Front Page Titles (by Subject) Crime Demographics and Law - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Crime Demographics and Law - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Crime Demographics and Law
“Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth Century.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 7 (Winter 1977): 477–491.
The study of nineteenth-century crime and punishment, and hence social policy, has been hampered by the quality of crime statistics during that century. “There has been a general lack of interest in systematically describing the criminals, or the arrested, themselves: their social origins, demographic characteristics, their offenses, and their treatment by the judiciary.”
We now need to focus on the criminals and their treatment,” and study materials that can clarify questions about crime and the criminal. Significant materials are the jail (or gaol) registers of various municipal areas, which the author has used for Ontario, Canada, but are widely available for large parts of Canada, much of the United States, and parts of Great Britain. These registers with their data offer the opportunity for quantification and a collective portrait, of those accused of crime based upon such factors as religion, ethnicity, class, occupation, residence, and other demographic information.
The registers permit a direct approach to such nineteenth-century stereotypes as viewing criminals often as members of a destructive, self-perpetuating class, homeless and rootless, urban-based, immigrant, intemperate, and ill-educated. The registers help to delineate the lifestyles of criminals, but also other groups such as prostitutes, drunkards, and vagrants.
As a final consideration by way of example about what may be gleaned from such registers is an analysis of one year's registers (1867–1868) for Middlesex County, Ontario.
Crime in the county tended to be over-whelmingly (two-thirds) urban-based and very much related to the lower classes. Crimes against property and vagrancy were the most common, totalling more than half of all arrests, while alleged offenses against persons, prostitution, and crime related to drink, comprised over a third of the crimes. (It is interesting that today crime against property runs at a seven to one ratio as compared to the two to one of a century ago.) Vagrancy was mainly female, while for many poor the jail was a place of refuge. Like the stereotype, the Irish were often arrested for crimes related to drinking. White collar workers and small proprietors were more often arrested for offenses against other persons in contrast to the relative stability of the skilled worker, indicating the tensions of those groups most subjected to the changes accompanying modernization.
It is also clear that punishment was not administered equally. Irish Catholics and women had a higher conviction rate and a greater severity of punishment. The relationship between crime, its punishment, and the social order may be clarified through examining jail registers.