Page images
PDF
EPUB

E. A. SNIVELY.

of guilty with the understanding that the sentence is to be only one year. This incongruity has always been the curse of prison discipline, and has done as much as any other one tbing to make hardened criminals of men who were the victims of its seeming partiality.

Permit me here, parenthetically, to call attention to an evil that has existed for many years and which still exists.

The theory of the law is that every man is innocent until proven guilty. Carrying out this idea, the court is empowered, when the prisoner has no counsel, to appoint some one to defend him. In almost every case, the person appointed is some young man who has had no experience. Why this should be the practice, I know not. If the State is going to be generous, why should it go to the uttermost limit of parsimony in its generosity? Is it any special favor to a man ?

a to place his liberty in the hands of a mere legal fledgling? Would any member of this Association like to have some one, just admitted to the bar and with no experience, have charge of an important suit wherein his property rights were involved? Certainly not. Then how much more should be condemned the idea of permitting inexperienced members of the bar to practice upon the liberty of a man whose fault is that he is charged with crime and is poor. During the past two years a number of cases have come under my observation where the chief instigator of a crime—the one who made all the plans and directed their execution-has secured a trial separate from his dupes, and by virtue of his ability to employ competent counsel, has escaped punishment, while those whom he had induced to violate the law have plead guilty, or been defended by youthful attorneys, who, while doing their best, were totally inadequate to cope with the able state's attorney. No one will contend for a single moment that this was the intention of the law which imposes upon the trial judge the duty of assigning counsel to a prisoner too poor to employ an attorney. While we blazen forth the theory that it

SPECIAL ADDRESS.

is better for ninety and nine guilty persons to escape punishment than for one innocent man to be placed behind the bars, would it not be more in keeping with our profession, for the court to assign to a prisoner the best legal talent at the bar and then see that the person so assigned conducts the defense. The law and the courts throw around the honored legal profession certain safe-guards, and a sort of legal trust has ever been the settled policy of the State. The younger members of the bar are under no more obligations to give their services free than are those whose abilities command the highest retainers.

Another most commendable feature of the law is that, by its administration the habitual criminal is unmasked. When a man is arrested and indicted there is never much of his history known, if he is a stranger in the community. Of the men who have served in prison one term, and are again indicted, not three per cent are indicted as habitual criminals. The reason for this is very plain. The men of this class are generally strangers in the community where they commit crimes, and the state's attorney has neither time nor money to hunt up their past record. But when once they apply for parole, a different feature is presented for their consideration, and they at once learn that they must give a history of their life before they can be released. The professional criminal is, in nearly every instance, a far more than ordinarily smart man.

He understands the law, knows what his legal rights are, and is fully conversant with the inability of the officials to unmask his past, and all he has to do is to keep quiet and allow the State to convict him if it can.

And this brings me to the manner in which the law is administered: When a prisoner has served one year in the prison, and has complied with the rules, and has no known previous criminal record, he is permitted to come before the Board for examination. The Board first examines the statements made by the trial judge and state's attorneys as well as the recommendations in the prisoner's favor, or remonstrances

E. A. SNIVELY.

in use.

against his parole. The prisoner is then brought before the Board and interrogated as to his life's history. If there is not enough evidence, aside from his testimony, to convince the Board that he is serving his first term, they then proceed to investigate his past life and record. He is permitted to give the names of parties who have known him at different times and under different circumstances, and correspondence is at once had with these parties to ascertain the truth of his statements. Each of the prisons in this State use the Bertillou system of identification, and by it they have no difficulty in learning if a prisoner has ever been in prison where it has been

But there are many prisons where it is not used, and thus access must be had to the records of the man's life. The prisoners have come to understand that they will not be paroled until the Board is thoroughly satisfied as to their past character, and we find little trouble in learning all that is necessary. Now and then a prisoner will refuse to give any information about himself, but when he learns that he must do that or settle down to serve his maximum term, he generally concludes it is best to give the Board any information desired.

It is the practice of the Board not to allow a prisoner to come before it until he has served one year for each succeeding term he has been in prison. By this rule, the prisoner who is serving his second term is assured of two years in prison; if his third term, three years in prison, and so on, increasing the actual imprisonment as the number of prior terms in prison multiply. The result of this action of the Board has been to drive from the State the “old offenders” and “repeaters” as they are termed by the officers. On the 1st of July, 1897, nineteen per cent of the prisoners had formerly been in prison; now, less than nine per cent. In no better way can the reformatory feature of the law be applied than ridding the State of the class of men whose sole occupation, when not in prison, is to prey upon society, and this is being done with a rapidity that is without a parallel.

SPECIAL ADDRESS.

In the final determination as to the parole of a prisoner a great many things have to be considered: The magnitude of his crime, the extenuating circumstances, if there be any, his education and early life, his later environment and the probabilities of his once again becoming a useful citizen. Another, and one of the most important things to be considered, is the effect his release will have upon the public at large. In nearly every instance, after a prisoner has been convicted, there is a change in public sentiment in the immediate community, in regard to him, and almost universally in his favor. But this change of sentiment may not exist in other places where all the details of his crime are known, but where the influence of friends is not felt. In these days, when nearly every man reads a morning paper before he starts on his daily routine of work, the people are kept in touch with the details of the most insignificant crime, and the influence of the release of a prisoner may be widespread. It not infrequently happens that the judge, the state's attorney, and jurymen recommend the release of a prisoner within a few months after his incarceration. This action is brought about, in most cases by the change of sentiment in the community, or the appeal of influential

, friends. In all such cases, the Board must broaden its hori. zon and consider the public at large, as well as the effect upon other prisoners who may be so unfortunate as not to have friends who can control a primary. Partiality in the treatment of prisoners and breaches of prison discipline go far toward making habitual criminals.

True, it sometimes happens that a prisoner will break his parole, but in nearly every case he will do so by leaving the State. His sentence, however, is held over him, and he is an escaped prisoner, and liable to rearrest. When prisoners who break their parole are rearrested, the rule is to retain them, at least one year before they are again paroled.

One serious objection to the law of 1895 was found in that quite a number of prisoners could find no one who would

E. A. SNIVELY.

give them employment. In the great majority of cases, these prisoners were tramps who had been guilty of some minor offense and were not criminals in the proper acceptation of the word, but knew no one in the State who would aid them. The Governor directed the attention of the Legislature to this matter and the law was changed, giving the Board discretionary power to permit a prisoner to go, on his own parole, to some county and seek employment, requiring him to report to the sheriff of the county once a month.

During the two years the law has been administered by the Board of Pardons, a smaller number of prisoners have been released than went out of prison during the last two years the definite sentence law was in force. One reason for this, no doubt is found in the Board's treatment of the habitual criminal. Under the old law this class generally received a shorter sentence than the prisoner who had committed his first crime. As the habitual criminals are driven out of the State, it is noted there is a decrease in the number of inmates in the prisons.

The parole law of Illinois is yet an experiment, but I believe that when the law, as it now stands, is fully understood, there will be no desire on the part of the people-if, in fact there be any such desire at this time—to return to the principle of definite sentences. As I have indicated, there is now a way open whereby the habitual criminal can be either driven from the State or retained behind the bars where he can no longer prey upon society. At the same time, the unfortunate person, who, temporarily crazed by intoxication or laboring under some temporary hallucination, commits his first crime, cau be saved. The principle of the parole law is in accord with the advanced thought of the age which believes that there comes a time, in the history of the great majority of those incarcerated in prison, when they can be reformed and placed on the road to good citizenship. To all such it says "go and sin no more," while for the habitual criminal, it writes over the prison doors, "abandon hope all ye who enter here."

« PreviousContinue »