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Theft/Violence Ratio in Antebellum Boston

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 16 Issue: 1 Dated: (Spring 1991) Pages: 42-58
Date Published
17 pages
This study uses data from the period of antebellum Boston (1850's) to test the theory that the theft/violence ratio in older cities with established criminal courts will be different from rapidly growing cities due to divergent policies for handling assaults and property crimes.
The study obtained data from the records of the Municipal Court and the Police Court of Boston for the even-numbered years between 1824 and 1850, excluding 1830. The findings indicate that the decline in assaultive cases in antebellum Boston involved a growing reluctance by the courts to prosecute cases that were often little more than personal disputes that belonged in civil courts. The relatively mild punishments assaultive offenders received during this period also reflects the courts' reluctance to punish defendants involved in private conflicts. Concern with property crimes, however, remained strong in the courts. Thus, the decline in the number of assaultive offenses handled by the courts was more a reflection of court screening policy than of the incidence of violent conflict. Official statistics thus showed only a gradual change in the theft/violence ratio in Boston during the period studied. Although this explanation for the data does not exclude other interpretations of declining violence in older urbanizing communities, it does highlight the importance of examining criminal justice policy as a factor in patterns evidenced in official crime rates. 7 figures, 2 tables, and 18 references

Date Published: January 1, 1991