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Urban Crime and Criminal Justice: The Chicago Case

Author(s): Mark H. Haller

Source: The Journal of American History, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Dec., 1970), pp. 619-635
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Organization of American Historians
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Urban Crime and Criminal Justice:
The Chicago Case


THE history of crime and criminal justice in American cities is a topic

that has remained relatively unexplored by professional historians. Yet its
importance is clear. Crime has had enduring ties with urban political fac-
tions, played a crucial part in the social life of ethnic groups struggling
upward in the urban slums, been linked to labor and business activities, and
made urban life dangerous. The police, the courts, and other criminal jus-
tice institutions have performed various functions. They have provided
favors for political factions, been under pressure from some groups to elim-
inate pleasures enjoyed by other groups, and always had such meager re-
sources that criminal justice has often involved regulation rather than abate-
ment of criminal activity. Finally, campaigns of civic leaders for law and
order are far from modern; and these campaigns have often revealed much
about the values of reformers and the structure of urban society. An exami-
nation of the complex interrelations of crime, criminal justice, and reform
in Chicago from 1900 to 1930 raises many of the important questions and
problems that require historical exploration.
During the period, a variety of reformers conducted intensive and often
dramatic campaigns to reform the criminal justice system. To the extent
that historians have examined such reform movements, they have tended to
accept the reformers' views of the system's deficiencies. The reformers,
however, lived largely outside the world of criminal justice and often held
values and expectations that were incompatible with the expectations of
persons who were a part of the system. As a result, reformers often misun-
derstood both the system and the impact of their reforms.
Criminal justice involved a working relationship among three groups:
officials, such as the police, prosecutors, judges, bailiffs, and probation offi-
cers; mediators between the legal system and criminals, such as bail bonds-

Mr. Hailer is associate professor of history in Temple University.


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620 The Journal of American History

men, criminal lawyers, fixers, and politicians; and finally, criminals, whose
behavior was influenced by contact enforcement officials. These groups, by
frequent contact, developed diverse informal relationships and mutual ob-
ligations. In order to understand how the criminal justice system actually
functioned, it is as important to understand the criminal justice subculture
as to understand the characteristics of the formal system.
In Chicago, criminal activity and the criminal justice system were rooted
in the city's ethnic neighborhoods and were means of social mobility for
persons of marginal social and economic position in society. (The ethnic
political machines served the same purpose.) As a result, criminals, politi-
cians, and enforcement officials often shared experiences and values.
According to a 1930 study of 108 directors of the Chicago underworld,
30 percent were of Italian background, 29 percent were of Irish back-
ground, 20 percent were of Jewish background, and 12 percent were
blacks; but "not a single leader was recorded as native white American of
native born stock." A few groups virtually monopolized the upper levels of
crime in Chicago.1 Official positions within the criminal justice system were
also distributed largely among the same groups. As might be expected, 76
percent of the police captains were Irish. Judgeships were a reward for
party service, and each party slated judges so that the various ethnic groups
in the city would be represented. Judgeships often provided social mobility
for lawyers whose training at unprestigious law schools or whose ethnic or
religious background denied them admission to leading firms. Indeed, most
of the positions within the system, elected or appointed, were rewards for
party service. Politicians within the urban political machines looked upon
the criminal justice system as one of many means of maintaining the politi-
cal organization.2
Most of the people processed by the criminal justice system were the un-
organized offenders: juvenile delinquents, drunkards, wife-beaters, and am-
ateur thieves. Other lawbreakers were part of the more organized under-
world. The organized underworld, for purposes of analysis, can be seen to
consist of three types: professional thieves, business or labor racketeers, and
participants in organized crime.

'William F. Ogburn and Clark Tibbits, "A Memorandum on the Nativity of Certain
Criminal Classes Engaged in Organized Crime, and of Certain Related Criminal and
Non-Criminal Groups in Chicago," July 30, 1930, Charles E. Merriam Papers (Univer-
sity of Chicago Library), 9, 11.
2Ibid., 42-43, 47-48. For discussions of the background and recruitment of judges, see
Albert Lepawsky, The Judicial System of Metropolitan Chicago (Chicago, 1932), 116-41.
Interesting references about recruitment to the bench are also in Edward M. Martin, The
Role of the Bar in Electing the Bench in Chicago (Chicago, 1936). For the social back-
ground of machine politicians, see Harold F. Gosnell, Machine Politics: Chicago Model
(Chicago, 1937).

