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Return of the Income and Expenditure during the Years indicated of Metropolitan Societies, dbc, established for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners.
Return showing in what manner Aid was rendered to Discharged Prisoners by the undermentioned Societies in the above years.
Xote.—These returns are compiled from statistics of a very varied and apparently unreliable cTMcter, especially with reference to the female refuges. Those about which there is no doubt ^ the Koyal Society, the St. Giles's Mission, and the Sheriffs Fund.
* Either obtained work, were sent to sea, or assisted to emigrate.
together, and the same beneficiary is recorded in the books of the two societies. Indeed, instances have occurred of plausible men making a complete round of the societies for males, obtaining temporary assistance from each, and then endeavouring to obtain alms from the chaplains of prisons, and lastly from the poor-box of one or more police courts.
The St. Giles's Christian Mission, frequently assisted by tlie Sheriffs' Fund, takes, perhaps, the greatest pains to avoid being imposed upon, while it is always ready to assist in a deserving case. The prisoners are invited to breakfast upon leaving Coldbath Fields, and then all who are anxious to have the assistance of the Mission in obtaining work can at once lay their cases before Mr. Wheatlcy, the secretary, whose success in dealing with them is extraordinary. Those who wish can, until they obtain employment, find board and lodging in the mission-houses, where they are removed from the evil influences of old companions. Then when a situation is found, frequent inquiry is made to ascertain whether the individual's conduct is satisfactory. His career is subsequently followed up as far as possible.
A large number of male discharged prisoners are returned by several of the societies as "sent to sea." This is the least satisfactory method of accounting for them, as in reality it rarely means more than a temporary berth upon a coasting vessel, which is very likely abandoned at the first port. It is a favourite employment with many who have learnt in prison that it is the easiest way of obtaining pecuniary aid and a good outfit, and, best of all, offers the greatest opportunity for evading the provisions of the Prevention of Crimes Acts, which require those subject to them to report themselves periodically to the police. The latter remark also applies to those who are "assisted to leave the district."
Although it is more difficult to obtain private employment for women than for men, inasmuch as they can rarely fill other than domestic situations, into which there is a natural hesitation to admit them, female discharged prisoners find long continued shelter in the several refuges, where they are profitably engaged in laundry work. The cost of this accounts for the apparent excessive proportion of establishment expenses in the Prison Mission and other institutions for females.
I think that much benefit might bo derived by some consolidation of these establishments; and my opinion is even stronger as regards the societies assisting convicts on license and male discharged prisoners. I do not pretend to say upon what basis such concentration of resources and action might be carried into effect; but if a conference could be brought together to discuss the matter in a friendly spirit, I feel sure that very great good might be done. If, iu the result, one or two societies could be formed out of the eleven now urging rival claims upon public charity, it would have the effect of creating a strong organization to meet a great want, and by the establishment of a proper system, would prevent any waste of money upon the vultures of benevolence.
Besides the large number of London societies, there are few counties without one or more associations for assisting discharged prisoners, and in many boroughs they exist also. I am frequently asked what are the best lines for such a society to act upon, and my first answer invariably is to take every care that the seed is sown upon good ground. The present system of ascertaining the antecedents of persons arrested is not by any means what I hope it will one day become; and how much further removed from perfection is the intercommunication between the numerous societies in question! It cannot be materially improved so long as matters are left as they are; but if there were a parent society in London, with branches in the provinces, as is the case with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, then I submit there would be the surest guarantee for the profitable employment of the funds easily obtainable, vast diminution in working expenses, increased facility for obtaining situations beyond the baneful influence of companions in crime, and no diminution in the scope for local activity. Such an organization would be of great advantage to the State, and would provide a most valuable agency in the prevention of crime by the best means.
There can be little doubt that the thing most to be aimed at in dealing with a liberated prisoner is to prevent a relapse into that companionship which led him into crime. This may be secured in two ways: first, by getting employment for him, immediately on liberation, in a fresh locality; and, secondly, by housing him for a time under such careful restrictions as may be devised for preventing a promising case being injured by communication with other inmates of less hopeful prospects. It is essential, even after a situation has been found, that the society should retain its influence upon the individual for two or three years at least, for if this is omitted there is great probability of a falling backwards when the first difficulty arises. The benefit must not be limited to obtaining employment: it must be extended to enabling the employment to be retained. It is for this reason, in addition to those above enumerated, that I venture to take exception to the mere dispatch of discharged prisoners to another district or to sea. The change of locality is very beneficial; but in the new place there must be a helping hand. Above all things, however, a person taking part in work among discharged prisoners must throw all the sympathy in his nature into his intercourse with them. He must listen to their several histories—strongly infused though mauy of them may be with falsehood—and must be a man to whom they will open their hearts, and who will study the peculiarities of each case.
