Thursday, March 22, 2007

Atwell reviews Marietta & Rowe, Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800

TROUBLED EXPERIMENT: CRIME AND JUSTICE IN PENNSYLVANIA, 1682-1800, by Jack D. Marietta and G.S. Rowe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) is reviewed by Mary W. Atwell, Department of Criminal Justice, Radford University in the Law and Politics Book Review. Atwell begins:
Jack Marietta and G.S. Rowe make the argument that Pennsylvania, during the colonial and early national periods, failed as an experiment in Enlightenment inspired community. Despite the hopes of William Penn and his fellow Quakers that the colony would be characterized by brotherly love, respect, ample resources, tolerance, and most of all, civil peace, Pennsylvania saw more than its share of violence and crime. Is this explained by a flaw in the original vision, or is it explained by social, economic, and demographic changes unforeseen by the colony’s founders?
Penn and his generation set out to establish a place where good laws would enable people to be good, where exceptional freedom from royal and clerical control could allow the best human qualities to flourish. Up until the 1720s, Pennsylvania had an unusually humane criminal justice “system,” a progressive judiciary, a penal code that seldom prescribed capital punishment, and a focus on the rehabilitation of offenders. As long as the colony comprised a homogeneous population dominated by Quakers, Pennsylvanians experienced little crime and violence. Marietta and Rowe note that unlike the Chesapeake region, Pennsylvania had no staple crop that attracted numbers of young, single, risk-taking men eager to make their fortunes—the sort of people who tended to contribute to disorder. Nor did slavery with its accompanying violence really take hold. During the first decades, Pennsylvania remained peaceful until its professed openness and tolerance were tested by waves of immigrants, many of them Scots-Irish and German, in the years between 1717 and 1730.
Culturally, the Scots-Irish could hardly be more different from the Quakers. They were people with a history of violence at both the political and personal level, placing a high value on manly “honor” and little trust in government to settle disputes. The homicide rate in Pennsylvania increased dramatically after 1717, not because the old pacifist settlers changed their behavior but because a new element entered the population in significant numbers. In 1718 the criminal code was modified in response to this apparent “crime wave.” Reversing the Quaker approach, more crimes were made eligible for the death penalty, and capital sentences and executions became more frequent. The authors comment that this Pennsylvania response, addressing an increase in crime with harsher punishments, was typical both in the eighteenth century and in the contemporary period. “They did not explain the reasons for their confidence in severity. But despite their silence, they believed in deterrence and retributive justice” (p.80). However, [*256] there is no way of knowing that the lawmakers – still strongly influenced by their Quaker heritage – had suddenly completely reversed their beliefs to accept the idea of retribution instead of rehabilitation. They may have been hopeful about deterrence without embracing retribution.
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