The fast development of electronic data storage in the last quarter of the twentieth century has caused what might be called a 'data explosion' in almost every area of public and private life. This is indeed true of crime and justice, most visibly in law enforcement, where the collection and use of information has always been 'core business' (see, for example, Ericson and Haggerty 1997). The most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is not just the volume of data being collected and amassed, however the broad range of aspects of the 'crime problem' that are now being vigilantly 'measured'. A study of these provides a useful illustration of the two-way relationship between developments in the information field and changes in thinking about crime and justice.
Yet, the more organized kinds of data directly inform policy-making and 'seep through' into the public consciousness through political debate and media reports, where they are used to support or counter claims based on more unreliable evidence.
In the 1940s and 1950s, almost the only sources of significant and organized information about crime in England and Wales were the annually published Criminal Statistics, and the results ...