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must, we think, be an exaggeration. The amount of actual crime which the returns indicate, is sufficiently appalling; but what renders it still more affecting, is the consideration of the crime, or at least the moral depravation which is thus generated. If, by an efficient prison discipline, there is reason to rejoice that the vicious have sometimes been reclaimed, there are too many instances of those who have been first tainted and debased by imprisonment, to which they have been subjected for a first, perhaps a slight, perhaps only a suspected, offence. Of the numbers committed on the charge of criminal offences, the proportion is very great, who are either not prosecuted or acquitted ; and while it would be idle to suppose that the latter, although innocent in law, are always innocent in fact, or morally guiltless of the charge laid against them, (since their acquittal in, perhaps, a majority of cases, is owing simply to a deficiency of evidence, or to some technical flaw in the proceedings,) still, there will remain, after all reasonable deductions, a very large number of persons committed to prison,—and thereby punished upon presumption before trial,and exposed to all the contamination and degradation of a gaol, upon unfounded charges.
Out of the 18,675 persons committed in 1829, only 13,261 were convicted; 1800 were not prosecuted, no bills being found; and 3614 were acquitted : that is to say, against 5,414 out of 18,675, no criminal charge could be sustained. The proportion is enormous; and one inference which it suggests, is, that the labours of such a socicty as the one whose report is before us, are of an importance almost incalculable. “Upon the nature of the
discipline to which such prisoners are subjected, it depends,' to adopt the language of the first Resolution of the General Meeting,
whether those who are innocent of crime, shall be corrupted and • debased by their confinement, and the convicted rendered still ' further guilty; or whether imprisonment shall be made instru• mental in preserving the untried from contamination, in correct‘ing and reforming the convicted, and in deterring generally from • the commission of crime. An efficient system of prison dis 'cipline is therefore of great importance to the public security, ' and the moral welfare of the nation.'
We have stated, that the results of the criminal reports are, upon the whole, though sufficiently appalling, less so than might have been anticipated. This, however, will require both explanation and qualification, for the increase of crime is undeniable. In the year 1821, the total number of commitments in England and Wales was 13,115; in 1830, 18,107. A frightful increase ! The population in 1821, stood at 11,978,975; it is now, 13,894,574; so that the relative increase of crime, in proportion to that of the population, is about 5000 to two millions. On looking back to the returns of the last twelve years, there will be
In 12822, 3. numbecome groen we noticed.
found a progressive rise in the number of crimes, with the exception of the years 1822 and 1823, which exhibit fewer commitments, by nearly 1000, than 1821, and about 1500 below 1824; and with the further exception of 1828, which was below either the preceding or the succeeding year. On the other hand, when we look at the nature of the criminal charges, there is some ground for a mitigation of the feeling of alarm. The number of commitments for murder in 1821, was 71 ; in 1822, 85; in 1825, 94; in 1828, 83; and in 1829, only 47.* In the latter year, however, the commitments for stabbing, shooting, &c., were very much above the average: they were, in 1821, 60; in 1826, 47; in 1828, 72; and in 1829, 115. The commitments for manslaughter in 1821, were 101; in 1829, 125. If we turn to burglary, we shall find a remarkable decrease of that particular crime. The average of the years 1820 to 1826 inclusive, is about 460; in 1827, the commitments for this offence were 572; but in 1828, they were only 249; and in 1829, 171. In other crimes of violence, there is no very decided increase ; but in simple larceny, we have the following progression.
1820 1825 1827 1828 1829
9160. 10,087. 12,014. 10,989. 12,628. So that, of the increase of crime, one half consists of offences of simple larceny; and of the other half, a very large proportion consists of larceny under particular modifications. The commitments for offences against the Game-laws were, in 1821, 199; in 1823, 223; in 1828, 366; of whom 60 were acquitted or discharged. The average number of persons executed in the seven years from 1823 to 1829 inclusive, was 62; the lowest number being 49, and the highest (in 1828) 79. But in 1820, they were 107; and in 1821, 114. The average number condemned to death in the seven years, was 1192; the lowest number being 968, and the highest (in 1827) 1526. The number sentenced to death in 1830, was 1397, being a proportion of one ninth of the whole number convicted, and one thirteenth of those who were committed. But of those who were thus formally adjudged to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, only 1 in 30 underwent the sen
* The progressive diminution in number, of crimes of an atrocious description, during the rapid increase of population in this country, is, indeed, highly remarkable. From documents laid before the House of Commons, it appears that the number of convictions and executions for murder, within the Home Circuit, at three separate periods, was as follows:
tence. “Such,' remark the Committee, 'is the discrepancy between 'the sentence of the law and its execution. The following remarks on the nature and causes of the prevailing description of offences are highly deserving of attention.
In the criminal commitments for the last year, the number of crimes against the person was 870, being a proportion of 1 in 2l of the whole number committed: the remainder were for crimes against property. The number of convictions for offences against the person, was 432, being only 1 in 30 of the whole convicted. The number sen. tenced to death for crimes against the person, was 227; being 1 in 6 of the whole so sentenced ; but the number who suffered death for that offence, was 27 ; being rather more than one half of the total number executed. The majority of crimes against property for which offenders were sentenced capitally, but of whom only a small proportion, and in some cases none, were executed, may be classed under the following heads : viz.
death. Executed. For burglary
· These facts, taken in connexion with the increase in the number of capital convictions, strengthen the opinion, that the chance of ultimately escaping the extreme punishment awarded by the law, affords powerful encouragement to the coin mission of crime.
