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Crime and Its Causes By William Douglas Morrison Characters: 32373

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Has the criminal any bodily and mental characteristics which differentiate him from the ordinary man? Does he differ from his fellows in height and weight? Does he possess a peculiar conformation of skull and brain? Is he anomalous in face and feature, in intellect, in will, in feeling? Is he, in short, an individual separated from the rest of humanity by any set or combination of qualities which clearly mark him off as an abnormal being? As these matters are at present exciting considerable attention, let us now look at the criminal from a purely biological point of view.

A good deal of diversity of opinion exists among competent authorities respecting the stature of criminals. Lombroso says that Italian criminals are above the average height; Knecht says German criminals do not differ in this respect from other men; Marro says the stature of criminals is variable; Thomson and Wilson say that criminals are inferior in point of stature to the average man. Whatever may be the case on the Continent, there can be little doubt that as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the height of the criminal class is lower than that of the ordinary citizen. In Scotland the average height of the ordinary population is (559) 67.30 inches; the average height of the criminal population, as given by Dr. Bruce Thomson, is (324) 66.95 inches. According to Dr. Beddoe, the average height of the London artizan population is (318) 66.72 inches; the average height of the London criminal (300) 54.70 inches; the average height of Liverpool criminals, according to Danson, is (1117) 66.39 inches. Danson's figures point to the fact that there is hardly any difference in height between the criminal classes of Liverpool and the artizan population of London It has, however, to be borne in mind that the population of the North of England, being largely of Scandinavian descent, is taller than the population of the South of England. The height of Liverpool criminals should be compared with the average height of the Scotch, to whom they are more nearly allied by race. If this is done, it will be seen that they fall considerably short of the normal stature.

The difference between the height of the criminal population and that of the most favoured classes is more remarkable still. According to Dr. Roberts' tables, the average height of the latter is 69.06 inches; the London criminal is only 64.70 inches. There is thus a difference of from four to five inches between the most highly favoured classes and the London criminal class. The difference between the criminal class and the merely well-to-do is not quite so great. Selecting Mr. Galton's Health Exhibition measurements as a test of the stature of the well-to-do classes, the results come out as follows:-Health Exhibition measurements, 67.9 inches; London criminals, 64.70 inches. The criminal is thus between two and three inches inferior in height to the well-to-do portion of the community. In fact, the height of the London criminal is very nearly the same as that of the East-End Jew. According to Mr. Jacobs, in a paper communicated to the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, the average stature of the East-End Jew is 64.3 inches; his co-religionist in the West-End is 67.5 inches. We may accordingly take it as the outcome of these measurements that the criminal population of Great Britain is inferior in point of stature to the ordinary population.

From stature we shall pass to weight. Lombroso and Marro say that the weight of Italian criminals is superior to the weight of the average Italian citizen. On the other hand, the weight of London criminals is almost the same as that of London artizans, but inferior to the weight of the artizan population in the large English towns taken as a whole. Average weight of London criminals (300) 136 pounds; average weight of London artizan (318) 137 pounds; average weight of artizans in large towns generally, 138 pounds. The London criminal is considerably inferior in weight to the well-to-do classes, as will be seen from Mr. Galton's Health Exhibition statistics. Average weight, Health Exhibition, 143 pounds; average weight, most favoured class (Roberts), 152 pounds. These figures show that the criminal class in London is seven pounds lighter than the well-to-do, and sixteen pounds lighter than the most favoured section of the population.

