There is nothing for them but separate boarding-out with families of honest country folk, or else agricultural colonies with a discipline different from that of the colonies for adult criminals, but still based on the rule of isolation by night, work in the open air, and as little crowding as possible.
For adult occasional criminals it is unnecessary to insist any further on the absurdity and danger of short terms of imprisonment, with or without isolation in cells, which now constitute the almost exclusive mode of repression. A few days in prison, mostly in association with habitual criminals, cannot exercise any deterrent influence, especially in the grotesque minimum of one day, or three days, as provided by the Dutch, Italian, and other codes. On the contrary, they are attended by disastrous effects, by destroying the serious character of justice, relieving prisoners of all fear of punishment, and consequently driving them to relapse, under the influence of the disgrace already suffered, and of the corrupting and compromising association with habitual criminals in prison.
The results of these short terms, indeed, which impose about the same restriction of liberty as an attack of indigestion, or a heavy fall of snow, are so manifest that the objection to them is now almost unanimous, though they still form the basis of the most recent penal codes.
As to the substitution of other repressive methods in the many cases of sentence for light offences, theorists and legislators have proposed domiciliary arrest, sureties, judicial warnings, compulsory work without imprisonment, conditional suspension of a sentence or a punishment, qualified banishment. For the moment there is a marked preference for conditional sentences.
In my opinion, however, none of these substitutes or short terms of imprisonment can be applied as effectively or as generally as is necessary for the large class of occasional offenders.
Domiciliary arrests, indeed, which the Italian penal code applies only to women and minors for a first contravention of the law, with detention in the house, cannot be made effective. They would be useless for those already obliged to remain at home by their daily occupations, and for the rich, who could have any form of distraction in their own houses; and they would be injurious to those who have to earn a living for themselves and their families in workrooms, shops, offices, &c. Moreover, this domiciliary detention would be very difficult in the great towns, where it would probably require a sentinel for every condemned person.
Bail for good behaviour is too unequal in the case of the poor and the rich, and therefore too rarely applicable to be any more than an exceptional and accessory measure, taken in conjunction with the payment of damages; and this even when it is given by sureties.
Judicial warning, with or without security, which the new Italian penal code has sought to revive, in spite of many years' experience under the older codes, cannot be seriously treated. Either the prisoner is an occasional offender, or an offender through passion, having a sense of honour, in which case public opinion is itself a sufficient lesson for him, without the need of a little moral lecture from the judge; or else he has no such moral sensibility, and then the warning is a mere useless ceremony, without effect either on the criminal or on the public. So true is this that judicial warning (a different thing from police warning, which is another so-called preventive measure, both ineffectual and injurious) is rarely applied by magistrates.