Author :

Title : Report from the Departmental Committee On Prisons (Gladstone Committee Report ) (1895)

Keywords:Gladstone Report. Du Cane. Criminal Anthropology. Statistics. Civilisation. Habitual Criminals. Recidivism. Criminal Class

Pages : Introduction | page 1 | page 2


The Departmental Committee on Prisons was established under the chairmanship of Herbert Gladstone in 1894. It was a response to continuing and intense criticism by newspapers and periodicals such as The Daily Chronicle and TheFortnightly Review, of the existing prison system, and of the Chairman of Prison Commissioners, Edmund Du Cane.

The Report was written in the midst of heated debate about the merits of the new science of criminal anthropology. In the end, the Committee steered a middle course between the hereditarianism of criminal anthropology and environmentalism. It accepted that some criminals might be ‘irreclaimable’, the products of disease or physiological imperfections, but stressed that criminal anthropology was in ‘embryo stage’. The writers of the Report believed that improving the living conditions of the urban poor was the surest way to reduce criminality. But they also engaged with the increasing problem, as it was seen at the time, of habitual criminality. The Committee attempted to define ‘habitual criminal’, with contradictory results. It had difficulty marrying the ideas of consistency and dangerousness. Nevertheless, even without a clear idea of what a habitual criminal actually was, Section X of the Report recommended longer prison sentences for habituals . Though the Committee accepted that deterrence must lie at the heart of penal policy, it also stressed the ability of prisons to reform offenders, and made various recommendations to improve the reformative aspect of the prison system.

One of these recommendations was individualised treatment. A second was the separation of prisoners into types, e.g. first offenders, habituals, the feeble-minded, drunkards, the former being diverted to reformatories, the others being dealt with by special programmes. A third was the reform of the separate system, and a renewed emphasis on productive, collective labour rather than turning the crank, treading the wheel, and so on. The Report also made several administrative recommendations, among them that local prisons be kept under state control, and that the Secretary of State appoint directly an independent Inspector of Prisons. Du Cane resigned a few days after the Report was published. He was succeeded by Evelyn Ruggles-Brise.

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