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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Criminology: Now and then

Your ordinary burglar and forger must pale his ineffectual fires before the brilliant scoundrelism of the man who accepts the fortune of his friend in trust and either spends it in such a way that he is fairly safe in the Bankruptcy Court, or absconds with what is left of it to sunnier climes.
The lengthy quote above appears in an article on the front page of the Pall Mall Gazette on 8 May 1900 which is headlined, simply, ‘Criminology’. It contains many observations of a criminological nature without specifically mentioning any criminologist. We should not be surprised by this (Groombridge, 2007) but it is heartening to note the presumption that readers will know the term. The politics of the paper varied over time - and at this time passed the prime of its radical investigations under W.T Stead - but its compassion and, even, admiration for the ordinary criminal is interesting in th elight of much modern media treatment of crime and criminals.

The opening sentence clearly sees criminology - it is not mentioned specifically again the body of the text - in positivistic but patronisingly compassionate light.
The criminal is an interesting creature considered in the scientific perspective and when in custody. Sometimes he is not all unpleasant; circumstances and a weak will being unable to balance each other, he has fallen into the mire, and lies there with an expression of futile innocence almost ludicrous.
The mention of ‘will’ draws on classicist notions but much of the explanation is a combination of biological, psychological and sociological positivism combined with a desire to be relevant to criminal justice. I intensify this as ‘neo-classical’ in the traction of Tarde. I see this puts me in dispute with the author of the wikipedia page on Neo-classical school (criminology) which aligns it with right realism and name checks social control, drift and rational choice.

Some snippets must suffice:
Crafty criminals […] are few and far between 
the criminal has a brain of inferior quality
the bloodthirsty kind […] general die mad if they be not hanged
the ordinary criminal who suffers imprisonment for petty larceny is quite uninteresting.
In the unlikely event our larcenist becomes expert the Gazette then admits he has: 
many notable characteristics […] persistence of purpose […] may yet sometimes be regarded as evidence of uncommon strength of mind.
It rather relativistically and callously suggests that the burglar:
breaks into the house and carries off the spoons and the tea basket of some respectable mediocrity, who is generally insured against loss of the kind.
They mention the work of Sir Edward Troup at the Home Office to suggest there have been reductions in crime but greater activities by criminals and police.  Two matters are highlighted 1) crimes in seaports by seamen and those who ‘prey on them’ (‘moral scum of the earth’) and 2) the new offences created by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Interestingly Troup is said to have had severe doubts about the value of police statistics (Sir Leon Radzinowicz).

The CLAA 1885 will be known to some for its section 11 further criminalising sex between men. We are celebrating its repeal 50 years ago in England and Wales. Most of it was about ‘rescuing’ women - fears of white slavery and dangers to heiresses - but did raise the age of consent to 16 from 12 in 1861 and 13 in 1875. The work of the journalist Stead in the Pall Mall Gazette (The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon) on this might be contrasted with MP/editor Labouchere who introduced the section which caught Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing. Stead received a 3 month sentence for his unethical methods, that is purchasing a girl. It is not clear if Labouchere intended his clause to succeed (see his entry in Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II).

But all of this is throat-clearing on the way to its fulminations against bent solicitors and the inadequacies of the Law Society (and need for greater regulation) which take up the second half. After listing various scandals they turn to victimology, or victim-blaming; opining:
clients ought to take the most elementary precautions against being swindled
if such ordinary precautions were taken, half of the scandals, which are, indeed, much to numerous to be creditable to a great profession, would not happen.

I don’t know what caused these thoughts on criminology, penology and victimology so must turn to historians. Any thoughts? What was going on then?

1 comment:

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