Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/January 1896/The Fifth International Prison Congress




IN no country ought the results of the International Prison Congress, held last summer at Paris, to be received with more interest than in America, for it was an American pioneer in prison reform, the late Dr. E. C. Wines, who took the lead in organizing this series of international prison congresses. The way had been prepared by the formation of local associations in Europe and in this country. Dr. Wines's plan to have a grand international conference was fostered by correspondence with Count Sollohub, of Russia. The American Government backed up the enterprise by appointing Dr. Wines a commissioner to go to Europe a year in advance and secure the co-operation of other governments. The result was the holding of an international congress in London in 1872, and its organization upon a permanent basis, with Dr. Wines as president of the permanent commission. The second congress was held in Stockholm in 1878, the third in Rome in 1885, the fourth in St. Petersburg in 1890, and the fifth in Paris in 1895.

These conferences have steadily grown in interest and influence. The title of the congress hardly gives a full idea of its scope. This international gathering is not merely an assemblage of prison wardens to discuss the subject of prison management, though that alone would be well worth doing; it is as well a gathering of distinguished jurists, legislators, doctors, sociologists, magistrates, the heads of prison administration, and writers and experts on related branches of applied philanthropy. In the Paris congress there were two hundred foreign delegates from twenty-five different nations. In addition to these, the number of French adherents and delegates officially enrolled and personally or formally identified with the congress numbered five hundred and thirty-seven, and included many of the most distinguished names in France. The scope of these congresses has gradually been growing broader. Every subject in any way related to criminology now comes within their field. One of the things which distinguished the Paris congress from its predecessors was the greater emphasis laid upon preventive work and the establishment of a special department for the discussion of all questions relating to children and minors.

An important feature of these conferences is the large amount of preliminary work that is done in preparation for the quinquennial gathering. The permanent international commission, consisting of eight of the most prominent penologists of Europe, with Dr. Guillaume, of Switzerland, as its efficient secretary, is the organic bridge which unites one congress with the next and gives continuity, unity, and development to the work. This commission has to prepare a programme more than a year in advance. Specialists in all parts of the world are invited to write papers on questions chosen for discussion. The reports for the present congress represented the opinions and experience of two hundred and forty writers, and amounted to twenty-five hundred pages in print. They were all printed in French three months before the opening of the congress, and were sent in advance to the official delegates. Thus every delegate knew beforehand not only the subjects on the programme, but the line of argument which would be advanced and the evidence for and against certain conclusions. Instead of being overloaded by a great mass of papers, the decks were kept clear for discussion. This gave warmth and vivacity to debate. In addition to these reports, the commission secured monographs from many different countries giving facts and statistics in regard to their prison systems. The questions carefully prepared by the commission on which these monographs were framed were uniform throughout, so that the penological student has an opportunity for comparative study not easily secured elsewhere. I am inclined to think that this large amount of preliminary material will prove to be quite as valuable as the proceedings of the congress itself.

Next to the work of the permanent commission, the success of the congress was largely due to the strong official backing and the lavish hospitality of the French Government. The Minister of the Interior, M. Leygues, was the official host. For a year or two in advance M. J. Duflos, the chief director of prison administration in France, aided by his secretaries, had devoted himself to completing arrangements for the congress. This unremitting labor was cordially recognized in the choice of M. Duflos as president. Everything possible was done by the Government to give character and interest to the meeting. The President of the Republic honored the opening occasion by his presence. The Minister of the Interior welcomed it in an admirable address. The College of France was opened for the sessions of the different sections, and the general assembly was held in the amphitheatre of the Sorbonne. Excursions to prison establishments were made, brilliant receptions were extended by the President of the Republic, the Minister of the Interior, and the city of Paris, and a series of complimentary banquets tested the digestive capacity of the delegates to the utmost.

The session of the congress extended over ten days. It was divided into four sections. The first related to penal legislation, the second to prison administration, the third to preventive means, and the fourth to juvenile offenders. Separate sessions of each section were held every morning. In the afternoon there was a general assembly of the whole congress and reports from the work of each section were heard, discussed, and voted upon.

