The Ashburton Guardian Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit MONDAY, JULY 7, 1890. OUR PRISONS.
Each annual report of the New Zealand Inspector of Prisons shows a most satisfactory decrease in adult and juvenile crime throughout the colony.; The report presented 1 to the present Parliamer t states that only 3872 males and 802 females passed through the prisons in 1889, as against 4242 males and 938 females in 1888, or a total reduction of 506 persons. This result is very gratifying as dealing with the past two years, but it becomes more so wheii is remembered that the returns for 1888 showed a decrease of 243 prisoners as compared with 1887. During the past three years, there has been a total decrease of 749 in the prisoners dealt with throughout the colony—a record which speaks volumes for the law-abiding character of the inhabitants of New Zealand. The colony has never been remarkable for heavy criminal statistics, in fact, from j the date of its foundation up to the ' present time. New Zealand has occupied I a proud position among the Australias as being able to show the lowest criminal record. That this satisfactory state is not only being maintained, but also Improved upon, is a cause for public thankfulness. What the particular or various causes are that lead to this satisfactory state of affairs, is, of course, a matter of individual opinion. The Inspector of Prisons, naturally enough, attributes the decrease of crime to the increased rigor of prison discipline, and in order to further reduce crime would enforce even stricker prison rules than those now in force; but, while we are tree to confess that a rigorous discipline, in hardened cases, is a deterrent to habitual criminals, we are reluctant to believe that it is entirely the fear of punishment which is the cause of the yearly decrease of crime in this colony, at all* events. The decreased consumption of alcoholic liquors, and the better moral training and surroundings of of young New Zealanders, now taking the place of their fathers, are, we are inclined to believe, greater factors in reducing crime than prison rigor. The drinking habits of older countries, and the many other evils of congested populations, have been absent from New Zealand, and the youth have grown up with the example of only their fathers before them to follow, and its says something in favor of the pioneers of New Zealand that their sons and daughters are characterised more for their industrial and perserving instincts than for criminal leanings or moral depravity. Unfortunately Captain Hume's report does not give the nationality of the various offenders who have been and are still confined in our prisons, and it is only from the fact that there has been " a very considerable reduction in the number of juvenile offenders who have passed through the gaols of the Colony " that we can gather that the young New Zealander is a law-abiding member of society. During 1889 only 14 children under 10 years of age have been committed, as against 22 in 1888 ; whilst committals of those over 10 and up to 15 years of age, totals Cl for 1889, as against 88 in 1888. From 15 years up to 20 years the committals have been 219 in 1889, as against 241 in 1888. There has thus been a substantial decrease of 57 in juvenile crime in the year 1889 as compared with the previous year. This result is no doubt, in lai-ge measure, due to the operations of the First Offenders Probation Act; but it may also be gathered that other causes than this are at work to bring about less criminalty on the part of the New Zealand born youth. The efficiency of the police force, and the vigorous steps taken in the larger centres to stamp out juvenile larrikinism has no doubt had much to do with keeping in check of any latent tendency that may exist amongst the children of neglectful parents to pursue a criminal career. The benefits of our liberal educational system are also not to be overlooked in.this direction; and it would appear that though the Bible is shut out from the State school, its absence has not brought about those disastrous results which the more extreme of the Bible-in-Schools party were inclined to believe, It may be quite true that the reading of Scripture in the day-school would produce a better class of future citizen and settler than those now turned out, but under the present conditions, it is satisfactory to know that, whatever the cause, the New Zealand bred and educated youth are anything but a disgrace to their country and homes. The presence of so many religious denominations, temperance associations, and similar social reform institutions in the colony have, no doubt, also contributed towards directing the attention of the young into useful channels. We may be also excused for saying that the Public Press of the Colony has not been without an influence in this direction. As the years progress we observe that in the columns of the daily and weekly Press there is a growing tendency to suppress the publication of harrowing details of brutal murders, violent assaults, prize fights, and similar matter, and to substitute therefor items of scientific or industrial importance. These causes have all had a beneficial Reflect in checking any tendency t» crime, *.*.<! educating the rising generation of New Zealand up to a higher state of social respectability than many of the British or foreign possessions which hove been similarly peopled by the European race. .But, while wo believe these causes have doubtless been at work, we do not wish it to be understood that we underrate the importance of rigorous prison discipline. The gaols of any colony require to be made as irksome and unenticing as possible for the hardened offender, and we should not regret to see the rigor of prison discipline increased as well as the length of imprisonment in the case of constant offenders, until with the more incorrigible, jt finishes up with corporal punishment.