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In this chapter I want to show that crime generally does not proceed from sheer wickedness, or the desire to be criminal. I am anxious to burn this into the brain and conscience of the nation. I would like our authorities to accept it as an axiom! For then they would seek as far as possible to understand our criminals, and getting knowledge of them, they would deal differently with them. And dealing differently with them would bring blessed results, for many of our prisons would become useless; they would be untenanted!

I maintain that the most serious causes of crime are physiological, not psychological. And though in all probability we shall remain impotent with regard to psychological causes, there is not the slightest reason why we should not learn a great deal more about, and do a great deal to cure or prevent, the physiological causes of crime. Perhaps if I were a scientist I would say pathological causes, but I use the word “physiological” to denote all bodily conditions other than brain disease. This, too, is of course physical, though we term it mental, for the brain is matter as truly [14]as it is mind. I am ashamed to confess that I do not know where the physical ends and the mental begins, neither can I tell at what point the pathological ends and the psychological begins, for psychology is but extended physiology.

The body acts upon the mind, and the mind upon the body in so many, and in such mysterious ways, that I cannot differentiate between them. But of one thing I am quite certain, and it is this: that the best way to learn something of a criminal’s mind is to ascertain everything possible with regard to his body.

In prison this can easily be done, for in prison there is an abundance of time, ample opportunity, and a sufficiency of means for this interesting study. In one Continental prison this is done. There the doctor, not the governor, is the most important personage. From him I sometimes get very instructive communications. The author of the “manual” quoted tells us “that it is his aim to present such a psychology as will deal with all states of mind that might possibly be involved in the determination and judgment of crime.” This is a large order, for he promises an impossibility. I marvel at his temerity, I am then struck by his audacity. But on consulting his index and searching his five hundred pages I admire his prudence, for he never attempts to keep his promise. I find no reference to the influence that physical disease, affliction or deprivation exercises upon the mind. Of epileptics he has nothing to say. He ignores afflictions! Of the blind, the deaf and dumb he [15]is apparently unaware; the cripple, the hunchback, the maimed, the one-armed, the one-legged, the sufferers from sunstroke, and the vast army whose lives have been spoiled through physical accidents—of their psychology we are told nothing.

Yet every one knows, or might know, that their psychological condition is absolutely dominated by their physical condition. In each of them physical nature has been outraged, it has been assaulted; and Nature, knowing no pity, hits back again with a vengeance.

We know, or we might if we cared to know, that these unfortunates, having suffered loss, must receive compensation of some kind, and if that compensation be not of a comforting and inspiring character, including training, education, control and new favourable developments, they become potential criminals. Their wits become sharpened to deceive, their tempers violent, explosive and dangerous. Some one has said, “I am my body.” While this may not be wholly true, there is still a world of truth in the statement. So I again suggest that before we try to grope in the dark recesses of the mind, we set to work to learn more of the body, for that is an open book.

Believe me, it is given to very few to bear about with them a deformed, mutilated or afflicted body without their minds becoming changed also.

Verily, the writers of our old fairy tales and our early novelists were not very far wrong. Have any of my readers ever walked through Parkhurst [16]prison? It is a sort of convalescent home for criminals—a sanatorium, if you will, in the Isle of Wight.

If you have not, then come with me in imagination! Never mind the building, take no heed of the officials, let us concentrate our attention on the prisoners, the criminals, for they are all undergoing penal servitude.

You gasp! and well you may. You never saw such a strange, pitiful mass of smitten humanity! Well! that is something to be thankful for.

“Do you want any specialist in psychology to reveal the working of their queer minds?” “No,” you say, “their poor bodies reveal their minds.” “But they are convicts.” “Oh, no,” you say, “surely they are patients.”

And patients they ought to be; but convicts the law declares them, and convicts they will remain till their smitten bodies and poor minds part company.

I declare that this criminal psychology business makes me hot! It is criminal physiology we should be after, not psychology.

But let us go back to Parkhurst, and talk the matter over.

In Parkhurst there is a daily average of over 750 convicts, of whom nearly one-fourth are under hospital treatment.

The death-rate is high in spite of great medical care and healthy environment, and in spite of the number of prisoners released on account of their health.


The number of consumptives in 1909 was 34, of whom 14 were new admissions and 13 others were noted as having disease of the lungs previous to their reception; 3 prisoners died of this disease during the year. But hear this—for I am quoting from an official report for 1909-10.

