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George W. Wickersham - What Happened Next . . .

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The commission's reports did not give the existing criminal justice system high marks. According to the commission in a volume titled Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, many police departments across the nation were corrupt, not well operated, and poorly trained. The reports were also critical of the nation's prison system for not adequately rehabilitating inmates. The Wickersham Commission revived the use of probation and parole in rehabilitating offenders.

Specific recommendations provided in the reports on how to improve criminal justice in America were gradually adopted through the years. A new generation of police leaders in the 1930s used the commission's findings to improve their departments, including ways for the public to report police misconduct. For example, as the commission found, prisons focused more on strict discipline and punishment than treatment. These harsh conditions fueled violence and riots within the prison walls. Using the Wickersham Commission recommendations later in the 1930s, prison systems began classifying inmates according to their level of security risk. The less serious offenders were placed in prison farms and forest camps. Prisons also placed emphasis on education and vocational training.

The commission, as indicated in Wickersham's excerpts, identified a major need to keep national crime statistics. The agency that later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) in 1935 to help track crime. Both Wickersham and UCRs were major factors in the debate over the creation of a national crime data system.

Overall, the commission's reports greatly affected the long-term understanding of crime and punishment in the United States. It was one of the first efforts to estimate the cost of crime to society and two of its volumes explored the causes of crime and the importance of sociological studies. This was a major step in recognizing the new field of criminology, the scientific study of crime.



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