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Urban Crime 621

Professional thieves included pickpockets, shoplifters, burglars, jewel

thieves, confidence men, and other specialists. They had a loose sub-
culture of their own. They met in hangouts, exchanged gossip and in-
formation, developed their own argot, and generally accepted a common
system of values in terms of which they awarded prestige and governed
behavior among themselves. The probable extent of professional crime in
Chicago is illustrated by a city council committee on crime in 1915, which
was able to locate 100 criminal hangouts and 300 "fences" in Chicago.3
Professional thieves often developed relatively stable relations within
the criminal subculture and with other segments of society. Most such crim-
inals worked with a mob. The mob often maintained continuing relations
with a fence, in order to dispose of stolen goods, and also with a lawyer,
fixer, or bail bondsman for assistance in case of arrest. Professional thieves
might also develop special relationships with policemen or politicians. The
1915 city council committee, for example, had three of its investigators
pose as pickpockets newly arrived in the city. The alleged pickpockets soon
made contact with a city detective, who explained the best places to practice
their trade, put them in touch with a reliable fixer and fence, and then pro-
vided them with on-the-job police protection in return for 50 percent of the
take. For nearly thirty years one of Chicago's best-known thieves, Eddie
Jackson, was called "The Immune Pickpocket." In part, he earned his im-
munity through services to a political faction; on election day he was in
charge of a band of eighteen voters who voted early and often.4
There are a number of accounts of the underworld of professional
thieves based mostly upon the reminiscences of individual thieves, but al-
most nothing is known about changes in the underworld of thieves. For
example, what explains the fact that in 1929 most pickpockets in Chicago
were of Jewish background, while most confidence men were Anglo-Saxon
Protestants? And what changes have taken place in recruitment and opera-

3The classic study of the underworld of thieves in Chicago is Edwin H. Sutherland,

ed., The Professional Thief: By a Professional Thief (Chicago, 1937). John Landesco,
"The Criminal Underworld of Chicago in the '80's and '90's: How the Life of Eddie
Jackson, the Immune Pickpocket, Was Secured," Journal of Criminal Law and Crimin-
ology, XXV (Sept.-Oct. 1934), 341-57; ibid., XXV (March-April 1935), 928-40; John
Landesco, "Reformers? Why Not ?" ibid., XXVIII (Nov.-Dec. 1937), 560-72. Joseph
Weil, "Yellow Kid" Weil: The Autobiography of America's Master Swindler As Told
to WI. T. Brannon (Chicago, 1948). Report of the City Council Committee on Crime of
the City of Chicago (Chicago, 1915), 155-94. See also, Boxes 87, 88, Charles E. Mer-
riam Papers.
'For a discussion of relations between thieves and police in Boston during the 1860s
and 1870s, see Robert Lane, Policing the City: Boston 1822-1885 (Cambridge, Mass.,
1967), 142-56. For the relations between thieves and fences, see Jerome Hall, Theft, Law
and Society (Indianapolis,' 1935), 155-232.

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622 The Journal of American History

tions of professional criminals since then? How, indeed, have changes in

technology and consumer tastes affected the operation of thieves?5
Racketeering in business and in labor unions took several forms. One
was control over a labor union for personal profit, either by misuse of the
union treasury or by agreeing to negotiate "sweetheart" contracts. An even
more fully developed cooperation between union racketeers and employers
occurred when the union, by strikes or by violence, helped to maintain
prices among firms or drive out competitors. Another form of racketeering
consisted of using violence in order to persuade small businesses to pur-
chase a particular product. In the late 1920s, for example, many taverns
and similar establishments in the Chicago area were forced to accept slot
Little is known about racketeering in American labor unions and small
business enterprises. But in Chicago, racketeering was endemic. George
"Red" Barker, who by violence and threats took over thirty-three unions
during the late 1920s, enjoyed local fame. By the early 1930s, members of
the Capone organization appeared to be involved in a systematic attempt to
dominate vulnerable unions. Racketeering elements had also come into con-
trol of a variety of trade associations: barber shops, miniature golf courses,
kosher butchers, junk peddlers, and many others. The types of businesses
that came under racketeering control often shared two characteristics. They
were small and relatively marginal and powerless; and they were highly
competitive, so that racketeers performed an economic service by regulating
prices and competition.7
Organized crime, the distribution and sale of illegal goods and services
such as gambling, prostitution, narcotics, and, in the 1920s, booze, was gen-
erally the most systematic aspect of underworld activity, with an on-going
and pervasive impact upon criminal justice. The man engaged in organized
crime was set apart from the professional thief because he had customers,

'John Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago (Chicago, 1968), 245; David W. Maurer,
The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence MAan and the Confidence Game (Indianapolis,
1940), 170-215. For discussion of the gaps in knowledge of the history of professional
criminals, see The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of
Justice, Task Force Report: Crime and Its Impact-An Assessment (Washington, D.C.,
1967), 96-101.
'There are a few scholarly and many journalistic accounts of racketeering in Chicago
during the 1920s and early 1930s. Royal E. Montgomery, Industrial Relations in the
Chicago Building Trades (Chicago, 1927), 19-21; Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago,
149-67; Philip Hauser and Saul Alinsky, "Some Aspects of the Cleaning and Dyeing
Industry in Chicago-A Racket," Ernest W. Burgess Papers (University of Chicago Li-
brary). See also Fred D. Pasley, Muscling In (New York, 1931); Edward Dean Sullivan
This Labor Union Racket (New York, 1936); Gordon L. Hostetter and Thomas Quinn
Beesley, It's a Racket! (Chicago, 1929).
'Roger Touhy, The Stolen Years (Cleveland, 1959).

