The vehement clamour which still exists upon the subject of convicts and their discipline leads, when it is systematically examined, to a great variety of subjects, of the existence of some of which, in any shape, the public hardly seems to be aware, whilst their connection with each other seems to be altogether unsuspected. It is the object of this paper to point out the relation of some of these questions to each other. The general problem to be discussed is, How are criminals punished, and how ought they to be punished? The answer to the first of these questions is usually given in more or less graphic descriptions of the interior of such establishments as Portland and Dartmoor, but in order to begin at the beginning, it is necessary to go a step farther back, and to ask how the inmates of the establishments come to be sent there. There are not many of our institutions which attract or, in some respects, deserve more notice than the criminal law. Reports of trials are always popular, and an assize court presents to curiosity greater attractions than a theatre. We have endless Acts of Parliament, judges of first-rate ability, an elaborate system of procedure, and careful rules of evidence; but it must always strike a person practically conversant with the subject, as one of the most curious of all anomalies, that whereas the sole object of all this apparatus is the infliction of punishment, there is no part of the whole matter to which so little attention is paid by those who are principally concerned in it. If the elucidation of a point of law is required—if the question is, whether a particular fluid exactly comes up to what the law calls a false pretence, or crosses the invisible boundary between embezzlement and breach of trust—if it becomes necessary to ascertain, whether a question may lawfully be put to a witness in a particular shape—the machinery for obtaining an answer is almost redundant; counsel will speak and judges 'will listen till the force of nature can go no further. If a question of fact is raised, it will be sifted with a degree of ingenuity which leaves little to be desired; but when the judge has laid down the law, and the jury have found the facts, the interest of the case is over. The rest is matter of mere personal discretion. The judge looks at the prisoner for a few moments, makes him a little speech, and pronounces his sentence, often with a good deal of solemnity, but apparently with singularly little principle. It may be six, nine, or twelve months' imprisonment, or penal servitude for any term, from three years upwards. No one who has not tried knows the sense of helplessness which enters the mind of a man who has such a function to perform even in the humblest degree. It is just as easy to say nine as to say six months—to say six years' penal servitude as to say four; and the question which of the two is to be said has to be settled in a very short time, without consultation, advice, or guidance of any description whatever. Yet the sentence is the gist of the proceeding. It is to the trial what the bullet is to the powder. Unless it is what it ought to be, the counsel, the witnesses, the jury, and the summing up, to say nothing of the sheriff with his coach, javelin-men and trumpeters, are a mere brutum fulmen—they might as well have stayed at home but for the credit of the thing.
It is an old reproach against the criminal law of this country that it considers prisoners in the light of game, protected for the amusement and profit of the gentlemen sportsmen by elaborate rules of evidence and procedure, which give them as large a chance of escape as is necessary to keep up the interest of the pursuit. This, which has been called the "sporting theory of criminal justice," is no doubt susceptible of a good deal of illustration; but nothing can set it in so clear a light as the comparative importance attached to the trial and the punishment. A pack of hounds, and a number of men, dogs, and horses will spend hours in hunting a fox, which, when caught, is abandoned to the dogs without an observation. The criminal, when fairly run down, is sentenced by the judge, and turned over to another set of authorities utterly unconnected with and unrelated to him, as if the law had nothing whatever to do with a man after asserting its right to punish him. Between the judges who sentence and the gaolers and managers of convict prisons who punish, there is no sort of relation. They act upon different principles, and constantly pull different ways. The judge, struck by some special act of malignity or cruelty in a prisoner's conduct, gives him six or eight years' penal servitude instead of four. When the prisoner gets to the convict prison, the special reason which caused the sentence is unknown. The man is considered simply as a prisoner under an eight years' sentence, and is put through a course of discipline to which his offence may have, and often has, absolutely no relation whatever. Some years ago, a young man, infuriated at an assault, committed either on himself or his brother, ran home, got a swordstick, and ran it through the aggressor's heart. He was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude. Apart from this unhappy outbreak, he was a person of excellent character, and, in particular, he was thoroughly honest and industrious. Yet he would have to be passed through Sir Joshua Jebb's mill for reforming professional thieves and robbers, as if his crime had been one of idleness and dishonesty.
