Many of us believe that a criminal is a criminal because of sheer badness solely; also, that our methods of dealing with him are too lenient inasmuch as our prisons, reformatories, and institutions of a like nature fail to bring about the reformation of a fair percentage of their inmates. The writer, for one, is personally acquainted with the cases of a number of delinquents who have been sentenced to various correctional institutions from ten to thirty times; of other offenders who have "graduated" from reform schools only to take, by compulsion, "post-graduate" courses in prisons; of a number of moral offenders who have been permitted to people the world with more illegitimates than the average married couple produce legitimately.
The real reason why our present methods of dealing with the delinquent class have failed signally is because we have spent too much time studying the crimes and too little in studying the criminals. Actions proceed from thoughts, thoughts from the brain. If a person performs wrong actions, especially serious ones, it is only logical to assume, until the contrary is proved, that he reasons abnormally. Yet let us enter a court room and, except in a few praiseworthy instances, we will find the judge ransacking dusty legal tomes, or his memory, in order to find the sentence which the book of statutes states should be doled out to meet such and such an offence. The prisoner before the bar receives little or no study.
There are, it is true, some criminals who are apparently normal mentally and physically, barring possibly a deficient moral sense. However, careful investigations carried out over a number of years have shown repeatedly that a large number of moral deviators are suffering from defective or diseased brains. At least ten per cent, of the inmates of prisons, jails, reformatories of one kind or another are feeble-minded; a large percentage of the girls who go wrong are feeble-minded, - some investigators say as much as fifty per cent. This does not mean, however, that the feeble-minded are, as a class, the bad people they are said to be. Judging by the statistics one often meets with, practically all crime, poverty, and other social evils are due to this one cause. A person can be feeble-minded according to the usual methods of testing intelligence and yet be endowed with strong character traits of a desirable nature. The feeble-minded without character defects are not apt to be a menace to society; with a little guidance they tend to be useful men and women. Should character defects be associated with intellectual defects, then it is very doubtful if anything apart from segregation will keep them from breaking established laws.
In addition to feeble-mindedness, persons may break the laws repeatedly because of insanity, epilepsy, or other abnormalities. Surely one who is sick deserves sympathy rather than punishment; one who is sick in mind more than one who is sick in body. But the mentally underdeveloped and the mentally diseased who, by reason of which, come into the toils of the law, receive only sentences from the courts and abuse from the public. Should the injustice of this treatment be mentioned, few pay heed, and the few who do listen generally thank God that none of their relatives are unsound and dismiss the matter from mind. The crime problem is, however, everybody's business, and the longer we temporize with it the longer will life, property, and happiness be jeopardized.
How the abuses now existing in dealing with the criminal may be remedied has been presented often. Among other things, it is recommended that each court have a full time physician, competent to separate the normal delinquent from the abnormal. To avoid oversight, each correctional institution should have the same.
The courts should heed the physician's advice, and "prescribe" treatment according to the merits of each case. A feeble-minded delinquent cannot be cured; prisons will not help him but make him worse. If he cannot be properly supervised in the outside world, he should be sent to an institution especially adapted toward meeting his needs, and where he can become happy and useful. The criminal suffering from mental complexes and other disorders of the psychic life should receive such treatment as seems advisable. The insane require treatment in a hospital, not a prison. Contrary to a prevalent notion, many of the insane get well, provided they are detected early and receive prompt and efficient treatment. Contrary to another idea, the so-called insanity dodge rarely works, so there need be little fear that the true criminal will escape justice should the above recommendations be adopted.
Considering that many criminals are abnormal mentally, it is not surprising that so few criminals manifest regret for their misdeeds, and that they dream of their misdeeds rarely. The feeble-minded and insane do not reason like normal persons; they do not understand right and wrong like normal persons. Many of them give good answers to ethical questions but their answers indicate what they have been told and not what they believe. Often defectives, guilty of some serious misdeed, have said "I don't see any wrong in that." Only recently a feeble-minded young man, who, in broad daylight, had entered a jewelry store and shot the proprietor dead, told me that he had no reason that he knew of for committing the crime. He had no need of jewelry or money; he just got an idea to rob the store. Asked if he ever thought of his victim, he said he used to but doesn't now; he excuses himself by saying "I never did like foreigners," and jokes, laughs, and boasts about his misdeeds.