Hardly any investigations have been made in this country respecting the skulls of criminals, and the inquiries of continental investigators have so far led to very conflicting results. It is a contention of Lombroso's that the skulls of criminals exhibit a larger proportion of asymmetrical peculiarities than the skulls of other men. On this point Lombroso is supported by Manouvrier. But Topinard, an anthropologist of great eminence, is of the opposite opinion. He carefully examined the same series of skulls as been examined by Manouvrier-the skulls of murders-and he discovered no marked difference between these and other skulls. Heger, a Belgian anthropologist says that the skulls of delinquents do not differ from the skulls of the race to which the delinquent belongs. In fact, till more exactitude is introduced into the methods of skull measurement, all deduction based upon an examination of the criminal skull must be regarded as untrustworthy. A striking instance of this was witnessed at the proceedings of the Paris Congress of Criminal Anthropology held in 1889. When the skull of Charlotte Corday, who killed the revolutionist Marat, was subjected to examination, Lombroso declared that it was a truly criminal type of skull; Topinard, on the other hand, gave it as his opinion that it was a typical female skull. On this point Topinard was supported by Benedict.[34] As long as such divergencies of view exist among anthropologists it is impossible to place much stress upon inquiries relative to the conformation of the criminal skull. Before a beginning can be made with inquiries of this character, there must be some fundamental basis of agreement among investigators as to what is to be accounted asymmetrical in skull measurements and what is not. Even then it will have to be remembered, before coming to conclusions, that no skull is perfectly symmetrical-every one showing some variation from the ideal type. When the extent of this variation has been absolutely demonstrated to be greater in the case of criminals than among other sections of the community, we shall then be approaching solid ground. At present we must wait for further light before anything can be said with certainty with respect to the criminal skull.

Just as little is known at present about the brain of criminals as about the skull. Some years ago Professor Benedict startled the world by stating that he had discovered the seat of crime in the convolutions of the brain. He found a certain number of anomalies in the convolutions of the frontal lobes, and he came to the conclusion that crime was connected with the existence of these anomalies. But he had omitted to examine the frontal convolutions of honest people. When this was done by other investigators, it was found that the brain convolutions of normal men presented just as many anomalies, some investigators (Dr. Giacomini) said even more than the brains of criminals. According to Dr. Bardeleben, there is no such thing as a normal type of brain. Weight of brain is a much simpler question than brain type, but so far it is impossible to say whether the criminal brain is heavier or lighter than the ordinary brain. The solution of this comparatively simple point is beset by a certain number of obstacles. It is not enough, Dr. Binswanger tells us, to weigh the brains of criminals and the brains of ordinary persons and then strike an average of the results. The height and weight of the persons whose brains are averaged are essential to the formation of accurate conclusions; till these important factors are taken into account, all deductions based upon weight of brain only rest upon an unsure foundation.

But supposing we had a trustworthy body of facts bearing upon the weight and structure of the criminal brain, we should still require to know much more of brain functions in general before satisfactory conclusions could be drawn from these facts. We know something, it is true, of the physiological functions at certain cerebral regions, but as yet nothing is known of the localisation of any particular mental faculty, whether criminal or otherwise. A conclusive proof that the study of the brain, as an organ of thought, is still in its infancy, is found in the fact that the fundamental question is still unsolved, whether the whole brain is to be considered one in all its parts, so far as the performance of psychic functions is concerned, or whether these functions are localised in certain definite centres. Till these fundamental difficulties are cleared away, the presence of anomalies in certain convolutions of the brain will not prove very much one way or the other.[35]

An examination of the criminal face has so far led to no definite and assured results. In the imagination of artists the criminal is almost always credited with the possession of a retreating forehead. As a matter of fact, Dr. Marro, one of the most eminent representatives of the anthropological school, assures us that this is not the case. After comparing the foreheads of 539 delinquents with the foreheads of 100 ordinary men, he found that criminals had a smaller percentage of retreating foreheads than the average man.[36] He also found that projecting eyebrows, another trait which is supposed to be a criminal peculiarity, were almost as common among ordinary people as among offenders against the law. Projecting ears is another peculiarity which is often associated with the idea of a criminal. But Dr. Lannois states that after a careful examination of the ears of 43 young offenders, he found them as free from anomalies as the ears of other people.[37]

