Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 February 2009
The history of crime, penal policy and policing is currently enjoying a vogue — and not least fashionable among the topics under discussion has been the question of the nineteenth-century English ‘criminal class’, the origins of the term and its social significance. Critics are divided more or less equally into quantifiers and phenomenologists, optimists and pessimists about real trends. Few are the questions about the known facts but no agreement appears in sight on the subject of their interpretation. The principal reason for disagreement, as it appears to the present writer, is the central dominance of predicative, mono-thematic perspectives and explanations — any of which will fit the facts quite well but all of which seem insusceptible to conclusive proof. First let us consider the range of dispute among the phenomenologists — each of whom may also be characterized as a univer-salist, in the sense that they seem to believe the possible range of criminal events illimitable and the figures on crime merely a reflection of external social reactions rather than evidence of any upward or downward trend in measurable events.
The statistical series on which this article is based may be found in the annual Reports of H. M. Inspector of Constabulary, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Poor Law Commissioners and Local Government Board, Judicial Statistics (Criminal); also The Fourth Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Intemperance, PP 1878 (338), XIV, 580–90; the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the working of the Penal Servitude Acts, PP 1878–9 (C.236–II), XXXVIII, 1154–5; Census. England and Wales. General Report, 121–2, in PP 1863 (3221), LIII, 146–7. Column B in the appended tables indicates the towns and counties on the graphs. I would like to thank the Twenty-Seven Foundation for a grant of travel expenses incurred in the preparation of this essay.
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10 Statutes: 32 & 33 Vict., c.99 (1869) and 34 & 35 Vict., c.112 (1871).
11 To borrow a phrase from Bartrip, op. cit., 177.
12 Stevenson, op. cit., 429–33, 469–71.
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23 Column D in table 2 shows ‘Population per police constable’, on which measure Cornwall ranks as the worst-policed county in 1881; column E shows a similar measure but one which also takes account of the size of the area to be policed. On this latter measure Cornwall was only the third worst-policed county.
24 Return of the number of Parishes in England and Wales in which there is no Policeman stationed, in PP 1872 (242), I, 661.
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35 Stevenson, op. cit., 64–6, 408–15.
36 Between 1883 and 1893 the average daily numbers of all sentenced criminals in prison fell by 33 per cent, reduction in length of sentences accounting for 29.5 per cent of this result. The average sentence of imprisonment was thus reduced from 48.3 days in 1880 to 34.4 days in 1894. Report of the Departmental Committee on Prisons, op. cit., Q. 11,562 (407) and Appendix III, graph IV, facing 534.
37 PRO, HO 45/ 18,479/ 565, 861, items 3 and 5.
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