The modern idea of a police force came about in 1829. The Metropolitan Police were formed in London under the direction of Home Secretary, later Prime Minister, Robert Peel (1788-1850). As the police got to work, attitudes to the role of prisons and the death penalty began to change. In 1831, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862) published this work. Born into wealth and marrying wealthier, he had spent three years in Newgate Prison in London for his role in abducting a 15-year-old girl to France. The book is the result of his personal insights, after many conversations with criminals of all types, into the prison system and its effects.
Wakefield – later a successful politician and colonialist – argued, to put it in modern terms, that the justice system of the day needed fundamental reform: that prisons served as little more than colleges of crime, and that public hangings, far from deterring, merely glamourised criminality. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) owned a copy of the book, and quoted from it in his writing.