerent than it has since become, it was thought that the best hope of success lay in the removal of the causes which appeared to lead to its commission, and especially in the prevention of extravagant expenditure on marriages; but although these benevolent efforts were undoubtedly useful, their practical results were not great, and it gradually became clear that it was only by a stringent and organised system of coercion that these practices would ever be eradicated. In 1870 an act of the legislature was passed which enabled the Government to deal with the subject. A system of registration of births and deaths among the suspected classes was established, with constant inspection and enumeration of children; special police-officers were entertained at the cost of the guilty communities, and no efforts were spared to convince them that the Government had firmly resolved that it would put down these practices, and would treat the people who followed them as murderers. Although the time is, I fear, distant when preventive measures will cease to be necessary, much progress has been made, and there are now thousands of girls where formerly there were none. In the Mainpuri district, where, as I have said, there was not many years ago hardly a single Chauhán girl, nearly half of the Chauhán children at the present time are girls; and it is hoped that three-fourths of the villages have abandoned the practice."[32]

These facts speak for themselves and afford an incontestable proof of the value of punishment as a remedial measure when other remedies have failed.[33] In the re-action which is now in full force, and rightly so, against the excessive punishments of past times, there is a marked tendency among some minds to go to the opposite extreme, and an attempt is being made to show that imprisonment has hardly any curative effect at all. Its evils, and from the very nature of things they are not a few, are almost exclusively elaborated and dwelt upon, little attention being paid to the vast amount of good which imprisonment alone is able to effect. It is possible that imprisonment sends a few to utter perdition at a quicker pace than they would have gone of their own accord, but on the other hand, it rescues many a man before he has irrevocably committed himself to a life of crime. If it fails the first time, it very often succeeds after the second or the third, and no one is justified in saying imprisonment is worthless as a reformative agency till it has failed at least three times. According to the judicial statistics for England and Wales, imprisonment is successful after the third time in about 80 per cent. of the cases annually submitted to the criminal courts, and although it is a pity that the percentage is not higher, yet it cannot fairly be said that such results are an evidence of failure. The prison is unquestionably a much less effective weapon for dealing with crime among Continental peoples, and in the United States, than it has shown itself to be in Great Britain; but this failure arises in the main from the laxity and indulgence with which criminals are treated in foreign prisons. A prison to possess any reformative value must always be made an uncomfortable place to live in; Continental peoples and the people of America have to a large extent lost sight of this fact; hence the failure of their penal systems to stop the growth of the delinquent population. If, however, imprisonment is not allowed to degenerate into mere detention, it is bound to act as a powerful deterrent upon grown-up offenders, and it is the only menace which will effectually keep many of them within the law. The hope of reward and the fear of punishment, or, in other words, love of pleasure, and dread of pain, are the two most deeply seated instincts in the human breast; if Mr. Darwin's theory be correct, it is through the operation of these fundamental instincts that such a being as man has come into existence at all. In any case these instincts have hitherto been the chief ingredients of all human progress, the most effective spur to energy of all kinds, and when properly utilised they are the most potent of all deterrents to crime. Were it possible for the hand of social justice to descend on every criminal with infallible certainty; were it universally true that no crime could possibly escape punishment, that every offence against society would inevitably and immediately be visited on the offender, the tendency to commit crime would probably become as rare as the tendency of an ordinary human being to thrust his hand into the fire. The uncertainty of punishment is the great bulwark of crime, and crime has a marvellous knack of diminishing in proportion as this uncertainty decreases. No amelioration of the material circumstances of the community can destroy all the causes of crime, and till moral progress has reached a height hitherto attained only by the elect of the race, one of the most efficient curbs upon the criminally disposed will consist in increasing the probability of punishment.

In proportion as the probability of being punished is augmented, the severity of punishment can be safely diminished. This is one of the paramount advantages to be derived from a highly efficient police system. The barbarity of punishments in the Middle Ages is always attributed by historians to the barbarous ideas of those rude times. But this is only partially true; one important consideration is overlooked. In the Middle Ages it was extremely difficult to catch the criminal; in fact, it is only within the present century that an organised system for effecting the capture of criminals has come into existence. The result of the nebulous police system of past times was that very few offenders were brought to justice at all, and society, in order to prevent lawlessness from completely getting the upper hand, was obliged to make a terrible example of all offenders coming within its grasp. As soon, however, as it became less difficult to arrest and convict lawless persons, the old severities of the criminal code immediately began to fall into abeyance. Sentences were shortened, punishments were mitigated, the death penalty was abolished for almost all crimes except murder. But even now, the moment society sees any form of crime showing a tendency to evade the vigilance of the law, a cry is immediately raised for sterner measures of repression against the perpetrators of that particular form of crime. The Flogging Bill recently passed by Parliament is a case in point. These instances afford a fairly accurate insight into the action of society with regard to the punishment of crime. It punishes severely when the criminal is seldom caught; it punishes more lightly when he is often caught; and its punishments will become more mitigated still, as soon as the probability of capture is made more complete. A comparatively light sentence is in most cases a very effective deterrent, when it is made almost a certainty, and all alterations in the future in criminal administration should be in the direction of making punishment more certain rather than more severe. Such efforts are sure to be rewarded by a decrease in the amount of crime.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares