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A "Criminal Type" in all but Name: British Prison Medical Officers and die "Andiropological" Approach to the Study of Crime (c.l865-1895) NeilDavie In 1895, the Medico-Psychological Society elected a new president, Dr. David Nicolson, prison medical officer and since 1886 director ofthe Broadmoor Criminal Asylum. In his presidential address to the society, Dr. Nicolson emphasised his opposition to some ofthe theories lately applied to the study ofcrime and criminals, in particular the approach associated with the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, known as "criminal anthropology" ("Presidential Address"). Lombroso's LTJomo DeHnquento or "Criminal Man," first published in Italian in 1876, was by now into its fourth edition and had recendy been published in both French and German (Wolfgang 185). Lombroso had argued that up to 70% ofcriminals were "born criminals," programmed from birth to commit crime, that, as he would later put it, they were "refractory to all treatment, even to the most affectionate care begun at the very cradle" (Lombroso 432). He had further suggested that the born criminal was an atavistic throwback to an earlier stage ofhuman — or even pre-human — evolution, and that traces ofman's ancestral past could be detected in the form ofanatomical and physiognomic "stigmata," revealed by the now well-tried methods ofanthropometry. In his presidential address, Dr. Nicolson fired offa series ofcarefullyaimed broadsides at Lombroso's criminal anthropology, taking the Italian professor to task for the small number ofcriminals examined, and for bis failure to compare his results with a control gfoup ofnonVictorian Review (2003) N. Davie criminals. Thus after "explor[ing] the anatomical, physiological, intellectual , moral and evil obliquities in the structure and personality of the aiminal,'' the criminal anthropologist would apply these tainted conclusions to allcriminals: "The whole picture is by some writers exaggerated to distortion as regards even the few, and it is in its main features so spurious and unfair as regards the many that it becomes impossible to regard its conclusions or assumptions to be either authentic or authoritative" (579). "It is not for us," Nicolson reminded his audience, "to stamp 'criminals' as lunatics or quasi-lunatics, or to place them on a special morbid platform ofmental existence, merely because they prefer thieving, with all its concomitant risk, to the more reputable, ifmore laborious, modes ofmaintaining themselves" (580). He went on to argue that crime was an occupation like any other, so that ifwe could envisage devoting an entire branch ofscience to the anthropological measurement ofcriminals, why should other occupations not benefit from similar study? Would we therefore soon be seeing "doctorologists," "parsonologists," or "shoe-maker anthropologists" ...? In a final salvo, Nicolson added: I hope the day will never come when, in our official examination into the medical condition ofsuspected persons, or persons lyingin prison upon a criminal charge, we as medical men will be expected to produce our craniometer for the head measurements, and to place reliance upon statistical information as to the colour, size, or shape ofany organ. (579-580) Among those present at Dr. Nicolson's address was Sir Edmund Du Cane, Chairman of the Prison Commissioners, and Britain's most senior penal administrator. In the discussion that followed, Du Cane congratulated the speaker on the thrust ofhis remarks, sharing the latter's rejection ofthe criminal anthropologists: "... when so many ofthose who put forward these doctrines try to prove that people are criminals because they are born criminals, and because they cannot help themselves, I think that they are leading the public astray." "I am entirely in accord with you, Sir," he added "in thinking that too much is made ofthe idea that criminality is a special quality ofthe volume 29 number 1 A "Criminal Type" mind. It has nothing to do with it" (588). What we appear to have here is medical man and prison administrator in perfect accord, united in their condemnation ofLombroso's pseudo-science of"criminal anthropology" with its theory of the born criminal, that walking museum piece, its criminal proclivities visible for all to see in its prognathous jaw, thick skull, small brain, low forehead and long arms. Dr. Nicolson could, it seemed, sleep safely in his bed secure in the knowledge that the craniometer would not be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-30
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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