APRIL 12, 1948
LONDON, Sunday—The Dowager Marchioness of Reading took me on a visit the other day to a southeast London juvenile court. In many ways it reminded me of some of our children's courts at home. It was perhaps a little more formal, but Magistrate Mr. John Watson had a way with the youngsters which reminded me of the way all good children's court judges at home treat their cases. When we came out, Mr. Watson said something which I have heard said by juvenile court judges over and over again—the child is rarely to blame; it is nearly always the parents or the conditions of society in which he grew up.
There were two women magistrates who sat on either side of him and there were the usual probation officers and clerks. The cases were similar to those one would find coming up in New York City—petty larcenies, some of which you felt had been done more in fun than with any evil intent. We heard the end of a gang case, and I was sorry I had not seen the head of the gang. He was only 14 years old, but the magistrate told me that when he appeared last week it was evident he had the members of his gang completely terrorized. Three small boys who appeared today showed quite plainly they would not only be easily led but easily intimidated.
The case had had considerable notice in the papers because the gang had gone up to a small boy and tried to get him to steal six pounds, with which the leader said he wanted to buy a tent. When the boy refused to do so, the gang took him into an empty shed and gave him the choice of being beaten or having his dog strangled. He chose to be beaten, and this was done with some home-made brass knuckles while another boy held the dog.
Even in court, the gang leader tried to intimidate the other little boys and had to be held on a bench at the back of the court by police officers. He, of course, was sent to reform school. They seem to have some county council homes in which about 60 boys are taken for short periods when their offenses are not too serious.
Almost always you could see that the trouble with the boys came about because there was trouble in the home—the father and mother didn't get on, and there were quarrels and misunderstandings. Sometimes the mother said that the father was too much away from home and took no interest in the boy. I could not help wondering if perhaps the war did not lie at the bottom of some of these family troubles. The man had been away in the army, perhaps for years. The woman had had to get on alone and make decisions alone. Sometimes there were four or five children in the family. The man returned and found a job, but his home was crowded. He felt like an outsider. The children were not accustomed to his authority. The woman did not seem dependent upon him anymore and he got to spending more and more time away from home. As a boy grows older he needs the guidance of a man, and the mother finds him harder to manage. The pattern is familiar even in the United States, where men were away a shorter time than they were in the British Isles.
I don't know if a book called "The Child and The Magistrate," by John A. F. Watson, has been published in the United States, but I think it would prove interesting reading not only to those professionally concerned but to the layman at home, because Magistrate Watson has real understanding and affection for children besides long years of experience which enrich the pages of this little volume.