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Criminal Sociology   By: (1859-1929)

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Scanned with OmniPage Professional OCR software donated by Caere Corporation, 1 800 535 7226. Contact Mike Lough




The following pages are a translation of that portion of Professor Ferri's volume on Criminal Sociology which is immediately concerned with the practical problems of criminality. The Report of the Government committee appointed to inquire into the treatment of habitual drunkards, the Report of the committee of inquiry into the best means of identifying habitual criminals, the revision of the English criminal returns, the Reports of committees appointed to inquire into the administration of prisons and the best methods of dealing with habitual offenders, vagrants, beggars, inebriate and juvenile delinquents, are all evidence of the fact that the formidable problem of crime is again pressing its way to the front and demanding re examination at the hands of the present generation. The real dimensions of the question, as Professor Ferri points out, are partially hidden by the superficial interpretations which are so often placed upon the returns relating to crime. If the population of prisons or penitentiaries should happen to be declining, this is immediately interpreted to mean that crime is on the decrease. And yet a cursory examination of the facts is sufficient to show that a decrease in the prison population is merely the result of shorter sentences and the substitution of fines or other similar penalties for imprisonment. If the list of offences for trial before a judge and jury should exhibit any symptoms of diminution, this circumstance is immediately seized upon as a proof that the criminal population is declining, and yet the diminution may merely arise from the fact that large numbers of cases which used to be tried before a jury are now dealt with summarily by a magistrate. In other words, what we witness is a change of judicial procedure, but not necessarily a decrease of crime. Again, when it is pointed out that the number of persons for trial for indictable offences in England and Wales amounted to 53,044 in 1874 8 and 56,472 in 1889 93, we are at a loss to see what colour these figures give to the statement that there has been a real and substantial decrease of crime. The increase, it is true, may not be keeping pace with the growth of the general population, but, as an eminent judge recently stated from the bench, this is to be accounted for by the fact that the public is every year becoming more lenient and more unwilling to prosecute. But an increase of leniency, however excellent in itself, is not to be confounded with a decrease of crime. In the study of social phenomena our paramount duty is to look at facts and not appearances.

But whether criminality is keeping pace with the growth of population or not it is a problem of great magnitude all the same, and it will not be solved, as Professor Ferri points out, by a mere resort to punishments of greater rigour and severity. On this matter he is at one with the Scotch departmental committee appointed to inquire into the best means of dealing with habitual offenders, vagrants, and juveniles. As far as the suppression of vagrancy is concerned the members of the committee are unanimously of opinion that ``the severest enactments of the general law are futile, and that the best results have been obtained by the milder provisions of more recent statutes.'' They also speak of the ``utter inadequacy of the present system in all the variety of detail which it offers to deter the habitual offender from a course of life which devolves the cost of his maintenance on the prison and the poorhouse when he is not preying directly on the public.'' The committee state that they have had testimony from a large number of witnesses supporting the view that ``long sentences of imprisonment effect no good result,'' and they arrive at the conclusion that to double the present sentences would not diminish the number of habitual offenders... Continue reading book >>

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