As it is the Italians who have studied these matters most exhaustively, it is mainly to them we must go for information. In a little book on the skeleton and the form of the nose, Dr. Salvator Ottolenghi comes to the somewhat curious result that the bones of the criminal nose offer many anomalies of a pre-human or bestial character; but the nose itself is straight and long, or, in other words, just as highly developed as the noses of ordinary men. Careful inquiries have been undertaken by criminal anthropologists into the colour of the hair, the length of the arms, the colour of the skin, tattooing, sensitiveness to pain among the criminal population, but these laborious investigations have so far led to few solid conclusions. According to Lombroso, insensibility to pain is a marked characteristic of the typical criminal.[38] "Individuals," he says, "who possess this quality consider themselves as privileged, and they despise delicate and sensitive persons. It is a pleasure to such hardened men to torment others whom they look upon as inferior beings." On this point M. Joly is at variance with Lombroso. "I asked," he says, "at the central hospital, the Santé, where all persons who become seriously ill in the prisons of the Seine are looked after, if this disvulnerability had ever been noticed. I was told that far from that, prisoners were always found very sensitive to pain ... Honest people, industrious workmen, the fathers of families treated at the Charité or the H?tel-Dieu (Paris hospitals), undergo operations with much more fortitude than the sick prisoners of the Santé."[39] On this point, therefore, as on so many others, we are still without a sufficient body of evidence, and must, meanwhile, suspend our judgment.

Let us now consider the criminal's physiognomy. In this connection it must be borne in mind that a prolonged period of imprisonment will change the face of any man, whether he is a criminal or not. Political offenders who have undergone a sentence of penal servitude, and who may be men of the highest character, acquire the prison look and never altogether get rid of it. If a man spends a certain number of years sharing the life, the food, the occupations of five or six hundred other men, if he mixes with them and with no one else, he will inevitably come to resemble them in face and feature. A remarkable illustration of this fact has recently been brought to light by the Photographic Society of Geneva. "From photographs of seventy-eight old couples, and of as many adult brothers and sisters, it was found that twenty-four of the former resembled each other much more strongly than as many of the latter who were thought most like one another."[40] It would, therefore, seem that the action of unconscious imitation, arising from constant contact, is capable of producing a remarkable change in the features, the acquired expression frequently tending to obliterate inherited family resemblances. According to Piderit, physiognomy is to be considered as a mimetic expression which has become habitual. The criminal type of face, so conspicuous in old offenders, is in many cases merely a prison type; it is not congenital; men who do not originally have it almost always acquire it after a prolonged period of penal servitude.

But apart from the prison type of countenance, it is highly probable that a distinct criminal type also exists. Certain professions generate distinctive castes of feature, as, for instance, the Army and the Church. This distinctiveness is not confined to features alone, it diffuses itself over the whole man; it is observable in manner, in gesture, in bearing, in demeanour, and is constantly breaking out in a variety of unexpected ways. In like manner the habitual criminal acquires the habits of his class. Crime is his profession; it is also the profession of all his associates. The constant practice of this profession results in the acquisition of a certain demeanour, a certain aspect, gait, and general appearance, in many instances too subtle to define, but, at the same time, plain and palpable to an expert.

The slang of criminals is also explicable on the same principle. Every trade and calling has its technical terms. The meaning of these terms is hidden from the rest of the world, but the origin of their existence is not difficult to explain. The jargon of the criminal arises from the same causes and is constructed on exactly the same principles as the technical words and phrases of the man of science. When a man of science is compelled to make frequent use of a phrase, he generally gets rid of it by inventing some technical word; it is precisely the same with criminals. With them technical words are used instead of phrases, and short words instead of long ones in all matters where criminal interests are intimately concerned, and on all topics which are habitually the subjects of conversation among the criminal classes. The language of the Stock Exchange with its Bulls, Bears, Contangos, and other short and comprehensive expressions for various kinds of stocks, is on all fours with the slang of criminals, and it is not necessary to resort to atavism in order to explain it. It arises to supply professional needs, and criminal argot springs up from exactly the same cause.

Summing up our inquiries respecting the criminal type we arrive, in the first place, at the general conclusion, that so far as it has a real existence it is not born with a man, but originates either in the prison, and is then merely a prison type, or in criminal habits of life, and is then a truly criminal type. As a matter of fact, the two types are in most cases blended together, the prison type with its hard, impassive rigidity of feature being superadded to the gait, gesture and demeanour of the habitual criminal. In combination these two types form a professional type and constitute what Dr. Bruce Thomson[41] has called "a physique distinctly characteristic of the criminal class." It is not, however, a type which admits of accurate description, and its practical utility is impaired by the fact that certain of its features are som

etimes visible in men who have never been convicted of crime. The position of the case, with respect to the criminal type, may be best described by saying that an experienced detective officer will be sure in nine cases out of ten that he has got hold of a criminal by profession, but in the tenth case he will probably make a mistake. In other words, face, manner and demeanor are no infallible index of character or habits of life.

