The Early Years of American Law
New Demands On Criminal Justice
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries crime rates rose as society experienced further changes. National economic depressions, large waves of immigrants from Asia and eastern and southern Europe, further growth of industrial centers, and violent labor outbreaks strained society and the criminal justice system. As local law enforcement had difficulty keeping up, states created state police forces. Through the 1920s almost thirty states created police organizations with some modeled after the military-like Pennsylvania State Police created in 1905.
During this time Congress also added new federal crimes, including criminal activities occurring in two or more states. The White Slave Traffic Act (Mann Act) in 1910 banned the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. The National Motor Vehicle Theft Act of 1919 made it a federal crime to take stolen vehicles across state lines. By far the largest impact on the existing criminal justice systems was passage of the Volstead Act of 1920 banning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Through the 1920s the act produced a major crime wave as Americans obtained alcohol however they could. Respect for law enforcement decreased, and prison populations dramatically increased.
Based on these pressures, the criminal justice system was ready for major improvements, which began in the 1930s and eventually led to the modern legal system of the twenty-first century.
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