The first section, dealing with questions of penal legislation, drew together a fine array of legal talent. Nice questions of theory came up for discussion, but they were generally obliged to yield to practical considerations. The great plague of penologists as well as of society is the recidivist, or the "repeater" or "rounder," as he is more familiarly called in this country. He is the man or woman who has been in prison half a dozen, or it may be fifty or a hundred, times. The sentiment of the congress was in favor of a gradual accumulation of penalties and of long sentences for professional criminals. The laws of different countries differ in the classification of these recidivists. But the congress wisely decided that the dangerous attitude of the criminal toward society was the main thing to consider. It did not present a scheme of penalties, it did not decide in favor of definite or indefinite sentences; it left much to the discretion of the judge, though the feeling was expressed that judges are often more influenced by the gravity of the special act or by the circumstances of the crime than by facts which may clearly reveal the dangerous character of the criminal.

A hot debate, continued through several sessions, occurred on transportation. Though we have long since settled this question in England and America, it is a practical question with France and Russia. In Russia transportation has existed for three hundred years, but it has not tended to reduce crime. None are better aware of this than many prominent Russian jurists and penologists, and an interesting phase of the discussion was the presence of a distinguished representative from Russia, Prof. Ivan Foinitski. Professor of Law in the University of St. Petersburg and general advocate of the Court of Cassation, who led the battle against transportation. Prof. Foinitski has written an important work on the subject, which has just been made available in French through a translation by M. G. Bonet-Maury. In this volume, after an elaborate description of transportation in England and Russia, he shows that it has nothing but negative results to offer, and rejects entirely the arguments advanced for it. In France transportation was adopted about forty years ago, and still exists in the penal colonies of Guiana and New Caledonia, The French system has strong advocates, and found one of its warmest defenders in Prof. Leveillé, of the faculty of law of Paris.

The subject of compensation or restitution for injured parties has been commended at previous congresses. It has long been felt that modern laws do not sufficiently indemnify the victim of crime. The difficulty is to show practically how this may be done. It might be possible to apply a portion of the prisoner's earnings to the relief of his victim, but the amount thus gained would not be large. It is suggested that by combining conditional liberation with the idea of reparation much more might be effected. In some respects the laws are harder upon the victim than upon the offender. Thus in France, while in a case submitted to a jury costs are not assessed upon the complainant if the complaint is sustained, in all other cases the complainant is obliged to defray the costs of the process whether for or against him. The congress passed resolutions looking for a change in such laws, and decided to take into serious consideration at its next session, in 1900, various propositions for the relief of the injured party.

Imprisonment is not the only means of checking crime; and no question more important came before the congress than the subject of probation for first offenders. On this subject America has some experience to offer, and Mr. Charlton T. Lewis, of New York, and the writer had the honor of presenting to the congress brief expositions of the method and results of the probation system in Massachusetts. That State now has a probation officer attached to each criminal court in every city and county, and there are seven in the city of Boston. In the year 1893-'94 47,249 cases passed under their examination before going into court, and 5,317 were placed on probation. This probation system deserves wider attention. One of its most important features is not only the examination by the officer before trial, which induces the judge to place the accused on probation, but the visitation and surveillance exercised by the officers during the probation period.

In the whole matter of prison administration the congress had the advantage of the presence of a large number of practical and experienced prison directors. Politicians on this side of the water are fond of tampering with the subject of prison labor. But labor in prison was recognized by this, as indeed by every prison congress, as an essential element in discipline and reformation. To deprive prisoners of labor is simply inhuman, and in the end results in transferring the criminal from a prison to an insane asylum. The need of special prisons for women with women directors was affirmed, and while the right of a prisoner to wage was not conceded, it was agreed that it was for the interest of the state to give him gratuities. As a matter of fact, the system of allowing the prisoner a portion of his earnings obtains all over the Continent. Half of the amount thus earned may be expended by him, under supervision of a director, or may be applied to the relief of his family. The other half is retained until the time of his discharge.