When crime is not an inherited taint, but merely an acquired habit, this fact has an important practical bearing upon the proper method of dealing with it. Acquired habits, we are now being taught by Professor Weismann, are incapable of being transmitted to posterity, and Mr. Galton is of the same opinion.[42] This is not the place to elaborate the theory of inheritance, as understood by those writers; its essence, however, is that we only inherit the natural faculties of our forebears, and not those faculties which they have acquired by practice and experience. The son of a rope-dancer does not inherit his father's faculties for rope-dancing, nor the son of an orator his father's ready aptitude for public speech, nor the son of a designer his father's acquired skill in the making of designs. All that the son inherits is the natural faculties of the parent, but no more. Hence it follows that the son of a thief, on the supposition that thieving comes by habit and practice, does not by natural inheritance acquire the parent's criminal propensity. As far as his natural faculties are concerned he starts life free from the vicious habits of his parent, and should he in turn become a thief, as sometimes happens, it is not because he has inherited his father's thievish habits, but because he has himself acquired them. It is imitation, not instinct, which transforms him into a thief; and if he is removed from the influence of evil example he will have almost as small a chance of falling into a criminal life as any other member of the community. It will not be quite so small, because no public institution, however well conducted, can ever exercise so moralising an effect as a good home, but it will be much smaller than if he grew up to maturity under the pernicious surroundings of a criminal home.

If we do not inherit the acquired faculties and habits of our parents, it is unfortunately too true that we inherit their diseases and the connection between disease and crime is a fact which cannot be denied. In many cases it is perfectly true that persons suffering from disease or physical degeneracy do not become criminals, in most cases they do not; at the same time a larger proportion of such persons fall into a lawless life than is the case with people who are free from inherited infirmities. The undoubted tendency of physical infirmity is to disturb the temper, to weaken the will, and generally to disorganise the mental equilibrium. Such a tendency, when it becomes very pronounced, leads its unhappy possessor to perpetrate offenses against his fellow-men, or, in other words, to commit crime. In a recent communication to a German periodical, Herr Sichart, director of prisons in the kingdom of Wurtemburg, has shown that a very high percentage of criminals are the descendants of degenerate parents. Herr Sichart's inquiries extended over several years and included 1,714 prisoners. Of this number 16 per cent. were descended from drunken parents; 6 per cent. from families in which there was madness; 4 per cent. from families addicted to suicide; 1 per cent. from families in which there was epilepsy. In all, 27 per cent. of the offenders, examined by Herr Sichart were descended from families in which there was degeneracy. According to these figures more than one fourth of the German prison population have received a defective organisation from their ancestry, which manifests itself in a life of crime.

In France and Italy the same state of things prevails. Dr. Corre is of opinion that a very large proportion of persons convicted of bad conduct in the French military service are distinctly degenerate either in body or mind. Dr. Virgilio says that in Italy 32 per cent. of the criminal population have inherited criminal tendencies from their parents. In England there is no direct means of testing the amount of degeneracy among the criminal classes, but, in all likelihood, it is quite as great as elsewhere. According to the report of the Medical Inspector of convict prisons for 1888-9, the annual number of deaths from natural causes, among the convict population, is from 10 to 12 per 1000. Let us compare those figures with the death rate of the general population as recorded in the Registrar-General's report for 1888. The annual death rate from all causes of the general population, between the ages of 15 and 45, is about 7 per 1000. I have selected the period of life between 15 and 45 for the reason that it corresponds most closely with the average age of criminals. If deaths from accident are excluded from the mortality returns of the general population, it will be found that the rate of mortality among criminals, in convict prisons, is from one third to one half higher than the rate of mortality among the rest of the community of a similar age. If the rate of mortality of the criminal population is so high inside convict prisons, where the health of the inmates is so carefully attended to, what must it be among the criminal classes when in a state of liberty? Independently of the premature deaths brought on by irregularity of life, it is certain that a high proportion of criminals bear within them the seeds of inherited disorders, and it is these disorders which largely account for the high rate of mortality amongst them when in prison.

