Sampling Methods

It is difficult to draw conclusions from these data due to abundant sampling error.

The sampling methods were not consistent throughout the data collection process. Some students utilized a random number generator in order to choose which profiles to sample, whereas others chose the profiles that were the most legible. Due to the differences in selection criteria, the aggregate sample cannot be considered truly random.

Much of the error also lies within the source material itself. The profiles were not uniformly formatted throughout the time period in question. The information provided was not consistent in terms of vocabulary used or categories provided. For this reason, we standardized the qualitative data to fit within a few specific categories.

The changes that were made to the data are as follows:

All eye colors were fixed to be one color (some were given as two different colors or a mixture of two), and were fixed to be Blue, Brown, Grey, Black, or Hazel. Any variation of these (e.g. Light Blue, Dark Blue, etc.) were fixed to be the base color (e.g. Blue).

All hair colors were fixed to be one color (some were given as two different colors or a mixture of two), and were fixed to be Black, Dark Brown, Brown, Light Brown, Red, Grey, and Light. Any other colors that were listed (e.g. Chestnut, Blond, Auburn, etc.) were fixed to fall within these categories (e.g. Brown, Light, Red, etc.). If a hair color fell within two categories, the color that was listed first was chosen to be the color.

All skin tones were fixed to be Black, Dark, Florid, Fair, and Medium. Any other tones that were listed (e.g. Sallow, Ruddy, Mulatto, etc.) were fixed to fall within one of the given categories. Any extra features (e.g. Freckles) were removed and are not accounted for in the final data set. This section required a great amount of fixing, as there was a broad range of complexions in our sample. Also, when analyzing the data in relation to time, Medium skin tones did not appear until 1879. Florid skin tones appeared more frequently earlier in the data but stopped appearing after 1894. When two skin tones were listed (e.g. Dark or Florid), the tone that was listed first was chosen.

In terms of the crimes committed, crimes were fixed to be uniform. This meant reducing all types of Larceny, Burglary, Robbery, Assault, Forgery, Manslaughter, and Murder to one category. This removed distinctions between Grand Larceny and Petty Larceny, as well as any distinction between different degrees of crime (e.g. 3rd degree Burglary and 1st degree Burglary). This was done in order to compile all of the data. Some profiles listed degrees while others did not, therefore the degrees were removed entirely. In addition, all crimes listed as “Assault to” (e.g. Assault to Commit Rape, Assault to Commit Robbery) were considered to be Assault.

Only Larceny, Burglary, Robbery, Assault, Forgery, Counterfeiting, Rape, Murder and Manslaughter were included in the final analysis, as these were the most common crimes committed (those exceeding 20 instances) or those that were determined to be otherwise significant (e.g. Rape and Murder).

In terms of crimes committed versus complexion, any attempted crime charges were included within their greater categories. Counterfeiting charges were not included in this section because any and all Counterfeiting charges fell within 1896 and 1907. I did not believe that this captured the data as a whole, and chose to leave them out. An analysis of the birth places of the inmates sampled was also not included in order to maintain the scale of the project.

Some data was left unaccounted for (e.g. Occupation, Religion, Literacy). This was due to difficulty in standardizing the data (as in the case of Occupation), or because it was deemed less important for the project as a whole (as in the case of Religion and Literacy). There is also some missing data, such as a large gap in reporting of crimes and sentences between June 1880 and May 1884. There other smaller gaps in the data for eye color, hair color, and complexion throughout the data, but most notably between July 1865 and February 1868. These gaps are due to the data missing from the original register or due to the data being unreadable on the original register.

In making these changes to the data, the accuracy of the sample is diminished, especially when accounting for human error. It is possible that mistakes were made when handling the data, which can lead to further inaccuracies.

This can be considered to be a preliminary analysis of the data. It provides a simple overview of the sample but is by no means exhaustive; it cannot accurately describe the population. There are many sources of error and as such, no true statistical analysis or extrapolation of any kind should be pulled from this data or the charts provided. These data should be used only as a way to illustrate the concepts discussed throughout this site.

If you would like to view the source material, you may do so here [].

