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fruits of industry are too slow in their growth to keep pace with the premature perfection of his vitiated passions; and the steps from one crime to another become rapid and gigantic. The wisest bonds of morals are broken asunder before reason is awake, and before he is of an age to appreciate the value of character; and if he does not himself
launch out into all the daring exploits of crime, he becomes an easy prey to the designs of old and accomplished villanv.
It is therefore to give him a chance of regaining the character he is on the point of losing for ever, that I would delegate to the magistracy of the county that power, as an intermediate tribunal, which our ancestors formerly exercised with so much wisdom and success; and long before the bad propensities of the youthful delinquent are too deeply rooted, and long before he is stigmatised with the name of felon, I would try the effect of immediate and summary punishment.
Instead, therefore, of the law now affecting young culprits for simple larceny, (by which I mean those minor offences which subject them now to trial at the sessions,) I would change the corpus delicti into an offence of a lesser character, cognisable by two magistrates; who should be empowered on sufficient evidence to convict the offender, and sentence him to such imprisonment in an asylum set apart for such convictions, and supported by the county rate, as they should think the nature of the offence, and the bene fit to the boy himself should require : such imprisonment not to exceed a limited time, to be appointed by the act, and to be shortened afterwards according to circumstances. If a discharge with whipping, or a discharge only, shall appear sufficient, then this to be at the option of the magistrates. - The advantages resulting from this alteration in the law are too manifest to need repetition-immediate punishment, the avoiding the contamination of a jail, of the disgrace of a public trial, and of the stigma of a verdict. The effects likely to be produced on the offender's mind, and that of his neighbors, by the offence and the punishment being immediately connected together, must have a decided effect in checking a repetition of the crime. The magistrates themselves under this new enactment will have the power of inflicting a minor punishment, and one from its nature infinitely more likely to deter others from committing similar offences. A boy, hardly above the age of childhood, is detected in an offerce, which, if at school, would have subjected him, and has subjected his superiors in rank and fortune, to a flogging or a task. It is his first offence ; his master gives him an excellent character, and will continue him in his employment, the theft is an ounce of cheese, four oranges ; a bun, or the removal of some article two or three
inches from its place, but without taking it away. The magistrate feels disposed to discharge the culprit ; and is of opinion, that neither public justice, nor the welfare of the boy, demand his committal. But the felony is clear, and he has no option : and a boy of ten years of age is sent to jail for two or three months, till the next jail-delivery releases him. No bill is found, or if found, the culprit is acquitted ; and if convicted, bis previous imprisonment, his youth, and his master present in court to take him back to bis employment, operate on the mind of the court to give him a nominal punishment; and the boy is dismissed with confirmed vicious inclinations, and with a depravity of mind previously unknown and unfelt. Now these cases, and similar, are daily increasing; and I will ask, if the commitment of boys under these circumstances does not infinite and incurable mischief ? Does not the confinement in jail among men of profligate and immoral habits often create vice, where none had before appeared ? and when he is dismissed from his dungeon, will he return to society with the same feelings. of shame and repentance with which he left it? Early imprisonment is therefore a double curse ; for it not only does not remedy the evil, but it increases it; and lays the foundation of a career of profligacy and vice, which inevitably will lead to the gallows.
Great indeed have been the improvements of late years in our criminal code; and many important and salutary laws bave passed for the protection of the public. But, as the end of all law is the prevention of crime, and the reform of the offender, we are bound so to apportion our punishments that both these objects may be effected: for punishments by man were never intended, nor can we so apportion them, as to be an atonement for the offence commitled; they are meant as the most effectual means to deter by example those whom precept has no power of restraioing. The mere change therefore from lenient laws to severe, or from severe to those of a milder character, is a question of political expediency, and must depend op circumstances in a great measure unconnected with immorality. Thus, crimes which are easily committed, and which would be ruinous to a commercial country, if not vigorously checked, are visited with punishments apparently more adapted to offeuces of deeper, dye, but of rarer
If, therefore, not merely the same result, but greater benefit shall accrue from changing a felony to an offence cognisant by the magistracy as a malicious trespass, the alteration will be a double blessing, by mitigating the severity of the laws, and at the same time preventing a breach of them; and be who now, by the neglect of parents or pressure of distress, bad company, and bad example, is hourly exposed to have all these evils fixed for ever by early imprisonment, may have a chance of being rescued by that parental arm which will interpose between him and confirmed degradation.
And indeed it is this interposition which is the real object I propose, and the most satisfactory argument in its favor. For who are the objects of the alteration? Those who, prior to that age which the law has fixed for the termination of infancy, ought to be under the control of parents, guardians, or masters ; to watch over their offspring or apprentice, to restrain him by proper coercion, and educate him in virtuous and religious principles. When therefore, by the loss or neglect of his natural guardian, the youthful delinquent is thrown on the world without any guide to direct or befriend him, instead of being subject to the utmost severity of the law, he will experience only its protection; and he will find already appointed as the legal guardians of his infancy, those who, by judicious restraint and by well-timed instruction, will supply the place of his own relatives. It will be an “ act for appointing guardians for the deserted and friendless,” rather than an addition to our Criminal Code ; and instead of being a law of punishment, will be the dispenser of blessivgs.
