Students of crime and punishment have never differed seriously in their conclusions. All investigations have arrived at the result that crime is due to causes; that man is either not morally responsible, or responsible only to a slight degree. All have doubted the efficacy of punishment and practically no one has accepted the common ideas that prevail as to crime, its nature, its treatment and the proper and efficient way of protecting society from the criminal.
The real question of importance is: What shall be done? Can crime be cured? If not, can it be wiped out and how? What rights have the public? What rights has the criminal? What obligations does the public owe the criminal? What duties does each citizen owe society?
It must be confessed that all these questions are more easily asked than answered. Perhaps none of them can be satisfactorily answered. It is a common obsession that every evil must have a remedy; that if it cannot be cured today, it can be tomorrow; that man is a creature of infinite possibilities and all that is needed is time and patience. Given these a perfect world will eventuate.
I am convinced that man is not a creature of infinite possibilities. I am by no means sure that he has not run his race and reached, if not passed, the zenith of his power. I have no idea that every evil can be cured; that all trouble can be banished; that every maladjustment can be corrected or that the millennium can be reached now and here or any time or anywhere. I am not even convinced that the race can substantially improve. Perhaps here and there society can be made to run a little more smoothly; perhaps some of the chief frictions incident to life may be avoided; perhaps we can develop a little higher social order; perhaps we may get rid of some of the cruelty incident to social organization. But how?
To start with: it seems to me to be clear that there is really no such thing as crime, as the word is generally understood. Every activity of man should come under the head of “behavior.” In studying crime we are merely investigating a certain kind of human behavior. Man acts in response to outside stimuli. How he acts depends on the nature, strength, and inherent character of the machine and the habits, customs, inhibitions and experiences that environment gives him. Man is in no sense the maker of himself and has no more power than any other machine to escape the law of cause and effect. He does as he must. Therefore, there is no such thing as moral responsibility in the sense in which this expression is ordinarily used. Punishment as something inflicted for the purpose of giving pain is cruelty and vengeance and nothing else. Whatever should be done to the criminal, if we have humanity and imagination, we must feel sympathy for him and consider his best good along with that of all the rest of the members of the society whose welfare is our concern.