The million-peopled city
Great Severity of British, as compared with French, Law on Juvenile Offenders.
Mr. Sergeant Adams, in recent evidence before a , made the following important statements: viz., that he had had occasion to try A VAST NUMBER of juvenile offenders, until the recent Act for giving summary jurisdiction in cases of larceny, upon children under 14; that he was perfectly confident that, from the publicity of these trials, the feeling of disgust was becoming so strong, as to the state of our criminal juris- prudence with respect to children, that if the cases had not been removed from public view, the whole system must have
|been changed before this time; that the juries were indignant at the scenes daily taking place; that from 30 to 40 children, of ages from 10 to 13, were often brought before him to be tried and sentenced at the Sessions; and that he had tried a child as young as 7 years of age, and a vast number of 8 and 9: sometimes for offences as small as stealing a penny tart.|
The following are two cases which the Learned Sergeant adduced in his charge to the Grand Jury, in 1849, as illus- trative of the fearfully juvenile age at which lads become prisoners:-
", AGED 10 YEARS, has not yet been tried by a jury, but he has, within the last 2 years, been 8 times summarily convicted, viz.:- 1847. "Feb. 13. For possession of 7 scarfs, &c. 2 months' impris. May 10. Rogue and vagabond ..... 1 " July 10. Possession of a half-sovereign. 1 Sept. 13. Simple larceny ........ 1 day's impris., and whipped. Sept. 27. Rogue and vagabond ..... 2 months' impris. Dec. 31. Simple larceny ........ 1 month'simpris., and whipped. 1848. May 23. Ditto ........... 1 , 1849. April 15. Ditto .......... 3 " " This return relates to the committals of this boy to one prison only." The Learned Sergeant, in another part of his evidence, stated:-
" Some years ago, I went over the Maidstone Gaol.. I saw a little urchin about 10 years of age, and I said, 'Who is that boy?' 'Oh,' said the Gaoler, 'he has been committed by the County Magistrates for stealing damsons.' He had got over a garden-wall, and got a hatful of damsons: and had been sent to prison for a month."
also stated, that in , on visiting the House of Correction, at lie saw 2 boys of 8 years of age under summary conviction, placed with the other prisoners.
Let any respectable parent think for a moment of such a punishment as imprisonment being inflicted on a son of theirs of so tender an age, for " stealing a penny tart or a hatful of damsons," with all the pollution and hardening consequences of association with the worst of human-kind,
|and the subsequent brand of culprits on their brows. It may almost be asked, where is the respectable family in which such offences have not been committed, by those who are mere children ? How different the parents' chastisement for such a fault in those of tender years, and the hard rigour of the law!|
In only the past generation, there were 223 offences visited by British law with the punishment of death. Some of these were of the most trivial character. The late and laboured hard to obtain a mitigation of a code so utterly opposed to the mild- ness and love of Christianity. " Now, happily, murder alone is punish- able with death.
But the severity of our laws against children is scarcely less extreme, or more opposed to the genius of our holy and merciful religion, than its previous imitations of rather than , in the punishment of adults. Is it to our honour to be less merciful than ? And yet by the Code Napoleon, no child in is considered respon- sible for his acts in the same way as an adult, till the age of 16. Before he has attained that age, he is described as acting without discernment, sans discernement, or, as the common law of England expresses it, doli incapax.
In Great Britain, the age of 7 is substituted for the French limit of 16-two periods of existence widely dif- ferent, to our discredit. There is, however, every reason to hope that the Committee of the House of Commons on Criminal and Destitute Juveniles, now sitting, will recommend an abolishment of imprisonment at so early a period of life.