There is every reason to believe that much of the dissatisfaction which exists as to the treatment of convicts arises from this complete want of connection between those who assess, and those who inflict the punishment. The effect would no doubt be produced, more or less, wherever the cause existed; but the cause in England acts with peculiar energy, on account of features of the criminal law with which people in general are not acquainted. Probably, no system in the world leaves so wide a discretion to the judges in the matter of the amount of punishment, and none renounces more completely the attempt to adapt in any way whatever the kind of punishment to the nature of the offence.
A few words on the history and present condition of the criminal law will not only illustrate the fact, but show the cause of it. The criminal law has gone through three principal phases or stages. The first may be said to have been ended with the Stuarts; the second lasted till the time of George IV.; and the third has lasted from that time to the present day. The law was first reduced to something like a settled condition in the times of Henry III. and Edward I. In the four following centuries parts of its procedure—trial by battle, for instance—became obsolete, and other parts, such as trial by jury, underwent a great change of character; but the definitions of crimes, and the punishments allotted to them, underwent surprisingly little alteration. They might be divided into three principal classes—political offences, felonies, and misdemeanors. It would be no easy matter to draw the lines by which these classes were distinguished from each other with any approach to accuracy, or to show what were their legal relations to each other. Indeed, political offences never were technically distinguished from other felonies and misdemeanors; their general nature, as far as regarded punishment, is easily understood. The distinction between felonies and misdemeanors was probably originally meant to divide crimes which were levelled against the security of life and property, such as murder, robbery, and arson, from those which partook rather of the nature of private injuries, like libel, or a private assault, or a riot.
The punishments for political offences were either death in the most horrible form, or ruinous fines, often accompanied by the utmost severities, in the way of imprisonment, and even mutilation. The punishment for felony, in almost every instance, was death. The punishment for misdemeanor was fine and imprisonment, both or either, to which might be added whipping or the pillory, at the discretion of the court. The heedless and wanton severity of this barbarous system was considerably mitigated by exceptions as irrational and capricious as itself. The law of benefit of clergy reduced the punishment for many felonies to a short imprisonment, or burning in the hand by branding the brawn of the thumb—a punishment of which the severity depended principally on the temper of the executioner. The general result was that for nearly 400 years criminals ran a considerable chance of being hung; but if they escaped that, they escaped, in cases which did not affect the Government, with something like practical impunity. In the latter part of the seventeenth and throughout the whole of the eighteenth, and even in the beginning of the nineteenth century, this barbarous system,—which, amongst other defects, had that of being so meagre that it left many most serious crimes unpunished, and so technical that it constantly allowed criminals to escape through the most ridiculous quibbles,—was adapted to the altered circumstances of society by some of the clumsiest, most reckless, and most cruel legislation that ever disgraced a civilized country. Every sort of trifle was erected into a "felony without benefit of clergy;" a crime, that is, for which the culprit was immediately, and on the first offence, to be put to death; and this was varied by provisions affixing in some instances the punishment of transportation for various terms, differing in the most arbitrary manner, to particular offences, created not with any general views at all, but because the fancy of the public was struck by some particular case for which no special provision happened to have been made. If this bloodthirsty and irrational code had been consistently carried out, it would have produced a reign of tenor quite as cruel as that of the French Revolution, and not half so excusable. It owed its existence to the fact that its administration was as capricious as its provisions were bloody. Not a twentieth part of the persons capitally convicted were executed. Some were imprisoned, many transported to various parts of the world, principally to the American colonies, from which they seldom returned, and not a few were compelled to serve in the army and navy, probably to encourage the others.