The high percentage of disease and degeneracy among the English criminal population may be seen in other ways. The population in the local gaols in 1888-9, between the ages of 21 and 40, constituted 54 per cent. of the total prison population, whilst the same class between the ages of 40 and CO formed only 20 per cent. of the prison population. One half of this drop in the percentage of prisoners between 40 and 60 may be accounted for by the decreased percentage of persons between these two ages in the general population. The other half can only be accounted for by the extent to which premature decay and death rage among criminals who have passed their fortieth year. In other words, the number of criminals alive after forty is much smaller than the number of normal men alive after that age.

A direct proof of the extent of degeneracy in the shape of insanity among persons convicted of murder can be found in the Judicial Statistics. The number of persons convicted of wilful murder, not including manslaughter or non-capital homicides, from 1879 to 1888 amounted to 441. Out of this total 143 or 32 per cent. were found insane. Of the 299 condemned to death, no less than 145, or nearly one half, had their sentences commuted, many of them on the ground of mental infirmity. The whole of these figures decisively prove that between 40 and 50 per cent. of the convictions for wilful murder are cases in which the murderers were either insane or mentally infirm. Murder cases are almost the only ones respecting which the antecedents of the offender are seriously inquired into. But when this inquiry does take place the vast amount of degeneracy among criminals at once becomes apparent.

Passing from the mental condition of murderers, let us now take into consideration the mental state of criminals generally. Beginning with the senses, it may be said that very little stress can be laid on the experiments conducted by the Anthropological School as to peculiarities in the sense of smell, taste, sight, and so on, discovered among criminals. In all these inquiries it is so easy for the subject to deceive the investigator, and he has often so direct an interest in doing it that all results in this department must be accepted with the utmost caution. Wherever investigations necessitate the acceptance upon trust of statements made by criminals, their scientific value descends to the lowest level. As this must be largely the case with respect to the senses of hearing, taste, smell, etc., it is almost impossible to reach assured conclusions.

It is different in inquiries respecting the intellect. Here the investigator is able to judge for himself. According to Dr. Ogle, 86.5 per cent. of the general population were able to read and write in the years 1881-4, and as this represents an increase of 10 per cent. since the passing of the Elementary Education Act, it is probably not far from the mark to say that at the present time almost 90 per cent. of the English population can read and write. In other words, only 10 per cent. of the population is wholly ignorant. In the local prisons on the other hand, no less than 25 per cent. of the prisoners can neither read nor write, and 72 per cent. can only read or read and write imperfectly. The vast difference in the proportion of uninstructed among the prison, as compared with the general population, is not to be explained by the defective early training of the former. This explanation only covers a portion of the ground: the other portion is covered by the fact that a certain number of criminals are almost incapable of acquiring instruction. The memory and the reasoning powers of such persons are so utterly feeble that attempts to school them is a waste of time.[43] Deficiencies in memory, imagination, reason, are three undoubted characteristics of the ordinary criminal intellect. Of course, there are very many criminals in which all these qualities are present, and whose defects lie in another direction, but taken as a whole the criminal is unquestionably less gifted intellectually than the rest of the community.

Respecting the emotions of criminals, it is much more difficult to speak, and much more easy to fall into error. The only thing that can be said of them for certain, is, that they do not, as a rule, possess the same keenness of feeling as the ordinary man. Some Italian writers make much of the religiosity of delinquents; such a sentiment may be common among offenders in Italy; it is certainly rare among the same class in Great Britain. The cellular system puts an effective stop to any thing like active hostility to religion; but it is a mistake to argue from this that the criminal is addicted to the exercise of religious sentiments. The family sentiment is also feebly developed; the exceptions to this rule form a small fraction of the criminal population.