“The number classified as weak-minded at the end of the year was 117, but in addition 34 other convicts were attached to parties of weak-minded for further mental observation.”

Now, add together the hospital patients, the consumptives, the weak-minded and those suspected of mental weakness, subtract them from the total 750 convicts; how many have we left? I don’t know, I have no means of knowing. But we will suppose that one-half of them are neither invalids nor weak-minded. March them out! let us look at them; one look is enough, what have we seen? Blighted bodies! twisted bodies! and mutilated bodies! retarded physical growth accompanied with undeveloped minds. Bleared eyes and defective eyesight, epileptics and similar sufferers, a motley, pitiful assemblage of unfortunate humanity, and alas! hopeless humanity.

You say, “But these broken fellows cannot commit crime.” Can’t they? here is a list of their crimes tabulated by the medical officer for State purposes, but it refers to the weak-minded only: False pretences 3; receiving stolen property 3; larceny 18; burglary 7; house- or shop-breaking 19; uttering counterfeit coin 1; threatening letters 4; threatening violence 1; robbery with violence [18]3; manslaughter 6; wounding with intent 8; grievous bodily harm 2; attempted murder 1; wilful murder 7; rape 5; arson 15; carnal knowledge of little girls 8; cattle-maiming 1; placing obstruction on railway 2; unnatural offence 3; total 117.

“An awful list,” you say. “Yes, but it is an illuminating list!” Again I quote: “During the year 35 convicts were certified as insane and sent to asylums”; work that out in your minds, think of it! “Why,” you say, “the State has been punishing them when they are not responsible; it has been tabulating them as criminals when it ought to have restrained them as patients!” True! for the State awarded an average of something like seven years’ penal servitude to each of them for their last sentence only. Now, what reasonable man wants to know more about the psychology of these men than is apparent to any one who possesses eyes and can use them?

But let us listen to the chaplain, and here I quote from his official report—

“The large number of ‘weak-minded’ cases located here adds considerably to the strain imposed by prison work.

“Many of them are irritable and very exacting in their demands for individual attention.

“We do our best to meet their requirements, and find that patience and kindness go a long way in allaying their excitement. The work amongst this class of prisoner is highly interesting, but I [19]sincerely regret that their prospects on discharge are no brighter.

“In many cases freedom simply means a relapse into crime, from sheer inability to obtain or follow any ordinary occupation.

“It is surely time that some comprehensive scheme be started for dealing with these unfortunate creatures.

“It is worthy of note that out of the 142 weak-minded prisoners confined here in 1908-9, only 8 could be held responsible for their lamentable state, their weak-minded condition being attributed to over-indulgence in alcohol. ‘Unfortunate’ seems, therefore, a correct description of this class of prisoner, who are really more deserving of pity than punishment, and certainly call for special treatment on discharge.

“There are a considerable number of senile and debilitated convicts here, many of whom have several convictions recorded against them. They are absolutely unfitted for employment, and on release have to face one of two alternatives—the workhouse or another period of imprisonment. The great majority openly confess their preference for a penal establishment, and I am convinced that a large number deliberately commit a crime which will ensure their return to this prison.

“The State would save a considerable sum annually if such men could be placed, under a medical certificate, on an old age pension list, or boarded out in some home under proper supervision. It would be interesting to watch an experiment [20]tried with a few selected cases of senile prisoners released on a conditional licence.

“This is a somewhat revolutionary suggestion, perhaps; but the problem of dealing with habitual offenders who are incapable of work is worthy of consideration, and needs solution.”

But I may be told that Parkhurst is an exceptional prison, and that it is intended chiefly for weaklings.

This is quite true, but it is beside the question; for the inhabitants of Parkhurst are convicts, men who have, as my list shows, committed serious crime; that they have been gathered from other prisoners goes to prove my point, viz., that physical causes which are evident demand attention to an infinitely greater degree than speculative and obscure causes that we cannot diagnose, and which, for all we know, may not exist.

But what obtains at Parkhurst exists in every other prison, unless it be a specialised prison such as Borstal in England, and Elmira in America.

Year after year in their annual report the Prison Commissioners tell us, and they are never tired of telling us, that our prisons are filled with the very poor, the very weak, the afflicted and the ignorant.

