Vagrancy

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John Everett Millais The Blind Girl, depicting vagrant musicians
Caricature of a tramp

Vagrancy is the condition of a person who wanders from place to place homeless with no regular employment nor income, referred to as a vagrant, vagabond, rogue, tramp or drifter.[1] Vagrants usually live in poverty and support themselves by begging, temporary work, petty theft, garbage scraping or, where available, welfare.

Historically, vagrancy in Western societies was associated with petty crime, begging and lawlessness, and punishable by law by imprisonment, forced labor, forced military service, or confinement to dedicated labor houses. The word vagrant is often conflated with the term homeless person, which does not necessarily include the wandering component. In modern societies, anti-homelessness legislation aims to both help and re-house homeless people on one side, and criminalize homelessness and begging on the other.

Both vagrant and vagabond ultimately derive from the Latin word vagari, meaning "wander". The term vagabond is derived from Latin vagabundus. In Middle English, vagabond originally denoted a criminal.[2]

History[edit]

A woodcut from c. 1536 depicting a vagrant being punished in the streets in Tudor England.

In settled, ordered communities, vagrants have been historically characterised as outsiders, embodiments of otherness, objects of scorn or mistrust, or worthy recipients of help and charity. Some ancient sources show vagrants as passive objects of pity, who deserve generosity and the gift of alms. Others show them as subversives, or outlaws, who make a parasitical living through theft, fear and threat. Some fairy tales of medieval Europe have beggars cast curses on anyone who was insulting or stingy towards them. In Tudor England, some of those who begged door-to-door for "milk, yeast, drink, pottage" were thought to be witches.[3]

Many world religions, both in history and today, have strong vagrant traditions. Jesus is seen in the Bible teaching compassion for beggars, prostitutes, and the disenfranchised himself, telling his followers to give away their possessions and becoming wanderers themselves. These traditions dominated early Christian movements and were encouraged by notable figures such as St. Paul. Many still survive in places like Europe, Africa, and the Near East, as preserved by Gnosticism, Hesychasm, and various esoteric practices. The Catholic church also teaches compassion for people living in vagrancy[4] and many Christian denominations recognize various aspects of ascetic teachings that are found in scripture.

In some East Asian and South Asian countries, the condition of vagrancy has long been historically associated with the religious life, as described in the religious literature of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Muslim Sufi traditions. Examples include sadhus, dervishes, Bhikkhus and the sramanic traditions generally.

Vagrancy laws[edit]

Belgium[edit]

In Belgium, with the law from 27 November 1891, it was possible to put in jail a vagabond. Vagabonds, beggars and procurers were imprisoned in special prisons like Hoogstraten, Merksplas or Wortel (Flanders). There, they had to work for their living by working on the land or in the jail factory. If they had earned enough money, they could leave the “colony” (as it was called). On the 12 January 1993, the law was ceased. At that time, still 260 vagabonds lived in Wortel colony.

Finland and Sweden[edit]

In premodern Finland and Sweden, vagrancy was a crime, which could result in a sentence of forced labor or forced military service. There was a "legal protection" (Finnish: laillinen suojelu) obligation: those not part of the estates of the realm (nobility, clergy, burghers or land-owners) were obliged to be employed, or otherwise, they could be charged with vagrancy. Legal protection was mandatory already in medieval Swedish law, but Gustav I of Sweden began strictly enforcing this provision, applying it even when work was potentially available. In Finland, the legal protection provision was repealed in 1883; however, vagrancy still remained illegal, if connected with "immoral" or "indecent" behavior.[5] In 1936, a new law moved the emphasis from criminalization into social assistance. Forced labor sentences were abolished in 1971 and anti-vagrancy laws were was finally repealed in 1987.[6]

Germany[edit]

In Germany, according to the 1871 Penal Code (§ 361 des Strafgesetzbuches von 1871), vagabondage was among the grounds to confine a person to a labor house.[7][8]

In the Weimar Republic, the law against vagrancy was relaxed, but it became much more stringent in Nazi Germany, where vagrancy, together with begging, prostitution, and "work-shyness" (arbeitsscheu), was classified "asocial behavior" as punishable by confinement to concentration camps.

