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JUVENILE CRIMINALS.

A return made to an order of the Legislative Council, on the motion of the Hon. Mr Holmes, in 1887, demands serious consideration. The Inspector of Prisons, in his annual report for the previous year, drew attention to the large increase in the number of juvenile criminals received into the public gaols. "Itis a serious blot," he writes, "on our Administration to "find that as many as 40 children " under ten years of age have passed " through the prisons during the year." Of offenders between the ages of ten and fifteen years there were 68, and 269 between the ages of fifteen and twenty; in all, 377 criminals under age. Mr Holmes called for a return showing the nationality, religion, and state of education of these young apprentices to crime, which was duly furnished. But there is a discrepancy of numbers for which the return offers no solution. Instead of 377 there are 435 juvenile offenders accounted for. Of these 73 were English, 15 Scotch, and 28 Irish; 17 were from other colonies, and 11 of various foreign nationalities. The New Zealand record shows 29 of Maori and 262 of European extraction. As to "religion," the Church of England heads the list with 198 ; Roman Catholics - come next with 143; then, with a long drop, Presbyterians number 47, Wesleyans 25, Salvationists 4, and Freethinkers—if they have any "religion " 18. Of the whole number, 2 are set down as being possessed of "superior education," and 340 were able to read and write, 12 to read only, and 81 (onefourth of whom were Maoris) could neither read nor write. This is a very bad record. Captain Hume at that time expressed his apprehension that juvenile crime was on the increase, and his report presented last session justifies that conclusion. " I regret," he says, "to have to report a con- " siderable increase again during the " past year in the number of juvenile " offenders." During the year 1887 30 children under the age of 10, 83 from 10 to 15, and 336 between 15 and 20 —or 449 in allpassed through the prisons of the Colony. On the other hand, the number of adult offenders' has suffered a decrease; for in 1885 there were--4,828 offenders over the age of twenty, and in 1887 only 4,249. It would therefore appear that juvenile crime is disproportionately on the increase. The offences charged against this class are 243 felonies, 52 misdemeanors, 151 " minor offences "; and there were three incarcerated for "debt or lunacy." This very strange classification is carried throughout the tables. It can only be conjectured that Captain Hume regards debt as a species of insanity. Altogether 250 persons were confined for this peculiar alternative offence in 1887.

It may be interesting to compare the criminal returns of the principal provincial districts. Wellington heads the list for 1887 with 1,662 prisoners, and Auckland comes next with 1,075. Canterbury takes the third positionwith 905, and Otago (including South* land) is only chargeable with 588. Captain Hume does not explain the nature of the " blot on the Administration " to which he makes allusion in his report of 1886. But from a passage in the 1888 report we gather that he is of opinion that reformatories are required, and here we agree with him. He says: " With reference to these juvenile- " offenders, whose prison career I have " closely watched, I have no hesitation "in stating that sending them to " prison does considerably more harm " than good, and that, however care- " fully they may be looked after in " prison, they are more dangerous to " society when liberated than they " were when sentenced, and the dread "of prison life is lost to them; They " receive the same rations as adult " prisoners; and, as many of them are " mere children, prison discipline must "be relaxed on their behalf. It " appears to me that the only means " ofpreventing a criminal class de- " veloping in the Colony is to establish " a reformatory for juvenile 'offenders. " This might advantageously be done as " an experiment, without incurring any " additional expense, in the South "Island by converting either Caver- " sham or Burnham Industrial School " into a reformatory for juvenile con- " victed criminals, and retaining the " other establishment as an industrial "school proper for unconvicted "orphans or neglected and homeless "children." Most people will, we think, concur with us in saying that, in this passage from his report, Capt Hume has " hit the blot" The first nstalment of legislation in this direction was the Neglected and Criminal Children Act of 1867, which distinctly provided that "no convicted child" should be sent to or maintained in any "industrial school," and that no child " except a convicted child " should be sent to or maintained in any "reformatory school." But this wise and prudent Act was never given effect to. Reformatory schools were not instituted, and for years the magistrates acted in disregard of the law by sending convicted children to the industrial schools. Then a mawkish sentimental sort of spurious philosophy was mooted, and unhappily the Government that held office in 1882 adopted its tenets. It was held that great good was done to criminal children by causing them to associate with innocent children, and an Act was passed which quite dispensed with, reformatories, and herded the vicious and the innocent

together. Never was there a greater mistake made. Facilis descensus! The corruption of the good by the evil is a sure result under such circumstances, and we are now reaping the consequences. A reformatory—-one or more in each island—is imperatively needed. The neglected and the orphan children should no more be subjected to the risk of contamination from juvenile criminals than healthy children should be placed in a fever hospital. And another desirable result would ensue. Justices are often averse to the committal of young criminals to gaol, and the offenders consequently escape punishment. There would not exist any such feeling about sending them to a reformatory, where they would receive their due deserts. In the best interests of the class of whom we write and society at large, reformatories should be established.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890527.2.2

Bibliographic details

JUVENILE CRIMINALS., Issue 7917, 27 May 1889

Word Count
1,016

JUVENILE CRIMINALS. Issue 7917, 27 May 1889

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