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Crime and Justice in 19th-Century England

How far, asks R.D. Storch, did the reforms in the system of law enforcement, and the detection, trial and punishment of criminals introduced in the nineteenth century make for better order and a real reduction in crime?

By 1900 England was a considerably less crime-ridden and more orderly society than it had been in 1800. Exactly how this improvement came about is still a matter for debate. The entire machinery or detection, law-enforcement and punishment of crime to which we are the uneasy heirs was created in the nineteenth century. Was the nineteenth-century invention of a modern, efficient and articulated system of criminal justice responsible for better order and the reduction of all types of crime by 1900?

Before the nineteenth century, a formidable battery of capital statutes had been established to deter crime and legitimate the rule of the propertied classes. As a system of crime control, the old capital code was not very effective. Prosecutors and juries developed many stratagems to circumvent the execution of the full penalty of the law. Relatively few criminals ever made the fatal journey to Tyburn. The nineteenth century saw the dismantling of the old draconian code, the improvement of the efficiency of the courts, the implanting of a modernised police force and the invention of the penitentiary. These reflected a new definition of public order which appeared in the l790s and triumphed by 1850.

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