Russia[edit]

Russian Empire[edit]

In the Russian Empire, the legal term "vagrancy" (Russian: бродяжничество, brodyazhnichestvo) was defined in another way than corresponding terms (vagabondage, Landstreicherei) in Western Europe. Russian law recognized one as a vagrant if he could not prove his own standing (title), or if he changed his residence without a permission from authorities, rather than punishing loitering or absence of livelihood. Foreigners who had been twice expatriated with prohibition of return to the Russian Empire and were arrested in Russia again were also recognized as vagrants. Punishments were harsh: According to Ulozhenie, the set of currently empowered laws,[clarification needed] a vagrant who could not elaborate on his kinship, standing, or permanent residence, or gave false evidence, was sentenced to 4-year imprisonment and subsequent exile to Siberia or another far-off province.

Soviet Union[edit]

In the Criminal Code of the RSFSR (1960) (ru), which came into force on 1 January 1961, systematic vagrancy (that which was identified more than once) was punishable by up to two years' imprisonment (section 209).[9]

This continued until 5 December 1991, when Section 209 was repealed and vagrancy ceased to be a criminal offence.[10]

Russian Federation[edit]

At present, vagrancy is not a criminal offence in Russia, but it is an offence for someone over 18 to induce a juvenile (one who has not reached that age) to vagrancy, according to Chapter 20, Section 151 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The note, introduced by the Federal Law No. 162 of 8 December 2003, provides that the section does not apply, if such act is performed by a parent of the juvenile under harsh life circumstances due to the loss of livelihood or the absence of living place.

United Kingdom[edit]

The Pass Room at Bridewell, c. 1808. At this time paupers from outside London apprehended by the authorities could be imprisoned for seven days before being sent back to their own parish.

The first major British vagrancy law was passed in 1349, and sought to increase the available workforce following the Black Death by making "idleness" (unemployment) an offence. A vagrant was a person who could work but chose not to, and having no fixed abode or lawful occupation, begged for a living. Vagrancy was punishable by branding or whipping. Vagrants were distinguished from the impotent poor, who were unable to support themselves because of advanced age or sickness; in 1530, Henry VIII decreed that "beggars who are old and incapable of working receive a beggar's licence. On the other hand, [there should be] whipping and imprisonment for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to the cart-tail and whipped until the blood streams from their bodies, then they are to swear on oath to go back to their birthplace or to serve where they have lived the last three years and to 'put themselves to labour'. For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is to be repeated and half the ear sliced off; but for the third relapse the offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and enemy of the common weal."[11]

In 1547, Edward VI ordained that "if anyone refuses to work, he shall be condemned as a slave to the person who has denounced him as an idler. The master has the right to force him to do any work, no matter how vile, with whip and chains. If the slave is absent for a fortnight, he is condemned to slavery for life and is to be branded on forehead or back with the letter S; if he runs away three times, he is to be executed as a felon...If it happens that a vagabond has been idling about for three days, he is to be taken to his birthplace, branded with a red hot iron with the letter V on his breast, and set to work, in chains, on the roads or at some other labour...Every master may put an iron ring round the neck, arms or legs of his slave, by which to know him more easily."[12]

In 1572, Elizabeth I decreed that "unlicensed beggars above 14 years of age are to be severely flogged and branded on the left ear unless someone will take them into service for two years; in case of a repetition of the offence, if they are over 18, they are to be executed, unless someone will take them into service for two years; but for the third offence they are to be executed without mercy as felons." The same act laid the legal groundwork for the enforced exile (transportation) of "obdurate idlers" to "such parts beyond the seas as shall be [...] assigned by the Privy Council".[13] At the time, this meant exile for a fixed term to the Virginia Company's plantations in America. Those who returned unlawfully from their place of exile faced death by hanging.

In England, the Vagabonds Act 1572 defined a rogue as a person who has no land, no master, and no legitimate trade or source of income; it included rogues in the class of idle vagrants or vagabonds. If a person were apprehended as a rogue, he would be stripped to the waist, whipped until bleeding, and a hole, about the compass of an inch about, would be burned through the cartilage of his right ear with a hot iron.[14] A rogue who was charged with a second offense, unless taken in by someone who would give him work for one year, could face execution as a felony. A rogue charged with a third-offense would only escape death if someone hired him for two years.