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Urban Crime 623

not victims. The need to develop congenial, long-term relations with cus-
tomers was itself a factor leading to systematic organization of the enterprise.
The customers, in fact, were often co-conspirators in the violation of law.
Indeed, the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages in Chicago during
prohibition brought organized crime to a level of income and customer
support that revolutionized the city's underworld.8
In many ways organized crime resembled a business. These often in-
cluded a substantial capital investment, a regular payroll, and problems of
manufacture, distribution, and retailing. For example, in various phases of
gambling there were internal factors that led to coordination. Bookmaking
required a wire service. From early in the twentieth century, Mont Tennes
monopolized wire services. Using this as a basis-but also employing polit-
ical connections and occasional violence-he gained control of most book-
making in Chicago, and he extended his influence through much of the
United States. Most forms of gambling also had economic factors that con--
tributed to consolidation. Since a small time gambler lacked the capital to
cover his losses on a bad day, the local bookmaker or policy man was part
of a larger organization that handled financing and protection. According
to one estimate made in the late 1920s, 300 policy writers worked for a
single wheel in Chicago's black ghetto, and there were more than 6,000
policy writers in the ghetto.9
The need for protection also led to coordination of organized criminal
activities. In the early years of the twentieth century, Chicago's red-light
district achieved well-deserved fame, based on the high quality of its better
houses and the wide variety of services available. Those classic aldermen
from the First Ward, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and "Bathhouse John"
Coughlin, presided over political protection of vice in the ward. Saloons,
gambling houses, and bordellos provided the funds that nurtured the
aldermen's political organization and paid enthusiastic workers who sup-
ported the party's efforts on election day. In addition to arrangements with
Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John, operators also made business arrangements
with the local police. Protection not only exempted some enterprises from

8The widespread opposition to prohibition and to enforcement of prohibition laws can

best be followed in political histories of the period. Arthur W. Thurner, "The Impact of
Ethnic Groups on the Democratic Party in Chicago, 1920-1928" (doctoral dissertation,
University of Chicago, 1966); Alex Gottfried, Boss Cermak of Chicago: A Study of Political
Leadership (Seattle, 1962).
'Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 45-83; Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians:
The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago (Chicago, 1935), 124-25; Allan H. Spear, Black
Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago, 1967), 76-77; St. Clair
Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern
City (New York, 1945), 470-94.

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police interference but also became part of a process for eliminating compe-
tition. Those who were not part of the protection arrangement would be
raided and harassed. The protection arrangement, in addition, involved
agreements for regulating fraud and violence, both in order to give custom-
ers confidence in the product and avoid open scandal that would embarrass
law enforcement agencies. Thus, the stable and systematic relationships
with politicians and police protected criminal activity and served the eco-
nomic functions of regulating competition and fraud.'0
In significant ways, the 1920s witnessed changes in the social structure of
organized crime in Chicago. Because bootlegging provided such resources
in money and organization, an unprecedented consolidation and central-
ization of organized crime occurred. Despite this, there was a continuity of
leadership that spanned the period before and after prohibition. Before
prohibition, "Big Jim" Colosimo was the leading vice figure in the First
Ward. He employed two young men, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, as
bodyguards and business managers in the field of prostitution. When
Colosimo was killed in 1920, Torrio succeeded him and built up a boot-
legging organization that covered the central city, as well as much of the
south and west sides. After being shot, Torrio prudently retired in 1924,
and Al Capone assumed control."l
Throughout the period, underworld figures held important positions as
civic leaders and political brokers. In addition to the relationships based on
mutual interest and favors that linked the underworld to enforcement offi-
cials and politicians, there were friendships and ethnic loyalties that linked
gangsters to segments of legitimate society. The members of ethnic groups
who achieved success in business, politics, or the professions often had ties
with gangsters stemming from youthful friendship and from mutual partic-
ipation in ethnic social life. The successful criminal or racketeer was almost

"Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Lords of the Levee: The Story of Bathhouse John
and Hinky Dink (Indianapolis, 1943). See also Herbert Asbury, Gem of the Prairie: An
Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (New York, 1940), 95-141, 203-42, 243-80;
Walter C. Reckless, Vice in Chicago (Chicago, 1933), 1-98; Charles Washburn, Come
into my Parlor: A Biography of the Aristocratic Everleigh Sisters of Chicago (New York,
1934); Vice Commission of Chicago, The Social Evil in Chicago: A Study of Existing
Conditions (Chicago, 1911); Civil Service Commission, Final Report, Civil Service Com-
mission, City of Chicago Police Investigation, 1911-1912 (Chicago, 1912); Landesco,
Organized Crime in Chicago, 25-43.
'Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 85-105; Asbury, Gem of the Prairie, 320-74;
Kenneth Allsop, The Bootleggers and Their Era (Garden City, 1961); John H. Lyle,
The Dry and Lawless Years (Englewood Cliffs, 1960); Fred D. Pasley, Al Capone: The
Biography of a Self-Made Man (New York, 1930); Edward D. Sullivan, Rattling the
Cup on Chicago Crime (New York, 1929); Edward Dean Sullivan, Chicago Surrenders:
A Sequel to "Rattling the Cup on Chicago Crime" (New York, 1930).

