Hardened Offenders (20 june 1929)
See also his second letter on the same topic: Hardened Offenders (13 july 1929).
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, — A case tried recently at Quarter Sessions brings up in a very clear form the question as to what should be done with the irreclaimable criminal. The case was that of a burglar and a motor thief. He has again and again committed the same offences, for which he has spent eight years out of the last nine in gaol. He has now received a further sentence of three years, and in receiving it he passed a note up to the .Judge to say that he had no intention to reform. This means that when he regains his freedom the community is warned that it will have to put up with this man's depredations. Being so warned is not the community very foolish to give the man the chance of putting his threat into execution?
Sir W. Joynson-Hicks, during his occupancy of the Home Office, mentioned in one of his speeches that the idea had been discussed of perpetual segregation for irreclaimable criminals. Personally, I have always been of opinion that this should be done. We segregate our lunatics and we segregate our infectious cases, and the hardened criminal is a mixture of both. He is a man with a dangerous idée fixe, and he is a man who is likely to infect others by exerting his influence upon those who are younger or weaker than himself. The world has no use for him. He is the enemy of society. It is folly, therefore, to give him successive sentences, which mean intervals when we have to pay the penalty for our own weak and illogical leniency. The true method of guarding ourselves is to eliminate him altogether. From the time that his true character is established the prison doors should never open again.
But this prison need not he a severe one. It should be rather on the lines of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. No great hardship need be involved. But since liberty has been abused, liberty should for ever he taken away. Suppose that such a law were at once enforced, and that two or three thousand hardened offenders were weeded up from the roots, what a relief it would be to the police, to the Courts, and, finally, to the public. Having got these obstacles out of' the way for ever one could see one's way more clearly to social reform. It seems to me that if a man has been convicted three or four times of a penal offence he is a fit candidate for such a permanent asylum as I suggest.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
15, Buckingham Palace-mansions, S.W.1, June 18.