« PreviousContinue »
question, should have rejected the original proposal in the Bill to enable a Court to order permanent detention in suitable
To prevent the growth of the class of habituals, the Act provides for the application of the training and discipline now given at Borstal prison to youthful offenders. The object of the Borstal system is to subject young criminals who are on the road to become habituals to a long period of detention, during which their morale and physique are improved and a trade is taught to them. The futility of short terms of imprisonment is recognised on all hands : there is very little good in detaining a young hooligan for periods of one, two, or three months and then turning him loose without any means of maintaining himself in an honest livelihood. The Borstal system tackles the problem very differently: the youth is subjected for a period of from 12 to 24 months to a strict discipline and is instructed in a trade, and on his release the Borstal Association keeps in touch with him and endeavours to prevent him from "going under" again. The Act requires the Prison Commissioners to create Borstal Institutions in which this discipline and instruction
be carried on, and a useful provision places the offender under supervision for a period of six months from the expiration of his sentence. If he makes no effort to live honestly, he can be sent back for a further period of detention. It will of course be necessary to wait for a few years before any attempt can be made to judge of the results of the Act, but there can be no doubt that it marks a distinct advance in penal legislation.
We now come to the figure for larcenies, which include the offences committed by habituals such as confirmed pickpockets, and the single lapses by persons who succumb to temptation, perhaps, once only in their lives. The number for 1907 shows an increase over that for 1906– the figures for the two years being 50,140 and 47,586 respectively. There is no special remark to be made about
this increase, but it is perhaps worth while to call attention to the fact noticed in the Introduction, that changes in business methods give rise to new offences: 24 of the children admitted to Reformatory Schools were convicted of stealing from "penny-in-the-slot
penny-in-the-slot” gas meters. recent report of such a case, it was stated by the representative of a Gas Company that the number of similar offences committed against his Company which were never brought home, ran into thousands, and the magistrate took occasion to remark on this fact as illustrating the fallaciousness of statistics. But it is unreasonable to suppose that the statistics of any given year are specially affected by the disinclination of people to report or prosecute for offences. We must always allow for the fact that there is such a disinclination, and there is no ground whatever for believing that the disinclination is epidemic and not chronic. If the disinclination is a “constant" fact, it cannot affect the value of statistics for purposes of comparison. To revert to figures, the number of convictions of arson, forgery, coining and uttering, shows a slight decrease; but the total number, 476, is small and calls for no special comment. The number of convictions of perjury, 45, is of course absurd when we reflect on the amount of false evidence given to the Courts. Perjurers are very rarely prosecuted; possibly one reason is that it is nobody's business in particular to prosecute offenders. One might almost say that perjury has come to be regarded as an accepted weapon of defence, and that it is seriously reprehended only when it is used as a weapon of offence. The prevalence of the offence is, however, a matter of grave concern, and any discussion of it would seem to raise the old problem of the duty of a solicitor or barrister who is satisfied that his client is lying. We may conclude our remarks on indictable offences by pointing out that the number of persons committed under the Inebriates Acts shows a large increase--477 in 1907,
as against 377 in 1906. The bulk of these persons were women, and practically all were committed either as habitual drunkards, or for having neglected their children through drink. The working of the Inebriates Acts has recently been the subject of inquiry by a Departmental Committee, and amending legislation was promised in the King's Speech at the opening of the present Session of Parliament. Experience has shown that the Courts do not as a rule commit persons to Inebriate Reformatories till the prospect of reformation is almost hopeless, and the main service performed by the Reformatories has been to keep drunkards out of the way for a lengthy period. The percentage of weak-minded persons amongst the inebriates detained in Reformatories is very high-more than half are estimated to be defective, though they cannot be certified insane under the existing law. This proportion is higher among the women than among the men: and it seems to be a question whether the majority of inebriates now under detention should not be dealt with rather as mentally defective than as inebriates. It may be remembered that this is the view expressed in the recent Report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded. As things are at present, however, it is infinitely better that the victims of inebriety shall be detained for long periods, than that they should be left continually to wander in and out of prison for a few days at a time. The cases of cure may be rare, but at any rate both the inebriates and the public at large are spared much distress and annoyance by the system of prolonged detention.
