The Police <*?urt reports of the past six weeks reveal a dismaying increase in the number of serious fences committed by children and youngster* ip their teens Last week alone no less than of this desoription engaged the attention of fcjje Dunedin Bench. On Tuesday the four young rascals who broke off the fittings of Mr Sparrow s boiler were dealt with by the Justices; the j game day the police apprehended two boys one aged eleven and the other fourteen, and sent them to Oamaru to answer a charge of stealing L 7 from the pocket-book of a man who had thrown off his coat to play football. For this offence the elder of the two was sentenced to be birched. On Wednesday I a, boy of fifteen years was sent to gaoll for breaking into adwellingatNorth-east Valley; on Thursday two children were clearly convicted of a premeditated robbery from a shop at Kensington; and on Friday there was the charge of housebreaking against a lad. who, though presumably of full age, i« apnarently a mere child in intellect. Leaving the last cane, a doubtful one, out of the list,! we have remaining a crop of juvenile de-: pravity indicating an undergrowth of moral depravity heretofore unsuspected, A disquieting fact in regard to most of these youngsters is that they are not .the outgrowth of the criminal class. If theywere, the evil would be easily accounted for. We should have the assurance that proceeds from the understood laws of cause and effect, and the cause being ascertained, possibly a remedy might be found. ” Men do pot gather grapes from thorns,” But, here we have thistles Where with proper husbandry we might have expected fags, sad are perplexed accordingly; for if we arc to fear the growth, not merely of misohlevow fernkinism, but of downright crime, “ the dlate result of a want of domestic control, the outlook ia indeed a serious one. In the .cases to which we&w'p referred the offences were deliberately they ponded out with a d W 4 ± r,l, S and
cunning that an adult criminal could hardly excel; and in every case there was some expectation of profit—if only thepitiful pleasure of enjoying a secret draught of stolen cough mixture. It is the fashion of the day to say that the blame in these oases rests entirely on the shoulders of guardians. Undoubtedly this is true as a rule, but there are some sad exceptions. Who, for instance, could find it in his heart to sit in judgment on a widow who has to drudge from morning to night to provide bread and butter for her family, and say that she must bear the responsibility if one of her little ones becomes by turns wayward, disobedient, wild, and vicious ? We have seen a woman whose respectability is unassailable wring her hands in despair and weep on hearing the police unfold to the Court the tale of her child’s wickedness ; the full extent of which she did not comprehend before going before the magistrates. More than one spectacle of this nature might have been witnessed in the Police Court last week; and when hearing the unthinking demands for summary vengeance on all parents whose offspring erred one can scarcely help remembering the caution of the Great Teacher: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” It seems to us that it is necessary, as one step towards the solution of this difficult problem, that there should be a permanent Police Magistrate before whom all such cases should be heard to ensure uniformity of judgment; and that he should be instructed to discriminate between the varied cases, indicting punishment by fine when the guardian is clearly in fault, and sending the child to a reformatory when the offender is shown to be beyond control. At present we have a different Bench every day in the week, and, to put the matter mildly, the decisions are not uniform. Unfortunately the reformatory will have to come, sooner or later. Reformation, not confirmation, in criminality must be the object aimed at. The Government must provide places in which the incorrigibles of both sexes may work out their own salvation. Our judges and magistrates are not in a position to understand what discipline is necessary for the rehabilitation of each offender; and, knowing nothing of a case beyond what comes out in evidence —a narration of facts necessarily limited by statutory provision —they cannot have anything but a theoretical perception of what is a fitting sentence. What is wanted is a Police Magistrate : a man specially selected as possessing an experimental acquaintance with the class of people with whom he has to deal; and he should be armed with ample discretionary powers. That and the establishment of a reformatory would be a definite step in the right direction. The reformatory should he a place to which incorrigibles would be sent as a matter of course on being, say, more than once convicted. Society would thus practically say to the offender : “ We have admonished you in vain ; correction seems to be of no avail ; you must now go to the reformatory and remain there, not for a definite term, but until you have satisfied us that you are worthy of again being entrusted with the privilege of self - responsibility.” As to the birching process, we do not altogether condemn it. It has its uses. And, apropos, it may be mentioned by way of warning any who may be temptedtowanderfrom thestraightpath that the flagellation is not mere child’s play. Those who have seen boys birched say that the whipper finds a short cut to the victim’s memories. It might perhaps be an advantage if the scourgings were performed in the gaol, which would necessitate the recipient going through certain forms—being carried by the van to prison, solemnly received by the gaoler, and perhaps locked up for a couple of hours. These ceremonies would impress the offenders more forcibly than the present summary process of punishment at the police barracks. But, even as it is, hoys do not laugh at the whip, and, speaking generally, we think the floggings are in many cases efficacious, at least for a time.
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JUVENILE CRIME., Evening Star, Issue 7906, 14 May 1889
JUVENILE CRIME. Evening Star, Issue 7906, 14 May 1889
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