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Urban Crime 625

automatically at that time an important figure in urban ethnic communi-

The many ties of the underworld and the upperworld were seldom dis-
played publicly. Occasionally a ceremonial event, such as political banquets
or funerals, brought together leaders from many walks of life. Indeed, the
splendid funerals of gangsters at which judges and aldermen mingled with
underworld figures shocked the decent citizens of Chicago. Gangsters also
associated with other segments of society in the night life of the city, for
the leaders of the underworld were both participants in and sponsors of the
restaurants and clubs around which the night life revolved.'3
The relations of the criminal underworld to other segments of the city's
social structure were highly complex. Reformers, in attempting to alter the
criminal justice system, faced opposition partly because the public desired
the services provided by the underworld, partly because of the ethnic and
class loyalties that racketeers and criminals could sometimes summon to
their defense, and partly because of the entrenched relationships of crimi-
nals with politicians and the criminal justice system. In contrast to those
who staffed the institutions of criminal justice, reform leaders tended to be
Protestant and native American in origin. Moreover, the reformers lived in
upper income areas dominated by native Americans: the Hyde Park and
Woodlawn areas surrounding the University of Chicago, the Gold Coast
along Lake Michigan, and the elite northern suburbs. Even the attorneys
and law professors who were reformers had little in common with the law-
yers who practiced criminal law; indeed, they often did not bother to con-
ceal their contempt for the training and ethics of the lawyers who practiced
regularly in the criminal courts.'4
Reformers, then, approached criminal justice with values and life experi-
ences that differed from those of city politicians and the men who staffed
the system. The reformers most valued "efficiency" -the idea that the crim-
inal justice system should be uniform and impartial in the enforcement of
law and the punishment of criminals. Reformers demanded increased vigor
in law enforcement and the elimination of political favoritism and corruption

'Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 169-221. For the situation in Chicago's black
neighborhoods, see Gosnell, Negro Politicians, 115-35; Drake and Cayton, Black Metropo-
lis, 470-94, 546-50. For the situation in Chicago's Italian neighborhoods before World
War I, see Humbert S. Nelli, "Italians and Crime in Chicago: The Formative Years,
1890-1920," American Journal of Sociology, 74 (Jan. 1969), 373-91.
"3Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 169-205.
"For a study of elite reformers and their beliefs, see David R. Johnson, "Crime Fight-
ing Reform in Chicago, An Analysis of its Leadership, 1919-1927" (master's thesis, Uni-
versity of Chicago, 1966).

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626 The Journal of American History

from the criminal justice system. They sought higher standards of com-
petence for officials-from policemen to prison guaids-and wanted criminal
justice insulated from partisan politics.'5
There were, however, differences within the ranks of reformers. One
group-especially leading lawyers, businessmen, and newspaper editors-
believed that the major function of criminal justice was to deter crime
through punishment of criminals; and they worked to eliminate delays in
justice, leniency, and coddling. In general, they also believed that the police
should concentrate chiefly upon crimes against property and persons: as-
sault, rape, burglary, robbery, and larceny.16 The other group-social settle-
ment workers, professors, and some clergymen-wished in part, to use the
criminal justice system for social reform purposes. They hoped to rehabili-
tate the criminals brought within the system and eliminate vice and tempta-
tions from the urban environment. To provide a decent environment for
children, they worked to close brothels, dance halls, taverns, and other traps
for the unwary. To protect the income of a husband for his family, they
struggled to drive out gambling and to curtail or eliminate the temptation
to drink. The city, in short, was a cesspool of iniquity; but the criminal
justice system might reduce the sinful stench.'7
The goals of criminal justice reformers-efficiency, elimination of polit-
ical corruption and favoritism, higher competence for political officials, cre-
ation of a more moral urban environment-were central to the values of
the progressive movement of the early twentieth century and of "good gov-
ernment" movements generally. During the period before World War I,
the group that sought to use the criminal justice system in order to improve
the urban neighborhood and rehabilitate youthful delinquents generally
predominated; after the war, the dominant group wanted to make criminal
justice more punitive and deterrent. In criminal justice reform, then, as in
so many reform movements, a generally humanitarian impulse in the pe-

' The sources for the reformers' beliefs are too numerous to list, see Illinois Associ-
ation for Criminal Justice, The Illinois Crime Survey (Chicago, 1929).
'1The best exemplification of the deterrent beliefs would be found in the publications
of the Chicago Crime Commission, Bulletin of the Chicago Crime Commission (later
called Criminal Justice), Jan. 31, 1921. See also Chicago Tribune, Jan. 11, 1925, Sept.
21, 1929.
IT For expressions of the reformist views on criminal justice, see the Juvenile Protective
Association of Chicago, Annual Reports; see also Jane Addams, A New Conscience and
an Ancient Evil (New York, 1912); Samuel Paynter Wilson, Chicago and Its Cess-Pools
of Infamy (Chicago, n.d.). For analysis of the division between business leaders and
social workers on law enforcement, see Graham Taylor, "Police Versus Crime-The Case
Stated," Chicago Daily News, Jan. 20, 1923; Graham Taylor to Henry B. Chamberlin,
Jan. 20, 1923, Chicago Crime Commission File No. 600-9 (Chicago Crime Commission,
Chicago, Ill.).