The 1598 Vagabonds Act banished and transplanted "incorrigible and dangerous rogues" overseas, and the 1604 Act commanded that rogues be branded with the letter "R" on their bodies. James I ordained that "anyone wandering about and begging is declared a rogue and a vagabond. Justices of the peace are authorized to have them publicly whipped and to imprison them for six months for the first offence, and two years for the second. While in prison they are to be whipped as much and as often as the justices of the peace think fit...incorrigible and dangerous rogues are to be branded with an R on the left shoulder and set to hard labour, and if they are caught begging again, they are to be executed without mercy." These laws were extant until the beginning of the eighteenth century; they were repealed by 12 Anne, c. 23[15]

In eighteenth century Britain, people suspected of vagrancy could be detained by the constable or watchman and brought before a magistrate who had the legal right to interview them to determine their status.[16] If declared vagrant, they were to be arrested, whipped, and physically expelled from the county by a vagrant contractor, whose job it was to take them to the edge of the county and pass them to the contractor for the next county on the journey.[17] This process would continue until the person reached his or her place of legal settlement, which was often but not always their place of birth.

In 1821, the existing vagrancy law was reviewed by a House of Commons Select Committee, resulting in the publication of the, 'Report from the Select Committee on The Existing Laws Relating to Vagrants'.[18] After hearing the views of many witnesses appearing before it the Select Committee made several recommendations . The Select Committee found that the existing vagrancy laws had become overly complicated and that they should be amended and consolidated into a single Act of Parliament. The payment of fixed rewards for the apprehension and taking vagrants before Magistrates had led to abuses of the system. Due to the Poor Laws, vagrants to receive and poverty relief had to seek it from the Parish where they were last legally settled, often the Parish where they were born. This led to a system of convicted vagrants being 'passed' from Parish to Parish from where they had been convicted and punished to their own parish. The 'Pass' system led to them being transported by vagrancy contractors, a system found to be open to abuses and fraud. It also found that in many instances the punishment for vagrancy offences were insufficient and certain types of vagrants should be given longer prison sentences and made to complete hard labour during it.[18]

Based on the findings and recommendations from the 1821 House of Commons Select on Vagrancy,[18] a new Act of Parliament was introduced, 'An Act for the Punishment if Idle and Disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that Part of Great Britain called England', commonly known as the Vagrancy Act 1824.[19] The Vagrancy Act 1824 consolidated the previous vagrancy laws and addressed many of the frauds and abuses identified during the Select Committee hearings. Much reformed since 1824, some of the offences included in it are still enforceable.[20]

United States[edit]

Political cartoon by Art Young, The Masses, 1917.

After the American Civil War, some southern states passed Black Codes, laws that tried to control the hundreds of thousands of freed slaves. In 1866, the State of Virginia, fearing that it would be "overrun with dissolute and abandoned characters", passed an Act Providing for the Punishment of Vagrants. Homeless or unemployed persons could be forced into labour on public or private works, for very low pay, for a statutory maximum of three months; if fugitive and recaptured, they must serve the rest of their term at minimum subsistence, wearing ball and chain. In effect, though not in declared intent, the Act criminalized attempts by impoverished freedpeople to seek out their own families and rebuild their lives. The commanding general in Virginia, Alfred H. Terry, condemned the Act as a form of entrapment, the attempted reinstitution of "slavery in all but its name". He forbade its enforcement. It is not known how often it was applied, or what was done to prevent its implementation, but it remained statute in Virginia until 1904.[21]

Since at least as early as the 1930s, a vagrancy law in America typically has rendered "no visible means of support" a misdemeanor, yet it has commonly been used as a pretext to take one into custody for such things as loitering, prostitution, drunkenness, or criminal association.[citation needed] The criminal statutes of law in Louisiana specifically criminalize vagrancy as associating with prostitutes, being a professional gambler, being a habitual drunk, or living on the social welfare benefits or pensions of others.[22] This law establishes as vagrants all those healthy adults who are not engaged in gainful employment.

