Thus of those who have been sent to it lately from the prisons, it has, I understand, been forced to return only two, because these men would not behave themselves, and proved to be a source of danger and contamination to others. As regards the residuum who are incapacitated by age or weakness of mind or body, General Booth and his Officers are of opinion that the Government should contribute to their support in such places as the Army may be able to find for them to dwell in under its care.
I hope that these forecasts, which after all are made by men of great experience who should know, may not prove to be over-sanguine. Still it must be remembered that in England alone there are, I am told, some 30,000 confirmed criminals in the jails, not reckoning the 5,000 who are classed as convicts. If even 20 per cent of these were passed over to the care of the Army, with or without State grants in aid of their support, this must in the nature of things prove a heavy burden upon its resources. When all is said and done it is harder to find employment for a jailbird, even if reformed, than for any other class of man, because so damaged a human article has but little commercial value in the Labour market.
If, however, the Salvation Army is prepared to face this gigantic task, it may be hoped that it will be given an opportunity of showing what it can do on a large scale, as it has already shown upon one more restricted. Prison reform is in the air. The present system is admitted more or less to have broken down. It has been shown to be incompetent to attain the real end for which it is established; that is, not punishment, as many still believe, for this hereditary idea is hard to eradicate, but prevention and, still more, reformation.
The ‘Vengeance of the Law’ is a phrase not easy to forget; but among humane and highly-civilized peoples the word Vengeance should be replaced by another, the best that I can think of is—Regeneration. The Law should not seek to avenge—that may be left to the savage codes, civil and religious, of the dark ages. Except in the case of the death sentence, which is not everywhere in favour, it should seek to regenerate.
If, then, among other agencies, the Salvation Army is able to prove beyond cavil that it can assist our criminal system to attain this noble end, ought not opportunity to be given it in full measure? Is it too much to hope that when the new Prison Act, of which the substance has recently been outlined by the Home Secretary, comes to be discussed, this object may be kept in view and the offer of the Salvation Army to co-operate in the great endeavour may not be lightly thrust aside? If its help is found so valuable in the solution of this particular problem in other lands, why should it be rejected here, or, rather, why should it not be more largely utilized, as I know from their own lips, General Booth and his Officers hope and desire?