For between forty and fifty years this cruel and reckless system has been gradually superseded by one which leaves nothing to be desired on the score of humanity, but which is as deeply tainted with the original vice of recklessness and utter want of system as the older laws which it has superseded. The punishment of death was superseded by transportation, which in its turn has given place to penal servitude, and imprisonment and hard labour have taken the place of the old-fashioned imprisonment in the common gaol—one of the stupidest penalties that ever was devised. Numerous and costly experiments have been made as to the best way of inflicting these punishments, with an eye both to the punishment and to the reformation of those who undergo them. In pursuance of these schemes, establishments have been set up which are models of organization, intelligence, and patience; but no one appears to have noticed the fact that these schemes, admirably intended, and most ingeniously executed, are so many unconnected experiments, and that the criminal law, by which their principles ought to be ascertained and regulated, has itself no principles whatever.
One of the minor defects of the criminal legislation of the last century was the incoherent, irrational, and incredibly intricate variety of its secondary punishments. When a judge was not compelled to sentence a man to death, he was, generally speaking, obliged to transport or imprison him for not less than some specified term, and these minimum punishments not only varied in degree in the most arbitrary manner, but were frequently far too severe for cases which fell within the definitions of crimes to which they were affixed. In order to meet this evil, an Act was passed which does away with all minimum punishments whatever (except in one or two cases of little practical importance), and empowers the judges in every case whatever to give as little penal servitude and as little imprisonment, either with or without hard labour, as they think fit. The latitude of their discretion in the other direction is not quite so great, but it does not happen in one case in a hundred that a judge is restrained by the law from giving as much punishment as he thinks the case deserves. The general result of these circumstances is that the punishments which the law awards are determined in amount solely by the individual impression of the judge at the time of trial, and in kind are confined in the common run of cases to penal servitude, and imprisonment with or without hard labour. The infliction of death for murder is almost, if not quite, the only instance in which any attempt has been made to observe any peculiar proportion between the punishment and the crime.
It follows from this that the whole subject of legal punishments must be regarded as one on which we have almost everything to learn from experience. It is by no means uncommon to read statements to the effect that the system of deterring punishments has been tried and has failed, and that we are therefore committed by past experience to confine ourselves to punishments intended solely or principally to reform. This is far from being the case. Our mode of punishing has been so reckless and unsystematic that we have never given any system a full trial. We did indeed at one time punish a certain proportion of prisoners selected almost at random with barbarous severity, but the severity was so capricious, and the law so uncertain, that the severity had not a fair chance. It cannot be said to have failed, for it never was consistently tried. On the other hand we have never thoroughly tried the reforming system. If it is essential to the true theory of punishment that prisoners should undergo a sort of semi-collegiate education at the public expense, we ought at least to detain our pupils long enough, and superintend them afterwards with sufficient care to have a reasonable security that we really have moulded their character into the desired shape; but we have not done this. The whole system of short sentences is opposed to the reforming theory. It proceeds on the notion that punishment is intended to deter, and that in cases of an ordinary kind a short sentence will have sufficient deterring effect. Hence our practice is contradictory and halts between two opinions. The sentences are passed upon one principle, and the discipline under them is arranged upon another.
