It is entirely futile to consider the amendment of criminals as opposed to imprisonment for life, when it is known that born criminals, authors of the most serious crimes, for whom such punishment is reserved, are precisely those whose amendment is impossible, and that the moral sense attributed to them is only a psychological fallacy of the classical psychologist, who attributes to the conscience of the criminal that which he feels in his own honest and normal conscience.
But it is easy enough to see that this opposition to perpetual detention, though it has remained without effect, as being too doctrinaire and sentimental, is only a symptom of the historical tendency of the classical schools, entirely in favour of the criminal, and always tending to the relaxation of punishments. The interests of society are too much disregarded when it is sought to pass from the abolition of capital punishment to that of imprisonment for life. If the tendency is not checked, we may expect to see some classical expert demanding the abolition of all punishment for these unfortunate criminals, with their delicate moral sensibilities!
The question, therefore, is between transportation or indefinite seclusion.
Much has been written for and against transportation, and there was a lively discussion of the problem in Italy, some twenty years ago, between M. Beltrani Scalia, a former director-general of prisons, and the advocates of this form of elimination of criminals. Without going into the details of the controversy, it is evident that the experience of countries like England, which for a long time transported its criminals at a cost of hundreds of millions, and then abandoned the practice, is in itself a noteworthy example.
Yet it is only an objection, so far as it goes, against transportation as formerly practised, that is to say, with enormous prisons built in distant lands. M. Beltrani Scalia justly said that we might as well build them at home, for they will cost less and be more serviceable. The example of France in its practical application of this policy is not encouraging.
However, there is in transportation, as in the death penalty, an unquestionable element of reason. For when it is perpetual, with very faint chances of return, it is the best mode of ridding society of its most injurious factors, without our being compelled to keep them in those compulsory human hives which are known as cellular prisons.
But again, there is the question of simple transportation, first put into practice by England, which consists of planting convicts on an island or desert continent, with the opportunity of living by labour, or else of letting them loose in a savage country, where the convicts, who in civilised countries are themselves half savage, would represent a partial civilisation, and, from being highwaymen and murderers, might become military leaders in countries where, at any rate, the revival of their criminal tendencies would meet with an immediate and energetic resistance, in place of the slow machinery of our criminal trials.
For Italy, however, the question presents itself in a special form; for there a sort of internal deportation, in the lands which are not tilled on account of the malaria, would be far more serviceable. If the dispersion of this malaria demands a human hecatomb, it would evidently be better to sacrifice criminals than honest husbandmen. Transportation across the sea was very difficult for Italy a few years ago, especially in view of the lack of colonies; for then there was always the obstacle of which Franklin spoke in reference to transported English convicts, in his well-known retort: ``What would you say if we were to transport our rattlesnakes to England?'' But since Italy has had her colony of Erythrea the idea of transportation has been taken up again. In May, 1890, I brought forward a resolution in Parliament in favour of an experimental penal colony in our African dependencies. The proposal found many supporters, in spite of the opposition of the keeper of the seals, who forgot that he had written in his report on the draft penal code that prisoners might also be detained in the colonies. Soon afterwards the proposal was renewed by Deputy De Zerbi, and accepted by M. Beltrani Scalia, director-general of prisons.