Adult Criminals and the New Law for their Better Government.
Recent Legislation. —Statistics. —Lord Kimberley ‘s “Habitual Criminals” Bill. — The Present System of License-Holders. —Colonel Henderson’s Report—Social Enemies of Suspected Men—The Wrong-Headed Policeman and the Mischief he may Cause—Looking Out for a Chance—The Last Resource of Desperate Honesty—A Brotherly Appeal.—”Ginger will Settle Her. “—Ruffians who should be Imprisoned for Life.
Regarding the terms professional thief and habitual criminal as
synonymous, now that we come to consider briefly what are at present the means
adopted for the reformation of criminals and the suppression and punishment of
crime, and what the most recent and plausible suggestions for amendment and
improvement, we find the work already done to our hand, and naught remains but
to cull from the shoals of evidence pro and con that have been lately set before
The total cost of our prisons and prisoners for the year 1867, was £657,129, distributed as follows: (1) Extra-ordinary charges for new buildings, &c., £177,553 19s. 9d. (2) Ordinary charges £108,218 15s. l1d. (3) Officers’ salaries, &c., £213,285 l5s. 5d., and (4) Prisoners’ diet, sick allowances, clothing, &c., £158,071 5s. 3d. The average yearly charge per prisoner under each head of costs, was as follows:—(1) Extraordinary charges £9 l7s. 4d. (2) Ordinary annual charges £6 0s. 3d. (making together £15 l7s. 7d.). (3) Officers and attendants £11 17s. ld. (4) Prisoners’ diet £6 11s. ld., and clothing £2 4s. 7d. (together £8 15s. 8d.), making a total per prisoner of £36 l0s. 4d., or omitting the extraordinary charge for buildings, &c., £26 13s. The average of £36 l0s. 4d. is higher than the corresponding average for 1865-6 by £2 15s. 8d. The average of £26 l3s. is higher than the corresponding average by 15s. ld. These averages are calculated upon the total amounts under each head of expenditure, and the total daily average number in all the prisons. The average cost per prisoner naturally shows great variation in different prisons. The highest is at Alnwick, viz.: £114 3s. 2d. against £110 1s. 2d. in 1865-6, £108 2s. 5d in 1864-5, and £88 15s. l1d, in 18634, with a daily average of one pflsoner in each year! At Oakham, the average cost for 1866-7 is £80 13s. 3d., with a daily average of 10 prisoners against £93 16s. 2d. in 1865-6, and £87 1s. 9d. in 1864-5, with the daily average of 8 prisoners in each of those years; at Appleby £70 2s. with a daily average of 6 prisoners; at Ilford £51 6s. with a daily average of 20 prisoners. The lowest averages are as follows: At Hull £16 17s., with a daily average of 173 prisoners; at Salford £16 17s. 8d., with a daily average of 568 prisoners; at Liverpool £18 8s. 9d. with a daily average of 952 prisoners; at Devonport £18 12s. 4d., with a daily average of 58 prisoners; at Durham £18 16s. 9d., with a daily average of 433 prisoners; and at Manchester £19 is. 3d., with a daily average of 631 prisoners. The following are the comparative costs per prisoner for the whole of the prisons for each of the last six years:— £24 3s. 4d., £23 7s. 5d., £23 7s. 10d., £24 3s. 3d., £25 17s. l1d., and £26 13s.
The total number of police and constabulary for the same year, is set down at 24,073 as against 23,728 in the year preceding. The total cost for the year is £1,920,505 12s. 2d. as against £1,827,105 16s. 7d. in 1866, an increase of upwards of 5 per cent. following an increase of £78,647 17s. ld., or 4.5 per cent. upon the amount for 1864-5. As compared with the total costs for 1856-7, the first year for which returns were made under the Act; the increase in 1866-7 amounts to £654,926, or upwards of 51 per cent. The increase in the number of the police and constabulary during the same period is 4,886, or upwards of 25 per cent.
