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The ‘habitual criminal’ in nineteenth-century England: some observations on the figures1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2009

Extract

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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Footnotes

1

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.

References

2 Davis, J., ‘The London garotting panic of 1862: a moral panic and the creation of a criminal class in mid-Victorian England‘, in Gatrell, V. A. C., Lenman, B. and Parker, G. (eds), Crime and the Law: the social history of crime in Western Europe since 1500 (1981), 190213.Google Scholar

3 Henry, S., The Hidden Economy: the context and control of borderline crime (1978), 4279.Google Scholar

4 Macfarlane, A. D. J., Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (1970), 205–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Henry, op. cit., was not writing primarily for a readership of historians so it would, perhaps, be presumptuous to develop criticism of his ideas on the basis that they were inadequately grounded in methods of historical research.

6 Stevenson, S. J., ‘The ‘criminal class’ in the mid-Victorian city: a study of policy conducted with special reference to those made subject to 34 & 35 Vict., c.112 (1871) in Birmingham and East London in the early years of registration and supervision’ (Oxford D. Phil., 1983), 423–37.Google Scholar

7 Bartrip, P. W. J., ‘Public opinion and law enforcement: the ticket-of-leave scares in mid-Victorian Britain’, in Bailey, V. (ed.), Policing and Punishment in Nineteenth Century Britain (1981), 150–81.Google Scholar

8 Gatrell, V. A. C. and Hadden, T. B., ‘Criminal statistics and their interpretation’, in Wrigley, E. A. (ed.), Nineteenth-Century Society: essays in the use of quantitative methods for the study of social data (1972), 336–96, 427–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; V. A. C. Gatrell, ‘The decline of theft and violence in Victorian and Edwardian England’, in Gatrell, Lenman and Parker (eds), op. cit., 238–370.

9 See MacDonagh, O., ‘The nineteenth century revolution in government: a reappraisal’, Historical J., I (1958), 5267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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.

13 Fourth Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Intemperance, op. cit., 580–92.

14 Burt, C., The Young Delinquent (1925), 96, 519–22Google Scholar; Bagot, J. H., Juvenile Delinquency: a comparison of the position in Liverpool and England and Wales (1941), 7180Google Scholar; Wilson, H., ‘Parental supervision: a neglected aspect of delinquency’, British J. Criminology, xx, 3 (07 1980), 203–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

15 See, for example, Census. England and Wales. General Report, 10–11, 20–1, 96–9, 121–2, in PP 1863 (3221), LIII, Part I; table II in Appendix A to the same for 1871, p. 8, in PP 1873 (872–1), LXXI-II; and Census. England and Wales. Area, Houses and Population, v-xvi, in PP 1883 (C.3562), LXXVIII.

16 Snell, K. D., Annals of the Labouring Poor: social and agrarian change in England 1660–1900 (1985), 114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 DuCane, E. F., ‘Address on the repression of crime’, Trans. National Assoc. Promotion of Social Science (1875), 271308.Google Scholar

18 Report of a Committee appointed by the Secretary of State to inquire into the Best Means available for identifying Habitual Criminals (C.7263), 18, in PP 1893–4, LXXII, 226.

19 Ibid., 72, in PP 1893–4, LXXII, 280.

20 Stevenson, op. cit., 311–27.

21 PRO, HO registered papers, 45/ 9442/ 66, 692, Report of the Departmental Committee to inquire into the State, Discipline and Organization of the Detective Branch of the Metropolitan Police (non-parliamentary paper of 1877), 90, col. 1, Q.2387.

22 Stevenson, op. cit., 235, 257–70. The most comprehensive study of this extremely difficult field, to date, is to be found in Dennis, R. J., ‘Residential mobility, persistence and community’, in his English Industrial Cities of the Nineteenth Century (1984), 250–69, esp. 259–62.Google Scholar

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.

25 Hewins, A. (ed.), The Dillen: Memoirs of a Man of Stratford-upon-Avon (1982).Google Scholar

26 Compare Ignatieff, M., A Just Measure of Pain: the penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750–1850 (1978), 107CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Report of the Departmental Committee on Prisons, PP 1895 (C.7702–1), LVI, MS., 603; Emsley, C., Policing and its Context, 1750–1870 (1983), 70–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Present State of Discipline in Gaols and Houses of Correction, PP 1863 (499), IX, Report, XVII.

27 Cf. Foster, J., Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution: early industrial capitalism in three English towns (1974), 5661, 208–9.Google Scholar

28 See R. Sindall, ‘A new approach to criminal statistics’, above, this volume; and Davis, J., ‘A poor man's system of justice: the London police courts in the second half of the nineteenth century’, Historical J., XXVII (1984), 309–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 Cf. Bentham, J., Observations on Mr. Secretary Peel's House of Commons Speech … introducing his Police Magistrates Salary Raising Bill (1825).Google Scholar

30 PRO, HO 12/ 184/ 85,459.

31 PRO, HO 45/ 9,320/ 16.629A, item 30, 1–2.

33 bid., item 2, 1–2.

34 PRO, HO 45/ 9, 570/ 76,871, item 1.

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.

38 Cf. Grünhut, M., Juvenile Offenders before the Courts (1956), 24Google Scholar, in the context of 13–52.

39 See Habermas, J., Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (Frankfurt, 1973)Google Scholar, trans. by McCarthy, T. as Legitimation Crisis (Boston, 1975).Google Scholar For the current state of debate on the theories of ‘legitimation’ and ‘motivation’ crises, see Held, D., ‘Crisis tendencies, legitimation and the state’, 187–93Google Scholar, and Habermas, J., ‘A reply to my critics,’ 278–81Google Scholar, in Held, D. and Thompson, J. B. (eds), Habermas: Critical Debates (1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 Henderson, W. O. and Chaloner, W. H. (eds), Engels, F., The Condition of the Working Class in England [in 1844] (1958), ch. 5Google Scholar, ‘Results’.

41 Compare on the subject of Durkheim's conflicting opinions, comments by Bottoms, A. E., on ‘Some neglected features of contemporary penal systems,’ in Garland, D. and Young, P. (eds), The Power to Punish (1983), 198Google Scholar; and Lenman, B. and Parker, G., ‘The state, the community and the criminal law in early modern Europe’, 1215, 23–5Google Scholar, in Gatrell, Lenman and Parker (eds), op. cit.

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