15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 11


The intense interest in crime among all sec- tions of society is suspect. The don deep in his murder book, the millions rapt in sex stories of their Sabbath papers, the key place criminals hold in literature, films and television, whether vulgarised or intellectual, all attest that in some sense the criminal is hero of our times. Con- currently with this vicarious preoccupation, We are alarmed by the rise in actual crime. In our lives, not fantasies, the criminal has become the villain whose elimination can purify Society. He has grown from the squalid, pitiful wretch he really is to be the fearful antagonist of an imaginary civil war. He is our black African to the Afrikaner: the man doubly feared be- cause half-admired and felt subconsciously to be a part of us.

Why is anyone surprised crime flourishes in England? The spiritual forces of our coun- try are traditional and not renewed : vestiges Christian and liberal, patriotic and humane— we have no dynamic faith. Our living, vital creed, expressed by politics, mass media and our own behaviour, is candidly material. The criminal is the arch-materialist, and we respect his logic as much as we reject his methods.

A crime-rate is the thermometer of a society's fevers. A rising prison population proves the danger is growing outside prisons as much as in them; and in the long run, crowded prisons assure the opposite of security and social health. In countries where there are more prisons there is more crime; and the 'improvement' of prisons and prison conditions, unless society improves as well, does not affect the ratio.

It is just as rash to suppose that the more the police, the less the crime will be; and we Must notice again that nations with police forces Proportionally larger have greater crime prob- lems than our own. Those who propose as sovereign remedy 'more police,' must recognise other dangerous possibilities. Policemen are bound to have some vested interest in the existence of crime, just as soldiers have in war, though each will deny this and perhaps not even know it. The stronger police forces become, the More their administrative acts will be directly Judicial: the more they will feel 'we are the law.' The extreme instance of this is in authori- tarian countries of all kinds, where the police force grows to be the nation's fourth estate— sometimes even its first.

Our chief fault is to treat our police as figures of myth. National vanity demands that they both get their man and remain knights in shining armour (or behave like that dishonestly silly stereotype of the television serial). Our personal attitudes to them vary between sycophancy and teal•, excessive adulation and resentment. This is not even to give police officers credit for being the serious professional men they are. Small Wonder that in face of these fickle and foolish attitudes the police are uneasy about their Public image; and if they present a contemp- tuous poker-face to the public one cannot blame them.

Nor should we blandly assume our justice is so superior to others' without direct experience of its operation, especially on the socially weak, nor without comparison with courts in other lands. The laws of a society at any moment are a rough approximation to whatever may be its inherited moral concepts. But because laws are Passed more often than repealed, so that socially Obsolete statutes may survive for centuries, and because these laws are enforced and interpreted by venerable judges whose social codes may be a half-century out of date, much of our criminal law is archaic and thus savage. So unless our purpose be to fill prisohs for the sake of filling them, we should try to make sure that no one, in any decade, is made criminal by acts no longer deemed so in society as a whole. A lot of our thought about 'suppressing crime' should be directed to eliminating laws wilfully creating it. I know men once convicted for gaming `crimes' now tardily made innocent by recent legislation; others among the thousands who, in 1961, are still gaoled for failure to pay debts they are least able to refund from prison; others again convicted for 'loitering with intent,' which charge, notoriously, can mean anything whatever.

My own belief is that a criminal tendency is never necessarily hereditary, though degeneracy can be, and although 'criminal families' do exist in certain social contexts. Nor do I believe any man of any age, if not insane (and often even if he is), to be irredeemable. On the contrary, I believe criminal activity an extension, in violent and precise form, of the criminal tendency in all society; and to have been chiefly created by con- ditions of life that society imposes on potential and actual criminals. So long as one thinks of criminals as being different in essence, as well as in fact, from anyone else, it will not be possible to understand their motivation or re- duce their numbers.

These beliefs are derived from some know- ledge of criminals and of social contexts in which they are most prone to exist; also from study of many 'non-criminal' temperaments in- cluding, of course, my own. I have in my sup- port the spiritual concepts of the Anarchists and of the Christians, as I understand them. Ranged against me—and firm in the belief that judgment and hell are for the world and not eternity—I have, I think, the majority of my countrymen, who see evil, always, as some- thing in others, never in themselves; and who have not the informed imagination to perceive how hard it can be for those underprivileged, socially and intellectually, never to become in- volved in criminal deeds.

An interest in crime, such as we all mani- festly possess, does not lead necessarily to thought about its origins, nature or the means of reducing it; and, as I have hinted, an obsessive interest may well indicate a hidden love. So I think the initial imperatives are to become conscious of our inner attitudes to crime and to learn more about it in a committed yet objective spirit, much as we are gradually doing with mental illness.

At present the whole theme is wrapped in passion and obscurity. Judges make formidable pronouncements, as if they spoke as some kind of doctor, called a Diagnostician, who could assess sickness by indirect report, without ever having himself entered a hospital or even lanced a boil. The police and prison officers enfold their activities in mystery, and we en- courage them to do so by default. Criminals see themselves praised in public fantasies and their real deeds more publicised than a states- man's. Moralists thunder about 'juvenile delin- quency' in terms that reveal they know as much of 'juveniles,' and of their social customs, as they do of delinquent Esquimaux. We listen to these violent voices, taking sides; but we attend less to the probation officers who could tell us how they try to stop men from being criminals or from returning to crime again. These officers are concerned with remedy, not punishment. But so hard and slow is their work—as growth itself is—that though they may act and speak in wise and practical terms, their conclusions are so tentative and conditional that they make no sensational appeal.