Professor Joe Hermer recently published an article entitled, “Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law” for the Crisis Blog, an online publication produced by a national charity in the UK that works to reduce homelessness in England, Scotland and Wales. Professor Hermer’s article outlines the history of Britain’s Vagrancy Act of 1935 and its implications for today. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus.
We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The first article is available on the Crisis Blog.
Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law
Joe Hermer, Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough
On the night of May 31, 1933, Mr. Thomas Parker took shelter to sleep under a steam truck near the village of Coleshill, outside Birmingham. Thirty-four years old, Parker was destitute and homeless, having just left the Bagthorpe workhouse in Nottingham days before. He was promptly arrested for sleeping out and for ‘not having any visible means of subsistence’ under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales. The next night he was a convict serving a 14-day sentence with hard labour at Winson Green prison.
The next morning, June 2, he was found to be ‘insolent and disobedient’ in the drill yard and was brought before the prison’s acting governor in the adjudication room at about 11.20 am. His immediate punishment was three days in the special ‘silence’ punishment cell, with a diet of only bread and water. What happened in the next 20 minutes would become a source of national controversy and would change how the rough-sleeping offence would be enforced into the 21st century.
From the office where his punishment was summarily given to the silence cell itself was a distance of 64 yards – down a steep flight of stairs, along a gangway and through a double door – to a cell no bigger than a parking space. As two guards pulled him into the cell at 11.25 am he was losing consciousness from a brain haemorrhage, caused by a vicious blow to the right side of his head. Fifteen minutes later he would be found dead, his six-foot body curled up and his head resting on the cement curb of the prisoner’s sleeping platform…