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Urban Crime 627

riod before the war took on a less humanitarian tone in the period follow-
ing the war.
In attempting to influence criminal justice, reformers were at a disadvan-
tage, partly because they were only marginally related to the political fac-
tions that controlled the city and partly because they were seldom directly
involved in the criminal justice system. Yet reformers had a number of ad-
vantages that stemmed from their social prestige, relative wealth, and orga-
nizational skills. They controlled the press, their values were almost univer-
sally acknowledged as normative, and they had the resources to conduct in-
vestigations and work for specific reform goals.
An examination of three reform activities provides an opportunity to ex-
plore some of the patterns by which reformers influenced criminal behavior
and criminal justice. The first was the establishment in Cook County of the
earliest juvenile court in the United States. The court was the creation of
reformers with a variety of backgrounds, including social settlement work,
leadership in the prestigious Chicago Woman's Club, and membership in
the Chicago Bar Association. The founders of the juvenile court believed
that criminal justice could serve the goals of reform and rehabilitation; and
the reformers shaped the juvenile court to their own values and goals.'8
The new court, established by the state legislature in 1899, was not a
criminal court. There were no prosecutors or defendants, and no one was
found guilty of a crime. Instead, a boy under the age of seventeen or a girl
under the age of eighteen could be brought into court, if there was evidence
of delinquency or neglect. If the court found the youth to be dependent or
delinquent, it could then make him a ward of the state and put him on pro-
bation with his parents, place him with a guardian, or assign him to an ap-
propriate institution. The important point about the court was the discre-
tionary power that the judge was expected to exercise in the interests of the
After its establishment, the court's discretion was exercised under the on-
going guidance of reformers. For a while, the juvenile court, with a deten-
tion center, was located across the street from Hull House. When the legis-
lature, in establishing the court, failed to appropriate funds for probation
officers, the reformers established a Juvenile Court Committee which,

"For founding of the Juvenile Court, see Robert M. Mennel, "Attitudes and Policies
toward Juvenile Delinquency in the United States, 1825-1935" (doctoral dissertation,
Ohio State University, 1969), 147-80; Anthony Platt, The Child Savers: The Invention
of Delinquency (Chicago, 1969), 129-52. Other studies include Grace Benjamin, "Con-
stitutionality and Jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court of Cook County" (master's thesis,
University of Chicago, 1932); T. D. Hurley, Origin of the Illinois Juvenile Court Law
(Chicago, 1907); Helen Jeter, The Chicago Juvenile Court (Washington, 1922).

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through contributions from wealthy patrons, selected and paid the salaries
of the early probation officers. When public authorities assumed financial
responsibility for the court personnel in 1907, reformers continued their
efforts to bar political influence from the selection of probation officers and
insisted that the officers be persons with a demonstrated competence in so-
cial welfare. The reformers also helped to select the judge who was named
each year to administer the juvenile court. In the early years, two women
from the Juvenile Court Committee often sat with the judge and helped
shape decisions.'9
Discretion in the interest of rehabilitation was the formal basis for the
court's decisions. Many reformers believed, however, that such decisions
could be made "scientifically." The probation officers were expected to have
social-work training and to provide background information on each youth
to guide the judge's decision. In 1909, in order to further scientific under-
standing of delinquency, reformers took the initiative in founding a Juve-
nile Psychopathic Institute. Under Dr. William Healy, the Institute became
a leading center for research into the causes of delinquency and made rec-
ommendations to the court concerning specific delinquents referred to the
The juvenile court was intended not only to rehabilitate delinquents but
also to intervene to aid those youths being led astray by the temptations of
city life. Under Illinois law, a juvenile might be declared delinquent if he

is growing up in idleness or crime; or knowingly frequents a house of ill-repute;

. . . or frequents any saloon or dram shop where intoxicating liquors are sold; or
patronizes or visits any public pool room or bucket shop; or wanders about the
street in the nighttime without being on any lawful business . . .; or uses vile,
obscene, vulgar, profane, or indecent language in any public place or about any

While the court generally dealt with more serious behavior by youths, the
language of the law reflected the hopes and views of some reformers.2'
Reformers, then, replaced the adversary model of the criminal court with
a rehabilitative model, and the juvenile court lacked the procedural safe-

1 Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago, Annual Reports. See also Louise de

Koven Bowen, Growing Up With a City (New York, 1926), 103-18; Jane Addams,
My Friend, Julia Lathrop (New York, 1935); Ray Ginger, Altgeld's America: The Lin-
coln Ideal versus Changing Realities (New York, 1958), 221-30.
' Elizabeth Parker, "Personnel and Organization in the Probation Department of the
Juvenile Court of Cook County" (master's thesis, University of Chicago, 1934). William
Healy's research findings were first published in his important The Individual Delinquent:
A Text-Book of Diagnosis and Prognosis for All Concerned in Understanding Offenders
(Boston, 1915).
21 Quotations from Benjamin, Constitutionality, 292. Jane Addams, Twenty Years at
Hull House (New York, 1961), 227-29.

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Urban Crime 629

guards of the criminal courts. As a result, some scholars have argued that the
founders of the juvenile court were insensitive to the civil liberties of the
young. In fact, many of the founders were acutely aware that the adversary
system often victimized the youths brought before the criminal courts. Prior
to the establishment of the juvenile court, young offenders seldom had
defense attorneys and thus went to trial undefended. When a delinquent did
have a defense attorney, the attorney was often more interested in his fee
than in the defense, so that the cost of the defense attorney was sometimes
another way that the adversary system victimized the defendant. If civic
reformers acted from an exaggerated faith in the possibilities of rehabilita-
tion, they acted from a genuinely realistic recognition of the failures of
adversary justice for the young and poor.22
Like so many urban criminal justice institutions, the juvenile court was
soon overburdened. Probation officers handled far more cases than they
could reasonably investigate or supervise. This made it difficult to maintain
the rehabilitative standards that were supposed to govern the court. The
number of youths found delinquent often depended more upon the avail-
ability of resources for processing them than upon the behavior of the
youths themselves. Between 1913 and 1914 the number of delinquents re-
ferred to the court rose from 1,956 to 2,916, an increase of nearly 50 per-
cent in the delinquency rate for Cook County. The reason for the increase
was that twenty-three additional probation officers were hired in 1914; and
the court could handle more cases.23 Given the intentions of the court's
founders and the realities of its operation, there are a number of questions
that need exploration, including the impact of the juvenile court upon the
definition of delinquency, upon the behavior of young persons, and upon
the opportunities for a variety of professionals to study and influence
youthful behavior in the streets of the city.
Reformers proved less successful in their efforts to influence the adult
criminal justice system. Their activities encountered resistance that stemmed
from vested interests, different values, and the influence of the criminal
underworld within urban politics. During the Progressive era, for example,
Chicago's decent citizens began a systematic campaign to rid the city of