There is another consideration in favor of the alteration I have proposed, which in the view and on the ground I have taken on this interesting subject, is of secondary importance. I allude to the reduction of the county expenditure. I have no means of ascertaining the expenses of prosecutions in other counties ; but in the county of Warwick they average £5000 per annum.' Now, out of the number of prisoners tried for felony, nearly one-half are under age ; and supposing that two-thirds of such number were proceeded against in a summary manner, it follows that the expenses of prosecutions would diminish £1500 per annum, besides a reduction of expenses both before and after conviction: and if I nay calculate on a diminution of crime, in consequence of thus cutting off its most prolific source, the pecuniary saving would be very important. But I repeat that this is a consideration which ought not to weigh a feather in legislating on the subject; for the alteration proposed should stand or fall on its own merits.
* Commitments for Felony in the County of Warwick for the last seven years.
No. Expenses of prosecutions . £85,012
Conveyance of prisoners to Assizes 1778 Jail and Bridewell
2062 Disbursements at the Jail
82,209 of these were under age
Gentlemen, I know I am addressing persons whose magisterial duties have made them thoroughly acquainted with the subject of this letter; and I am certain I have stated no fact, to the truth of which your own experience will not abundantly testify. My object in addressing you, is most earnestly to call on you to take this subject into your immediate consideration; and if I should be so fortunate as to convince you of the truth of the general principle I bave laid down, that early imprisonment is the primary cause of the increase of crime, to implore you at your different quarter, sessions, to unite in petitioning the Legislature to make such alteration in the law of Simple Larceny, as shall in their wisdom appear most fit and expedient. I am, Gentlemen, your obedient Servant,
E. EARDLEY WILMOT.
SKETCH OF AN ACT OF PARLIAMENT
For altering the Law of Simple Larceny as affecting Juvenile Offenders. Whereas it has been found by experience, that great evils have arisen from the commitment for trial of offenders of tender age accused of simple larceny; whereby such early imprisonment has tended to harden them in vice, and to render any attempt at reform more difficult and unavailing; And whereas it is expedient to provide a summary mode of proceeding against such offenders instead of that now in force; Be it therefore enacted, &c. &c. That where any person shall be accused of simple larceny before iwo or more justices of the peace, it shall and may be lawful for such justices to inquire into the age, or reputed age, of such offender; and if it shall appear io them that be or she shall be under the age of twenty-one years, every such offender, being convicted of the offence so charged by one or more credible witnesses, or on their own confession, shall, at the discretion of such justices, be committed to an asylum or house of correction set apart exclusively for the reception of such offenders, for any time not exceeding twelve calendar months; or the said justices may order the said offenders to be whipped and discharged, or discharged only, at the discretion of such justices; and if any person so convicted shall be afterwards accused of simple larceny before one or more justices of the peace, then such person shall be proceeded against in the manner pointed out by the various statutes now in force respecting simple larceny.
II. And be it further enacted, That the iwo justices of the peace, before whom such offender shall be brought, shall have authority to summon all persons, who know or declare any thing touching the offence of which the party stands accused, to appear before them at such time and place as they shall appoint, then and there to give evidence against the party accused, or on his or her behalf; and in case such person so summoned shall neglect or refuse to appear, it shall and may be lawful for the said justices to issue their warrant to compel such persons to attend.
1: III. And be it further enacted, That the two justices, before whom such offender shall be convicted, are hereby authorised and empowered, at the request of the prosecutor, or any other person who shall appear, voluntarily or on summons to give evidence against any person so accused, or on his behalf, to order such sums of money to be paid to them as to them shall appear reasonable and sufficient for the expenses they have incurred in such attendance; and also to compensate them for their trouble and loss of time therein. And although no conviction shall take place, it shall still be lawful for the said justices, where any person shall have attended voluntarily or on summons, to order unto such person such sums of money as shall ap. pear to them reasonable and sufficient to reimburse them for the expenses which they shall have incurred by reason of such attendance; and also to compensate them for their trouble and loss of time. And the amount of the expenses of attendavce before the said justices, and the compensation for trouble and loss of time, as well as the expense of conveying the offender to the house of correction or asylum, shali be ascertained by the certificate of such justices, delivered to the treasurer of the county, where such conviction or proceedings shall take place, and he is hereby authorised to pay the same.
IV. And be it further enacted, That the two justices of the peace, before whom such offender shall be brought, shall take the information on oath of those who give evidence of the facts and circumstances of the case, and shall put the same in writing; and such justices shall subscribe such information and examinations; and shall deliver the same, together with the conviction, to the clerk of the peace or other proper officer of the court of the next jail-delivery in the county where such conviction shall have taken place.
V. And be it further enacted, That the justices of the peace, at their next quarter-sessions of the peace after the passing of this aci, shall appropriate some convenient and sufficient part of ihe house of correction for the exclusive reception of offenders committed under this act, entirely distinct from all other prisoners, or they shall erect, purchase, or rent some building or buildings with or without land, in any part of the county, which to them may seem most fit and convenient, for the exclusive reception of such offenders; and shall provide whatever appears to them to be necessary for the maintenance, labor, and instruction of the said offenders; the expenses incurred thereby to be defrayed out of the produce of the county-rate, in the same manner as the other expenses of the county are defrayed.