THE TREATMENT OF CRIMINALS.
Since Dr. Findlay assumed Ministerial '■ responsibilities, he has displayed a most praiseworthy anxiety to promote re- c forms in our methods of dealing with the J i criminal classes; and the lecture which he I - delivered last week at Dunedin on our * prison system seems to he a valuable t contribution to the literature of this important and interesting subject. Dr. ( Findlay rightly lays stress upon the fact i too often ignored by judges and lawyers ' as well as by " the man in the street," j that any iorm of punishment for crime, ~ to have a permanently beneficial effect,' 3 upon the prospects of the community, I * must be less vindictive than reformatory! The chief object of our penal system is t not to inflict suffering or hardship on 5 criminals by way of vengeance for their < misdeeds, but to secure the safety and welfare of society by reforming the criminaJ. Xo doubt to be effective, legal pun- j ishment must be severe enough to act as 1 a deterrent; but theoretically its ulti- . mate purpose is to reclaim the criminal, - and it is by this standard that it must 'i hu judged in attempting to estimate its j value a3 a, feature of our social system. > To anyone reflecting seriously upon this , question, and all that it means to the | State, it must be obvious that the only , justification for the heavy public e.vpen- s dit'ure involved in the maintenance of * our gaols is the possibility of transforming the criminal into a law-abiding and efficient citizen; and in pur opinion Dr. i Findlay is right in condemning our gaols 1 for offering so little opportunity to their £ inmates for mental, moral and industrial improvement during their period of detention. ;( Once it is admitted that gaols have been ( devised not simply as a means of punishment, nor solely as a defence for the 3 weaker members of the community, but ' chiefly as a method of reforming crim- 1 inals, a great many important cense- ' quences logically follow. Our gaols 1 should be so organised and ad- J ministered that prisoners may ro- 1 ceive there systematic mental and 1 industrial training, that they may 1 bo subjected continually to refining ethical and moral influences, and that r they may have a chance of leaving their d
prison. Tjetter men than when they en-, tered. it, and infinitely more capable of assuming the responsibilities and' performing the duties that life in a civilised community always entails. From- the Utilitarian, standpoint from which all, legislation must be judged, "the greatest | good for the greatest possible number ! implies that the criminal who has served a term in gaol ought to be a better man when his sentence has expired than he was before it began j and there is no I denying that our gaols fail almost entirely to achieve the desired end. They provide no '~ education in | the intellectual, moral, or industrial sense for the prisoners; they herd comparatively innocent or merely un-. ! fortunate offenders with hardened criminals; they expose all their inmates to the virulent infection of concentrated vice and depravity; and through the enforced monotony and dv-lness of the existence to which .the prisoners are condemned they too often harden the hearts and deaden or paralyse the moral sensibilities of men and women, who, under a saner system, might be easily and .permanently reclaimed. Dr. Findlay's criticism of our gaola on these lines is, we believe, -thoroughly justifiable; but when we come to consider how these defects can be rer medied, we are at once confronted with the question of expenditure. Dr. Findlay knows probably better ithan anyone else that a satisfactory classification of prisoners is impossible just now, because it. would cost far more than the State is at present prepared to pay for it. Hut Dr. Findlay nevertheless does well* to insist that the country must keep tjiis object steadily in view. We are inclined to think that Dr. Findlay, in his zeal for' the reform of the criminal, rather exaggerates the hardships which our prisoners havo to endure. The " bare unattractive cell" which ho describes is certainly a far more healthy and comfortable abode than many honest men have to put up with outside gaol, and there is always a danger of pampering the professional criminal by providing too carefully for his personal comforts. But with this proviso, we regard Dr. Findlay's comments upon our penal system as eminently sound and rational, and we hope that Parliament and Government will give them due attention during the coming session.
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