Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/402

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
398
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE LAST CENSUS AND ITS BEARING ON CRIME
By The Rev. AUGUST DRAHMS

CHAPLAIN OF THE STATE PRISON, SAN QUENTIN, CAL.

THE latest published report of the criminal census of the United States, recently issued, gives an aggregate prison population of 81,772, five hundred and fifty-seven less than a like report for the previous decade ending with the year 1890.

By states the figures present an equally exceptional showing, unexplainable upon the basis of any known law of criminal variation. Thus, among the foremost states that have shown an actual increase in the number of offenders, we have Kansas, 58.2; West Virginia, 50.6; Florida, 40.7, and Washington, 26.6. Twenty of the states, many of them under similar civic, social, climatic and economic conditions, register a marked falling off in the number of such defalcants, notably, New York leading with an actual decrease of 1,606; followed successively by North Carolina, 848; Illinois, 756; Arkansas, 589; Tennessee, 454; Alabama, 450; Arizona, 359; Missouri, 40, and California, 43 prisoners.

The above showing as a whole, would seem to indicate upon the surface a healthy diminution in crime within the last ten years, especially when we consider the fact that the general population of the country has increased during the same period 29.84 per cent, and the criminal status had grown steadily during every previous decade, as set forth by those reports successively, that of 1880, for instance, showing an increase of 78.14 per cent, over that of the previous report; while that of 1890 gives us 40.47 per cent, over that of 1880. The cause assigned for this apparent falling off in crime, however, is set forth in the body of the report as due to the introduction and spread of the probationary system by which the more youthful, and first offenders, are placed under suspended sentences dependent upon good behavior under proper supervisoral care appointed by the court, a wise tentative measure, not without its faults, but infinitely superior to the unconditional detention of this class of offenders at the risk of a still greater immurement in crime at the most impressionable period of their existence.

As to the actual number thus passing under probationary methods we have no way of knowing save from the records of the courts themselves, but they must necessarily be considerable and help to swell materially the general criminal record.