22 Perhaps the most extreme argument that the founders of the juvenile court were
insensitive to civil liberties is Platt, Child Savers, 143-63. For other points of view, see
President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Task Force
Report: Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime (Washington, D.C., 1967), 1-40; David
Matza, Delinquency and Drift (New York, 1964), 101-51. See also, A. P. Drucker, On
the Trial of the Juvenile-Adult Offender (Chicago, 1912), 43; Louise de Koven Bowen,
Boys in the County Jail (Chicago, 1913), 3-5.
' Statistics from Clifforo1 R. Shaw and Earl D. Myers, "The Juvenile Delinquent," The
Illinois Crime Survey, 647-48.

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630 The Journal of American History

its world famous vice districts. In 1907, a group of businessmen, repre-

senting the city's prestigious clubs, formed a Joint Club Committee to com-
bat the white slave trade. Religious leaders, too, were active. In October
1909, evangelist Gipsy Smith led a protest parade of 12,000 law-abiding
citizens through the red-light district. The next year, the Church Federation
of Chicago asked the mayor to appoint a vice commission to investigate the
problem. The vice commission, whose members included both leading re-
formers and politicians, made a careful report in 1911. It described in de-
tail the vice conditions in Chicago and recommended an end to segregated
districts. In that same year, a number of business and civic leaders formed
the Committee of Fifteen to undertake a permanent campaign to eliminate
commercialized vice. With a full-time executive secretary and investigative
staff, the committee was the chief reform organization to fight vice and the
white slave trade in Chicago.24
The reformers' demands to end commercialized vice conflicted with the
vested relationships of both the police and politicians. The demands also
conflicted with the police conception about the proper methods of enforcing
vice laws in the city. Chicago police, like all American police, were faced
with more violations of law than could be prosecuted. Discretion was built
into daily police work.25 Police in Chicago were often primarily concerned
with maintaining order or, perhaps more accurately, the appearance of or-
der. The police sought to eliminate the open violations of law that would
bring complaints from local citizens or the scrutiny of reformers intent
upon finding scandal. Law enforcement was more vigorous in relatively
wealthy neighborhoods than in poorer neighborhoods. Such a policy repre-
sented the expectations of the local residents about the amount of violence
or vice that was tolerable. This meant that in marginal neighborhoods,
where organized criminals were powerful and other citizens exercised little
effective opposition, vice could flourish without creating local scandal.26

24 See note 10. The activities of the Committee of Fifteen can be followed in its Annual
Reports, Committee of 'Fifteen Papers (University of Chicago Library). See also Clifford
G. Roe, The Prodigal Daughter: The White Slave Evil and the Remedy (Chicago, 1911).
For general studies of the progressive campaign against prostitution, see Roy Lubove,
"The Progressive and the Prostitute," Historian, XXIV (May 1962), 308-30; Egal Feld-
man, "Prostitution, the Alien Woman and the Progressive Imagination, 1910-1915,"
American Quarterly, XIX (Summer 1967), 192-206.
' Jerome H. Skolnick, Justice Without Trial: Law Enforcement in Democratic Society
(New York, 1966); Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest: The Decision to Take a Suspect into
Custody (Boston, 1965); James Q. Wilson, Varieties of Police Behavior: The Manage-
ment of Law and Order in Eight Communities (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).
'Gosnell, Negro Politicians, 115-35; Chicago Committion on Race Relations, The
Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and A Race Riot (Chicago, 1922). An
interesting comparison is a description of police attitudes in an Italian ghetto in Boston
in the 1930s, William Foote Whyte, Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an

