15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 11


They must be responsible for it all. Were there 110 criminals, there would be no criminal police °I* courts, nor would there be crime novels. journalism, plays, films, pop songs, kids' comics, radio and television programmes in profusion, nor would all modern societies be obsessed by Crime and criminals. . .

The assumption is that men become criminals because they are evil. But since evil men clearly exist who are not criminal by law, they must be evil men of a special kind. And their sPeciality turns out to be that, for one reason or another, they are anti-social. Why?

The main characteristic of criminals is not evil, but stupidity. If the object of most crimes to get something for nothing, it is extra- ordinary what pains they take to get hardly anYthing at all. Endless planning and plotting, betrayals, violence among themselves, years spent inside gaols—for an average weekly income by the age of sixty which, save in the rarest cases, amounts to a few pounds. Or if the crime be one of passion or violence, without gain as its alotive, except for this momentary physical satis- faction the reward seems slender. They may ‘Iseape detection; but if they do not, prison, a kadhouse or the gallows are their recompense. In general, the sole qualities of criminals are !heir fortitude and resilience. Otherwise, they're reckless, immensely conceited, ingenious in the manner of cruel boys, quarrelsome, ignorant and ,Of reactionary opinions. It is the sadness of their `Ives, their drab pointlessness that strike you most, Then why do they do it? The chief attraction of his life to the pro- lessional or habitual criminal is the inverted Freedom of illegality. By declaring war on Society, he is at once freed from the multitude I)f bonds that chafe the rest of us. He contracts ;kit of all obligations, and thinks his precarious 'Iberty from society's restraints worth the risk. To the non-professional, the feeble-minded or the violent, crime is not so much an attraction, a calculated risk, as a compulsion of his weak nature. The drifter can't cope, the enraged man won't restrain himself, neither wants much to try, nor is surprised society condemns him.

Unquestionably, criminals are dangerous, malicious—an immense social nuisance. To adulate them is folly, to 'romanticise' them self- indulgent, to be obsessed by them unhealthy. Yet to condemn them without thought as to why they become criminals, continue to be so and grow in numbers may afford a momentarily righteous glow, but will never remove them. And unless, as our morbidly excessive preoccupation with them might suggest, society in fact needs criminals (as racialists do those of another colour, on to whom they can project part of their own evil), then society's collective thought should search for ways of discouraging men from crime.

There are two theories about this, basically irreconcilable, whose contradiction is reflected in legislation, court sentences and prison and probation practice. These are the punitive and curative; or, at present, an uneasy combination of the two.

The punitive in its pure form has a simple logic that appeals to many minds and emotions. Pack them • in tight, see that they suffer and, above all, keep them away from society as long as possible. As a swift short-term stratagem this is undeniably effective. It restores the nineteenth- century notion of an immutable 'criminal class,' society's perpetual enemy.

The curative concept is that most men are redeemable, given time and a favourable social climate—neither of which conditions exists ade- quately yet. The disadvantages of this approach are that it is long-term, costly in human effort and cannot yield immediately sensational im- provement.

Sponsors of either programme consider the others' sentimental. The punitive thinks his rival—to transpose an epithet—a 'criminal- lover,' the curative believes his adversary to be prompted by instincts of fear, cruelty and re- venge. My own view is that the punitive method ultimately increases crime, that the curative is more likely to reduce it, given time and con-

'You realise, of course, Bristow, amt you can no longer be regarded as a "(rustic''?'

siderable effort, and that the vital factor in dis- couraging criminals lies in the attitudes to them of society.

A prison is an extension of society at large. It is only from outside that you're a criminal: inside, you're just one of many men. A man who is 'put away' knows well enough he's not in normal circulation, but never feels he's less alive or less part of the nation. You cannot really 'put a man away' unless you kill him or he goes mad.

For his warders the prisoner feels fear, con- tempt and occasionally pity—emotions they re- ciprocate exactly. He will discover the inner social life • of the prison is controlled by the inmates, not by the screws. And he will see his gaolers for what they must be—as much tied to the prison as himself, dependent on its felons for their existence, thinking many of the prisoners' thoughts and sharing some of their attitudes to the world outside the walls.

The prisoner will make essential contacts and acquire valuable skills: he will learn that prisons are government-sponsored training colleges for criminals. They are incubators of crime for this further reason: most prisoners have families, and as more and more go into gaol, thousands of men, women and children outside prisons become emotionally involved in them. And if more warders are engaged, as they must be if the prison population rises, then hundreds of other families become psychologically attached to gaols. So that the more men there are in prisons, the greater will be the extra-mural population that is part of them.

To society outside, the prisoner will grow steadfastly hostile. He will not believe this society so good, nor himself so bad, that the con- ditions of their lives and his should be so violently contrasted. He will feel, consciously or not, that he is made scapegoat for society's col- lective evil: that it has personified its wickedneis in him and made him its sacrificial victim.

Those who are pleased criminals are gaoled so often forget that most of them come out again. When this happens, the likelihood of their returning to crime with unrepentant hatred, and with doubled energy and craft, is great. But suppose they purpose to `go straight'? Then the prisoner who has 'paid his debt to society' will find it still holds the debt undischarged: that it does nothing to discourage him from further crime by helping him to adapt himself to the now unfamiliar world of honest men. It seems even, by this bleak indifference, to wish that he pay the debt a second time, as if he were branded by the mark of Cain. And the best way he can do what society seems to want is to return to the welcoming, uncritical criminal world and put into practice, with new partners and improved techniques, the skills he has ac- quired in gaol.