Criminal law Preliminary police data reveal a gloomy picture of last spring – a criminologist at the University of Helsinki explains why an exceptional wave of violence is not surprising

For the past five years, Miikka Vuorela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has been compiling crime statistics from Finland from the 19th century to the present day.

In spring During the severe coronavirus restrictions, crime increased significantly in Finland, according to preliminary data from the police in 2020.

“There is talk of a very exceptional increase in crime. For example, serious violence has increased more than ever in decades, ”says a doctoral student in historical criminology at the University of Helsinki, a lawyer Miikka Vuorela.

For the past five years, Vuorela has compiled statistics on the number of crimes and criminal titles in Finland from the 19th century until 2019.

Looking at history, one notices that various crises have always brought spikes in crime statistics. During non-violent crises, there has often been a wave of property crime throughout history, for example during the famine years of the 1860s or the scarcity of the 1930s.

Violence has traditionally increased when the crisis itself has been accompanied by violence, as during World War II.

“In light of historical benchmarks, it is a little exceptional that serious violence has increased during the corona epidemic, even though it is a non-violent crisis.”

Miikka Vuorela is one of the few researchers in Finland whose main work is studying historical criminology, ie changes in crime and social control towards it as a historical phenomenon.­

Vuorela associates the increase in crime in the spring with the deteriorating financial situation of people with the fact that more time has been spent in private homes than usual.

Various mental health and substance abuse problems erupted at the onset of the corona crisis as society’s safety nets were cut short by restrictions.

“It created favorable conditions for the increase in violence. Still, it is somewhat surprising that it is precisely serious violent crimes that have risen so much. ”

Vuorela points out that this is an intermediate stage in research, because there is not much information yet about the effects of the corona crisis. The information obtained is preliminary information on the crime brought to the attention of the authorities. There are still uncertainties about how crime has been affected by the interest rate crisis.

“We still have to wait a year or two to study the effects of the coronary crisis on overall crime, for example through victim surveys.”

Vuorela is one of the few scholars in Finland whose main work is studying historical criminology, ie changes in crime and social control over it as a historical phenomenon.

In recent years, Vuorela has collected statistics on crime, sentences and prison numbers from Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark for as long as it is possible to collect them at all, ie in practice from 1809 to 2019.

“Statistical data covering the longest part of 210 years shows what kind of crimes have been convicted in Finland, what kind of crimes have been reported to the police, what kind of punishments have been imposed and how many people have been imprisoned.”

Crime statistics are due to be published in their entirety online and printed next year. Vuorela is also currently working on a dissertation focusing on statistics from the period of Finnish autonomy.

“My strongest hope and goal is that after their publication, the statistics will be actively used and examined by researchers and interested lay people in Finland and elsewhere in the world.”

According to Miikka Vuorela, the most commonly convicted crimes in 19th century Finland included, for example, defamation, drunkenness and forest waste, ie theft of wood.­

About statistics it turns out, for example, that cruel and severe medieval punishments were used in Finland for much longer than in other Nordic countries.

According to Vuorela, there is one big reason for this, and its name is Russia. When Finland became an autonomous part of Russia in 1809, Finland broke away from the development of criminal law in the other Nordic countries.

The other Nordic countries implemented significant criminal law reforms, such as those relating to the death penalty, in the early 19th century.

There was also a desire to abolish the death penalty in Finland. What was problematic, however, was that Russia banned the Finnish Parliament from convening for more than 50 years. At that time, there was no legislator in Finland who had carried out criminal law reform.

Still, the death penalty was not carried out in practice in Finland. People sentenced to execution were deported to Siberia or sentenced to long life sentences.

Another reason for the delay in criminal justice change was the economic crisis caused by the famine of the 1860s, which prevented the construction of more prisons needed for reform until decades later.

In the 19th century crime was not yet concentrated in the metropolitan area in the same way as it is today. Many minor crimes were convicted in the city that could not be controlled in the countryside. However, serious violence and property crime took place especially in rural areas, such as Ostrobothnia, where most Finns still lived at that time.

All those sentenced to long-term imprisonment were still placed in Helsinki, in the Viapori fortress in Suomenlinna.