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Urban Crime 631

Furthermore, the police appear to have been generally quite tolerant of

vice, gambling, and liquor violations-to have adopted the view that such
activities were part of human nature and could not be effectively suppressed
by law enforcement. In 1912, when the city council held hearings to decide
whether to continue the segregated districts, police chiefs from twenty cities
testified that segregated districts were preferable to the scattering of vice
that would inevitably result from a policy of suppression. Even more sig-
nificant, perhaps, police officials issued orders in April 1910 in order to
head off the campaign against the red-light districts. Although operating or
frequenting a house of prostitution was illegal, Chicago police regulations
prescribed that "no house of ill-fame shall be permitted outside of certain
restricted districts, or to be established within two blocks of any school,
church, hospital, or public institution, or upon any street car line." Children
-if between the ages of three and eighteen-including messenger boys,
were not to be allowed in the district; no persons were to be held in a house
of prostitution by force; and open soliciting was not to be permitted. Fur-
thermore, "short skirts, transparent gowns or other improper attire shall
not be permitted in the parlors, or public rooms," and "obscene exhibitions
or pictures shall not be permitted."27 In short, the police response to de-
mands that laws against prostitution be enforced was to tighten informal
regulation rather than enforcement.
During the anti-vice crusade, the mayor and the state's attorney, faced
with reform pressure and periodic scandals, took action to obtain the sem-
blance of effective police enforcement. Eventually the mayor created a spe-
cial vice squad and removed the police chief and a police captain from their
commands. Many officers, as a result of civil service investigations, were
dismissed from the force. Although the campaign suffered many setbacks,
one-by-one the famous houses closed their doors, and vice either went un-
derground in Chicago or moved to working-class suburbs. By the end of
1914, the Committee of Fifteen declared with some satisfaction, "it is ad-
mitted by all who are in a position to know the facts that the old vice dis-
trict on the south side is practically closed."28
Reformers could disperse the segregated vice district because organized
criminal activity was vulnerable to certain types of pressure. The continued
threat of raids or liquor license revocations discouraged customers and gen-

Italian Slum (Chicago, 1943), 123-39. Wilson, Varieties of Police Behavior, 140-71, dis-
cusses the order maintenance function of the police.
2Quotations from Vice Commission of Chicago, Social Evil in Chicago, 329-30. See
also Carter H. Harrison, Stormy Years: The Autobiography of Carter H. Harrison, Five
Times Mayor of Chi-ago (Indianapolis, 1935), 308-09.
28 Quotation from Committee of Fifteen, Annual Report, 1914.

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632 The Journal of American History

erally made the business unprofitable. The Committee of Fifteen was able
to harass the vice operations because, in 1916, the state passed an Injunc-
tion and Abatement law. Under the law, private individuals could go to
court and, if they proved that a building was being used for immoral pur-
poses, obtain a court order closing the building completely for a year. The
committee's investigators no longer needed to rely upon the police to make
arrests under the criminal law. They could circumvent the criminal process
altogether and effectively strike at the profitability of organized prostitu-
While reformers successfully rearranged the patterns of vice in the city,
they did not substantially alter relationships among police, politicians, and
criminals. In 1915, William "Big Bill" Thompson became mayor of Chi-
cago. He gradually removed the honest police from positions of responsi-
bility. Investigators for the Committee of Fifteen soon found the police un-
cooperative. Thompson inaugurated an era of almost unprecedented coop-
eration between politicians and criminals-a cooperation that grew rapidly
with the coming of prohibition. Nor did the reformers succeed in jailing
the vice lords. A few went out of business. But many moved their operations
to the suburbs or, in the 1920s, became successful bootleggers.30 Reformers
were too peripheral to change the vested relations of criminals with police
and politicians.
A final illustration of reform activity is provided by the Chicago Crime
Commission. The commission, established by the Chicago Association of
Commerce in 1919 after a particularly flagrant payroll robbery, acted as a
watchdog for the business community. The commission's operating direc-
tor, Henry B. Chamberlin, a former newspaperman, attorney, and civic re-
former, took steps to develop personal contacts with key officials such as the
police chief, state's attorney, and various judges in the municipal and crimi-
nal courts. He also placed observers in the courts to keep notes on all felony
trials in the county. The orientation of the commission was punitive, and
its major goal was to make "justice" more certain, swift, and severe.3'
The Chicago Crime Commission undertook numerous campaigns to re-
form criminal justice. By the later 1920s it had decided that the major area
of corruption and laxity in the criminal courts was the system of plea bar-

29 Committee of Fifteen, Annual Report for years 1912 to 1930; and special reports
of the Committee of Fifteen for the 1920% Ernest W. Burgess Papers (University of
Chicago Library).
30Reckless, Vice in Chicago. See also Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Big Bill of
Chicago (Indianapolis, 1953); William H. Stuart, The Twenty Incredible Years (Chi-
cago, 1935).
" Bulletin of Chicago Crime Commission, Jan. 31, 1921.

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Urban Crime 633

gaining by which criminals received reduced sentences or were found guilty

of a lesser offense than the original charge. The bargaining system was
rooted in the impossible trial load placed upon the criminal courts. In Cook
County it was necessary not only that most felony cases be dismissed before
indictment but also that most indicted cases be settled by means other than
trial. In 1926 there were 13,117 felony arrests. Fully 70 percent of the
cases were dismissed at preliminary or grand jury hearings. Only .94 per-
cent of the defendants were found guilty of the original charge after trial;
another 2.6 percent pleaded guilty to the original charge; and 11 percent
were found guilty of a lesser charge, generally by a plea of guilty.32 Crimi-
nal trials played only a minor part in the disposition of criminal cases.
Criminal court dispositions resulted from a system of bargaining in which
the defendant (or his lawyer) attempted to secure a lesser charge or an
agreement to a moderate sentence in return for a plea of guilty. Because the
court and state's attorney lacked resources to try cases and the defendant
generally believed he received a better break by bargaining than he might
by trial, the system of plea bargaining was strongly entrenched within the
criminal justice system.
The commission's strategy was based upon a misperception. Although
plea bargaining was rooted in institutional necessities, the commission as-
sumed that the system stemmed from corruption or inefficiency of individ-
ual judges. During the first three months of 1928, therefore, the commis-
sion's observers in the criminal courts kept a record of felony waivers
granted by each of the seven judges. Three judges were found to have
waived the felony count in 364 cases, and the other four judges waived the
felony count in 205 cases. The three judges not only granted felony waivers
with the greatest liberality but also seemed to represent the alliance between
the courts and politics that civic leaders deplored. Judge Emmanuel Eller, a
Republican and a leader of what was believed to be one of the most cor-
rupt political rings in the city, allegedly held court on the sidewalk outside
a polling place in order to release election officials arrested by the police for
violations of election laws.33
In late April 1928, Frank J. Loesch, president of the Chicago Crime