In the 1960s, laws proven unacceptably broad and vague were found to violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[citation needed] Such laws could no longer be used to obstruct the "freedom of speech" of a political demonstrator or an unpopular group. Ambiguous vagrancy laws became more narrowly and clearly defined.[citation needed]

In Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a Florida vagrancy law was unconstitutional because it was too vague to be understood.

Nevertheless, new local laws in the U.S. have been passed to criminalize aggressive panhandling.[23][24]

In the U.S., some local officials encourage vagrants to move away instead of arresting them. The word vagrant is often conflated with the term homeless person. Prosecutions for vagrancy are rare, being replaced by prosecutions for specific offenses such as loitering.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Definitions from Oxford Dictionaries online
  2. ^ Definition of vagabond from Oxford Dictionaries Online
  3. ^ The Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1584) by Reginald Scot[page needed]
  4. ^ http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html
  5. ^ Original definition: "se, joka ilman elatusta omista varoistaan tahi toisen huolenpidon kautta työttömänä kuljeksii harjoittaen siveetöntä ja säädytöntä elämää..."
  6. ^ http://wiki.narc.fi/portti/index.php/Teema:_Irtolaisuus
  7. ^ The unsettled, "asocials" University of Minnesota
  8. ^ Ayaß, Wolfgang (1992). Das Arbeitshaus Breitenau. Bettler, Landstreicher, Prostituierte, Zuhälter und Fürsorgeempfänger in der Korrektions- und Landarmenanstalt Breitenau (1874–1949). Kassel. ISBN 3881226702. 
  9. ^ Закон РСФСР от 27.10.1960 «Об утверждении Уголовного кодекса РСФСР» (вместе с «Уголовным кодексом РСФСР») // Свод законов РСФСР. – т. 8, – с. 497, 1988 // Ведомости ВС РСФСР. – 1960. – № 40. – ст. 591
  10. ^ Закон «О внесении изменений и дополнений в Уголовный кодекс РСФСР, Уголовно-процессуальный кодекс РСФСР и кодекс РСФСР об административных правонарушениях» jn 5.12.1991 № 1982-I // Ведомости Съезда НД РФ и ВС РФ, N 52, 26.12.91, ст. 1867
  11. ^ Marx, Karl (1976). Capital Volume I. Ernest Mandel, Ben Fowkes. England: Pelican Books. p. 896. ISBN 978-0-14-044568-8. 
  12. ^ An Act for the Punishing of Vagabonds, 1 Edward VI, c. 3
  13. ^ An Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds, 14 Elizabeth I, c. 4, 5
  14. ^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Theatre
  15. ^ Marx, Karl (1976). Capital Volume I. England: Pelican Books. pp. 898–99. ISBN 978-0-14-044568-8. 
  16. ^ Hitchcock, Tim; Crymble, Adam; Falcini, Louise (2014-12-13). "Loose, idle and disorderly: vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex". Social History. 39 (4): 509–27. doi:10.1080/03071022.2014.975943. 
  17. ^ Hitchcock, Tim; Crymble, Adam; Falcini, Louise (2014-12-13). "Loose, idle and disorderly: vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex". Social History. 39 (4): 509–27. doi:10.1080/03071022.2014.975943. 
  18. ^ a b c "Report from the Select Committee on The Existing Laws Relating to Vagrant". U.K Parliamentary Papers. 1821. Retrieved 4 May 2018. 
  19. ^ "The Vagrancy Act 1824 (as originally enacted)" (PDF). Legislation.Gov.UK. Retrieved 4 May 2018. 
  20. ^ "The Vagrancy Act 1824 (current version)". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 6 May 2018. 
  21. ^ Tarter, B. Vagrancy Act of 1866, 2015, August 25, in Encyclopedia Virginia [1] retrieved March 30 2018
  22. ^ LA Rev Stat § 14:107, http://legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=78260
  23. ^ Legal Opinion 2008-1 (On Aggressive Panhandling) Nashville, February 20, 2008
  24. ^ Aggressive Panhandling & Solicitation – It’s a Crime and You Can Help! City of Minneapolis

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]