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Our Punishments For Crime

Our Punishments For Crime image
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[Huratío Soymour in December Harper.] Whilo Oovernor of this State I loarned that tlie suffcring for crime, as a rule, fell not upon the ofi'ender but upon his family. When I look over our penal law, their titles, to my mind, read between their lines : " Acts to punish wives and cliildren of thoso who viólate tlieir terms." I was constantly appealed to to pardon convicts for these reasons, and in some cases by the wives of those who made the complaints upon whieh the wrong-doer was convicted. When this was told to them, their answer was that, while that was true, yet when the husbands were in jail, where they were fed and warmed, their wives and children were left to starve and freeze for want of support. Tliere is no perfect way of dealing with crime, but there is no worse way than the system of this State. Some years ago, a leading lawyer of New York travelod through Egypt. He met the chief of a wandering tribe of the desert, and, among other things, he told this wild ruler of our laws, and the ways we dealt with crime. He was heard with astonishment, and for the first time he himself was struck with their j ties. After his return he used to say that he was nover so tlioroughly ashamed of his country as wlten he was telling his simple-minded auditor what laws we had npon those subjects, and how they were enforced. While we may not frame perfect systems, nmch can be done to make a bet?er state of things - to simplify justice, and to break up the tendeney to disorderly coiiduct and to vagrancy. We cannot hope to make any marked imlirovement in our jails. Each county must have one, and its population will determino the character of its place of confmement. Those in charge of them will be frequently changed, and, save in the large citics, the number and character of the inmates will not admit of classification, etc. The first chango should be ono that will allow our Judges to impose punishments other than sending the offenders to these comiuon schools of vice. As notliing can be worse than our present laws, tlaere can be no harm in trying new plans. We must have jails, as there are cases when the safety of society makes it necessary to lock men up. But, as a rule, other restraints can be used which will check, not teach, crime. Our laws allow only two punishments to be inflicted for minor offensos - fines or imprisonment - and these must be imposed without regard to age, sex, condition or circumstances. The law demands these, it matters not what moral or material mischief they may do. As a rule, fines inflict distress on families and friends, while jails are a gateway to a course of wickedness which leads to the State prisons. For these reasons no punishments are inflicted until the ofl'enders have grown into hardened crimináis who excite no sympathy. There is no power to deal in a right way with the first step in crime, with acts of mingled error and wrongdoing. It has been my duty to look into a PTeat number of such cases, and I have given much thought and study to our statutes with regard to them. Next to moral and religious influences, we must rely upon the wisdom of our laws with regard to yonthful offenders. It is comparatively an easy matter to deal with grave crimes. The first step toward reform is to give magistrates a right, within certain limits, to direct such punishments as they shall see are best fitted to reform wrongdoers. They have all the facts before them, and best know what is just and right in each case. This will not give j them undue powers, but it will take away jDretexts for not doing their duty. Now they must fine, or imprison, or discharge. In many cases either of these courses is unsuitable, and many wroug-doers go free, for to enforce law would only make things worse. This state of things is full of evil. If magistrates could bind them out to , do work, or direct the minors to be i chastised by parents or guardians or suitable persons, many would be saved from the moral leprosy which infects our jails. Such or like punishments would be inflicted, and there would be j no excuse for letting offenders escape, j Magistrates should have, in addition to theil present powers, the same right of control over vagrants, disorderly j sons and habitual offenders which parents or guardians have over their children or wards. The fact that they j belong to these classes should be judicially decided after a certain number of convictions. When they are thus enrollod in these .classes, they should have no right to vote at any election. As our laws now stand, notorious offenders, who do no honest work, who can only live in immoral ways, are held to be innocent persons, when they are arrested, until the formal, tcchnical and somet-imes expensivo proofs are furnished that they are guilty of practices which there is a moral certainty they indulge in. This is right when they are accused of grave crimes. But there is no hardship in putting such persons into that state of wardship in which the law places all persons who are under the age of 21 years, or who are afflicted with disordered minds. Should disorderly moráis be more leniently dealt with than disordered intellects? There is no danger in giving magistrates the power over habitual offenders which parents and guardians have over minors - that of making them work, of binding them out, and of locking them up ; and, in the case of children, having them chastised rather than sent to jails. There is no reason to fear that this punishment will be used too often or too harshly. It would rarely be applied, but should not be made illegal, as it would give magistrates greut control, and would do mueh to put an end to the bravado and swagger of disorderly ! boys which are so much admired by their weak or youthful companions.


Old News
Michigan Argus