Background to Cr inge By A. V. DAVIS T HE Midlands towns
of Coventry and Leicester stand twenty-four miles apart. Both have enjoyed an almost unbroken spell of prosperity for thirty years. Leicester with its wool and leather trades and its new light engineering industry. Coventry with its bicycle, automobile and aircraft industries. They are cities of roughly the same size and popula- tion. Yet today Leicester seems a city of contented, well-fed, well-dressed and law-abiding people, whereas Coventry is known as a haunt of criminals. What truth is there is these two pictures? The number of indictable crimes detected in Coventry in 1949 was 1,779 and in Leicester was 1,452. In Coventry proceedings were taken against 850 persons, adults and juveniles ; in Leicester against 738. In Coventry 190 persons were commited for trial at the Assizes and Quarter Sessions ; in Leicester 104. Crime, it seems, is higher in Coventry, although there is no marked preponderance. But these figures do not include undetected crimes and wrongdoers against whom the police were unable to take action. In Coventry the number of offences of an indictable nature reported to the police was 4,025, an average of eleven a day. In Leicester the number was 2,660, fewer by one-third.
In Coventry 280 offenders under seventeen were held responsible for 628 of the 1,779 detected crimes. In Leicester proceedings were taken against 233 juveniles for 300 of the 1,452 crimes. The number of delinquents was approximately the same in both cities, but the number of crimes committed by the Coventry boys and girls was more than double. In 1949 Coventry children reached the headlines of the national Press through swinging on railway-signals and lying on-the track while express trains passed over them. It was a year when offences not usually committed by juveniles—attempted murder, man- slaughter. indecent assault, carnal knowledge, perversion— appeared on the lists of the Juvenile Court. High as they are. the 1949 figures show an improvement on those of 1948, the peak year for juvenile crime, but the downward trend has not been continued. In Ipso the number of juveniles brought before the magistrates 'rose to 321, an increase of 15 per cent. In both Coventry and Leicester crimes of violence have shown an increase, indictable crimes in Coventry rising to 955. In 1950 the incidence of crime in Coventry per ten thousand of the population was nearly twice as great as in Leicester. Why was 1948 a bad year? Why did crime decrease in 1949 and increase in 1950? During the war years, when delinquency figures caused alarm throughout the country, the common excuse was " father in the Forces." It never held good in Coventry. where, with the munitions factories and aeronautical and auto- mobile works, men were deferred from call-up by the thousand. We heard, and still hear, the explanation " mother in industry." In Coventry there is no traditional place for women in the heavy industries of the dtrict. Married women are employed in ribbon-weaving, rayon-spinning and in the production of telephones and television sets, but part-time work for wives with families is difficult to obtain.
By contrast it has always been the custom in Leicester, as in other wool and leather towns, for married women to go out to work. The high standard of living and family stability is attri- buted to the fact that two weekly wage-packets are brought home. At the outbreak of war 62 per cent. of the women in the hosiery' industry were married. In 1949 as many as 71,162 women and 6,265 girls.-were employed in industry. Elderly women in the past used to act as " minders " to the children of younger workers, but now there arc numerous day-nurseries where children can be kept secure.
Does " overcrowding " breed juvenile delinquency? There is little doubt that uncomfortable living-conditions are helping tc produce the frustrated antagonistic people who find their way into the courts. In Coventry, in 1949, 12.067 people put in applications for Corporation houses. At the moment the Corporation holds 3,000 applications for private building licences. The Rent Tribunal receives on an average forty requests a week for rent reduction—ample evidence of dissatisfaction. Before the 1940 blitz there were 65,000 houses in the city. Bombing destroyed 4,062 and damaged 50,233. Today it is estimated that close on 80,000 persons are in need of modern houses, and it is proposed to spend £5,000,000 on housing in the next five years. But is Coventry overcrowded? With a population of 254,900 and inhabited dwellings totalling 70,550. the city has an average' of 3.61 persons per house, not a particularly high figure. although when the census is made this year the population may be found to be much greater. Leicester, on the other hand, suffered no heavy bombing. Even so, it has an average of 3.5 persons per house.
What of crime and poverty? Enquiries made in Coventry in 1950 show that delinquency does not flourish solely in " under- privileged " districts. A large number of the juveniles placed on probation come from homes that arc financially sound. It cannot be lack of money that is the motive behind Coventry's crime. The city has the highest pay-rates of any town in Britain. Last autumn, when a Sunday newspaper published an article on Coventry's " big money," hundreds of men flocked to the city in search of jobs at seventeen pounds a week. Accommodation being 1. irtually non-existent, many were unable to find a bed even for a night. At the present moment, although the world demand for cars shows no sign of decreasing, there is a slight feeling of economic insecurity. The city depends. almost entirely on one type of industry for its prosperity. But Coventry has no history of unemployment. The population has increased five- fold in the last half-century, and there has always been full employment.
In Leicester the situation is even more favourable. Many of the workers are masters of two and sometimes three different trades. A man might, for instance, leave his circular knitting- frame and take up " clicking " in a shoe-factory. A woman might change from " linking " the heels of stockings to inspecting the segments of typewriters. There is interchange, too, between the sexes, with women doing men's work in light engineering and men engaged in what were formerly women's occupations in the boot-trade. There are few workers who, in the event of a slump in one industry, could not make a living in another.
Coventry and Leicester have each absorbed more than two thousand European immigrants, and Coventry in addition has taken in workers from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and all parts of England. Many of the new arrivals are forced by the housing shortage to leave wives and children behind and live in hostels. Boredom drives many into the public-houses. The sudden freedom from marital restraint leads others into wild behaviour. Many have set up establishments with other women. and now have two " wives " and two families dependent on their earnings. In 1949 the probation department dealt with no fewer than 1,616 matrimonial and kindred social cases. In 1950 the total fell to 1,188. a welcome reduction but still high enough to cause concern.
Both Coventry and Leicester are aware of their responsibilities under the Children Act of 1948 in providing homes for orphans and Care or Protection cases and for difficult and maladjusted children deprived of normal family affection. The two cities are also pressing ahead with plans for special schools and remedial clinics for subnormal and defective children. There is an associa- tion between delinquency and a low intelligence quotient. The boys coming before the two Juvenile Courts often display back- wardness in school lessons, and nearly all possess some minor physical defect such as a squint, a stammer, adenoids or deafness.
Juvenile crime keeps pace with adult crime. An answer to the question of causes might be found if a national survey were made, giving not only crime figures but relevant statistics on police strength, after-care of offenders, drunkenness. public health, &c. At present the information is dispersed among half- a-dozen different reports by Corporation officials published in various months of the year. The incidence of crime is highest among children and juveniles under twenty-one. From then onwards there is a steady decrease year by year, until after the age of sixty only incorrigible " old lags " find themselves before the magistrates. This may not be a bad sign. It points to the effectiveness of modern treatment—reform rather than punish- ment, prevention rather than cure.