Criminal Justice in Cleveland

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Criminal Justice in Cleveland  (1921) 
The New Republic
The New Republic, Vol. 28 No. 359 (October 19, 1921): 204-206.


Criminal Justice in Cleveland


ABOUT a year ago certain good citizens of Cleveland, Ohio, were revolted by the palpable and flagrant abuses in the administration of criminal justice in their city. Among other things a municipal magistrate was accused of murder and when he was tried on the indictment the court was rendered helpless and prostrate by obvious perjury. At the same time the “crime wave” called the attention of the community to the large proportion of probable criminals who in one way or another were escaping punishment. These good citizens decided that the reputation of Cleveland and the safety of property and person in that city demanded an attempt at reform, and in order to find out what the scope and the nature of the remedy should be they initiated an investigation into the existing administration of criminal justice in Cleveland. This investigation they placed in the hands of Professors Roscoe Pound and Felix Frankfurter of the Harvard Law School. The Cleveland Foundation sponsored and financed it and its results are now being published in a series of reports. They include a section on the Criminal Courts by Reginald Heber Smith and Herbert B. Ehrmann, on Prosecution by Alfred Bettman, on the Police by Raymond Fosdick, on the Treatment of the Convicted by Burdette G. Lewis, on Medical Science and Criminal Justice by Dr. Herman M. Adler, on Newspaper and Criminal Justice by M. K. Wisehart, and on Legal Education of the Criminal Bar by Albert M. Kales. The final section will consist of a summary and interpretation of the results of the inquiry by Roscoe Pound.

Two of these sections are already off the press and are purchasable from the Cleveland Foundation at 1202 Swetland Building, Cleveland. About November they will be all available in one volume. A final estimate of the value of the inquiry will have to wait until all the separate sections are published and collected, but the sections which are already available enable us to place a preliminary estimate upon the value of the investigation. They provide a sufficient excuse for calling attention to its publication and for venturing some general remarks upon its method and scope.

Americans have small reason to feel proud of the administration of criminal justice in the United States. Its inadequacy is notorious. The volume of crime is greater than that of any other civilized country, and an enormously large proportion of the criminals escape the penalties provided by American law. Spasmodic protests are occasionally raised against some peculiarly intolerable consequence or illustration of failure, but they are convulsive and superficial. They usually exhaust themselves with a few days emotional expression in newspaper headlines or at best with the attempt to throw out of office some corrupt police official, some incompetent prosecuting attorney or some offensive judge. They do not take account of the seriousness of the failure. There is no chance of repairing it as long as the doctors assume it to be personal and fugitive in its origin. Practically all over the country the administration of criminal justice is at best uncertain and tardy and at worst privileged, slip-shod or downright corrupt. There is a vast discrepancy between what the American nation seeks to accomplish with its statutes, police departments and courts in the way of protecting the communities against crime and either punishing or reforming the convicted criminal, and what it actually does accomplish. This discrepancy constitutes the point of departure for any thoroughgoing and illuminating investigation. It is vain to consider remedies unless the doctors are agreed upon a diagnosis of the failure which is adequate to explain its nature and scope.

This is what the Cleveland Foundation inquiry proposes to make. On the first page of the first report the authors warn their readers against ascribing “the Cleveland failure to individuals alone, although there has been exploitation by those whose elimination would have a salutary effect. . . . The conditions which make exploitation possible must be removed before permanent improvements can be effected. These conditions are, first, the persistence of a system of criminal justice become obsolete and wholly inadequate through the rapid growth of urban population and modern industrial life, and second, the unorganized, uninformed and socially indifferent attitude of the more intelligent portion of the citizenship, brought about by the concentration on material prosperity to the exclusion of civic life.” The investigation becomes, consequently, an analysis of crime, and the detection, the conviction, the punishment and the reform of criminals in relation to the economic behavior and moral standards of the community.

An inquiry with such a scope is clearly of national interest and importance. While it deals primarily with criminal justice in Cleveland and the failure there to administer it in a socially successful way, and while, consequently, it concerns itself largely with a particular group of officials, courts, statutes and practices, its analysis and findings will clearly carry a general application. All over the country no less than in Cleveland, the American system of criminal justice is “inadequate.” It is inadequate not merely because of slack administration but because, as the Cleveland Survey declares, it is “obsolete.” It is “obsolete” not merely because it is antiquated, shop-worn, mechanical and lifeless, but because of the transformation of modern urban life by industrialism. This industrialism hampers society in dealing satisfactorily with crime, because it has concentrated the attention of the more intelligent of its citizens upon “material prosperity” and blinded them to the obligations of citizenship. If the inquiry substantiates these statements, it will obviously prove to be as illuminating and as indispensable to a public-spirited resident of Worcester, Grand Rapids, San Francisco or New York as it is to a resident of Cleveland.

The subjects of three of the coming reports indicate that the directors intend to perform a thorough job. One of the aspects of the treatment of criminals in this country, which arouses the gravest misgivings in the mind of an educated man or woman, is the extent to which both existing laws and their administration ignore some of the more authentic results of modern psychology. This phase of the subject will, we infer, be treated by Dr. Herman Adler. He names his contribution to the inquiry Medical Science and Criminal Justice, but by “medical science” he means, of course, mental pathology. He is a psychiatrist and he will consider criminal justice as it is now practiced in the light of the knowledge which has recently been acquired about both the normal and abnormal behavior of the human soul. Equally promising is the report by Mr. W. K. Wisehart on the relation of newspapers to criminal justice. This is a new but extremely important region of inquiry. In the case of any crime or any trial for any crime which has obtained a great deal of publicity in the newspapers, the fact of this publicity introduces a disconcerting element into the administration of criminal justice which profoundly modifies its operation but which is ignored by existing law and practice. Finally Mr. Albert M. Kales's report on the Legal Education of the Cleveland Bar deals with, perhaps, the most difficult and delicate, yet the most important aspect of the failure of criminal justice. If any single group of Americans is more responsible than another for the failure, it is obviously the lawyers. They write criminal law in the legislatures. They administer it as counsel both for the state and the defendant. They expound it from the bench. Perhaps Mr. Kales's report on how lawyers in Cleveland are educated will explain why the profession has so deplorably failed to give to the community tolerable service in this most fundamental and elementary of their professional duties.

The investigation undertaken by the Cleveland Foundation is, consequently, broadly and courageously planned. It is characterized by qualities which are rare in the contemporary American survey—the qualities of intellectual initiative and integrity. When an American committee starts to investigate some one of the many creaks in the national machine, it usually agrees in the beginning not to be too thorough and disagreeable and not to risk the success and popularity of its report by raising too many or too bitterly controversial questions. They shrink from exposing more of the truth than is in their opinion politically available and desirable. The directors of the Cleveland Survey have fortunately worked on a different assumption. They have assumed, just as a psychoanalyst would assume in treating a case of mental pathology, that unless they can dig up an approximation to the whole truth, their analytic method is of doubtful value. The cure depends primarily on the ability of the doctor to discover the psychological origin of the aberration and the willingness of the patient candidly and fearlessly to recognize and act on the discovery. The only medicine which has any chance of being salutary is the truth—the whole disagreeable, impossible, disconcerting and frequently shameful truth. Modern communities are not accustomed to this kind of medicine. When it is forced upon them their stomachs may be too weak to retain it, but in that case they must not expect to bring knowledge to their aid in repairing their social failures. Knowledge is a hard taskmaster. Those who believe in its authority must be able to recognize its hall-mark and be willing to follow its counsel whithersoever it may lead.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).