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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 75

Drink and Crime

page 19

Drink and Crime.

Motto: the amount of liquor consumed in any community is the measure of its degradation—Baron Dowse, Ireland.

It is impossible to ascertain the full relationship between drink and crime unless we had the personal history, not only of everyone convicted of a crime, but the history of his parents and grandparents at the least. We can only skim the surface, so to speak, of how alcohol tends to crime with the statistics and information at our command. The new Criminology is but little understood I fear in New Zealand, but whether understood or not, there is not such an examination made of the prisoners' lives and the lives of their ancestors as to enable us to get at the cause of the crimes that are committed in our colony. We have some facts to go on and these are distressing and alarming enough. In 1896 there were 5005 charges of drunkenness dealt with in our Courts; of these 4921 charges were found proved, and 4115 convictions were recorded against male offenders and 809 against female offenders; 73 males and 8 females were discharged. There were altogether 14,673 offences charged and 5005 of these were drunkenness. The 5005 charges did not mean that there were 5005 individuals charged. Some of the offenders unfortunately had been taken more than once before the Court, some more than twice, some more than thrice. We have no proper record of the actual number of individual offenders. In the same year there were 724 applications for Prohibition Orders, 658 applications for orders against males and 66 for orders against females. These applications give a better idea of the drink curse than even convictions for drunkenness or for being drunk or disorderly. A prohibition order is never applied for but as a last resort. When personal advice and remonstrance has failed, when there seems no hope of saving the victim then this law is invoked. The publicity and the disgrace are both braved when this last effort is made to redeem the fallen. What a record then is this number of 721 applications? Of these 598 were granted, 537 orders to males and 61 to females; 126 applications were refused or abandoned. What misery stands behind this record of 598 prohibition orders. No one can be prohibited unless Iris will power has gone, unless practical degeneration has set in, health and means both being injured. Just consider what this record means, and if we add to these prohibited persons the number of people who are not prohibited, but who were as bad as those who were prohibited, we can have some faint idea of the evil that alcohol is working in our midst. Just as the vital statistics give us no record of those who are killed by drink, so the gaol and court records give us little information of the part alcoholism plays in crime. It is said we are a sober people. Sobriety is a comparative term. I believe we are not so given to intemperance as many people, but we are not as sober as some. I found that to assuage the page 20 thirst for alcoholic stimulants we consumed in 1897-98, that is from 1st April, 1897, to 1st April, 1898,—
478,188 gallons of spirits 105,070 gallons of wine 190,860 gallons of ale and beer imported 5,741,120 gallons of colonial beer

In all 6,514,688 gallons of liquor.

For 760,000 people that was not, one would think, a mean supply.

Is it any wonder that we have about 10 to 50 deaths put down to chronic alcoholism, over 500 prohibition orders issued, and over 5000 drunks to be dealt with by J.P's and Stipendiary Magistrates? But we must not think that these figures measure the extent of the vice. There are hundreds if not thousands of drunkards who never figure in our Courts, against whom no prohibition orders are issued. And how crime is encouraged and caused by drink it is difficult, as I have said, to guage. Mere convictions are not a proper guage of crime, for much depends upon the efficiency of the police, of the Courts, and of juries. What effect drink has on crime can only to some extent be measured if we consider for a moment what leads to crime. I think I will not be considered wrong if I mention four causes:—1. Hereditary tendency. 2. A weakened will and a blinded moral sense, the result of perhaps heredity and environment. 3. Poverty. 4. Temptation acting on a weakened will.

You see I have said nothing about alcohol and I will tell you why. I admit that alcohol leads directly to some crimes of violence. Men under the dominion of passion, not reason, (caused by the drinking of alcohol), commit crimes of violence. And we read of Judges on Circuit in England bewailing the fact that drink causes crime. What I would point out is that alcohol is a more subtle cause of crime than we at first sight adequately appreciate. It is not the tale of drunkards nor the crimes of violence that alcohol produces that are its worst products, and that is why I have eliminated drink out of the direct causes of crime.

Anything that tends to physical, mental and moral degeneration, causes crime. Alcohol does so tend. It leads to poverty, it tempts weak people. It therefore is a primary cause of the causes of crime.

