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Vagrancy

vagrant, laws, crime, wandering, life and tramps

VAGRANCY, the life or habits of an in dividual without fixed habitation, or vagrant, who is classed in law as (1) an idle and disor derly person, able, in whole or in part, to main tain himself and his family, but who neglects to do so • (2) rogues and vagabonds, persons sus pected of living by crime; (3) incorrigible rogues. A vagrant is consequently an able bodied man without any visible means of sup port and without fixed abode. His essential characteristic is awork-shyness,'" or idleness self-imposed and voluntary. In most of the United States various enactments and ordi nances of more or less severity have been made for the suppression and punishment of vag rants and tramps; but such characters are stiil numerous, their number being estimated at 600.000, and their cost to the nation over $200,000,000 yearly, to the railroads, $25,000,000 and according to a recent conservative estimate $2,000,000 to the State of New York alone. A charge of vagrancy is frequently made by the police simply to justify an arrest made for other purposes for which, however, an arrest cannot legall • be made in order to prevent an offense which is imminent or in course of be ing committed, or to detain a person against whom a more serious charge or indictment is pending. Vagrancy laws and statutes are de signed to protect the public from the it tions of the vagrant and to relieve t of his support. Legislation, however, has not checked vagrancy due to the fact that vagrancy is a national problem, which the unit legislating against it is the State. Uniform repressive legislation in all States is necessary to the solution of the problem.

Difficulties arise in administering such laws as we have for the control of vagrancy, owing to the fact that popular sympathy is easily aroused by the man out of work and seeking employment and many of the vagrant pretend to be going about in search of work; but though there are doubtless some unfortunate honest workmen among them (who, if they could be selected from the mass, should re ceive all possible consideration and aid in securing work), the great majority of tramps form a class, who, from mental constitution, choose any course rather than work. It is hard

to understand what inducements can lead them to prefer their wandering and shifty life. Apparently the freedom of it and the immunity from work are its chief attractions. They have been well described as wandering about "ready for any crime, but not planning crimes; quite ready to rob, but very much afraid of large dogs; very courageous against unpro tected women, but skulkers when a broad shouldered laborer turns his eyes their way; with no purpose except wandering, no re straint except hunger, no hope except of get ting 'drunk upon some lucky haul, nomads in the midst of civilization, simple savages with out savage resources? An expert on sociology has stated that the most effective check on vagrancy is the proper kind of education of the young during the years from 10 to 20. The schools, the home and the church must all do their part in pre paring youth for a reasonable, honest and effi cient life. Child labor, illness, mental defect iveness, congestion of population, truancy, orphanage, inefficiency, low wages, overwork, industrial accidents, diseases of occupation, the temptations of crime, seasonal and irregu lar trades, all these causes and many more operate to produce the youthful tramp? Con sult Dawson,, W. H., 'Vagrancy Problem' (1910); Kelly, E., 'Elimination of the Tramp' (1908) ; Massachusetts Board to Investigate the Subject of the Unemployed, 'Wayfarers and Tramps' (in Massachusetts House Docu ment No. 50, 1895) ; Michigan State Library, 'Laws of the Various States Relating to Vagrancy' (1910).