The majority of the criminals who seem to be normal experience no regret for their crimes. Not infrequently they attempt to justify their actions. A murderer will say that the victim would not have died if the doctors were smart enough; a little blow shouldn't have killed so easily; the victim must have had heart disease which killed him rather than the blow. Believing, or trying to believe himself more sinned against than sinning he suffers no self-reproaches. Others, working on the theory that the world owes them a living, or that society has wronged them, believe that their courses are logical, and so suffer no pangs of conscience. Occasionally criminals are encountered who develop an amnesia, or loss of memory, for their offences. For example, a murderer, who has shot a person, will claim that he has no knowledge of the shooting; he remembers all that occurred up to the time the shot was fired, though he may say that he does not know who did the shooting; he also remembers being arrested, .etc.; his mind is a blank for everything else, especially anything that might convict him. This amnesia is a defence reaction, a means of escape from a memory which would cause pain. Sometimes it is a result of a more or less voluntary repression but often it is a purely hysterical amnesia, - a measure whereby the individual is able to escape, in memory at least, from an intolerable situation.
Relative to the dream life of criminals de Manaceine 1 says:
1 Sleep, 1897, pp. 310-311, Charles Scribner's Sons; Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd., London.
"De Sanctis inquired into the interesting question of the relation of criminals' dreams to their crimes. Of the 93 criminals who dreamed he found 22 who sometimes dreamed of their crimes; of those, 11 dreamed simply of the deed, without any emotional accompaniment; 11 experienced emotional dreams of their crimes. Of the 21 women dreamers, 4 had such dreams without, and 2 with emotion. A few of the murderers very frequently see their victims in dreams without any emotion; in one of these cases the murderer dreams that his victim reproaches him. The young woman guilty of ill-treating her child never has emotional dreams and never sees her child in dreams.
"Thus criminals dream rarely and but little, and the greatest criminals least of all; in this, as De Sanctis remarks, they resemble idiots. Even on the night following the crime they sleep deeply and peacefully, although their sleep is, of course, liable to be disturbed by special causes such as illness, and is specially liable to be modified by the weather. In a few cases the sleep of criminals may be tormented, as was that of Macbeth; and there is also an emotional and hysterical criminal type; but this is very rare and scarcely represented at all among criminals of the worst class. They are real imbeciles as far as the feelings are concerned and in part also as regards intelligence."
Considering that of late years criminologists have made use of various psychologic tests with varying success in an effort to establish the guilt or innocence of a suspect, it may be asked if dream analysis has proved useful in this connection. In general we must answer in the negative. Against its success are many factors. Criminals are very reticent, suspicious, indisposed to cooperate, and for success in dream analysis it is necessary that the dreamer permit all thoughts that come to mind in association with the elements of the dream to flow freely. Moreover, the intelligent criminal is pretty well acquainted with the object of the newer methods and is not likely to do anything endangering his liberty. Dream analysis is useful, barring crime, only among those of normal intellect, and so it can hardly be of much service among mentally subnormal criminals. In this connection Dr. Robert Armstrong-Jones says: 1 "The discovery of a crime through a dream, when the dreamer has by his own dream given himself away, is unknown to me in real life, and this is supported by the extensive experience of Dr. W. C. Sullivan. Dr. Leonard Guthrie reminds me of the story of the murder of Maria Martin by Corder in 1827, when dreams led to the discovery of the victim's body. As he also points out, there are numerous instances of murders having been discovered and avenged by the appearance of the murdered person's ghost. Shakespeare presents two instances in Hamlet and Macbeth. 'The Bells,' in which Irving represented the Jew Polonais, exemplifies a drama in which the murderer is continually haunted by the dream sound of the sleigh bells, and in 'Tom' Hood's 'Dream of Eugene Aram' 'the unknown facts of guilty acts are seen in dreams from God.' . . . The suggestion here made connects the dream with the murderer's arrest."
1 Dreams and Their Interpretation, Am. Jour. Insanity, April, 1917, pp. 670-1; id., Practitioner, London, March, 1017.