We now come to the figures for non-indictable offences, and we find that they show a decrease as compared with the figures of 1906. 78,862 persons were tried for criminal? non-indictable offences in 1907, as against 82,264 in 1906; and the corresponding figures for non-criminal non-indictable offences are 605,712 and 618,714. There is thus a total decrease of 15,404.
1 If we regard the volume, not only of indictable offences, but also of criminal non-indictable offences, as giving some indication of the total amount of serious crime in the country-and many of these oftences, such as frequenting, or certain breaches of the Prevention of Crimes Act, are evidence of general criminal character---the figures for 1907 are practically the same as for 1906. The total number of persons tried for these two classes of offences in 1907 was 141,243, and in 1906, 141,343.
This decrease, however, is entirely due to the decrease in the number of prosecutions in the Metropolitan Police District by some 17,000 ; in the remainder of England and Wales there was an increase of prosecutions by some 2,000. It was pointed out last year that the figures for the Metropolitan Police District were seriously affected by the appointment of the Royal Commission as a result of the D'Angely case. The shrinkage of prosecutions occurred principally with regard to offences of public disorder, and it will be remembered that about that time the sensational press expended much energy in calling attention to cases where the police brought such a charge and the offender was not convicted. Now that confidence in the integrity of the force has been restored by the Report of the Commission, it may be expected that the number of prosecutions in the Metropolitan Police District will fluctuate in the same way as the numbers for the country generally. There can be little doubt that but for the appointment of the Commission, the figures for nonindictable offences would have shown an increase in the total. Lack of space prevents us from giving details of this section of the statistics, but we may perhaps quote from the Introduction that “offences against the Education Acts have steadily diminished since 1900, mainly in consequence of the passing of the Elementary Education Act 1900, which increased the maximum penalty for breach of bye-laws requiring the attendance of children at school, from 5s. to 20s. It may be observed that the falling off in prosecutions is not accompanied by a fall in the percentage of average attendances to the average number of children on the school registers, the per-centages for the eight years ending 31st July, 1907, being 82'06, 82'48, 83-56, 84.42, 85-70, 86-83, 87'92 and 88:43 respectively." It may also be of interest to note that motor-car offences have increased from 6,777 in 1906 to 8,278 in 1907-an increase which no doubt seems trifling to the indignant pedestrian. As a curiosity, it may be mentioned that there were 6,581 prosecutions for Sunday trading, nearly all of which occurred in eight police jurisdictions, Hull easily leading the way with a total of 4,539.
The statistics relating to Criminal Courts possess some points of interest.
12,599 persons were brought before Courts of Assize and Courts of Quarter Sessions, as against 12,757 in 1906, and it is observed that of persons actually tried before these Courts the per-centage of persons convicted tends slightly to increase. The per-centage in 1907 was 84'51, an increase of i per cent. when contrasted with the per-centage for 1906. Of the 10,379 persons convicted, 7,096, or 68:37 per cent., had previous convictions recorded against them. This proportion is higher than in any of the 14 previous years for which figures can be obtained, and the Introduction suggests that this fact may be due to the ease and certainty of the finger-print system of identification. Turning to the sentences imposed, we may notice that there is a marked increase in the number of persons released on recognizances. The number in 1906 was 918, or 8•84 per cent. of the total of persons convicted, while in 1907 the number was 1,285, giving a per-centage of 12:38. Of this increase by 367 London is responsible for 283. It will be interesting to observe in the statistics for 1908 what advantage has been taken by the Courts of the powers created by the Probation of Offenders Act 1907. Under that Act a Court is enabled to release an offender under the supervision of a probation officer, and this power, in