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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/188

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

other, they can not be governed by sentiment, be optimists or pessimists, or theorists of any sort. They must be governed by principles. In the application of those principles they must be guarded by facts; and governments, unhappily, have no other means of being informed of facts except by statistics. If figures should happen to show that one in every four hundred citizens of a given community is a law-breaker, and that this proportion had not varied perceptibly in, say, twenty-five years, would that community be justified in erecting a system of public buildings for the sake of experimenting toward a decrease of this percentage—buildings which must be paid for out of the pockets, not of the law-breakers who pay no taxes, but of the law-observers who do? Possibly the tax-payers of the community would think not.

Nothing, of course, should be allowed to antagonize the laws of humanity, or, in a large sense, the laws of charity. But to whom is charity to be shown? Which class of the community deserves the largest charity? Is it Christian to expect the honest man, who forever pays tithes of his toil, to experiment on the reformation of the man whose ancestral traditions compel or incite him to toil not, but to break in and help himself to the fruits of the honest man's toil? Let the largest charity be meted out to all. But no charity can be meted out with equity, without some regard to deserts. It must not be forgotten, even by the charitable, that if any preference is to be shown by the commonwealth, it is for those who keep rather than those who break its statutes, and for them that observe rather than for them that ignore the unwritten laws that govern human relations. Ten minutes' inspection of the haunts of crime in a city like New York, for example, ought to convince the daintiest of bric-à-brac ladies and gentlemen of the danger of a too well-appointed, a too substantially fed, and a too well-libraried prison. The slums where the cold of winter alternates only with the fetid and noxious odors of summer, would, to most of us, destroy confidence at least in that homeliest of maxims, "If you don't like your jail, keep out of it." Certainly, the more we strip the penitentiary of its penances, the more stress we throw on the single element of disgrace to keep men out of jail. But the disgrace of serving a term of imprisonment is a matter which, unfortunately, partakes quite as largely of bric-à-brac as does the sentiment of the average prison reformer. What disgrace is a year or ten years in a prison to a nomad, a man from nowhere, who has no character to lose, who goes by as many names as he pleases and changes them as often as he likes? The problem remains. We must build prisons which, somehow or other, will be less desirable abiding-places than the slums. We can not starve prisoners, or turn them on wheels, or distort them with boots or thumb-screws. We can not freeze them nor roast them, nor feed