The Supremacy of Christian Ethics

W. P. Archibald September 1 1908

The Supremacy of Christian Ethics

W. P. Archibald September 1 1908

The Supremacy of Christian Ethics

The Test as to Whether Crime and Criminals Will Inevitably Decrease or Increase —Adoption of the Indefinite Term System Strongly Favored as Likely to Find a Permanent Place in the Judicial System of all Civilized Countries —Too Much Maudlin Sentimentality for the Malefactor.

W. P. Archibald

THE work of reformation, also the rehabilitation of a criminal, is one of the most arduous undertakings which can be conceived. To strengthen repressive action, and at the same time to introduce more humanity into the operation of our laws—to sometimes ask for indulgence rather than rigor, without abandoning any of the indispensable guarantees of social order, and of justice—is the paramount principle and practical object of the parole system of Canada.

When the parole system was first advo-

cated, and adopted, about nine years ago, many said of those who pleaded for its adoption by the Federal authorities, that their ideals were placed too high. In criticism they were sometimes reproached with attempting the impossible ; and their generous conceptions of humanity were greeted as chimeras. In some instances they were referred to as “tainted with sentimentalism,” and sometimes feebleness ; but their faith in humanity remained unshaken. Under a careful administration of the parole law much has been accomplished in the uplifting of the unfortunate and erring, who, while suffering justly by imprisonment for their wrongs inflicted on society, are given the opportunity to regain their social footing in the very community in which they have offended.

I know, perhaps, as well as any one engaged in prison work that there are some of the sick who do not wish to be cured (I mean incorrigibles who need to be kept where they cannot harm) ; but this is no argument that all who are sick are incurable, and that there are not means within our reach to help in their restoration. Judging from years of experience I must say that I find perversity is the exception. I have constantly affirmed in the past that human nature is, at bottom, right, loyal and generous. We find that in the darkest and most ravaged heart there may survive, as in the ruins of a temple, a last lamp, forgotten by the last priest, which, when lighted, burns still for truth and goodness.

The question is not of substituting for penal laws a sort of philosophical indifference which would compromise public security. It is the question of stimulating

moral forces and developing generous instincts. which are able to prevent the offence or the crime committed ; and after the downfall, of raising and rehabilitating the guilty. No one possessed of logic or honest sense maintains the irresponsibility of the being who has done wrong. That would be to affirm the inutility of correction or recompense. It is true that the physical life, the education, heredity and environment, exercise a direct influence on criminality. Legislators have taken account of these inevitable reactions in the preparation of laws and the gradation of penalties.

We hold that the principles of the parole system are just. Chastisement, without a possibility of pardon and forgetfulness, discourages and degrades ; the hope of parole, or of a pardon, evokes to effort and helps to restore. It puts principles into practice, and inspires hope in the convict ; while on the other hand, it determines when the convict should be discharged from prison, with a suitable environment congenial to his or her rehabilitation through the channels or forces of industry. The system of providing the assistance of a patron or a friend to help the delinquent in his struggle to regain his lost status as a social unit, is producing some splendid results.

Every intelligent Canadian recognizes the futility of combating crime by simply attacking the criminal—a system of cutting down the weeds without going to the roots. In seeking to determine the causes and the movements of crime, I find that the responsibility of criminality is not to be attributed alone to the material author of the offence. Society must be protected, but has society not been responsible for the downfall of many? The pace which some try to keep up in the social life proves a cause of temptation, and to the weak it has resulted in the ruination of many of the best men this world has ever known.

In dealing with these matters, however, we must always maintain a horror for crime, and to any responsible being, nothing justifies an act of criminality. This fact has modified considerably the sentiment concerning a convict of late vears. Prevention is better than a continual punishment. and our system of justice does not exclude charity. There is no justice without charity, and there cannot be any true charity without justice.

Classification of crimes is comparatively an ancient method; the classification of criminals is comparatively modern. In Hebrew, Oriental and Roman codes we find attempts at classification of crimes, and the estimate of guilt seen in the varying weight of penalty attached to the offence. The classification of crime in even the best penal codes is more or less arbitrary. Under the Hebrew law of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” the matter was much simpler, but, when it comes to measuring the money value of an eye or a nose, or the length of imprisonment, which forms an equivalent for its destruction, it is not easy to secure equity. Thus, while the State has a fixed Criminal Code, and a maximum and minimum of penalties, a study of the sentences actually imposed in our courts of justice, show the most curious variations and sometimes even contradictions.