“There really wouldn’t have been room to keep all the prisoners, but the majority of people convicted of serious crimes in Finland were still imprisoned in the dungeons.”

The severity of the penal system was reflected, for example, in a situation where a person was initially sentenced to three years in prison for repeated thefts. After sentencing in prison, it might be considered that if a person does not have a job or a permanent job after prison, he or she is loose.

At that time, the person was not released, but was immediately re-arrested in bulk. Release from custody required the acquisition of a job or housing. Retrieving them was tricky from the Viapori dungeon. In practice, a sentence of three years ‘imprisonment could result in thirty years’ imprisonment.

“Today, smartphones and wallets are stolen, in the 19th century, another’s timber.”

Vuorelan the statistics compiled by the state of the crime show the number of convictions handed down at any given time. In the 19th century, the most commonly convicted crimes included defamation, drunkenness, and deforestation, that is, theft of timber from another’s forest.

“Today, smartphones and wallets are stolen, in the 19th century, another’s timber.”

Defamation was long punishable only when it alluded another person to commit the crime. In practice, a man was barked at by a thief and a woman by a whore.

“If someone called you a thief or a whore and you didn’t react to it, you signaled to the rest of the community that it is true,” Vuorela says.

Indeed, defamation was considered a more serious crime than it is today, and there was a great need to defend against it in court. The honor of the people was practically valuable for everyday life when society was based on agricultural communities or small urban communities.

Today, 98 percent of defamation stops at pre-trial investigation.

Some of the criminal titles of the 19th century no longer exist. For example, undercover sex, ie sex between unmarried people, was the third most commonly convicted crime in 1840s Finland.

Crime statistics drafting 200-year-old, handwritten, yellowed, and sour reports was not always easy. Vuorela also spent time learning the handwriting of individual scribes.

The most difficult material in terms of its physical size alone was the Publication Series by name Prison lists in the Crown Prison Act, which records Finland’s earliest prison statistics from the 19th century, Vuorela says.

The individual parts of the publication series are about 3,000 to 4,000 pages long and the pages of the book are thicker than cardboard instead of modern office paper. There are 1–12 books for each year and they are kept in the National Archives.

Every prisoner from 1809–1918 who was imprisoned in Finland is recorded in huge opuses.

The publication series The Crown Prison Act’s prison lists, which record Finland’s earliest prison statistics from the 19th century.­

The opuses are marked with the name of each prisoner, the penitentiary, the time of punishment and the reason for the transit to the prison.

For example, the 1833 prison list mentions a 68-year-old male prisoner who served a life sentence for theft. He had been transferred from the Viapori fortress to the Svartholma sea fortress off Loviisa in 1816.

The man would have been legally sentenced to death, but his sentence had been commuted in court to life imprisonment.

Some of the criminal titles of the 19th century no longer exist.

Vuorelan according to the causes of crime change very slowly. People still commit crimes for much the same reasons as in the 19th century.

According to Vuorela, the background is, among other things, economic factors that predispose to crime.

“Crime is anomalous activity, antisocial and abnormal behavior. Persons with a predisposition to aggressive and impulsive behavior drift into abnormal behavior. Such a person was more vulnerable to crime in the 19th century and will continue to be so in 2020. ”

In the 19th century, Finland wanted to isolate classes that were considered dangerous from society, even though they had not yet done anything wrong.

For example, the loose, ie the unemployed and landless population, were imprisoned or sent to Siberia to prevent it from becoming a criminal.

Today, there is still a situation in Finland that socio-economic deprivation can increase an individual’s susceptibility to crime. The solution, however, is to try to prevent crime, for example by equalizing income disparities and well-being.

Today According to Vuorela, Finland’s criminal policy is exemplary and effective at the international level.

The reason for this is that the Nordic criminal policy is strongly research-based and seeks to prevent the harm caused by crime, Vuorela says.

“We have a mild criminal policy, but on the other hand, our society is otherwise very equal and the crime situation is good.”

Vuorela sees that the areas for development are more social and economic.

“There is room for improvement, especially in the prevention of exclusion. In that no one falls out of society. ”


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