' Illinois Crime Survey, 204, 209. Of the 276,000 persons arrested in Chicago in 1924
(including misdemeanors), more than 200,000 were discharged by the courts. Chicago
Daily News, Jan. 21, 1925. See also, Donald J. Newman, Conviction: The Determination
of Guilt or Innocence Without Trial (Boston, 1966).
" For background of the campaign, see Chicago Crime Commission File No. 11170,
as well as numerous newspaper clippings in the same file. For analysis of the judicial
election of 1927, see Chicago Crime Commission File No. 9578; Martin, Role of the Bar,

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634 The Journal of American History

Commission, demanded that the three judges be removed from the criminal
courts. The judges requested a judicial investigation of the charges. As a
result, a panel of six judges was established to hear evidence. Neither the
impugned judges nor the commission defended the system of felony waiv-
ers and plea bargaining, although it was then and remains today a basic
feature of criminal justice. Instead, the commission attempted to place the
blame upon the judges, and the judges attempted to place the blame upon
the state's attorney. After hearing evidence, the panel of judges brought in
a report that placed responsibility for felony waivers upon the state's attor-
ney. To no one's surprise, the judges were exonerated.34
During the next few years, as Loesch surveyed the courts, he periodically
issued bitter charges, fatherly admonitions, and grudging praise. In the
long run, however, his campaign exercised little influence upon the essen-
tially discretionary and bargaining nature of the criminal court process. The
reformers continued to believe that the discretionary administration of jus-
tice resulted from corruption or laziness; and the judges never offered a
reasoned justification for the system which departed so greatly from the
way the courts were supposed to operate.35
There were a number of factors, then, that undermined the universalistic
standards of the legal system and that explained the informal relations of
criminals, politicians, and criminal justice officials. One was the heterogene-
ity of the neighborhoods and life styles of the city. Gambling was widely
accepted among some groups and within certain neighborhoods; violation
of liquor laws before prohibition and violation of prohibition laws in the
1920s had wide support among some ethnic groups for whom drinking was
part of a way of life; even prostitution in certain red-light districts became
part of standard entertainment and business activity of the area. Where
such activities were accepted, the police were under little day-to-day pres-
sure to enforce unpopular laws and, in fact, were under considerable pres-
sure to develop informal relations that would maintain order rather than
enforce the law. The criminal justice system, as part of the larger political
system, often operated to provide jobs, favors, and income for politicians
and officials. Furthermore, the criminal justice system was overburdened.
Policemen, faced with more petty and serious crimes than could be handled

'It is based on the many newspaper clippings in Chicago Crime Commission File No.
11170. It is interesting that John J. Healy, the Crime Commission lawyer who presented the
commission's case against the judges, had earlier blamed the state's attorney for felony
waiver abuse. See John J. Healy, "The Prosecutor (in Chicago) in Felony Cases," The
Illinois Crime Survey, 285-331.
"See Chicago Crime Commission File No. 11170; also newspaper clippings, Frank
Loesch File, Chicago Crime Commission.

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Urban Crime 635

by arrest, had to develop informal standards to guide their behavior. The

court system, presented with more cases than could be tried, had to dispose
of cases by rapid processing, dismissals, and bargaining. An informal sys-
tem largely replaced the formal system. The combination of political and
personal favoritism with informal discretion meant that criminal justice de-
parted widely from the impartial, due process model that was written into
law and supported by civic reformers.
The weakness of civic reformers stemmed partly from the fact that their
moral values were not shared by a number of their fellow citizens and their
legal values were not shared by politicians and officials. But this should not
be overemphasized. There was in Chicago a widespread concern with the
impact of commercialized vice, saloons, crime, and official corruption. The
major weakness of civic reformers was that they lived outside the intellec-
tual and geographical communities they wished to reform, and they were not
participants in the criminal justice system they wished to change. While they
often achieved satisfactory law enforcement in their own communities, they
were generally unable to have their standards of enforcement accepted
throughout the city. And, while they achieved success in the juvenile court
system, they remained peripheral to the adult system and to the political
factions that controlled it. Despite their wealth and prestige, they were out-
siders to the subculture of politics, crime, and criminal justice.
The strength of the criminal underworld lay in the fact that its members
were not outsiders. They could frequently maintain mutually satisfactory, if
sometimes ambiguous, relations with enforcement officials. They were tied
to politics by a shared belief that the system should operate on the basis of
friendship and favors. They played a part in organized labor and in many
aspects of business activity. Within the red-light district and in other parts
of the city, they participated in a social life of saloons, hangouts, and gam-
bling parlors. They had a secure place within the social structure of Chicago
and other American cities at the turn of the century.

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