Crime it has been said is a reversion, and caused by degeneration. Now, has alcohol this effect if taken in excess? I prefer giving the opinion of an expert, who is not a teetotaller, for in his small book on Alcohol, Dr. Greenfield says—as to the effect of alcohol that it may be summed up in the words 'Loss of Control.' the higher intellectual centres cease to control the thought, the moral control is lost over the emotions, the centres which govern and direct combined action, no longer guide the lower and surbordinate ones, and they in turn hold less in check and tone the muscles and their nerves. It page 21 would be easy to show that it is not only the higher powers which are affected, but that the lower centres too, are directly acted upon. And as we have already seen in speaking of the physiological action of alcohol, the earliest glow of warmth, flush of face, and quickned beat of heart, are alike due to a check of control, so that the minute blood vessels dilate owing to loss of moderating force.

It may be said however that is only describing the drunkard, one who has, as it is termed, drunk to excess. What says Dr Greenfield about the moderate drinker?:—

"But it is a melancholy fact that a very large number of those who are permanently injured by drinking are of those who rarely or never drink beyond the stage of slight excitement, or even halt before that point. For one man who is injured by being drunken often, there are twenty or more who are more seriously injured by drinking and never approaching the verge of intoxication. A man may drink in such a way as never to feel consciously excited or embarrassed, yet ruin his health and cut short his days more speedily and surely than the man who is dead drunk every Saturday night."

He classifies the effects thus:—
1.Comparatively slight disorders due to use of excess of alcohol, or its use at improper times.
2.The effects of large repeated doses in producing simple intoxication, or the peculiar forms of alcohol poisoning known as delirium tremens, &c.
3.Diseases resulting from the continued use of alcohol.
1.General deterioration.
2.Destruction of special organs of the body.

The effect is often seen in the appearance of the person who gives way to drink.

"And, says the same authority, here we cannot even attempt to mention all those slighter general states which are so commonly seen in those who drink. The moral tone is lowered, there is often a coarseness of look and maimer which mark the general deterioration, the memory is less clear and retentive, the grasp of the intellect is enfeebled, there is less power of mental work, and loss of that self-control and self-respect which gain the confidence of others."

And the effect on the offspring is thus stated:—

"The children of parents addicted to drink, even if not decrepit and deformed, have the tendency to degeneration in some one or other way implanted in their constitution, and like a birth mark, or mole, or the colour of hair and eyes, it may be handed down to posterity. There is no more wonderful problem in nature than this handing down of tendencies, and even instincts and emotions, from parents to children."

I have made these quotations to show the effect of alcohol on the system, and if they are carefully considered it will be seen that taking alcohol leads to that state which makes crime easy, or creates a "line of least resistance" to the violation of law. Another doctor says "Beer is brutalising, wine impassions, whiskey infuriates, but eventually unmans." I have purposely quoted a doctor who is not a teetotaller, but who assumes that alcohol may under certain circumstances be page 22 necessary, though he says in health the use of alcohol is unnecessary, and its habitual employment is liable to produce disease, hence total abstinence is the safest course. We then have reached this conclusion that alcohol tends to the degeneration of the physical organism and when that happens crime is near. Indeed crime and drink as it has been said "are intimately bound together." They are the "morbid manifestations of organic defects which for the most part precede birth," but as Havelock Ellis in his book "The Criminal" says:—

"Alcoholism in either of the parents is one of the most fruitful causes of crime in the child," and he adds "There is to day no doubt whatever that alcoholism, as well as temporary intoxication at the time of conception modifies profoundly the brain and nervous system of both parent and offspring. Some of the most characteristic causes of instinctive crimality are solely or chiefly due to alcoholism in one of the parents."

To sum up:—Crime is degeneration. Alcohol causes degeneration, therefore alcoholism causes crime. Leaving out therefore all those classes of crime, generally of violence, that arise from men infuriated from drink, leaving out that other class caused by poverty, where drink has led to a waste of means, we have this fact that crime conies from degeneration and that alcohol is a patent factor in degeneration. Nowadays there is a desire to get at the ultimate cause of things. We see this manifested in the careful and prolonged study of the famous scientists. If we follow their method in investigating crime we will find that alcohol is at the root of so much injury to the will as to be a parent of crime, and as alcohol is unnecessary for healthy people surely it is the duty of good citizens to devise some scheme to get rid of this fruitful source of vice, of poverty, and of crime.

Palmerston North.

Hart & Keeling Printers and Account-Book Manufacturer

Main Street.