The estimate of the comparative enormity of the offences made by convicts themselves are sufficiently curious, as when the “drunkard boasts he has not been a thief,” and the “thief boasts he has not been a drunkard”; but these ethical judgments of the criminal are hardly more contradictory or amusing than those which have been taken from our own laws in their administration. When it comes to the application of the penalty, the only final relief for arbitrariness is the adoption of the indefinite sentence system, especially for habitual offenders, which is working most satisfactorily in several Continental countries, and is now under consideration by the British Government. On principle, nothing justifies the imprisonment of a man except that satisfactory proof is forthcoming that his freedom is dangerous to society. Now, if we accept this principle, two consequences follow logically from it:

First, that none should be imprisoned except those whose liberty would be a danger to society.

Second, that these should be imprisoned, not for periods fixed in advance, but just as long as their freedom may be a danger to society.

The second of these conclusions is embodied in the principle of the indefinite sentence system. Many are anxious to see it adopted in Canada in conjunction with the parole system, which is giving such good satisfaction at present. We send to prisons a number of recidivist criminals for a fixed

number of months or years, according to the name given by law to the particular offence of which each person is convicted. Phis is no more scientific in operation than if the sick were sent to the hospital for a number of days, determined in advance bv 'the temperature or the pulse at the invasion of any disease. Do we not send the contagious sick to the hospital and they must be detained until cured. The analogy is a fair one by which it is contended, that no man should be imprisoned until it has been ascertained that he is of a criminal character, and when this is established, he must be imprisoned until he is reformed, or until he dies, and I am satisfied that some of our criminal class should spend their life and die in imprisonment or detention.

But the first of the two conclusions which I have named is of still higher importance. To imprison a man is to impose upon him an utterly unnatural life, to cut him off from the general influences which form the mind and character of men ; and to consign him to the companionship of much that is vile of the human race, is a serious matter. It is to mark him for life as a person unfit for freedom and for congenial associations with his kind. The force of this influence is so great that many never overcome it. The habitual criminal class is made up principally of men who have received their education in crime in the prisons. Under these conditions too great care cannot be taken in sending a man or a woman to prison on a first offence, especially if the offence does not reveal a serious criminal character.

Should we undertake to locate the beginning of crime we would of necessity have to revert to the beginning of the human race. To ns the beautiful innocence of early Eden remains only in the imagination, and the everlasting fact of wrong and crime thrusts itself across the opening consciousness of men. The story in the Genesis of human history, where crime and punishment come together, suggests valuable information upon the manner of dealing with crime and the criminal of our age, for there is no change in those wild and disordered passions of men out of which there follow all the ills and sorrows of the social fabric we term life. Cain, striking down his brother in the early days, is the type of the long line of criminality that stretches through time, and with which we

are struggling to-day in the dealing with the problems of crime and the treatment of the criminal. The divine justice administered is also an example to all right society that seeks to protect itself, and punish guilt. If you follow the story closely you will find nothing of the maudlin sentimentality connected with it that blurs the lines between good and evil in our day, for the criminal would have us forget the sorrow caused by his act and the injury he has caused to his victim. I have never pleaded for the removal of a just penalty which man, or the hand of justice, has generally attached to the commission of crime. I have nothing to do with that speculative philanthropy which confounds moral will with disease, and finds the greatest criminal generally to be the greatest unfortunate, deserving, not chains, but tears and release.

On the other hand, there are those who are within the reach of reform and rehabilitation, and these are being helped in a practical way. In Canada one of the greatest factors in the reformation of the criminal is found in the parole system. Out of some 1,645 released conditionally during the past eight years, over 1,000 have earned their full liberty, while only a fraction over two per cent, of the entire number released have returned to a life of crime, and to-day about 500 men are engaged in the hard uphill struggle to regain their lost footing in the social world, and are reporting themselves monthly with this object in view.

