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Modern Criminal Justice - Criminal Justice Prior To The 1930s

federal government lines act

Throughout the nineteenth century, criminal justice was overwhelmingly the responsibility of states, not the federal government. Before the era of automobiles and airplanes, travel across state lines was limited and slow. State jurisdictions (geographic areas over which states have legal authority) functioned well since few criminals crossed state lines. The federal government's responsibilities were restricted to a limited number of identified crimes, such as treason (seeking to overthrow the government), perjury (making false statements under oath) in a federal court, forgery (making a copy for illegal purpose) of federal documents, illegal immigration (foreign citizens coming into the country), smuggling (secretly bringing something into the country against the law), and violations of federal business regulations.

Federal police enforcement was limited to the District of Columbia, U.S. territories that had not become states, national parks and U.S. military posts, and the high seas. From 1888 to 1889 federal district courts heard fewer than fifteen thousand cases, a very small number compared to criminal cases heard before state and local courts.

Given the limited involvement of the federal government in criminal justice, no federal prisons existed before the 1890s and U.S. marshals handled mostly federal policing responsibilities. Those convicted of federal crimes were sent to state or local jails. In 1891 three federal prisons were approved by Congress. As a result, Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas opened in 1895 followed by facilities in Atlanta and western Washington. The policing powers of the federal government began growing as well. In 1908 the U.S. Department of Justice created the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) to lead in the investigation of federal crimes. It consisted at first of only eight unarmed agents.

In the early twentieth century, federal justice responsibilities expanded to include various types of activities from tax fraud (to deceive another for illegal gain) to criminal activity that crossed state lines. Tax fraud became an issue when federal income tax was introduced in 1913. Criminal activity that crossed state lines usually consisted of a violation of the Mann Act of 1910, which prohibited taking women across state lines to engage in prostitution (selling sexual services for pay) or violation of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act of 1919, which made it a federal crime to take a stolen vehicle across state lines.

Following World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies) federal concern turned to the control of suspects who engaged in political actions considered dangerous by the government. These activists were called radicals. The Red Scare (a time of extreme fear of communist influence) brought passage of the Espionage Act in 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The acts sought to control aliens (immigrants who held citizenship in foreign countries) and political groups such as anarchists (those who wished to overthrow the government). The Justice Department carried out a series of raids, known as the Palmer Raids, on suspected foreign radicals in 1919 and 1920. U.S. attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936) placed a young man named J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972) in charge of organizing the raids. Hoover would go on to be the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

During the 1920s, Prohibition dramatically increased criminal activities, which not only violated federal laws but state laws as well. Some 22,000 liquor cases were brought before the courts in one twelve month period in the early 1920s. Organized crime (people or groups united to profit from crime) grew tremendously as it supplied thirsty Americans with alcohol. In combating liquor violations, police expanded their use of wiretapping (tapping telephones) and more aggressive search and seizure measures. The rising number of convictions created the need for more prisons. In the mid-1920s the federal government added more prisons, including the first federal women's prison, the Federal Industrial Institution for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, in 1927.

By the late 1920s the criminal justice system at federal, state, and local levels was in need of better coordination and increased professionalism. The task of fighting crime had outgrown the local police and court systems. It was clearly time for expansion and modernization.


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about 3 years ago

English 2:



Crime springing up in 1920s as a result of building many prison buildings