The Chicago Vice Commission
Henry B. Favill, M. D.
The printed report of the Chicago Vice Commission is a remarkable document. Those who have been aware of the activities of the commission are not surprised at the thoroughness of the work described. To anyone unfamiliar with existing conditions this exposition must be a tremendous shock. To set before the average citizen in unequivocal terms and in detail unmistakably reliable the facts of the underworld is a task enormously difficult, deeply instructive, and as a rule thor-
(216) -oughly distasteful to said citizen. All of these things pertain to this report.
There is more, however, to the work of this commission than mere industry or insight. The report sounds a clear, courageous, and more or less hopeful note as to what to do. It is of course obvious that the recommendations are not uniformly clear as to desirability. There can be no question that agitation, education, and the correction of public sentiment are fundamental to considerable and lasting reform. There can be many questions and differences of opinion as to the recommendations of immediate procedure intermediate between the present status and a future regeneration. Nevertheless, the commission advises positively steps of immediate procedure representing its judgment as to what is both feasible and effective.
In view of the uncommonly strong makeup of the committee, these recommendations should be received with the greatest respect. The tendency of men, in particular those who have general knowledge of these subjects, is to shrug their shoulders. The generalities as to what "always has been and always will be." "human nature," and all that line of talk which comfortably disposes of the whole matter by doing nothing, are too familiar to require discussion.
This supineness is not necessarily indifference. It is to a large extent discouragement born of observation as to the futility of social agitation. The view is superficial. Futility is apparent rather than real. An undercurrent of reform is obvious to students of the situation.
It must be borne in mind that the commission is neither questioning history nor attempting to change "human nature." It is endeavoring to discern in the light of history and human nature what is to be done with a pestilence which has assumed abnormal proportions in the course of the developments of civilization, and whose bearings and interrelations are by reason of our present stage of evolution different from any propositions which history or human nature has hitherto presented.
The great difficulty in reform movements is in correlating and stabilizing the machinery of correction. This, the commission means to secure by a fixed commission as to policy and a fixed court as to current dealing. The faint-hearted will look upon these things askance, as likely to be ineffective. The sinister elements will of course oppose them, but the merit of the situation will lie in having boldly uncovered the matter and established machinery which shall deal with it in the open, thereby on the one hand limiting the quasi-criminality of the police and administration connivance or profit-sharing, and on the other keeping awake the civic sensibilities of the public, which hitherto has taken refuge and received comfort in ignorance.
The recommendations are worthy of trial and the work of the commission beyond measure to be commended.