The social well-being of man cannot endure unless punishment full and terrible falls in proper degree on every known crime, and if the punishment is greater than the criminal can bear, it is because of the greatness of his offence. The fountains of human pity should not be stirred to remove the penalty attached to the offence of the criminal, but curative measures can be safely adopted whereby a criminal can redeem his wasted life. To make punishment a vengeance, taking out hope and heart from the delinquent, is not meeting the needs of the situation.

I cannot help but state the conviction that one of the dangers of our dealing with criminals to-day is in the fact that the law expected to be thrown about the innocent, is practically given and used to protect the criminal. What I mean is this, the desire to provide such a defence for all accused persons so that no innocent man should suf-

fer, has brought us to a point where it is difficult to prevent the guilty from escaping just punishment, but it is better even thus than to punish an innocent person. In the operation of British law it is necessary that the indictment, the jury trial, the sentence, the execution, when found necessary, should move on with an evenness of tread that leaves no room for merely technical delays, producing a wholesome fear for the wrongdoer.

Crime being a steady factor in human society, philosophy, no less than Christianity, finds it is urgent that every possible reform shall be made in the case of the criminal, so that society shall be thoroughly protected not only during the term of imprisonment, but also from his activity when lie again passes out into the world (a free man ) through the parole system or by discharge. With this fundamentalproof, held alike by the "enlightened selfishness” of the world, and the devoted unselfish altruism of the Christian religion, it is impossible to escape the problem which is ever present : What is best to be done with the tide of human vice which is steadily reaching our penal institutions and ebbing out from them again? There are at the present time about 1,433 a population in the penitentiaries of Canada, and about 2,000 in the jails and Provincial prisons of our country. There is no sterility in crime. It grows and spreads. It propagates itself by generation and contagion. It works as silently, as mysteriously, as effectually as leaven. To deal wisely with it requires the utmost patience, charity, etc.

The question of how to deal with the criminal classes must ere long be met by the application of more potent remedies than are now applied, such as will meet the cause of moral deformities, produced through contagion or accident. Countries to-day vie with one another to devise “sugar-coated” systems to cure criminal habits. Eminent jurists and magistrates have strained statutes in their behalf, and many good people keep beseeching the great Creator to set aside immutable laws and thus relieve the abnormal conditions of mankind.

Remove the certainty of death from a trip over Niagara Falls in an open boat, and such trips would soon become a holiday pastime. So it is with the commission of criminal acts: remove the chances of

just punishment for criminal offences, and each act committed will only be a stimulant for the commitment of more atrocious ones. There is altogether too much maudlin sentimentality for the criminal, and a system which does not inflict punishment is a dangerous menace to both citizen and State.

On the whole, social environment and public opinion have ostracised vice and crime, and driven them to cover, where they can be practised only by stealth. Never before in the history of the world have life and property and all legal rights been more securely protected against a lawless invasion than at the present time ; especially is this true in the British Empire, of which Canada is privileged to comprise a component part. We are units of an Empire in which law and order are regarded as essential to life, and we feel justly proud of our systems of government, the freedom and the protection of the citizen, and the operation of our criminal laws.

The indefinite sentence system has met with some opposition from a few of the leading and prominent European jurists. It has also its strong advocates, and in the prison reforms of France, Russia and Italy, we find this system strongly urged and recommended.

I have read the various criticisms, and find their opposition based on purely theoretical grounds. I firmly believe that it is only a question of time for this system to find a permanent place in the judicial system of all civilized countries.

This system will make it clear enough to distinguish between the accidental and the professional criminal—to give the first offender an opportunity to recover his footing, and show the second offender that while he is determined to lead a criminal life he can have no footing whatever.

The last analysis of the question of crime, and the treatment of the criminal, is the vital question of the supremacy of Christian ethics. If the Christian religion declines, and its forces weaken, crime will inevitably increase. If the principles and the spirit of true Christianity gain adcfed power in the life of our Canadian people, crime will surely decrease.

A Christian faith looking forward in confidence to the ultimate triumph of Christian ethics can hardly fail to expect a progressive decline of crime, and in the future its final extinction.