The number of persons committed for trial in 1867 was less than the number for any of the four years immediately preceding 1866. The increase in 1867, as compared with 1866, is in the number of males, viz., 328. In the number of females there is a decrease of 206. The following are the numbers committed for trial in each of the last 20 years:—
1848 ... 30,349
1849 ... 27,816
1850 ... 26,813
1851 ... 27,960
1852 ... 27,510
1853 ... 27,057
1854 ... 29,359
1855 ... 25,972
1856 ... 19,437
1857 ... 20,269
1858 ... 17,855
1859 ... 16,674
1860 ... 15,999
1861 ... 18,326
1862 ... 20,001
1863 ... 20,818
1864 ... 19,506
1865 ... 19,614
1866 ... 18,849
1867 ... 18,971
already intimated in these pages, Lord Kimberley is responsible for
introducing the broad and important subject of Criminal Law Reform to the
legislature for its reconsideration and reformation. In introducing this bill
for the suppression of crime, his lordship reminded the peers assembled that
in the year 1853, after a very full discussion with respect to transportation it
was resolved, partly on account of the evils of the system, and partly on
account of the strong remonstrances of our Australian colonists to whom our
convicts had been sent, that it should, to a considerable extent cease, and that
accordingly an Act was passed imposing for the first time the sentence of penal
servitude as a substitute for transportation in the greater number of cases.
From that time transportation was limited to Western Australia and the
Bermudas. The numbers sent to Western Australia did not average more than 460
per annum. The colonists, however, despite this moderate consignment, felt by
no means flattered by the distinction conferred on them, and in consideration of
their strong remonstrances, in the course of a few years transportation to
Australia entirely ceased.
Penal servitude was the arrangement substituted, and the chief feature of it was the ticket-of-leave. The system promised well, but no sooner was it fairly at work than the public took alarm at the number of convicts scattered over the country holding these tickets, and then another change was resolved on. A commission, presided over by Lord Carnarvon, was appointed to examine the whole question of penal servitude, and the result was a report containing several important recommendations. Foremost of these was that sentences of penal servitude which had been as short as three years, should not, in future, be passed for shorter terms than seven years. Another, almost equally important, was to the effect that convicts sentenced to penal servitude should be subjected in the first place to nine months’ separate imprisonment, and then to labour on public works for the remainder of the term for which they were sentenced, but with a power of earning by industry and good conduct an abridgment of this part of punishment. The provision under which police supervision has since been carried out, and the conditions under which licences should be earned by good conduct, were also laid down. As further stated by his lordship, when the Act of 1864 was under consideration, great doubts were expressed whether it was possible to carry out a satisfactory system by which the good conduct of convicts and their industry when employed on public works could be so measured that they should earn an abridgment of their sentences. Experience, however, showed that the system in its working was to a great extent successful, especially when the management of the business in question fell into the hands of Colonel Henderson, who succeeded the late Sir Joshua Jebb. Under Colonel Henderson’s supervision it has been found possible to exact from convicts the really hard and patient industry which is necessary before they can obtain a remission of their sentences. The value of the work performed by convicts at the three Convict prisons—Portsmouth, Portland, and Chatham—was during the year 1868, £106,421; while the cost of maintaining those establishments was £110,532, so that the earnings nearly equalled the whole expense to which the country was put; indeed, as regards Chatham, where there are great facilities for remunerative work in making bricks for public works, there was an actual profit. In 1867 the average daily number of convicts at Chatham was 990, and the value of their labour was £40,898 7s., while the cost of their maintenance and supervision was £35,315 18s., there being thus a surplus of £5,582 9s. Under this new and improved system, in which the feature last quoted shows so satisfactorily, crime decreased. In 1865-6 the indictable offences committed numbered 50,549, and in 1866-7 they were 55,538, showing an increase of 4,989, or something under 10 per cent. From 1856 to 1862, the convictions excluding summary ones, the annual average was 13,859, while in 1867 the number was 14,207. His lordship explained that he began with 1856, because in the previous year the Criminal Jurisdiction Act was passed, enabling a considerable number of crimes to be dealt with summarily. Although this shows an apparent increase from 13,859 to 14,207, it must be remembered that in the interval the population increased by nearly two and a-half millions, so that there is a decrease rather than an increase in proportion to the population. Satisfactory, however, as was this result, it appeared to Lord Kimberly that, as we naturally obtain fresh experience from year to year, fresh opportunities of committing crime being discovered and fresh means of meeting these offences, it is necessary from time to time to re-adjust our system, and make it more complete. Another reason for carefully scrutinising, and seeing whether we cannot improve our system, is the complete cessation of transportation; for though during the last few years we have not sent out to our colonies any very large number of convicts, it is obvious that for 500 convicts a year to remain in this country involves a considerable increase of the convict population. The number of males now on licence is 1,566, and of females 441, in 1870 it will probably be 1,705, and about ten years hence it will probably be something under 3,000.