I could fill a volume with extracts from reports with such testimony; governors, chaplains and medical officers with wearying monotony have testified to the same effect.

Has not their accumulated evidence been [21]published in Blue books? It has; but it has suffered the fate to which all Blue books are doomed, for it has been buried with the dead past. The Prison Commissioners have taken infinite pains to ascertain the truth, and have not been slow in declaring the truth so far as it has been revealed to them.

They tell us that for ten years they have in Pentonville prison measured, weighed and medically examined all the young prisoners, i.e., all those under twenty-one years of age who have undergone sentences in that huge establishment.

Many thousands of such prisoners have passed through Pentonville during those ten years, and a terrible procession of smitten humanity they have presented.

Listen, my lords and gentlemen of both Houses! Heed! all Social Reformers of every kind! Think of it, all you specialists who claim to explore the criminal mind! “On an average they are two inches less in height, and fourteen pounds less in weight than the average industrial population of similar ages; 28 per cent. of them suffer from some physical disease or deprivation,” and then the report goes on to add “the highest proportion of reconvictions was amongst this class, being no less than 40 per cent.”

I demand attention to this statement; nay, it demands and should compel attention of itself.

This very bald statement of a stupendous fact ought to make us think.

Thousands, tens of thousands of young fellows, [22]two inches below their proper height, fourteen pounds less than their proper weight, twenty-eight out of every hundred physically afflicted, and forty out of every hundred reconvicted again and again!!

Who cares to trouble about their psychology? Not I! But I do care and want others to care a great deal about their bodies, so I say let psychology go hang! Let us concentrate on their bodies.

And my own observation, in prison and outside prison, confirms these startling facts.

Hundreds of young fellows who have served short sentences of imprisonment find their way to my house or to my office. I rarely find a full-sized and well-developed fellow amongst them, for, mostly, they are of the class described by the Prison Commissioners.

Round shoulders, flat chests and flat feet, poor teeth, sore eyes, are ever noticeable, while not a few point me to their maimed hands or other limbs and tell me of their illnesses.

I am heartily tired of meeting with such afflicted humanity that I cannot help or assist in any useful way.

But I want no specialist or professor to read me their minds, for their bodies are their minds.

These young fellows are not particularly wicked; they have no great passion that dominates their lives. They are not anxious to do ill; they have no great aspirations for good. If they were free agents, which they are not, they would prefer [23]good to evil. But being good does not happen to fill their stomachs, but doing evil does, either in prison or in the lodging-houses.

Now, I myself will venture into psychology, and I will voice their opinions. “We are poor, weak and afflicted, but we are not to blame; no one will give us work, for we have had no training; we cannot do hard work, we are not big or strong enough; we do not want to be dishonest, but we must live somehow. If we are caught we go to prison, where we have food and lodgings and no hard work to do; and they are good to us in prison.” This, I contend, is a fair statement of the condition and temperament of thousands that we call criminals!

Is it a wonder, then, I would ask, that many of them find their way into convict prisons, Portland, Parkhurst or Dartmoor, as their health permits?

What about Borstal! I hear some one say. The doors of Borstal are closed against them, for they are neither big enough, strong enough nor healthy enough for Borstal, which demands, and receives, strong, healthy young fellows only—no others need apply!

I have no doubt that the psychology of these fellows changes with the flight of years and frequent imprisonments, and probably when they arrive at forty years of age they will provide an interesting study for clever professors of psychology, though I am inclined to believe that even at that age their bodies will still be indexes to their [24]mind, for their weaknesses and abnormalities will be the more pronounced.

Now, all this does not mean that I wish it to be inferred that healthy and well-developed men never commit crime, for that is far from true. Some of the worst rogues and most dangerous criminals I have ever met have been strong, handsome fellows, well over the average size of fully developed men. There are, however, so far as my experience has shown me, but few criminals of that description; though it is of course certain that big men may commit crimes of any kind, and healthy, handsome, educated men who persist in crime may well be subjects for psychological research; but of that class I shall have more to say in another chapter. For the present I am maintaining that physical causes determine the character and lives of the bulk of our criminals; that they are criminals not because they possess a dark, mysterious psychology, or because they are of malice aforethought determined to be criminals, but because they are either weak or afflicted.

In a word weakness, not wickedness, is the one general cause of crime.