· The lowness of wages, and prevalence of distress arising from redundancy of population, are unquestionably the main sources of criminal offence ; causes greatly aggravated by others connected with the general condition of the labouring classes. Of these, the most prominent are,--the absence of moral and religious education among the great mass of the labouring population; the perverted application of parochial relief; and especially of late, the enormous abuse of spirit ons liquors. These evils present to the poor of this country, temptations to crime too powerful to be counteracted by the ordinary institutions of penal justice. Much, however, of the apparent increase in the number of commitments lo prison, arises from other causes than those connected with the advance of crime. Offences which were formerly either passed over, or visited with summary correction, are now made the occasion of commitment to gaol. The Malicious Trespass Act, as also the law for paying prosecutors their expenses in cases of misdemeanour, and other enactments, have tended to fill the prisons without any positive increase of crime. It is certain, that the number of atrocious offences has not increased in proportion to the population, and that with the advancement of civilization the darker crimes have been less anparent.'
Some consolation may be derived from these circumstances; and at the same time, some important suggestions. The increased frequency of unnecessary commitments is a most serious evil. We have already referred to the large proportion which the number of persons discharged by grand juries, or acquitted, bears to the whole number committed, and which is a pretty clear proof of the unsoundness of the present system. The magistrates are partly to blame, in being far more ready to commit a prisoner, than to accept of bail. “There cannot be a question', say the Committee, ' that the number of untried prisoners—the most un• manageable class-might, by the general acceptance of bail, be ' reduced to one half, or even a third, with no injury to the com'munity, with great benefit to the individual, and with material
advantage to the discipline of prisons. We know not whether any difference is made in practice, or can be made, in admitting bail, when the charge is for a first offence. It is obvious, however, that the risk of bailing is less, and the hardship of imprisonment for mere security much greater, when the person charged has never before been obnoxious to the law, than in the case of a second offence. Another circumstance which has swelled the number of commitments is, that cases of petty felonies, such as stealing hedge-stakes, and other articles of trifling value, are now, more frequently than heretofore, brought to trial. The number of prosecutions has also been greatly increased by the associations for mutual protection, established in all parts of the country, which preclude any reluctance to prosecute arising from the dread of expense.
Formerly, if a boy was found committing such offences, he was personally chastised and discharged: now, there is a solemn judicial investigation. He is seized, committed, imprisoned, tried at the sessions, and convicted with as much form and ceremony as if he had been guilty of a burglary. This disposition (on the part of the magistrates) to avoid responsibility, fills the gaols in another manner. The sessions-calendars in the country exhibit a list of the pettiest offences. If, in addition to these, the magistrates were to try, as they do in several counties, some of the graver cases now reserved for the assizes, the labour of the judges would be spared, and the number of prisoninmates most materially diminished.'
For some of the sore burdens and evils which have been brought upon the country by the acts and decrees of the unpaid and irresponsible magistracy, we have to blame, not their intentions, which have generally been good, so much as, in many cases, their want of moral courage, their fear of doing wrong, and a timid adherence to rule ; combined, no doubt, with a wish to escape from responsibility, and from the contingencies of future inconvenience, as well as to save themselves present trouble. To avoid exercising their discretionary power in a way which would involve responsibility, they have had recourse, too generally, to what may be characterised as the indiscretional use of their discretion, in the extreme practice of commitment; the most dangerous power which could, under such circumstances, have been reposed in their hands. Nothing is more easy, in general, than to get an offender committed ; nothing more difficult, troublesome, expensive, and uncertain, than to obtain the conviction of the culprit. If the case were the reverse,-if the chief difficulties in the way of prosecution were prior to commitment, and the conviction followed with a greater degree of certitude, the interests of justice and the welfare of society would be far more effectually promoted. The time is not, we apprehend, far distant, when a stipendiary magistracy will be found the most economical, as well as the most effective and trustworthy instrumentality for administering the laws, even in country districts.
In examining the relative proportion of crimes committed in different counties, it is found, that throughout the home counties, as well as in the manufacturing districts where the inhabitants are congregated in large bodies, the number of criminal offenders is greater. In the agricultural districts also, where distress has prevailed to a considerable extent, the proportion has been large. The number of criminals committed during the last year, throughout England, has been in the proportion of 1 to 740 inhabitants ; in Wales, 1 to 2320; in Scotland, 1 to 1130; and in Ireland, 1 to 490. In London and Middlesex, the proportion of commitments has been higher than in any other county in England, being 1 criminal to 400 inhabitants. In Surrey, the proportion is 1 to 680; in Kent, 1 to 730; in Sussex, 1 to 750; in Esses, 1 to 650; in Hertfordshire, 1 to 520; in Bedfordshire, 1 to 710. In the manufacturing districts, the proportion is, in Lancashire, 1 to 650; in Warwickshire, 1 to 480; in Gloucestershire (including Bristol), 1 to 540; in Nottinghamshire, 1 to 750; in Cheshire, 1 to 630. In the more remote counties, the proportion is small; that of Northumberland being only 1 to 2700; in Westmoreland, 1 to 2500; in Durham, 1 to 2460; and in Cornwall, 1 to 1600. In Rutland also, the proportion is very much smaller than in the adjacent counties. In Wales, the highest proportion of offenders is found in the most populous county, Glamorgan; while Cardigan presents the lowest proportion of crime in any county of the United Kingdom, being only 1 to 4920. In the large manufacturing counties of Scotland, the proportion is nearly as high as in England : in Edinburgh, it is I to 540; in Lanark, the most populous county, 1 to 600. In Ireland, the highest proportion of crime is in the city of Dublin, where there has been one criminal to 96 inhabitants : in the city of Waterford, the proportion is 1 to 125. Of the counties in Ireland, that which has the largest proportion is Longford, being 1 to 260 : the lowest proportion is in Downshire, which has only 1 criminal to 990 inhabitants. Of the total number of persous