These, however, form but a small portion of the great criminal class. Of this latter the average of 1865-6, 1864-5 and 1863-4, shows the following results: Known thieves and depredators, 22,959, receivers of stolen goods 3,095, prostitutes 27,186, suspected persons 29,468, vagrants and tramps 32,938, making a total of 122,646. In the metropolis alone there were in 1866-7, 14,648 persons living by dishonest means, and 5,628 prostitutes. The number in 1865-6 being 14,491 and 5,554.
The above being in the main Lord Kimberley’s grounds of justification for bringing forward his “Habitual Criminals’ Bill,” let us take its first provision, that applying to convicts, who on the strength of a ticket-of-leave are in the enjoyment of conditional liberty, and inquire what is precisely the system it is intended to supersede, and what are the practical results of the workings of this last mentioned system, viz.: that which on the recommendation of the committee, under the presidency of Lord Carnarvon, became law in 1864. The following memorandum as to the present system of licence holders reporting themselves to the police, under the Penal Servitude Amendment Act, 1864, was issued recently by Colonel Henderson, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis:— “A male licence holder is required personally to report himself at the principal police-station of the district in which he resides within three days of his liberation. A printed descriptive form of the licence holder is sent from the prison to the police with the address where the man, previous to his liberation, stated he intended to reside. The officer on duty, when the licence holder reports himself, instructs him in what he is required to do, and also delivers to him a printed notice. No further steps are then taken by the police for a month from that date, when, if the licence holder again reports himself, he is considered as complying with the law.
“After inquiry to ascertain if the address given is a correct one, no further supervision is kept over him by the police, and his lodgings are not again visited.
“If a licence holder neglects to report himself as above, or is seen, or suspected of leading an irregular life, then the police make quiet inquiry, and, as is frequently the case, if it is found that he has left the address he was living at, his description is inserted in the Police Gazette, with directions for apprehension.
“The employers are never informed by the police that they are employing a licence holder.
“Licence holders apprehended for offences have complained to the magistrates that the police harass them, but on investigation such statements have always proved to be without foundation.
“No case has ever been known of police levying black mail on licence holders.
“The Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, 39, Charing Cross, with the sanction of the Secretary of State, undertakes the care of licence holders.
“The licence holders who wish to place themselves under the care of this Society are required to report themselves, on liberation, at the King Street Police Station, Westminster, where they are served with a notice.
“A messenger from Millbank Prison accompanies the licence holders to the police-station, and after this form is gone through, all local police supervision ceases until a report is made from the Society to the Commissioner.
“Of 368 male licence holders discharged into the Metropolitan Police district in 1969 [-sic-], 290 placed themselves under the care of the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, either on discharge or subsequently.
“There have been difficulties in consequence of this divided jurisdiction, but in the event of this bill passing, the supervision of convicts who place themselves in charge of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, will be carried on by the police, in conjunction with the officers of the Society, and can be so arranged as to avoid any undue interference with the men; in fact, it is quite as much the interest of the police to endeavour to assist licence holders to get honest work, as to arrest them if they misconduct themselves, and for this purpose it would be quite sufficient if the licence holder were bound by the conditions of his licence to report change of residence and employment, the monthly report being of no particular value, so long as proper supervision is exercised by the police.
“As regards the arrest of licence holders, or of persons who have been twice convicted of felony, it is clear all must depend on the personal knowledge of the police constable of the person and antecedents of the suspected person.
