The final century covered by this book is the era of numbers. From 1857 onwards, crime was counted. A patchwork of official statistics had been available since the beginning of the century, but with the reorganization of the returns after the 1856 County and Borough Police Act, there became available a systematic annual summary that recorded indictable and summary offences and also offences known to the police. Although the figures were still surrounded by a variety of more fragmentary or impressionable evidence, ranging from an ever-increasing volume of newspaper reports to episodic scares about particular phenomena such as garrotting, hooliganism and drugs, it was by the published reports that society increasingly understood the incidence of what was considered to be crime. Every prisoner was allocated a number as a symbol of the loss of individuality, which was central to the process of punishment. Every policeman, who was himself numbered, was conscious that through his labour he was contributing not just to a diffuse goal of maintaining order but to a table of crimes and convictions, which would be avidly read at the local as well as the national level. The state’s capacity to collect and analyze the figures was a measure of its power and rationality in the face of the disruptive and irrational behaviour of a minority of its inhabitants. Modern scholarship has taught us to treat all criminal statistics as a form of suspicious behaviour: the only certainty is that they tell us more about the subjective practice of those who defined the law than about the objective actions of those who broke it. None the less, they constitute the point of departure for any understanding of how relations between the enforcers and transgressors evolved in the concluding period of this history.
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