Justice, a drama written by John Galsworthy aimed to bring reforms in the
British system of Justice. The play is not just about bringing reforms in
solitary confinement but about the judicial process and the broader relationship
of punishment to crime.
The four-act play revolves around the protagonist William Falder, a young
solicitor's clerk, who embezzled money from his firm to rescue the woman he
loves from her unhappy marriage. He is handed over to the police after he
confesses his forgery. The judge, in the trial then sentences him a three years
penal servitude. He has been put in solitary confinement and finds himself to
be a victim of the terrible system. The authorities admit that he is mentally
and physically in bad shape but do nothing to help him.
He was supposed to register himself with the police authorities but he failed to
do so and commits suicide as he thought that he would be put in prison again.
The socio-revolutionary significance of Justice consists the portrayal of the
inhuman system that exists between the crime and punishment awarded for the
Galsworthy believed that solitary confinement is a long slow dragging misery,
whose worst moments are necessarily and utterly hidden from ones eyes.
Galsworthy knew that he would get a widespread support from the people as his
drama had deeply touched the people. His drama showed people the reality of a
prison life. He helped people realize that celibacy and a monotonous diet were a
severe punishment in itself and when combined with solitude and absolute silence
made it more miserable. He believed that a person could be reformed with
kindness and there was no need for solitude or silence.
Justice impacted and moved a lot of people including Winston Churchill and he
was greatly influenced by the solitary confinement scene in the drama. Churchill
had major legislative changes in mind and considered Galsworthy the most
respected of all the people that influenced him. Churchill's intention as Home
Secretary was to carry out a sweeping revision of penal policy along three main
lines of advance: the improvement of prison conditions; the exclusion of petty
offenders from gaol; and the reform of sentencing policy.
Galsworthy was a firm believer that encouraging mental and moral development
through expanded educational facilities was the most effective way to reform a
criminal. He suggested many ways such as copybooks being allowed in the Berlin
prison and allowing more communication with family and friends outside to bring
about reforms in the prisoners. He also suggested that prisoners' aid
societies should be linked up into prisoner's labour exchange so that the
prisoners could be employed and wouldn't have to turn to crimes again.
Churchill in 1910 announced certain reforms for reducing the numbers of people
sent to prison. He proposed a wider application of the recently passed Probation
of Offenders Act, more time-to-pay for debtors and fined offenders, and more
help for discharged prisoners to keep them from re-offending. Juveniles would
not be committed to prison except for serious offences. Lastly he announced a
reduction in solitary confinement from three months to one month.
This was just one milestone achieved and there were many more yet to
be achieved. Later through a public letter Galsworthy suggested the end in his
efforts towards bringing reforms and the reason for this is unknown.
Justice might have not led to abolishing separate confinement but is a partial
success. Without the drama reaching politicians, middle classes or the judges;
the decision for reducing the solitary confinement to one month couldn't have
It is shocking to see the relevance and impact of Galsworthy's Justice is the
fact that to this day his drama remains one of the best known examples of such
system of justice.