“Under ordinary circumstances, no constable interferes with any licence holder, nor would he arrest any man on suspicion, Without previously reporting the circumstances to the Commissioner, who would order quiet inquiry to be made, and give instructions, if necessary, for the man’s arrest.
“Identification would be rendered more easy than at present, by the proposed central registration.”
As the law at present stands, then, in the event of a ticket of leave man failing to comply with the police regulations, and on his being conveyed before a magistrate, it is provided that if the magistrate is satisfied that he is not earning an honest living, he may be committed to undergo his original term of imprisonment. Under the restrictions of the proposed new Bill, however, much more stringent arrangements are suggested. The onus of proving his honesty will rest with the man who holds the ticket. “A licence holder may at any time be summoned by a police constable before a magistrate, and called upon to show that he is earning an honest livelihood, the burden of proof resting on him; if he cannot prove his honesty, he may be committed to undergo his original sentence of Penal Servitude.”
Now it is evident on the face of it that the above quoted clause of the proposed “Habitual Criminals Bill” is beset by many grave objections. In the first place, to vest such an amount of irresponsible power in the police is a step hardly warranted by one s experience of the intelligence and integrity of the “force,” satisfactory on the whole as it may be. There can be no question that as a rule the superintendents and inspectors and sergeants are in every respect equal to the duties imposed on them; only for the unenviable notoriety lately achieved by a functionary still higher in command, commissioners also might have been included in the favourable list.
It is equally true, too, that the great majority of the men of the “force” discharge their duty with efficiency; at the same time it is undeniable that there are exceptions to the good rule. But too frequently do our criminal records remind us that virtue’s perfect armour is not invariably represented by the helmet and the coat of blue. Only lately there occurred an alarming instance of this. A gang of plunderers and receivers of stolen goods was apprehended, and presently there appeared on the scene an individual, then an inspector of railway detective police, and formerly holding a responsible position in the Metropolitan force, taking on himself, with a coolness that bespoke his long experience, the office of screening the thief and arranging his escape from the law’s righteous grasp. Richards is this fellow’s name, and he was evidently well known to a large circle of acquaintance, whose fame is recorded in the records of the Old Bailey. With amazing audacity Mr. Richards addressed himself to the two detective policemen who had the case in hand, and offered them ten pounds each if they would accommodate his clients by committing perjury when the day of trial came. Happily the integrity of the two officers was proof against the tempting bribe, and the unfortunate negotiator found himself even deeper in the mire than those his disinterested good nature would have aided. At the same time one cannot refrain from asking, is this the first time that Mr. Richards has evinced his obliging disposition, and the still more important question, does he stand alone, or are there others of his school? As is the case with all large communities, the police force must include in its number men malicious, prejudiced, wrong-headed and foolish. Probably there are no serious grounds for the alarm that under the convenient cloak the clause in question provides, the policeman, unscrupulous and dishonest, might by levying black mail on the poor wretches so completely in his power, reap a rich and iniquitous harvest, and render nugatory one of the Bill’s prime provisions. This is an objection that carries no great weight. No law that could be passed could put the criminal, the burglar, and the housebreaker more at the mercy of the dishonest policeman that he now is. As repeatedly appears in our criminal reports, the sort of odd intimacy that commonly exists between the thief and his natural enemy, the policeman, is very remarkable; the latter is as well acquainted with the haunts of the former as he is with the abodes of his own friends and relatives. Should the enemies meet in the street, the acquaintance is acknowledged by a sort of confident “I-can-have-you-whenever-I-want-you” look on the one part, and a half devil-may-care, half deprecatory glance on the other. When the crisis arrives, and the thief is “wanted,” he is hailed as Jack, Tom, or Bill, and the capture is effected in the most comfortable and business-like manner imaginable.
Under such an harmonious condition of affairs, nothing could be easier, were they both agreed, than bribery and corruption of the most villanous sort, and, taking Colonel Henderson’s word, “that no case has ever been known of police levying black mail on licence holders,” and further, considering the inadequate pay the policeman receives for the amount of intelligent and vigilant service required of him, the country may be congratulated on Possessing, on the whole, such an almost unexceptionally good servant.
