Data Review on Prisoners Data Analysis Chapter

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Economic History_Prisoner Data

The issue of crime and requisite punishment has been a part of human society for millennia. It seems that given the human condition a certain percentage of any population tends towards deviance from laws and regulations designed to allow society to prosper. Crime is defined as a breach, or breaking, of laws that a governing authority has put in place to order that society. Because society and culture evolve so rapidly, laws and legal and ethical standards vary from both a geographic and chronological point. Indeed, so does the punishment aspect -- what might seem a minor infraction in one society is a capital crime in another. Indeed, one way of conceptualizing the history of humankind is to study the relationship between legal theory, crime, and punishment within evolving society. This study takes into account culture, sociological issues, religious issues, economic welfare (an interesting driver of legal theory), urbanization, conflict theory, and more. One sociologist sees crime as being so inexorably tied to society that it is a social phenomenon -- that in which individuals conceive of crime and punishment, and what societal norms play into the decision levels of punishment (Quinney, 1966).

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As society became more and more complex, urban areas grew, putting people in closer proximity. This, combined with the economic ills that crowded conditions engender, often encouraged criminal activity. Gangs, for instance, have been part of society for thousands of years. Typically sought out by the disenfranchised, they often formed an introduction to criminal behavior for youth and adolescents who then might graduate into more serious criminal activity. After the industrial revolution, this became particularly rife due to the combination of poor working conditions, abject poverty, and a strict dichotomous society of haves and have nots (Speed, 1975, 95-).

Data Analysis Chapter on Data Review on Prisoners Assignment

One excellent example of the dichotomy between classes, and the paranoia of society against criminal activity, combined with some rather egregious and relatively stiff punishments for various crimes was Victorian England. The entire focus of the Victorian empire was to trade -- import and export, use the colonies to prosper, allow Britain her expected might over all she surveyed. Between this and the massive increase in railways there was a need for more financing, more complex fiscal transactions, and thus more banks. In fact, between 1852 and 1957 fiscal deposits quadrupled in many London banks, creating an economic boom, particularly in the major production areas. This "boom" occurred all over England, and the importing of goods flourished, so did stock speculation which mean that some won heavily and others became destitute -- and resentful at the same time. Thus, this was a time of great avarice for some, great poverty for others, and the opportunity for criminality to grow (O'Connor, 2000).

In fact, Victorian society was so worried about the underclass, the appearance of crime, and the protection of middle and upper-class values that they increased their police and legal forces dramatically after 1830. There was good reason for this, though. As the Industrial Revolution propelled more and more people off the farm and into the cities crime levels quadrupled (from 5,000 to 20,000) between 1800 and 1840. So paranoid were the Victorian upper classes that after 1856 Great Britain had the first ever professionalized police force which evolved into a national agency, Scotland Yard, that eventually became one of the world's most professional and predominant law enforcement agencies (Victorian Crime and Punishment, 2006).

In addition, Victoria law enforcement and justice tended to be far swifter than today. Criminals were arrested, held in jail, charged to appear before the magistrate, and typically, unless they were middle-class or above, sentenced. To Victorians, allowing the Courts and Judiciary the primary right to exert justice was a way to both discourage criminality and remove that element from the view of society. We must remember that for the psychology of the Victorian mind, punishment was just -- ordained in the Bible, and part of raising children and correcting adult behavior, too. For several years, Europeans thought that making punishment severe would deter crime, but found that horrible punishment did not necessarily breed anything but contempt (see Victor Hugo's Les Miserables). During Queen Victoria's reign, in fact, punishments were seen to be liberalized -- fewer hangings and maimings; with choices to leave the country or work in hard labor (witness how Australia and other British colonies were populated) (Sentences and Punishments in Victorian Crime and Punishment).

The Data Set -- the sample for analysis is of 2,892 individuals sentenced to the British Prison System between 1835 and 1851. We know that these individuals were convicted of one of 12 crimes ranging from assault to non-payment of fines. Each prisoner has 1 of 9 punishments, or none listed; ranging from prison of fines to a combination of hard labor, solitary confinement and whipping.

There are, of course, a number of ways to analyze the data in a meaningful way. However, there are a few basic sociological questions that might be answered based on our brief introduction to Victorian society and the attitude towards punishment.

1. Is there a trend in severity of punishment between 1835 and 1851?

2. What is the relationship between type of crime and severity of punishment?

3. Because Britain was actively colonizing during the 1800s, is there a trend in transportation as a valid punishment? Is there a relationship between type of crime and transportation?

Finally, once we examine this data for relationships, are we then able to paint a better sociological picture of British society in the years from the data set? We do not, however, know whether the data is inclusive of all crime, a portion of crime, just London, or which city. First, though, based on individual trends, we do show that the number of crimes per year suggests that the data is not inclusive, but part of a larger set.

Part 1 -- Now let us examine the trend in severity of punishment. We will consider anything violent or hard labor to be severe; transportation might be psychological severe, but not necessarily physically; however, we will consider solitary confinement to be severe, since humans are social and depriving them of social interaction is severe enough to be considered a strong punishment. So, our set will be 3 (hard labor), 4 (solitary), 13 (whipping), 14, 15, 16, 17 (combinations), since we are more concerned with a gross trend, the unknowns are ignored:

We do not notice any particular anomalies with this representation; the overall curve follows the overall incarcerations. We might expect that if the shape of the graph were fairly equal, there would be a natural distribution of punishment (e.g. A relatively equal number of very lax and very severe, etc.) Now, however, let us look at the trend in percentages of severe punishments to overall incarcerations:

We do not find a standardized bell curve for punishment, but instead, a series of spikes; 1835, 1840, 1845, then 1848-185. To understand this, we would need to delve into several issues a bit deeper: composition of the Court during those years; prevailing trends in attitude about crime; potential unrest or geo-political issues on the Continent, possible trade union and/or ghetto strife or, in the last four years of the data, potentially harsher views based on the bias of a national police force.

Part 2 -- Now that we have a base line trend established, let us ask if there is a relationship between type of crime and severity of punishment. For the purposes of our examination, we will divide the crimes into two broad categories, what we might today call misdemeanors and felonies (loosely). Type 1, the less severe would be (2) child neglect, (4) work offenses, (5) examination, (6) begging), (8) idle, (12) nonpayment of fines; Type 2, the more severe, would be (1) assault or arson, (3) theft, (9) felony, (10) sex crimes, 11 (property damage).

In general, we find that assault or arson crimes were either imprisoned or had to pay a fine; because we have no data we are not sure of the severity of the fine vs. The damage caused, nor the length of time in prison based on the offense. In the data set, though, we find that the clear majority of punishments doled out were hard labor, almost 60%. In fact, transportation was less than 10% of the total.

Looking further at the data, we find that the crimes committed in which individuals were transported to colonies, assuming at times given a choice, were by in large for stealing (88%). Further, only 275 individuals were transported; hardly enough to seemingly see this as a particular penal policy. What the policy data may indicate, however, is that the Victorian culture wanted thieves away from the country.

Finally, we could look at a microcosm of offenses by year to track certain societal trends. However, for our purposes, if we group offenses together, we find that theft was the major problem for Victorians -- which typically indicates severe poverty and wage… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Data Review on Prisoners.  (2011, March 8).  Retrieved October 31, 2020, from

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"Data Review on Prisoners."  8 March 2011.  Web.  31 October 2020. <>.

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"Data Review on Prisoners."  March 8, 2011.  Accessed October 31, 2020.