In Europe the cellular or separate system of imprisonment prevails much more extensively than in this country. Indeed, our only example of such a prison is that of the Eastern Penitentiary of Philadelphia. The reformatory system as developed in this country and illustrated by such institutions as those of Elmira, Concord, and Pontiac was ably presented to the congress by General R. Brinkerhoff, President of the National Prison Association of the United States, and by Mr. P. W. McClaughry, who, having had experience as chief of police of Chicago and as the head of several prison institutions, is one of the highest authorities in this country on the treatment of criminals.

Discussion on the treatment of the criminally insane brought out different points of usage in different countries. A large amount of information was gathered. Some questions were formulated for the next congress, among them the following: What rule should be adopted to insure the possibility of a permanent medical control over the mental state of prisoners? How should asylums or quarters for insane criminals be organized so that the necessities for treatment may be combined with the idea of repression? In the case of irresponsible delinquents and those who commit crimes under temporary aberration, the congress expressed the view that special asylums or quarters should be provided for them, that they should be committed by judicial authority, and only released upon the concurrence of a threefold authority namely, the authority of the court, that of the administration of the institution, and of its medical council.

Under the head of "Preventive Means" were considered those influences not only which would keep men out of prison, but those which would tend to prevent them from becoming habitual criminals. The whole treatment of the subject of discharged convicts received serious consideration. It is somewhat surprising that Europe is far better organized than the United States for the care of the discharged convict. There are but four or five really active societies of this kind in the United States. There are ninety in England alone, and fifty in France. They abound in Holland and Denmark, and are being developed in Germany, Austria, Russia, and Italy. In Spain, work of this kind scarcely exists; in Switzerland, it is seen at its highest degree of efficiency. In a country but half the size of the State of Ohio there are fourteen societies for discharged convicts, and some of these societies are organized with committees in every district of the canton in which they are established. But the most valuable and distinctive feature of the Swiss system is the appointment of a person, called a patron, who makes the acquaintance of a prisoner before he is discharged, and who becomes his guardian after his liberation. This system of personal and friendly supervision is infinitely better than alms-giving, and its value has been shown in the great reduction of recommitments to prison in the districts where it is best established. These foreign societies are supported by government aid as well as by private subscriptions, and a part of their work consists in guarding the earnings which the prisoner has accumulated during his detention against wasteful expenditure.

The value of prison libraries was recognized, and the desirability of a weekly publication in prisons under the special control of the administration. In this country good examples of such publications are furnished by The Summary, of Elmira, N. Y., and Our Paper, of Concord, Mass.

Alcoholism was regarded as a growing danger, especially with reference to its influence on criminology. Reports from inebriate asylums in Europe show that habitual drunkenness may be treated with success if the victim can be retained sufficiently long. With a view of reducing intemperance in Russia, the Government has already begun to acquire the entire monopoly of the liquor traffic. Among preventive measures, the congress commended the regulation and the limitation of saloons, the multiplication of temperance cafés, the establishment of inebriate asylums, and the association of public authority with private agitation in the temperance cause.

No discussions were more earnest than those which related to juvenile offenders. The presence of women of experience in this and every other section of the congress was warmly encouraged, and they were gallantly welcomed by M. Pols, vice-president of the commission, who frankly said that the solution of these questions could not advance without the co-operation of women. The multiplied aspects of vagabondage and mendicity, the subject of prostitution and the measures to be taken to break up the systematic trade carried on between various countries through the decoy of young girls, the establishment and regulation of houses of correction, the need of appropriate physical as well as mental education, the relation of parental responsibility and the question of farm school and agricultural colonies, the placing out of children in families, and the supervision of children thus placed were discussed as important phases of child-saving work. It is not a criticism of the congress of 1895 to say that it opened more questions than it decided. Penology, like every other science, must advance by interrogations even more than by affirmations. With the growth of knowledge problems multiply and become more complex. But we are better prepared to grapple with difficult conditions when we know what they are; and one of the most hopeful elements in dealing with the subject of criminology in all its varied and elusive relations is the existence of an organized international corps of men and women who approach the matter in a calm, judicial, scientific, and humane spirit.