It is the wrong-headed policeman, probably, who would work the greatest amount of mischief in this direction. The busy, overzealous man, neither malicious, dishonest, nor vindictive, but simply a little too anxious to win for himself a character for “shrewdness and intelligence.” This would probably be the young Policeman, desirous of making up for his lack of experience by a display of extraordinary sagacity. To such a man’s home-bred, officially cultivated ideas of right and wrong, it would appear of small use “suspecting” an individual, unless he immediately set about testing him with the utmost severity to know the extent to which the suspicion was justified.
To be sure, an attempt is made in the Bill, as it passed the Lords, to guard against the weaknesses and shortcomings of constables by making it incumbent on them to obtain the written authority of a superior before they arrest and take a man before a magistrate; but really this may mean just nothing at all. It may be assumed that all the evidence a director of police would require before he granted a written authority, would be the declaration of the policeman applying for it that he had fair grounds for making the application. Undoubtedly he would be expected to make out a good case; but that, as an over-zealous and prejudiced man, he would be sure to do. The superintendent, or whoever it was that had power to issue a written warrant for a “suspect’s” apprehension, could not, by examination of the prisoner, convince himself of the justice of the act of his subordinate, to do which would be to usurp the magisterial office. And the process would probably be attended with this disadvantage,—that the said written order for arrest would wear an importance that really did not belong to it. If a man were arrested simply on the authority of a common policeman, the chances are that the magistrate would scrutinise the case narrowly, and be guided to a conviction solely by the evidence and his own discretion; but the case would come under the new act before him to a large extent prejudiced. He is instructed that the warrant that legalised the man’s apprehension was not issued in vague supposition that it might be justifiable: an official of the law —a man high in authority—has sanctioned the arrest, and here is his written testimony that he considered the step expedient.
Again, let us for a moment contemplate the difficulties that must always attend the proving of his honesty by a man who, according to the high authority of the Lord Chancellor, has “no character to lose.” “As to what was said about the injury done to a man’s character by supervision, he must observe that a man’s character was gone after two convictions. It was idle to say that after two convictions a man had a character.”
In the case of a man against whom nothing criminal was ever suspected, it might be easy enough for him to prove his honesty any day, or any hour of the day, he might be called on to do so; but it is altogether different with the individual who dare not even lay claim to a character for honesty, to prove that the suspicions entertained against him are unfounded. It should be borne in mind that the difficulties of the poor wretch’s condition almost preclude the possibility of his making a show of earning his bread in a worthy manner. In the majority of cases he will be found to be a man without a trade, or, if he has one, he will probably sink it, and endeavour to keep out of sight of all who knew him and the story of his downfall, by hiding amongst the great multitude who turn their hands to any rough-and-ready labour that will bring them a shilling. There are hundreds and thousands of men in London, and indeed in all great cities, who “pick up” a living somehow—anyhow, and who, though they all the time are honest fellows, would find it difficult to account for, and bring forward evidence to show, how they were engaged last Monday, and again on Wednesday, and what they earned, and whom they earned it of. Such men “job about,” very often in localities that, in the case of a man under police supervision, to be seen there would be to rouse suspicions as to his intentions. For instance, many a shilling or six-pence is “picked up” by men who have nothing better to do, by hanging about railway stations and steamboat wharves, and looking out for passengers who have luggage they wish carried. But supposing that a man, a “ticket-of-leave,” was to resort to such a means of obtaining a livelihood, and that he was seen “hanging about” such places day after day by a watchful detective who knew who and what he was,—with what amount of credulity would the authorities receive his statement that he was “looking out for a chance to carry somebody’s trunk or carpet-bag”! In all probability the naive assertion would provoke a smile on the face of the magistrate who heard the case, and there would be “laughter” in court.