The will in criminals, when it is not impaired by disease, is, in the main, dominated by a boundless egoism. Let us first consider those whose wills are impaired by disease. Among drunkards and the degenerate generally the power of sustained volition is often as good as gone. Nothing can be more pitiful or hopeless than the position of wretched beings in a condition such as this. Often animated by good resolutions, often anxious to do what is right, often possessing a sense of moral responsibility, these unhappy creatures plunge again and again into vice and crime. In some cases of this description the will is practically annihilated; in others it is under the dominion of momentary caprice; in others again it has no power of concentration, or it is the victim of sudden hurricanes of feeling which drive everything before them. Persons afflicted in this way, when not drunkards, are generally convicted for crimes of violence, such as assault, manslaughter, murder. They experience real sentiments of remorse, but neither remorse nor penitence enables them to grapple with their evil star. The will is stricken with disease, and the man is dashed hither and thither, a helpless wreck on the sea of life.[44]

Let us now consider the class of criminals whose wills are not diseased, but are, on the other hand, dominated by a boundless egoism. Of such criminals it may be said that there is no essential difference between them and immoral men. Egoism, selfishness, a lack of consideration for the rights and feelings of others, are the dominant principles in the life of both. The dividing line between the two types consists in this, that the egoism of the immoral man is bounded by the criminal law; but the egoism of the criminal is bounded by no law either without him or within. It does not follow from this that the criminal is without a sense of duty or a dread of legal punishment. In most cases he possesses both in a more or less developed form. But his immense egoism so completely overpowers both his sense of duty and his fear of punishment that it demands gratification at whatever cost. He sees what he ought to do; he knows how he ought to act; he is perfectly alive to the consequences of transgression, but these motives are not strong enough to induce him to alter his ways of life.

On summing up the results of this inquiry into criminal biology we arrive at the following conclusions. In the first place, it cannot be proved that the criminal has any distinct physical conformation, whether anatomical or morphological; and, in the second place, it cannot be proved that there is any inevitable alliance between anomalies of physical structure and a criminal mode of life. But it can be shown that criminals, taken as a whole, exhibit a higher proportion of physical anomalies, and a higher percentage of physical degeneracy than the rest of the community. With respect to the mental condition of criminals, it cannot be established that it is, on the whole, a condition of insanity, or even verging on insanity. But it can be established that the bulk of the criminal classes are of a humbly developed mental organisation. Whether we call this low state of mental development, atavism, or degeneracy is, to a large extent, a matter of words; the fact of its wide-spread existence among criminals is the important point.

The results of this inquiry also show that degeneracy among criminals is sometimes inherited and sometimes acquired. It is inherited when the criminal is descended from insane, drunken, epileptic, scrofulous parents; it is often acquired when the criminal adopts and deliberately persists in a life of crime. The closeness of the connection between degeneracy and crime is, to a considerable extent, determined by social conditions. A degenerate person, who has to earn his own livelihood, is much more likely to become a criminal than another degenerate person who has not. Almost all forms of degeneracy render a man more or less unsuited for the common work of life; it is not easy for such a man to obtain employment; in certain forms of degeneracy it becomes almost impossible. A person in this unfortunate position often becomes a criminal, not because he has strong anti-social instincts, but because he cannot get work. Physically, he is unfit for work, and he takes to crime as an alternative.

Another important result is the close connection between madness and crimes of blood. We have seen that almost one third of the cases of conviction for wilful murder are cases in which the murderer is found to be insane. And this does not represent the full proportion of murderers afflicted mentally; a considerable percentage of those sentenced to death have this sentence commuted on mental grounds. In Germany, from 26 to 28 per cent. of criminals suffering from mental weakness escape the observation of the court in this important particular, and the same state of things unquestionably exists in the United Kingdom. The actual percentage of criminals who suffer from mental disorders in the prisons of Europe is probably much greater than is generally supposed. At the present time a knowledge of insanity is no part of the ordinary medical curriculum. "With respect to this malady the great majority of medical men are themselves in the position of laymen. They have not studied it. It was not included in their examinations."[45] Till this state of things is altered we shall never exactly know the intimacy of the connection between nervous disorders and crime.

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