These men form a stage army of criminals; they move from place to place; they are classified and catalogued in prison after prison; they are tossed from pillar to post; they are subjected to short terms of useless imprisonment and then thrust into short terms of hopeless liberty. What wonder that their physical condition gets worse! [25]Or that they ultimately attain to certified feeble-mindedness!

Many of them, as I have pointed out, eventually commit serious crimes; and then a series of sentences to penal servitude await them, if happy death does not claim them or lunatic asylums absorb them.

The great majority, however, pursue their wearying round of small crimes and small imprisonments.

The State then discovers that, though they are not insane, not absolutely feeble-minded, that there is something wrong with them, and that they are, so to speak, “childish.”

So a half-way classification has been coined for them; they are, the State declares, “unfit for prison discipline.” Unfit for prison! unfit for asylums! unfit for liberty! unfit for social or industrial life! unfit for anything!

They are in a parlous state, they commit crime, but they are not criminals. Every year 400 new names are added to the list of these unfortunates who are still regularly committed to prison, so the Prison Commissioners tell us. Again I ask, what can it profit us to know more of the psychology of these “criminals” than is apparent to any one with eyes?

I am almost ashamed of calling attention to this national disgrace, I have done it so frequently; but I have called to deaf ears so far as this country is concerned. But I have some comfort in knowing that in one European country where [26]my pamphlets on this question have been very largely distributed, a large piece of uncultivated land has been secured and a colony established for the permanent detention and complete segregation of these helpless people. To Holland, then, belongs the honour of being the first nation to make a merciful and sensible provision for this unfortunate class.

But I would like to ask our authorities whether they ever read their own Blue books! Whether they really do so, or carefully abstain from doing so, I would like them to read carefully and consider seriously the following extracts from the Prison Commissioners’ report for 1910-11, just issued. These extracts I give exactly in the same words used by the different prison officials. They speak for themselves, and all bear testimony to my contention that the physical condition of thousands of our prisoners is the root cause of their criminality.


“Forty-seven prisoners of weak intellect (thirty-six males and eleven females) were received during the year. Only the worst cases are here referred to. This useless procedure (the committal and recommittal of such people to prison) continues. No good purpose is served by it, except that these people receive perhaps better food and better treatment than they are accustomed to outside.


“They usually work well under supervision, and, except for occasional offences against the regulations (rather in the nature of silly pranks) they are fairly well behaved, orderly and respectful.”


“Forty-six prisoners on remand from police courts and petty sessions were reported insane. Two were found ‘insane on arraignment,’ and five ‘guilty but insane.’

“No convicted prisoners were certified as insane at the prison. Thirty-two were classed as feeble-minded, 403 prisoners under remand were specially observed and examined as to their mental condition: 204 were remanded for this purpose.”


“The number of epileptics was 92. Out of 167 prisoners remanded for mental observation, thirty-four males and ten females were found to be insane, and dealt with by summary jurisdiction.

“When prisoners are suspected by the Liverpool police of being weak-minded, they are remanded for mental observation, and on my confirmatory report are discharged to the workhouse or care of friends.”


“It was found necessary to put 360 prisoners under mental observation, either on reception, or after location, in the general prison. The [28]following are the details of 210 of the more marked and decided of these cases of mental defect—
Reported weak-minded     66
Certified as lunatics and removed to an asylum     9
Epilepsy and allied conditions     53
Prisoners with a past history of threatened or attempted suicide     15
Temporary alcoholic excitement     67

“Last year the number of weak-minded was sixty, and of certified lunatics seven. It is interesting to observe how closely the figures now given approximate to those of last year.”

Wormwood Scrubbs

“Twenty-six prisoners of markedly feeble mind were received (four of them were each committed twice and one of the number three times during the year), and the cases of thirty-five prisoners of this class were brought to the notice of the police prior to their discharge from prison.

“The chief defects noted were as follows—
(a)     Physical deficiency and deformities     126     per 1000
(b)     Mental deficiency     25       "     "
(c)     Affections of heart, lung, and principal organs     129       "     "
(d)     Visual defects     49       "     "
(e)     Auditory defects     14       "     "

“They were regularly inspected at work, and their training and general well-being were closely supervised.”