The bad, and, indeed, absurd effects of this state of things will be made clear by a short enumeration of the commoner kinds of crimes. We are apt to talk as if crime was a single, definite habit, and as if criminals formed a well-defined class, all the members of which were addicted to the same practices. In point of fact, this is utterly unlike the truth. There are several well-defined classes of crimes, and to punish them all in the same way, even though they may be punished in a different degree, is as absurd as to prescribe the same treatment for every kind of disease. All offences against the law are crimes in the general sense of the word. It is as much a crime—as much a violation of law—not to sweep the snow from the pavement in front of one's house as to commit murder, for the law enjoins the one act as expressly as it forbids the other. The crimes, however, which people generally mean by the word "crime" are those offences against the law which are also grave offences against morality, and are besides of common occurrence. They may be broadly but accurately classed under a small number of heads. They are either the infliction of bodily injury, mortal or not; theft under various forms, accompanied or not with violence to the person or to the habitation; malicious injuries to property by fire or otherwise; forgery in various forms, and offences against the coin. This enumeration, short as it is, will be found to include very nearly every offence that occurs in the ordinary routine of business in the criminal courts. Any one who will take the trouble of consulting the five or six Acts of Parliament which now define the various forms of these crimes, and determine the punishments to which those who commit them are liable, may satisfy himself not only as to the extraordinary amount of the discretion intrusted to the judges in the matter of punishment, but also as to the necessity for giving them that discretion in the existing state of the law. Offences of the most widely different character are included in the same definition. Burglary, for instance, includes not merely the breaking open of a carefully secured house by a gang of ruffians armed to the teeth with all sorts of deadly weapons, and fully prepared to use them, but also the breaking of a baker's window at five minutes past nine on a summer's evening by a hungry boy who wants to steal a penny loaf. Manslaughter includes shooting dead a policeman who arrests without a warrant a person who has been guilty of a conspiracy to murder. It also includes the case of killing by negligent driving, or by throwing a stone in a foolish joke. In these and some other cases the definitions of the crimes might be improved, but in others no skill in defining will give much clue as to the punishment. Bigamy, for instance, may be a very venial offence if the second wife is not deceived, or if the first has been long missing. It may be a crime more deliberate than rape, and not less injurious to the victim. Perjury may be little worse than a deliberate lie. It may be the instrument of the worst kind of murder, or of robbery far more malignant and injurious than is committed by the most audacious garotter. It is clear from this that the law as it stands gives no security at all for anything approaching to uniformity of punishments, and it never can give such a security until it has provided means for performing and combining the results of three independent processes. These are, the classification of crimes, the classification of criminals, and the classification of punishments. When these three operations have been performed it will be possible to bestow upon the punishment of offenders a degree of care bearing some sort of proportion to that which is at present expended, wisely and properly, on the proof of the fact that they are criminals. The criminal law is at present in the condition in which medical practice would be if, after bestowing the utmost possible care on the diagnosis of a disease, a physician took no trouble at all about his prescription. The judge who sentences a man to penal servitude after a trial which is a model of patience and impartiality, is just like a doctor who, after spending half the morning in finding out that his patient was consumptive, should politely show him the door, saying as he did so, "Go and spend £25 in drugs at such a chemist's." It would be impossible within the limits of an article, and if it were possible it would not be interesting to general readers, to point out the way in which the performance of these different operations could be practically ensured; but some of the principles on which they ought to proceed may be indicated. The classification of crimes ought to be based on the moral sentiment which the crime would excite in the public at large if it were an isolated act in the life of a man otherwise unobjectionable. The moral sentiment depends partly on the consequences of the act, partly on the character which it presupposes on the part of the person guilty of it. Crimes which not only involve disastrous consequences to others, but afford evidence of odious qualities in those who commit them, should form the first class. Crimes which involve disastrous consequences to society, but do not afford evidence of especially odious qualities in the criminal, would form the second class; and crimes which afford evidence of odious qualities in the criminal, but do not involve disastrous consequences to society, the third. The odious qualities which most frequently display themselves in crime are malignity—whether in the form of cruelty or vengeance; lust; and recklessness—the quality which would lead a man to carry out his own purposes with perfect indifference to the interests of others, though he might not feel any active or individual ill-will to them: the temper which would lead a man to upset a railway train for the pleasure of seeing the confusion. Combine any one of these tempers of mind with an act highly injurious to others, and the worst form of crime is the result. Murder; the intentional infliction of great bodily injury; robbery or burglary, accompanied by bodily violence, or by the use of weapons, or by the display of the physical force of numbers; rape; arson; extortion by threats; perjury, with intent to procure the punishment of innocent persons:—are crimes of this kind, and would form the most prominent members of the first class in a classification of crimes. The second class in such a classification would be composed of crimes injurious to the public, but showing no specially odious qualities in the criminal. It would include the largest number of offences, and those which occur far more frequently than any others; those, namely, which arise from the love of gain, especially forgery, coining, and theft in its various forms. The third class—crimes which are not injurious to the public, or in which the injury to the public is a subordinate feature, the principal feature being the odious nature of the qualities which they display—are uncommon, though a few instances might be mentioned, if it were desirable to do so. The offence of cruelty to animals is one of them. There are others on which it is better not to be too explicit. These crimes are of rare occurrence, and will need no further notice.
