Punish Less and Reform More

The Saturday Evening Post

Too long the criminal has been a subject of public indifference. So that he is caught and punished, the majority of people care little what becomes of him after, nor do they often question whether or not his punishment is proportioned to his offence. But slowly the public attitude on this matter is changing. The work of the reformatories in curing criminals when mere punishments had only made them bitter, and the reluctance of juries to find just verdicts, lest the men on trial receive unjust sentences, have shown society to be wrong in its theories. Men who sin in ignorance are better lifted from their sins than forced to expiate them, when it is partly the fault of society that they are ignorant and sinful. A most significant change in the treatment of the criminal has been made in recent years by the introduction of the indeterminate sentence system in several of the states. This puts it into the power of men who may have been harshly judged in the first place, and whose mere conviction was penalty enough, to earn their freedom.

The hope of liberty is in itself a stimulus to effort in the reformatory schools and training classes, and the man reproved of the law goes back into the world stronger than when he left it.

In addition to the parole, or indeterminate sentence, a few of the states (Massachusetts, notably) have adopted a probation system which goes into operation before sentence. Certain men and women attend trials in the lower courts and act as intercessors in cases that promise reform. The probation officer is the opposite of the prosecuting attorney, in that the latter brings up everything bad against the prisoner, while the probation officer finds all that is good. It is no longer necessary to confine a man even if he is guilty: he can be placed on parole instead. These probation officers can, with a paroled man's consent, collect his wages and give them to his family. He then has no power to buy drink or squander his means, and if he misbehaves in anywise his liberty is forfeit and he can be sent to prison.

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Christianity an Affair of the Life
October 24, 1901

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