Assessing the Profiles of Sing Sing Inmates: 1905-1912

An Introduction to the Criminal Neighborhoods Map

I. Introduction

New York City Below 14th Street, 1893
New York City Below 14th Street, 1893

Location is primary and immediate in identifying crime. The format of a news alert makes essential the “what” and “where” for citizens’ precaution and for the attention of authorities. Outside of their primary functions, criminal reporting, as well as perhaps a separate perception of crime, have seldom appeared to be homogeneously distributed in space in socio-political theory. As early as 1833, in the first American translation of Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville’s book, On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France, New Yorker Francis Lieber claimed simply in his introduction that “cities produced more crime than rural regions”. The theories of influence Lieber accounts, including those that population “size equaled deviance” were questioned since American Urban Analyst Adna F. Weber in The Growth of Cities.  Weber’s analysis went beyond sheer measures of population to refine theories of crime’s causality, relating nefarious activity to the number of saloons and bars per capita, to public anxieties and infrastructural decay from overcrowding, and to the development of shared ideology in packed spaces, with basis in German Analyst Dr. George Hansen. Though these theories held some clout during the 19th and turn of the 20th centuries, many are objectively fallacious (Erik H. Monkkonnen counted the conflation of a greater sample size in a populated city with more crime per capita). In his study on homicide cases in New York City in the late 19th into the turn of the 20th century, Eric H. Monkkonen asserts that Lieber’s and Weber’s analyses are empty abstract logic. Though their theories are unfounded, independent of actual observation and analysis of urban populations, some social clout was falsely created when observable realities were rationalized in academic work to fit the theory. Of Webner’s analysis in 1833, as well as the mistake of conflating sample size with inflated crime per capita, Monkkonnen finds that “if this was popular perception, which then was reinforced by sociological theory, and then, after the mid twentieth century, even came to be true, these confluences may be the source of our misconceptions. By the mid twentieth century, the association of big cites with crime had changed to conform to the theory [that] big cities did tend to have more crime per capita.”

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Leps’ Argument on Criminal Reports within the Context of Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century New York City

Marie-Christine Leps identifies three main formats that were used for the reporting of criminal activity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers and discusses how each of them contributed to the public’s understanding of “the criminal.”[1] Although Leps’ argument focuses on newspapers that were published in European cities (primarily Paris and London), evidence found in newspapers demonstrates that it also applies to those published during the late nineteenth/early twentieth century in New York City.

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Assessing the Profiles of Sing Sing Inmates: 1895-1904

Assessing the Profiles of Sing Sing Inmates: 1885-1894

Assessing the Profiles of Sing Sing Inmates: 1875-1884

Assessing the Profiles of Sing Sing Inmates: 1865-1874

Jacob Riis: A Key Figure in Constructing the Image of 19th Century “Toughs”

The media industry that pervaded public life the most during the late nineteenth century was print media, which includes the creation and publication of novels, magazines, and newspapers. A particularly influential writer was Jacob Riis (1849-1914), who paired his writing with pictures taken with flash photography, a feature that was developed during the late 19th century. This allowed Riis’ work to have a more significant effect on the public’s understanding of the themes of his work, which focused on revealing the poor living conditions and the poverty of New York City’s crime-ridden slums. While the purpose of his work was to initiate social reforms, Jacob Riis’ exposés of criminal activity also helped the public to understand the nineteenth century criminal.

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Legalized Bias and Judicial Malpractice in Nineteenth Century New York City


In 1884, Judge Henry Gildersleeve declared New York City a cesspool of theft and avarice. He blamed the deterioration of the city’s moral fiber on a “class of criminals”, a social entity consisting of New York’s most undesirable inhabitants.  Gildersleeve was an authoritative witness of the newfound criminal element. As Justice of the Court of General Sessions, he sentenced thousands of men and women to prison each year. In carrying out this civic function, he and his colleagues exercised an enormous amount of discretionary power. Not only could each judge sentence a defendant however he saw fit, he could also call for an arrest without issuing a warrant and levy fines based on unfounded personal suspicions. These powers were stated explicitly in contemporary legislation, giving magistrates the legal precedent to selectively apprehend and penalize those individuals they deemed most dangerous to the public. By deciding whom to summon, indict, condemn, and imprison, the nineteenth century New York City judiciary played a decisive role in the construction of the criminal class.

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