Such being the classification of crimes, how are criminals to be classified? Considered with reference to the particular crimes of which they are guilty, they may act either with or without deliberation and special provocation; and considered with reference to their habits of life, they may be either professional or occasional criminals.
In order to arrive at a proper classification of punishments, it is necessary to compare these classifications of crimes and criminals with certain well-established principles as to the object of punishment. These principles are that the object of punishment is the prevention of crime, which is effected partly by the effects produced on the criminal, and partly by the effects produced on the public. The effect on the criminal may be either to take from him the power or the will to repeat his offence. He is deprived of the power by death, or by imprisonment as long as it lasts. He is deprived of the will either by terror, or by reformation. The effect on the public is to produce in the minds of those who are predisposed to commit crimes terror of the consequences, and in those who are not, hatred of the crime itself, which gradually becomes a prevailing sentiment in the majority of every civilized community, and so holds them back from yielding to the temptation of entertaining the question whether or not they shall commit crimes. This secondary effect of punishment, though often overlooked, is most important. If any person of ordinary decency and morality will honestly ask himself what is the real reason why he would not commit a murder, however great might be the gain, and however small the risk, he will find that no small part of his reluctance to do so arises from the horror in which the crime is universally held, and which he as one of the public shares. If he asks why the public universally hold murder in horror, he will find that it is to a great extent due to the fact that murder is a capital crime. If the law excluded certain forms of murder from the definition of that offence—duelling, for instance—the public disapproval of them would be greatly diminished. The ways, then, in which punishment operates are by disabling or reforming, which affects only the convicted criminal; by terror, which affects the convicted criminal and all persona likely to commit similar crimes; and by association, which affects the public at large. What, then, are the means which society has at its disposal for the production of any one of these results? There is, first, the punishment of death; secondly, imprisonment or penal servitude in its various forms; and, lastly, the infliction of bodily pain, of which flogging is the only form now employed or suggested. Death is disabling, and also terrifying in the highest degree. Imprisonment and penal servitude are disabling while they last, and combine the deterrent and reforming elements in different degrees, according to the nature of the discipline to which the convicts are subjected. Bodily pain is highly deterrent, and may or may not be reforming, according to the character of the person punished. By combining these observations with the preceding ones, it may be shown what criminals it is necessary to disable, to terrify, or to reform, and in respect of what sort of crimes, and also what are the cases in which it is important to sanction and gratify public indignation against particular practices. In other words, these principles and classifications afford the first steps towards the solution of the problem. How ought convicts to be dealt with? This is closely connected with another question, which must be considered with it: How far is it possible, regard being had to the means at the disposal of the legislature, and to the average permanent condition of the public mind, to deter men by terror, to disable them from crime, to sanction and to gratify public indignation against particular offences, and to reform by discipline?
