REFORMATION OF CRIMINALS.
THE Times this week begins to publish the Report of the Trans- portation Committee ; and falls foul of the fifth resolution, which it ridicules as " mere twaddle." As quoted by the Times, it is, indeed, not so much "twaddle," as ungrammatical nonsense. Thus— "5. That on account of the difficulty which a convict finds in this country in procuring the means of honest livelihood after the expiration of his sentence, and on account of the temptations to which he is thereby exposed, it would be advantageous to establish a plan by which a convict might receive encourage- ment to leave the country, by which the prospect of supporting himself by regular industry, and ultimately regaining the place in society which he bad forfeited by crime—that if such encouragement were limited to convicts who should have conducted themselves uniformly well during their confinement, it might at the same time operate as an encouragement to good behaviour during confinement, end might considerably diminish the prejudice which must to a certain degree attach to any person known to have been convicted of a serious offence."
If the reader who files the Spectator chooses to turn to his paper of this day four weeks, in which the resolutions, with an account of the chief and most interesting portion of the Report first appeared, he will find the fifth resolution printed as it ought
tube read— •
" a plan by which a convict might receive encouragement to
leave the country with the prospect of supporting himself by regular industry, and ultimately regaining the place in society which he had forfeited by crime."
Even with this correction, we must admit that the language in which a benevolent hint, suggested by Archbishop WHATELY, has been embodied, is too vague for a formal resolution of the Committee ; and it was probably set down with hasty pen and little heed to expression, on the instant of adoption, in one of these compromises of divided opinion which very commonly occur at the final " settling " of a Parliamentary Report. Under the cover of vague talk, official people seek to escape from the responsibility of doing something definite and efficient without delay : and in this respect the fifth resolution is the vent- stile offspring of the second, which, in the teeth of the evidence, recommends the continuance of punishment in the Colonies. Any thing to get rid of the annoyance of publicity and superin- tendence in England ! Once remove the scene to a distant colony, and the Downing Street gentlemen are comfortable. Send convicts abroad, and the old proverb " out of sight, out of naiad" is verified.
While, however, we concur in the opinion that the resolution quoted wants precision, we cannot agree with the Times that the reformation of adult offenders is to be abandoned as hopeless. Experience is opposed to such a notion; so is religion. Even in the Penal Colonies, under the worst of systems, there have been some, though extremely rare instances of amended lives. The American system of separate confinement assumes that punish- ment ought to be of a remedial and improving character. The criminal abandoned to his evil ways, will be compelled to perse- vere in them, and grow from bad to worse. There is such a thing as repentance and reformation; and the "joy in heaven," we are told, "over one sinner that repented'," surpasses that felt for "ninety-and-nine just men who need no repentance." Such is the Scripture doctrine ; which is also in accordance with reason and humanity. But, says the Times- " Any hope that a man of twenty or thirty, bred in vice, and who knows of uo.rhity to others except to steal without their knowledge, and of none to him- self except to avoid, if possible, the hulks or the guIlowl, will by some moral conjuration all at once become right-principled, is as baseless as it would be fro a surgeon to expect to snake an adult, distorted and hunip.backed from his fancy, as straight and shapely as an Apollo." Nobody expects that a man "bred in vice" will become ., aum once right-principled ;" but neither is his reformation to be imai: tempted or despaired of. He would rather "be hanged elan support himself by regular industry." Some would ; others, had they the opportunity, would gladly take a different course.
i There are many convicts by no means hardened, impenitent, or ienoraur
For instance, Major MITCHELL was attended in his exploring ea: pedition by several convicts, who were obedient, sober, and 'well- conducted. Under wise treatment, numbers might be matte useful members of society. To send them, however. to New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land, the Sodom and Gomorrah of the modern world, is not the way to reform them. Maui, would rather be hanged than support themselves by certain kinds of forced industry in the Penal Colonies. Judge FORBES told the Committee, that death by torture would he preferable to the life of convicts in some of them.
It will not he pretended that all even of the greater criminals should be put to death. What then is to be done ? Surely it is worth while to make the attempt at reformation, instead of consigning them to hopeless misery and crime. Religious education of the young, the Times points out as the most likely means of reducing the crop of crime. Few will gainsay this : and shame it is upon the State Church—the richest in Christendom—that the duty of imparting moral and religious in- struction to the children of the poor has been neglected by its ministers. They are responsible for no small part of the vice and consequent wretchedness which prevail in the land. But the question is, shall the present generation of criminals have no chance of escape from their evil ways ? To continue the ex- isting Transportation system, is equivalent to condemning them to an entire life of depravity : but if for punishment uncertain in amount and duration, sometimes merely nominal, in other cases almost insupportable, and calculated to make beasts of human beings, a Penitentiary system were established at home, the opera. tion of which might he jealously watched, then a step wpuld be taken towards effecting the great objects of rendering punish. ment remedial,of making it more certain and regular, and thus diminishing the temptation to violate the laws.