Again, as is well known, hundreds of men seek work at the docks. It might be supposed by their innocent lordships that nothing could be easier than for a man to prove his employment at such gigantic and sternly-regulated establishments as the London or St. Katherine Docks, with their staff of livened officials and responsible gate-keepers. The dock-labourer, on his admittance, is furnished with a ticket, and when he leaves he is searched so as to make sure that he has stolen none of the valuable goods scattered in every direction. But it is a fact that no system can be looser or more shambling or shabbier than that which rules in the drudgery departments of these great emporiums for ship-loading and warehousing. Every morning the dock-gates are besieged by a mob clamorous as that which in the old time swarmed about the door of the casual-wand; and if nags and patches and hunger-pinched visages go for anything, the quality of both mobs is much of a sort. It is only men who can find nothing else to do who apply at the docks for work, for the pay is but threepence an hour, and the labour, hoisting-out and landing goods from the holds of ships, is cruelly hard; and it is not uncommon to employ a man for an hour and a half or two hours, and then discharge him. But it is better than nothing, and it is the “ready penny”—emphatically the penny—that the miserable, shamefaced, twice-convicted man, with some remnant of conscience and good intent remaining in him, would seek as the last resource of desperate honesty, all other sources failing him. But it would be next to impossible for him to prove that he had been working at the docks; no one knows him there. He might be there employed twenty times, and each time in a different gang, and under a different ganger. His workmates for the time are strangers, bearing not names, but numbers. Were it to save his life, he would find it hard to prove that he occasionally found a “job” at the docks, and, despite all his honest exertions, he would be liable to have his ticket revoked, and be sent back to finish to its full length his original sentence.
Again, it might even happen that a suspected man able to prove his honesty would find himself almost in as complete a fix as the one who, through circumstances over which he had no control, was unable to do so. Under the existing system, we have Colonel Henderson’s word for it, masters are never informed by the police that they are employing a license-holder; but he would cease to be assured this immense advantage if Lord Kimberley has his way with him. As Earl Shaftesbury pertinently remarks: “A holder of the ticket-of-leave goes before a magistrate; and what happens? He proves that he is earning an honest livelihood, and the magistrate dismisses him. He returns to his work, and his employer dismisses him also. It has occurred before now that men have been dismissed by their employers under somewhat similar circumstances. How can you compensate a man for such a loss as that? You cannot do it; and yet you expose men who may be earning an honest livelihood to the danger of that happening to them if they refuse a demand for hush-money, or in any other way give offence to a dishonest police-constable. I know at the present moment a young man who, though convicted, is now in respectable employment, and in the receipt of good wages. He is living in terror, lest, under the circumstances to which I have referred, he may be brought before a police-magistrate. Depend on it that hundreds of men in that position are now watching the progress of this Bill.
“On the authority of the late Sir Richard Mayne it has been stated that the police have, through the clause that insists on convicts reporting themselves monthly, been enabled to furnish employment to a good many of the ticket-of-leave men; this, however, is very doubtful. That some situations may have been obtained for these men through the exertions of the police and the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society may be true; but of this I am certain, that whatever returns the police may make of the places they have obtained for released convicts, they have not obtained anything like the number that those men obtained for themselves before the adoption of so stringent a provision.”
There is undoubtedly a depth of criminality to which it is possible for a man to descend, putting himself utterly beyond reach of anything but human compassion. His conversion is quite hopeless, and he is no better than a predatory wild-beast, whose ferocity will endure just as long as his brute-strength remains; he would probably bite his best friend at his dying gasp. The sort of ruffian here alluded to will perhaps be better understood by aid of the following illustration, “drawn from life” not many months since. It is a case of a ruffian committed for trial for “garotting” and nearly murdering a gentleman. The delectable epistle was written by garotter “Bill” to his brother; and was intrusted to a prisoner, who had served his time and was about to quit the gaol, for hand-delivery. Either out of fear or forgetfulness, however, the letter was left behind and discovered by the authorities.