First, then, how far is it possible to deter men from crime by terror? If the public sentiment permitted it, there can be no doubt that they might be deterred to any extent. No man would pick a pocket if he saw a pistol pointed at his head, and knew that he would be shot dead the instant he had seized the coveted article, and there can be no doubt that if theft were punished with instant death whenever it was detected, and if the public used every effort to detect it, men would not steal. Unsparing persecution, carried out with relentless determination, will put down even what men hold most sacred. It is perfectly possible to put down a religious or political movement even when it is supported by the strongest public sympathy and the highest abstract principles. There can be no doubt that the same course might be taken with crime, and that if criminality were hunted as vigorously in England as heterodoxy used to be in Spain, there would in course of time be as few criminals here as there were heretics there. The weak point of Draconian systems is the uncertainty and compassion of their administration. Hang every thief, and there will be no theft. Reprieve some ignorant lad or starving woman who has committed a theft, and the efficiency of the law is gone. Hence the real limit to deterrent punishment is public feeling. A certain amount of deterrent punishment the public in its average moods will endure. The introduction of any further amount destroys the certainty of the law, and so weakens its effect indefinitely. How far, then, will the public allow deterrent punishment to be carried? The answer to this question must depend upon individual experience and observation. There are, however, some facts to go upon. Little or no general objection has been shown for some years past to the infliction of capital punishment in bad cases of murder, and on the last occasion when a man was hung for attempting to commit murder his execution produced general satisfaction. He had done his very utmost to kill a woman and thought that he had succeeded in doing it. Upon any great emergency, when strong sentiments of vengeance or horror are excited, the public will not only tolerate, but demand great severity. Little or no remonstrance was made against the wholesale executions by which the Indian Mutiny was avenged and put down. On the whole, it appears highly probable that the public would both tolerate or approve deterrent punishments of considerable severity in cases in which their moral sympathies were greatly interested, or their fears vividly appealed to, and no doubt such punishments might be so managed as to have a great effect on persons disposed to commit crimes. Suppose, for instance, that the public would allow a man convicted of some specially brutal and cruel assault on a woman to be kept for two years in solitary confinement and on low diet, and to receive during that period a dozen lashes from a cat-and-nine-tails every six weeks, there can be no doubt that if he survived the punishment he would never forget it as long as he lived. If some such discipline formed an indispensable preface to all reformatory punishments, it could hardly fail to terrify criminals. How far in point of fact the public would go in this direction it is of course impossible to say; but there can be little doubt that by careful selection both of the crimes to be subjected to such punishments, and of the particular cases in which they should be inflicted, the deterring force of the law might be very greatly increased. This incidentally answers the question as to the cases in which public indignation can be directed against particular crimes and gratified by their punishment. Wherever the feeling exists it can be deepened and intensified by legislation in accordance with it. Where it does not exist legislation can hardly create it. The horror which murder excites is deepened by hanging murderers, because it has an independent source of its own; but if men were hung for obtaining goods by false pretences, the law, and not the crime, would be the subject of horror.
The cases in which disabling punishments would be permitted by public feeling are not very numerous, but they are most important. Death, the most disabling of all punishments, will no doubt continue to be confined to murder; though it is to be regretted that the power of inflicting it for attempts to murder, and possibly also for the most aggravated forms of burglary and highway robbery, should have been altogether given up; but imprisonment for very long terms, in some cases even for life, would no doubt be not only tolerated, but cordially approved of by the public, in cases of crimes committed by professional criminals, even if the crimes themselves were not specially repulsive in a moral point of view. A man who, after some four or five convictions for felony, is convicted once more, and who has been for years living upon crime, is like a pirate—hostis humani generis. Legislators may be sure that in shutting up for life rogues of this description they would have the public voice fully and justly on their side.
