THE TREATMENT OF CRIMINALS.
DR. FINDLAY'S NEW SCHEME.
A telegram from Wellington published in yesterday's issue of the "Star," disclosed some particulars of the new proposals with respect to the treatment of criminals to which the Government is about to give effect. The Minister of Justice has announced that the gaols at "vVanganui and Ilokitika, and possibly one or two other small prisons are to be closed, aud that some reformatory farms —one in each island to begin with —are to be established. "The idea," Dr. Findlay says, "is to get young men now in prison to turn to some honest employment when they are released, and the agency of the Labour Department's officers will be used, to assist the object in view."
This proposal opens up the whole question of how those who subject themselves to the penalties of the criminal law may best be dealt with, both in their own interests and in those of the community itself--a question concerning which much has been written and much said by students of criminology in recent years. The question is popularly, though perhaps loosely, identified with the problem of what is called prison reform, and in view of the general interest which has been manifested both in and out of Parliament in that problem, a "Star" reporter spent some time yesterday in endeavouring to collect some opinions locally upon the merits of the new departure which is about to be made.
It proved a difficult task to obtain views on the question. Those who are officiullv connected with criminological work are, of course, best qualified to express an opinion on such a matter. Unfortunately their official positions dose their mouths. Of other representative men who were appronebed the majority refused to discuss a highly technical question with which, as they pointed out. only expert criminologists are competent to deal. However, the quest was not entirely unfruitful.
Judge Kettle, who has had a long experience of criminals, whilst refusing to discuss the matter in detail, said: "I recognise that more good is to be done by tlie reformatory treatment of offenders who are not incorrigible criminals than by sending them to gaol for short terms without any attempt being made to uplift them. I thoroughly endorse the line of action contemplated by the Government and I am very gratified to see that such a departure is to be made." The Rt. Rev. Dr. Neligan. Anglican Bishop of Auckland, said-. "With the merits of the scheme I am not competent to deal, f am not an expert in criminology, but, generally speaking, I hold the opinion that punishment should be of a reformatory and not of a retributive character.
A gentleman, whose name we are not at liberty to di-doee, but who is entitled to speak with authority on these questions, was not favourably disposed towards the new scheme. "This is a , question," he said, "in which tho experience of the police must be allowed to have great, weight. 1 am in a position to Vi.ow that amongst police officers there! is an undercurrent of feeling against the new movement, sometimes finding open expression in decided opposition lo a departure which may tend to increase crime. Anything which softens prison life is likely, other conditions remaining constant, to increase lawlessness. Theory in a matter of this kind has little weight as against practical experience, and it is fell, for instance, that a mistake has been made iv appointing a lunacy expert as Inspector of Prisons, because experience proves that the majority of criminals are not lunatics, or even deg< neratos, but merely 'waiters.' If the condition.- of life in gaol arc made easier than the conditions of life outside, the gaols will be perpetually crowded. The police attach less importance to Ithe accomplished criminal, — the burglar, the frrger, the skilled cracksman, —than they do to the much larger class who nay lie generally designated as vagrants. The former are covered by the Habitual Criminal* Act, or, as it now ranks, by the indeterminate sentence clauses of the Criminal Code; the latter are mainly outside its scope, and have to be dealt with under the vagrancy clauses of the Police Offences Act. The indeterminate sentence provided in the Habitual Criminals Act has proved to be the strongest deterrctil to crime we have. In the Southern Hemisphere it was first introduced in Australia, and we had to enact, it here in self-defence, because, so soon as it was I brought into operation in Australia, we vcie flooded with Australian criminals with long records. Since ihe indeterminate sentence came into force here several criminals have abandoned crime altogether. As I have said, the secondclass inferior criminals, such as sneak thieves, generally classed and dealt with at vagrants, owing to the great difficulty of obtaining sufficient evidence to convict on any other charge, are the real trouble. It is found that when these gentry are incarcerated thefts of a certain kind cease, to crop up again so soon as they aro out. Experience shows that short sentences up to three years with minor thieves do not act as a deterrent. Ir. recent years it is recognised that this class of criminal has not been, out of gaol for any length of time before he is le-arrested. A fortiori, Ihis must be still more the case when the. conditions of prison life are made easier than they are at present. What the polioe advocate, with all the more force from the results of the operation of the indeterminate penalty, is that the conditions of gaol life should be made so rigorous. in so far as long hours and hard work are concerned, as to make an ex-prisoner think that it is not worth while to go back again. Some years ago twelve well-known thieves of a certain class were listed for the purposes of a statistical observation. It was found that the average value of property ctolen by each annually was £300. In Auckland it cost a little, over £19 per annum per head to keep them in gaol. Immediately they were released from gaol, theft 6of the class assigned to them began again. Was it not cheaper to keep them in gaol 7 It is all very well to say that p'.ini.hmeut should be reformatory and rot retributive. That depends upon the class of criminal you have to deal with. In some cases a flogging is not only the best, it is the only, deterrent. Take the case of two brothers some years ago in Auckland. One was imprisoned; the other was ordered to be flogged. The former has been in gaol again three or fcur times; the other has never come into the hands of the police since. Some j criminals can never be reformed, but those who can are more likely to be driven into honest pursuits by makm« the conditions of gao! life so hard a~ to be feared than by making them easier. -As for the Government's new scheme, it | ir, too big for the country. It. would lunly be suitable for first-class criminals, and there are not enough of those in New Zealand to make it worth while."
THE REFORMATORY FARMS. WILL NOT COMPETE WITH FREE LABOUR. (By Telegraph.—Own Correspondent.) WELLINGTON, this day. Questioned by a "Post" reporter about prison labour coming into competition with free labour in connection with the Government scheme of prison reform and economy in the administration of the prison system, Dr. Findlay said he had g.ven careful consideration to this point. The work to be done on the reformatory farms would in no way conflict or come into competition with free labour. 1". would be different if the prisoners were engaged in the manufacture of such articles as boots or clothing (as in America). If the prisoners could grow produce for u.?e in the gaols and such institutions as asylums, it would be a good thing for the country, and would in no way affect free labour. The prices of the produce the prisoners on the farms would be producing was not determined locally, but by the Old World markets. Apart altogether from this, the Government would be doing something to provide a class of labour which is most needed in New Zealand, as well as doing something to induce those who had made mistakes early in life to lead honest, industrious lives. Dr. Findlay stated that he had correspondence and statistics relating to the working of prison farms in Victoria, which showed that the system had been in- the highest degree beneficial to the community and to the prisoners themselves.
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