Why Are Criminal Statistics Like a Bikini? A Famous Criminologist Brings Wit to His Grim Subject
"Waiters are not known for their heroic virtues, and they all went under the tables," Sir Leon jokes. Despite his wound he gave spirited chase, soon joined by a policeman who was so confused he arrested both assailant and victim. After some sorting out, the bandaged student resumed his journey south.
The passage of a half century has given Radzinowicz a far broader perspective on crime and violence in society. Now a British subject who was knighted in 1970, he is the author of 12 books and editor of 42 others; his four-volume History of English Criminal Law is a landmark. With self-deprecating wit, he says his scholarly works "look like American steaks: too much to eat and too little to enjoy."
He was a founder of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, from which he retired as director six years ago. But he continues to teach, often in the U.S., most recently at New York City's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Droll observations are second nature to him. "Criminal statistics," he told his students (including police, probation and prison officers) "are like a bikini—what they reveal is suggestive, and what they hide is vital."
The son of a Polish surgeon, young Radzinowicz studied in Paris and Geneva before Rome. "During all that time I didn't earn a living," he recalls with candor. "I always received a contribution from my parents, and I traveled a lot." In 1936, while a faculty member at the Free University in Warsaw, he was sent to study the British penal system. A year later he was invited to Cambridge to help develop criminology into an academically respected discipline.
As a pioneer, Sir Leon became a sort of roving Henry Kissinger in his field. Both the U.N. and the Council of Europe took advantage of his expertise. In 1968 he served as a consultant to President Lyndon Johnson's National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. He recalls being asked why England was so much less violent than the U.S. "Maybe the English don't have the same energy," he replied. "The United States is so much more dynamic, more vital, more active, and crime in some ways is part and parcel of the temperature of the country."
Sir Leon is a cultivated man who enjoys concerts, art exhibits, the theater (especially musical comedies; in New York he saw Grease twice)—and martinis. He is separated from his American-born second wife, Mary Ann, a Radcliffe graduate who teaches literature at Cambridge. They have two children, Ann, 19, a flutist, and William, 18, who is studying art history.
For criminologists, Sir Leon notes, the world today presents "a gloomy picture. All kinds of crime are increasing everywhere, even in the socialist countries." Why? "The opportunities have increased. There are more goods. The authority of the family has been weakened. Religious beliefs have declined. There is a greater impatience to satisfy our needs." Yet Radzinowicz does not believe vengeance is the solution at all. "The best prison reform is to send as few people there as possible," he says. "Keep only the violent and dangerous criminals there." As for capital punishment, he says wryly, "It's quick, cheap and definitive. I am against it."