The question how far and how criminals can be reformed is one which there is some difficulty in discussing fairly when the public are in a state of panic. It would, however, be a pitiful thing if the brutalities of a few scoundrels were allowed to undo all that has been effected in favour of a very miserable part of the human race for the last half century. By attending to the classification of crimes and criminals, and to the nature of the means at the disposal of philanthropic governors of convict prisons—and notwithstanding the floods of ridicule poured on Sir Joshua Jebb, he may well be proud of that honourable title—it is easy to see in general what are the limits within which criminals can be reformed. The means, and the only effective means of reform which the best managed prison can supply, are discipline and enforced industry. To some extent it may give good habits, but it cannot purify the heart, and no one ought to expect it to do so. "When, therefore, the criminal has yielded to great temptation, or has been led astray by bad company, by bad education, or, as may be sometimes the case, by misdirected notions of courage, independence, or love of adventure, there are great hopes that he may be reformed. There is a relation, and there might and ought to be a close relation, between the treatment and the disease; but there is a sort of corruption which this kind of discipline has no tendency at all to affect. The shameless rogue who has deliberately and systematically taken up crime as his business, and looks upon periods of penal servitude as intervals of bad luck; and still more, the infamous wretches who are stained with crimes which are perhaps even more loathsome than dangerous—the murderer, the ravisher, the man who extorts by false accusations, the robber who habitually uses violence,—are not people whom discipline will affect at all. They belong to another class, and ought to be treated on a different principle from common criminals. The horrible consequences of mixing up all these men in one mass are beginning to make themselves felt; and it should be fully understood that the true remedy is to be found in varying the kinds as well as the periods of punishment to which men are subjected. Look, for instance, at the frightful case, which occurred last summer, of the Fordingbridge murder. A man commits a rape. He is sentenced to a certain term of penal servitude, during which he has to work, say, nine hours a day, is well fed, and has nine hours' sleep every night in a sufficiently warm and comfortable bed. When he comes out he repeats his first offence, this time with the addition of murder. Would any reasonable man have expected any other result? What was there in his previous sentence either to deter or to reform him? Sharp physical pain, the lowest diet, the hardest lodging, might have had some chance of taming him, and if these hardships had shattered his constitution and even shortened his life, he would have had no right to complain. The knowledge that he had to suffer these evils would at any rate have been a warning to others, and if he had been imprisoned, as he ought to have been for many years, he would have been harmless to every one except himself. Our heedless and unsystematic way of punishing which puts such a crime as his on a level, say, with passing a forged note, was the cause in this case of the sacrifice of two lives, his victim's and his own.
The general result of the whole is that crimes involving great moral atrocity as well as great public mischief should be met by deterrent and also by disabling punishments—that crimes of less magnitude committed by professional criminals should be visited with disabling punishments, and that the punishments in use at present should be confined to cases in which there is reasonable ground to hope for real reform.
It would be no very difficult matter to carry out some parts, at all events, of this scheme. The law is now brought into a shape and size in which it would be comparatively easy to say which crimes should be made the objects of what might be called exemplary punishment, nor would it be really difficult to ascertain whether a man convicted of some offence which did not fall under this category deserved to be treated as a professional criminal. As matters stand at present, previous convictions can generally be charged in indictments for felony, in order to render a man liable to aggravated punishment. There is no real reason why power should not be given to indict a man so convicted for being a professional criminal. It might be provided that if it was shown by evidence that he had been convicted a certain number of times, and that he was in the habit of associating with persons known to be thieves or bad characters, the burden of proving that he got his living honestly should be thrown upon him. He might be examined as to his life, his companions, his means of earning wages, and the like, and evidence might be admitted of his character. If, as the result of the whole inquiry, the jury were satisfied that he lived by crime, and was a habitual criminal, he ought to be imprisoned for life, and prevented at all events from doing further mischief. Probably the jury will not feel much difficulty in knowing what to think of a man who, being convicted of a burglary, committed in a thoroughly skilful professional way, appeared to have been previously convicted of various offences as often as twelve or fifteen times; yet this is not an imaginary case. It actually happened in one of the Midland counties less than a year ago. The prisoner was sentenced to eighteen years' penal servitude, whatever that may mean, but he will probably be revisiting his old haunts long before the year 1879.