“The very poor physique of the inmates on admission impresses one very much more than is shown by the figures of comparison with any so-called normal standards, as we do not separate our town and country inmates. Our country inmates, as a rule, have better physique, and though not so mentally quick are more hopeful cases when once a hold can be obtained of them. Among the town inmates one finds two classes, one showing signs of degeneration, as poor physique, narrow chest, short stature, light weight associated with a low cunning and a peculiar restlessness of their eyes, watching for every movement; and among these a high arched palate is often noticed.”


“Although evil environment must of course take first place among the causes of most of these youths’ downfall, I am becoming more and more struck with the importance of physical unfitness as a determining factor.

“From observations actually made among a large number of our older receptions, I find that some 60 per cent. had tried (some many times) to join either the Army or Navy. Only 15 per cent. of these had passed ‘fit.’ Many of the remaining 40 per cent., knowing that their physical defects would unfit them, had not been to a recruiting-office, so that presumably, but for [30]physical inferiority we might have saved about one-half of those sentenced to the Borstal system.”

Note.—The above remarks become the more striking when it is borne in mind that Borstal receives the best and healthiest young prisoners.


“A new feature has been the formation of ‘An Aged Convicts’ Party’ consisting of old men of sixty-seven years of age and upwards; they are located together, with special diet and privileges. A day room has been provided, also a garden with a yard adjoining; they are expected to do any light work they can undertake, without being tasked, and they are allowed to read and converse together. They appear to appreciate the relaxation of the ordinary prison discipline, and so far their behaviour has been excellent.

“The number classified as weak-minded at the end of the year was 120, but in addition there were twenty-seven convicts attached to the parties of weak-minded for further mental observation.

Classification of Weak-minded Convicts
(a)     Congenital deficiency—      
              1. With epilepsy     10
            2. Without epilepsy     36
(b)     Imperfectly developed stage of insanity     26
(c)     Mental debility after attack of insanity     13
(d)     Senility     3
(e)     Alcoholic     9
(f)     Undefined     23
      Total     120


“The following is a list of crimes of the classified weak-minded, for which they are undergoing their present sentences of penal servitude, and the number convicted for each type of crime—
False pretences     1
Receiving stolen property     2
Larceny     24
Burglary     13
Shopbreaking, housebreaking, etc.     19
Blackmailing     1
Manslaughter     5
Inflicting grievous bodily harm     2
Wounding with intent     7
Shooting with intent     3
Wilful murder     10
Rape     2
Carnal knowledge of little girls     8
Arson     17
Horse-stealing     3
Killing sheep     1
Unnatural offence     1
Placing obstruction on railway     1

“A study of the criminal history of these 120 weak-minded convicts shows that sixty-two committed their first crime before the age of twenty years, and the total number of previous convictions standing against these 120 convicts amounted, in the aggregate, to 91 penal and 1,306 others. Forty convicts were certified insane: of these twenty-four were removed to the Criminal Asylum at Parkhurst, five to Broadmoor Asylum, seven to the County or Borough Asylums, one recovered, and three detained in the Prison Infirmary. Please notice how closely these figures approximate to the figures of the previous year.”


(a)     The bona fide working men in search of employment     17     per cent.
(b)     The casual labourer unwilling or unfit for continued work—the first to lose employment and the last to regain it as trade falls or rises     31     "
(c)     The habitual vagrant and mendicant     41     "
(d)     Old and infirm persons “wandering to their own hurt,” crawling from ward to ward, entering the workhouse infirmary only when compelled to do so, living by begging, and constant trouble to the police and magistrates     11     "

“Altogether 207 tramps were received during the above-stated period.”


“As in former years the number, especially of youths, imprisoned for minor—I will not say trivial—offences has been considerable. What to do with these lads is a problem of much difficulty, many are homeless and friendless. Their parents are dead, or have forsaken their offspring; living just anywhere or anyhow, one can only have for such a feeling of profound pity.”


“The steadily increasing number of the vagrant and feeble-minded is a subject urgently demanding special legislation. It is hopeless for any Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society to attempt to do anything for these cases.”



“The weak-minded have been collected and reported in each case according to Standing Order. Sixteen cases of insanity were also dealt with.”

Can any words of mine add force to these terrible statements and convincing figures? I think not! Can any master of the English language add potency to them? I think not! so I let them stand in their bald simplicity as a proof of my contention, and as an indictment of our present methods for dealing with smitten and afflicted prisoners.


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