By SIR ALEXANDER PATERSON
THE Home Secretary has recently visited the most modern insti- tution for adolescent delinquent girls. When Parliament passed the Prevention of Crime Act in 1908 it established the Borstal system of training for adolescent offenders, and made no distinction between boy and girl. Institutions for boys were soon established, but, as so often happens in this and other countries, the further application of the system to girls was largely automatic, with little recognition of the fact that the problem of the girl was totally different. The women's prison and inebriate reformatory at Aylesbury was taken over, and for many years this was the only place in the country to which a girl might be sent for Borstal training. Under the direction of such understanding women as Miss Lilian Barker (now Dame Lilian), Miss Mary Size and Miss Mellanby, it faced many difficulties and laid foundations on which others could build.
Aylesbury had been a prison building, surrounded by walls, and its accommodation consisted of some hundreds of prison cells. The new institution visited by the Home Secretary marks a great advance. It is an old panelled country house, surrounded by a park, in one of the most luxuriant corners of Kent, with every window com- manding a charming view. There are at present only nineteen girls there. Apart from domestic tasks within the house, these work in the market gardens and on the beginnings of a small farm, and go out to neighbouring farms to help in picking fruit and other simple tasks. Theirs has been a curious progress. They have passed from the squalor of some slum to the dock of a criminal court, and thence to a land of beauty.
Similarly the Home Secretary might have visited a Borstal insti- tution for boys in the heart of beautiful country. Here, on one of those well-wooded hills that look down upon the valley of the Trent, he would have found them living in buildings set up at State expense, as modern as any expensive residential school, enjoying in well- equipped workshops, library, class-rooms and gymnasium a finer training in body, mind and character than many parents can afford to-day. They grew up in a slum, passed through the dock gates of a criminal court, and are now on the way to a happy and useful man- hood.
Perhaps when the Home Secretary describes what is being done for delinquent adolescents in this country, he will be exposed to a criticism with which I am very familiar : " But surely this is putting a premium on crime. Why should the bad boys and girls get a better and more expensive training than the virtuous can afford to give their children ? Is it right that the glories of Kent should be reserved for girls who have qualified only by misdemeanour? Is this not likely to encourage the scheming parent to incite children to break the law ? "
Such criticism always proceeds from the same type of person—the person who tells the story of the prisoner who is so happy in prison that he refuses to leave it at the expiration of his sentence, and assures us that every tramp deliberately commits crime in the autumn to make sure of a warm and well-fed winter in an English prison. The same ready informant will, with a magnificent disregard for dates and facts, assure his audience that garotting was put down by flog- ging, and bring the argument to a close by stating that he was beaten regularly at school and at home, and see what a fine man it has made him.
The answer to his criticism is threefold. It begins with Plato, who has not always received his meed as the first of the great peno- logists. It was he who maintained that if the future guardians of the State were trained in beautiful surroundings they would grow to have beautiful ideas. If that is true of the guardians, may it not be equally true of the wards of the State? How does it work out in practice ? While visiting this home for girl delinquents in Kent I was asked to give the names of the two most outstanding penitentiary buildings in America. Without hesitation I mentioned Mr. Alfred Hopkins of Princeton, the great prison architect of America. In his two creations at Walkill, in New York State, and at Lewisburg, in Pennsylvania, he built, regardless of time and expense, the most beautiful of buildings for the gangsters of the New World. His prison halls were as expensive as any to be found in ancient schools, colleges or Inns of Court in this country. The convicts in these places had a liberal measure of freedom and association. I had
enquired whether the authorities were troubled with the common difficulty that prisoners left to themselves for long periods find only two subjects for talk—crime and sex. I was told that the problems of sex, surreptitious messages and salacious letters, drawing and obscene scribbling in public places, had disappeared. They were apparently out of place in such surroundings, just as in Westminster Abbey there are no notices forbidding spitting. In the new school for girls in Kent, too, all the stupid little troubles about illicit notes and salacious scribbling in books have died away. The beauty of the Kentish scenery and the old panelled rooms have proved a catharsis for what was cheap and nasty. So Plato was right. What was true of the gangster from the Bowery or the Bronx was equally true of the girl who passed from Plaistow and Pimlico to Piccadilly, and thence, after a few appearances in the dock at Bow Street or Marylebone, to the Prison Commissioners.
Yet we must consider the other points. Is it fair that these chances of training should be reserved for those who break the law? Must the State wait till a boy or girl is a nuisance beyond all bearing before it begins to try to make amends for his or her early environ- ment? If Plato is right, we must go ahead and place our convicted charges in the most beautiful surroundings. It is a calamity that the same chance cannot be afforded to all the boys and girls born and bred in narrow streets and crowded homes, but in the early days of penicillin it would have beca futile to say that we must not admin- ister it in a case where it was the only specific likely to save until the supply was sufficient for all. If we are satisfied that we can train adolescent offenders better in modern buildings, we must supply them. And as personnel is a much more potent agency than Kentish orchards or oak panelling, we must encourage the best to go to the help of the weakest. How often, to the dismay possibly of parent or tutor, have I tried to persuade a man of outstanding character to forswear teaching in a preparatory or public school, and become a housemaster in Borstal ; or with young padres that they should prefer the rougher ways of prison and Borstal to the smoother paths of the suburban parish. The best to the worst, the strongest to the weakest—these are the modern principles of prison personnel. Give the best chance to those who need it most.
The final argument with which we may defend the practice of giving to the few delinquents more than can be afforded to the many more virtuous rests upon the fact that we are generally dealing with unformed adolescents from broken homes, who have had no friend or faith in the years before' they came into our care, and we can never entirely remove the handicap of their early years or expunge the stigma that conviction has cast upon them. They have had a poor start, and the law has branded them. Whatever we do we shall find it almost impossible to give them the chance others had to become the men and women God meant them to be.