In addition to these alterations, it would be no doubt desirable to examine closely the state of the existing convict prisons. There is probably a good deal of ignorance and prejudice in the universal chorus of indignation raised against them, but without entering at large into the subject, a few remarks upon it may be permitted. In the first place it might be foretold with certainty that the system would err on the side of indulgence. To a humane and educated man, the task of inflicting pain must always be odious in comparison with that of regulating a sort of system of education. There is also a natural love in all officials, especially in all military men, for the system, completeness, and organization of a great establishment, and the combination of these considerations forms a strong temptation to any manager to try to make his convict establishment in a sense cheerful and comfortable. A man whose life is passed in managing, providing for, and regulating convicts, comes inevitably, if he is a kind-hearted and good-natured man, to forget their worst features, and look upon them more or less as his dependants. The worst that can fairly be said of Sir Joshua Jebb seems to be, that he may have been too sanguine and liberal in his philanthropy. It is, however, fair to him to call attention to the fact that he has expressly admitted that the English convict system is not suited for the worst class of rogues. In a statement published in a condensed form in this Magazine, [Cornhill Magazine for 1861, vol. iv. page 240] after quoting from The Times an observation that the professional criminals "constitute the ugly per-centage of the convicts—with which nothing can be done— the true blackamoors of the system who can never be washed white," he adds, "Here it is, and perhaps here only, we fail." In other words, the system is, on his own showing, quite unfit for the very class whom of all others it is most important to punish effectually. Some sixty or seventy thoroughly hardened professional footpads and garotters are enough to throw all London into a panic, and when the public ask why this is so, they are told that penal servitude is not intended for gentlemen of this persuasion. It would be well to make an effort to meet their peculiar views. Even if it should seem too extensive and difficult an undertaking to devise new classifications of crime and new systems of punishment for special cases, and if, as there is great reason to fear, it is true that the objections to transportation are really conclusive, it is the greatest of all mistakes to make convicts too comfortable. To honest poverty it is the most cruel insult, to the criminals themselves it is cruel kindness, for their crimes are due in almost every case to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." It would be an outrage on decency to paint with any approach to truth the inside of the minds of prisoners. If their habitual language is the best index to them, they must contain abysses of blasphemy and filth which can hardly be imagined. Take a man of this kind, feed him well, work him lightly, let him have plenty of sleep in a soft and warm bed, and confine him for years to the society of persons of his own class and sex, and you expose him to temptations far greater than libraries of tracts and armies of chaplains can encounter. Monkish austerities had their meaning. It was not for nothing that the monks recommended fasting and bodily austerities, and though the subject cannot well be fully discussed, no one who thinks upon it can fail to see that hard work and spare diet would be in the highest degree necessary to men in the circumstances of convicts, even if the matter of punishment were out of the question.
One simple mode of securing this result suggests itself to observers from the outside. Why should these men be provided for in all respects merely because they are criminals? Why might they not work for their living, and suffer all the hardships that honest men suffer in the daily struggle for subsistence. Suppose that on his introduction to Dartmoor or Portland the convict were addressed thus:—"There is the quarry, and there is a pickaxe. The terms are so much for every ton of stone; and if you work uncommonly hard, you will be able to earn, say, 6s. a week. Honest labourers have to support a family on 9s. or 10s. Out of that you must find yourself. The rent of your cell is so much, and will be stopped out of your wages: and there will also be a weekly stoppage to pay for your clothes. Everything else you can buy at stated prices at shops in the prison. Now work or be idle, just as you please; but observe, you do not get one penny beyond what you earn. If you are ill, you may go into hospital, but you will have to pay so much a week, and you must work out your debts before you leave the prison. If you refuse to work, you may settle the question with your own stomach; but if you rebel, or steal from the other convicts, or are disobedient to, or assault the warders, there is a court in the nature of a drumhead court-martial constantly sitting, which will do justice upon you with surprising promptitude, and in the same way in which soldiers and sailors are punished." If this kind of remedy were applied, we should hear little of either luxurious living or idleness. The convicts would have no right to complain. They would be merely undergoing the common lot—working for their living like honest men—subject only to such special restraints as their own misconduct had rendered necessary. In this way good and bad fortune would apportion itself in prison pretty much as it does in the rest of the world. The active man would be moderately comfortable, the idle one would be wretched; and the calamities and personal advantages which do not depend upon morality would fall, as it pleased Providence, as they do on the rest of mankind. This suggestion might be applied to every sort of punishment: to persons subjected to deterrent or disabling imprisonment, as well as to those who have to undergo that which is more directly reformatory. It would substitute for an artificial discipline, which it is hardly possible to regulate in a satisfactory manner, a natural discipline, which would regulate itself with no trouble at all.
Cornhill Magazine, February 1863.