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PENAL REFORM.

The report of the Victorian InspectorGeneral of Penal Establishments and Gaols for the year 1888, presented to the Parliament of Victoria, is an interesting document, detailing many important facts concerning reformatory efforts and the effect of punishment of criminals. Referring to the Juvenile Offenders Act, that only came into operation there in January, 1888, by which youths under eighteen years of age may be transferred from any gaol to a reformatory, it is reported that fifteen males and eight females under sentence of imprisonment were thus transferred. On this point the Inspector remarks : “It “is believed that the practice which “interposes the prison between the “ Court of Justice and the Reformatory School is mainly responsible for the reception into the “gaols of many young prisoners who “ might have been sent direct to “ a reformatory, and preserved from “the stigma of being in a gaol. “Besides the infliction of fines or, “ in default of payment, imprisonment, “ has the effect of excluding a large* “number from the operation of the “ Act, which the department has been “advised, does not apply to cases of “fines.” Under the conditions of the Victorian Act, the inspector is not sanguine of the success of the experiment, as it appears no provision has been made for probationery officers, whose functions would be making “ preliminary inquiries as to the anti- “ cedents of firstoffenders before release “ from custody and supervision after- “ wards.” We have always been of opinion that some other method than imprisonment in common with other convicts should be adopted in trivial cases, in which a trifling fine is considered sufficient punishment; the moral contamination of such association being far worse than the crime itself. It seems to us that in trifling cases where delinquents are unable or unwilling to pay a fine, or who are committed to gaol for short periods, solitary confinement would be preferable to association, for even twenty-four hours, with criminals who are undergoing well deserved

lengthened terms of punishment. On this point the inspector says:—“ First “ offenders, many of whom do not be- “ long to the habitually criminal “ classes, having tasted the bitterness “of wrong-doing, and had time to re- “ fleet (during the short period of “ separate confinement which some of “ them undergo at the outset) on the “ nature and consequence of their “ crimes, are often in a penitent and “softened mood, and determined to “ avoid evil courses in the future; and “just at this stage they go to work “ with other prisoners; in these circum- “ stances their good resolutions vanish, “and they graduate in vice; or, if “this does not take place, they at “ least form acquaintances who will “probably cling to them, and even “ blackmail them, and make it well “nigh impossible for them to live “ honest and respectable lives.” Many objections have been raised against the “separate” or solitary system of punishment, mainly on the ground of humanity to the prisoners themselves, who, it has been asserted, would be liable to be driven to mental derangement through it. The inspector quotes from the report of the directors of convict prisons in England to show that the danger is “ arbitrary and fanciful.” The passage on which he lays some stress is as follows : “In the consideration of the question “as to what amount of separate “confinement may be borne in “safety, the experience of the “ present Board of Commissioners of “Prisons during the last ten years “ appears to me to be of much greater “importance than any recorded ex- “ penment of former times. The con- “ ditions forty or fifty years back were “ not those of to-day. Sanitary science “has advanced, construction has im- “ proved, the causes of disease are “ better understood (especially in the “ case of tubercular disease), discipline “ and diet have been modified or “ changed, and experience has ripened. “ That experience shows that separate “ confinement, under present condi- “ tions, is not injurious to mental or “ bodily health, and that the present “ limits of nine mouths and two years “in the convict prisons and local “prisons respectively are arbitrary and “fanciful. I trust that I have succeeded in showing that the apprehension formerly entertained as to “ the effects of separate confinement “ were groundless, and that it is com- “ patible with a healthy state of body “ and mind as any form of punish“ment.”

But few persons have an idea of the cost of crime and the consequent heavy tax upon the community. In Victoria in 1888 the statistical return gives the cost of each prisoner to the State at .£4O 15s per head. The gross amount of prison .expenditure was £66,096 15s. There was a deduction for work done, but after subtracting every item the net sum was £51,549.

The total number of admissions to the gaols during the year was 10,786 8,535 males and 2,251 females; but many of those were sick and destitute prisoners, who sought for shelter, food, and treatment in the prisons. Verily, the problem of poverty is yet unsolved! Of the prisoners 87 per cent, were able to read and write, “ while those supe- “ riorly educated bore only a proportion of 1 per cent. In 1887, the “ per centage of those able to read and “ write was 84, and of those superiorily “ educated, 1 per cent. It will thus

“ be seen that the numbers of the edu- “ cated are steadily decreasing, and that, ‘'consequently, the gulf is growing wider between the educated and uneducated.” One passage in the report points to the cause of the growth of larrikinism which has lately been forced upon public attention in New Zealand as well as in Victoria. “ Expe- “ rience has well established the fact “ that youths are permitted to roam “about instead of being kept at home; “ they become contaminated in morals “and degraded in manners by vicious “ associations, and by the evil example “of adult criminals at large, whose ‘'obscene and blasphemous language “ they pick up, and whose actions they “at length come to imitate. Tho cul- “ pable neglect of parents to look after “ the moral training of their children, “and to exercise over thorn proper “ control, has a direct tendency to “increase the number of juvenile “ criminals.” Too much stress cannot be laid upon the fact that to parental laxity and neglect of the responsibility that rests upon thorn to “ train up “their children in tho way they should “go” is owing tho greater proportion of crime—yet the victims arc punished, and the parents go free.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890810.2.2

Bibliographic details

PENAL REFORM., Evening Star, Issue 7982, 10 August 1889

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1,071

PENAL REFORM. Evening Star, Issue 7982, 10 August 1889

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