“Dundee Prison, July 18th, 1868.—Dean Brother, the only thing I am afraid of is that moll; if you can manage to square her I fear nothing; but if she swears she saw me have him by the throat it will not go well with me, for they are most d—d down on garotting. Then again, if she says she saw him with that amount of money, by —! they might put me in for the robbery too; and there is seven years dead certain. You don’t know what a b— like that will say. It can surely to God be squared between so many of you, and only the moll to come against me. If the bloke is in town he could be easily squared, I think; you could get him sweet, put the gloves on him, and things like that, and get him to say he cannot swear to me in court; that would be all that was wanted; or it is very easy giving that moll a dose. Put Ginger up to it; who the h— would take notice of a w— kicking the bucket? I would do it for you. If any of them is squared, tell Ginger to just sign M. H. at the bottom of her letter, so as I may know. I think it would be a good idea for my mother to get the bloke privately, and make an appeal to him; he would have a little feeling for her, I think; if you was getting him into the Garnick the wifey could talk to him so fine. If you only had one of them squared that’s all that is wanted; for I am certain there is no more against me than them two. Set your brains to work, and stick at nothing; tell them not to be afraid of perjury in this case; they can’t be brought in for it nohow; swear black is white; I must get off if they do the right thing; swear to anything; swear the b— wigs off their heads; there is no danger of being brought in for perjury in this case, not a d—d bit.—Bill.” At the head of the letter the following was written across the page: “Poison the moll if she will not do what’s right; by C—! I would think d—d little of doing it to save my brother! Ginger will fix her if you tell her to.,’ The following was written inside the envelope of the letter: “They must not forget about me having a sore hand; that might help me too, as it would not be very likely I could seize him by the throat and compress the same, as it is stated in my indictment. That will be a good point, I think, he being a stout man. Tell them to be sure and stick to not seeing the bloke, and that I slept in the house that night; not likely that I could hold him with one hand; they can swear that my right hand was very sore, not fit to be used anyhow, as it was, and no mistake.”
It came out in the course of the evidence that the meaning of the word “bloke” was “a man whom a woman might pick up in the street;” that “moll” was the name for a woman; and that “Ginger” was a nickname for one of the female witnesses.
To ruffians of this school, if to any, applies Lord Cannarvon ‘s terrible suggestion of imprisonment for life, without hope, or possibility even, of release.
“It is idle to say that the subject of so many convictions is not absolutely and hopelessly hardened: they belong to a class of persons on whom punishment is only wasted, and the only thing is to shut them up for the rest of their lives, and keep them out of the possibility of doing any harm to society. I believe that such a course is best for them and for society, and that no objection to it can be reasonably urged. The convict-establishments of this country are already paying their way, and the surplus cost is very light; on the other hand, if you look at the cost which a criminal puts the State to in his detection, trial, and other criminal proceedings, it is perfectly clear that the cheapest course for the country would be to shut him up. As far as the man himself is concerned it is also the most humane and the kindest course. He exchanges a most miserable state of life outside the prison-walls, for one of comparative cleanliness and order inside. And if you calculate the time which such a man has spent in prison—broken only by the shorter intervals during which he has been let loose and again recaptured—it will be found that the difference between the period actually spent in prison and a lifelong sentence would really be very slight in amount.”
As need not be mentioned, however, habitual criminals of the type above quoted are by far the exception, and not the rule. Experience teaches us that to become a ticket-of-leave man is not invariably to be converted from a human creature to a callous brute,—blind and deaf in vice, and doggedly determined so to continue to the last; give him a fair chance to amend, and in very many cases he will embrace it, thankfully even. The statistics of the Prisoners’ Aid Society encourage us to hope better of even the worst of the criminal class. As has already been shown, the convicts themselves recognise and gratefully appreciate the advantages held out to them by the humanitarians whose head-quarters are by Charing Cross. Of 368 male convicts discharged in one year, only 78 neglected to make application for the bounty. It appears from the Society’s most recent return that the total number of discharged prisoners assisted by the association since May 1857 was 5,798, but the average number had recently decreased, because fewer prisoners had of late been released on license. The number of those who had applied to the Society during the first six months of last year (1868) was 145, of whom 26 had emigrated; 44 had found good and constant employment in the metropolis; 15 had gone to sea; 25 had been sent to places beyond the Metropolitan Police-district, and placed under the supervision of the local police, and 35 had been classed as unsatisfactory and bad: but these included all those who were known to be in honest employment, but were so classed because they failed to report themselves to the police, as required by the Act.