It is of comparatively little avail to address masters in order to obtain labour. I have appealed to them in every way; and although many wish the work well, and are willing to help it with their purses, they cannot give employment. Offices of trust are out of the question until an individual has proved himself worthy of confidence; and if the employer sends for the persons responsible for the work to be done, and says he wishes employment given to this or that man who has just come out of prison, he is met with the answer that the wish cau only be complied with on the responsibility of the master. This responsibility cannot be accepted, for it would open the door to both negligence and peculation. There is also the great risk of the workmen refusing to admit a known discharged prisoner among them. I do not for a moment say that charitable societies should endeavour to obtain work for men under any false pretence; but I think that they have a far greater chance of success if they turn their attention first only to manual labour, or to routine work not offering temptation, and leave matters to be quietly arranged between zealous agents and foremen of works.
The provisions of the Prevention of Crime Acts are, I believe, of great service in enforcing the honesty of those coming under those Acts, viz. :—
"(a.) Convicts liberated upon license (ticket of leave) before the completion of their sentence of penal servitude.
"(b.) Those who in due course of law are sentenced to a period of police supervision in addition to the term of imprisonment inflicted."
The requirements of the Prevention of Crime Acts are :—
"(a.) That every license holder and supervisee shall notify his or her place of residence to the chief officer of police of the district into which he or she is liberated or removes, within forty-eight hours.
"(b.) That any subsequent change of address shall be also notified on bis or her removal.
"(c.) That he or she shall notify to the chief police officer of the district his or her intention to leave the said district, as well as the chief police officer of the district into which he or she removes.
"(rf.) That being a male he shall report himself once in everymonthat such time and place, and to such person, as shall be prescribed by the chief police officer of the district. This report to be made personally, unless the privilege of reporting by letter has been specially allowed."
There is nothing in these conditions of liberty which interferes with honest employment in the majority of instances; but if the monthly report does entail any hardship, a chief officer of police is .empowered by the statute to allow it to be made by letter.
The penalty for neglecting to comply with these provisions entails forfeiture of the license, in the case of a couvict, and twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, in that of a supervisee.
It is the knowledge that this power exists which makes many a wavering man careful in his conduct in districts where the Acts arc strictly enforced. Unfortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule; and the result is that the worst characters leave a district where the law is closely applied, and remove to one where greater leniency prevails.
In the Metropolitan District a branch of the police was established in 1880 for the exclusive purpose of carrying out the Prevention of Crime Acts. It consists of eight officers who are entirely employed in ascertaining and recording the movements of the license holders and supervisees in the metropolis. These number from a thousand to fifteen hundred. Deserving persons, besides being frequently placed in communication with the several societies, under special circumstances receive pecuniary assistance from the Convict Office, and great pains are taken to inform the men where they are most likely to obtain work. The results of this system are satisfactory in the increased facility it affords for tracing the antecedents of those in custody, both in London and the .country; but its direct effect is much diminished by the comparative ease with which the dangerous character can remove beyond the district and return to it without notice. This would be obviated by the adoption of a uniform method ] of administering the Acts by the 290 different police forces of Great Britain. I hope that in time this may be established; and if, simultaneously therewith, a national lay organization were called into existence for assisting discharged prisoners, I have no doubt that the effect upon the criminal returns would soon be very apparent.
Meanwhile it is gratifying to be able to record that every inquiry has failed to establish the truth of any complaint made in recent years of discharged prisoners being "hunted" by the Metropolitan Police, or prevented by police action from gaining an honest livelihood. On the contrary, many discharged prisoners have expressed gratitude for the consideration shown them. It is habitual criminals alone by whom complaints are made, and this is done in endeavours to enlist the sympathy of the Court before which they are standing to answer for fresh offences.
C. E. Howard Vincent.