It remains to be seen whether the Commons will give countenance to the new and severe measures sought by the Lords to be adopted against the convicted man at liberty under ticket-license. One thing is certain, it would be better to do away altogether with tickets-of-leave than use them as stumbling-blocks to a man s reformation. The only object of a ticket-of-leave is to give the holder a chance of returning to honest courses some months earlier than, under the rigid term of his sentence, he would be enabled to. Undoubtedly it is necessary to guard against, as far as Possible, an abuse of the privilege. Full and sufficient opportunity should be allowed a man to follow honest pursuits, if he be so inclined; but it is only fair that the authorities should reserve to themselves the power of holding him in tether, so to say, so as to be able to haul him back to fast anchorage, should his ill-behaviour make such a step desirable; but meanwhile the tether-line should run slack and free—it should by no means be wound about a man’s hands so as to impede his honest use of them, or about his neck so as to strangle him. At Wakefield we are informed there is an organisation by which every prisoner on his discharge—whether on a ticket-of-leave or otherwise—could find a home for six or twelve months, till he is able to find employment for himself, or till an employer came to look for him. Eighty per cent of the persons attached to the Wakefield establishment had engaged in, and settled down to, honest employment. Surely such a result should encourage those in authority to found similar institutions in other parts of the country.
To return, however, to the projected Habitual Criminals’ Bill. It is not the ticket-of-leave man alone who has reasons for quaking lest it should become law; quaking for fear of injustice, not justice, that is to say. The class its stern provisions chiefly, and, as I venture to opine, cruelly affect are those unfortunates who have suffered two distinct terms of imprisonment. From the date of his second conviction a man is to be subject to police supervision for a term of seven years. They have the advantage over the ticket-of-leave man, that they are not required to report themselves periodically at a police-station; but, like the criminal of deeper dye, any day within their seven years of supervision they are liable to be arrested by the police and taken before a magistrate, to prove that they are not deriving a livelihood from dishonest sources. Should they fail in doing so, they are to be committed to prison for a year. Of the question itself, “What is an habitual criminal?” remarks the Times, commenting on the communication of its correspondent, “we say, take a walk with the police, and they will show you the class in all its varieties as easily as you could be shown the animals in the Zoological Gardens. Here they are,—men about whose character and calling nobody would ever pretend to entertain a doubt. We have been all perplexing ourselves with the possible fate of some contrite convict disposed to become respectable, but thwarted in his efforts by the intervention of the police. Why, among the real genuine representatives of crime—among the people described by our correspondent—there is not a man who dreams, or ever would dream, of any honest calling.... The profession has its grades, like any other; and so here is a company of first-class thieves, and another company representing the opposite end of the scale. At one establishment they are fashionably attired, and not altogether ill-mannered; at another the type is that of Bill Sykes himself, even to his bulldog. But through all these descriptions, whether of house or inmate, host or guest, high or low, thief or receiver, there runs one assumption which we press upon our readers as practically decisive of the question before us. It is this: that about ‘the habitual criminality’ of the whole class there is not, in the mind of any human creature concerned, the smallest doubt whatever... . The practice of the past generation was simple: some petty offence commonly began, then as now, a criminal career. It was detected and punished, and the criminal was sent back to his place in society. A second, and perhaps a third, act of deeper guilt followed, and the graduate in crime was condemned to transportation beyond seas. As long as this punishment retained any terrors it may have been efficient; but long before it was abandoned it had come to be recognised as an acknowledged benefit rather than a penalty by those who were sentenced to it. The result was the constant secretion of a criminal class on one hand, and the removal on the other to another sphere when they became ripe for the voyage—the removal being viewed as an encouragement to the commission of similar offences. We must make the painful acknowledgment that part of this dismal cycle cannot be materially altered. When a man is convicted of his first criminal act, we cannot know whether it is an isolated deed or whether it is the first-fruit of a lifetime. When he has gone from less to greater, and has proved himself indurated in crime, we are forced to protect society by removing him from it... . Nor does the proposal involve that extensive and minute system of police espionage of which some people have been apprehensive. An honest man can always keep out of such questionable circumstances; and unless he places himself within them, he is as independent of the police as any unconvicted Englishman. When a man has been twice convicted, it is surely no great hardship to deprive him of the privilege of attempting and plotting crime with impunity.”