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Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project

Final Report of Work Completed Under

Phase IV (August-December 1999)

 

Submitted to the

Pennsylvania Historical and Records Commission

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Grant Program FY 1998-1999

 

Grant No. ME830329

January 2000

 

  

City Archives of Philadelphia

3101 Market Street, Suite 150

Philadelphia, PA 19104-4709

Phone (215) 685-9401

FAX (215) 685-9409

http://phila.gov/phils/carchive.html

How did you promote the activities that the grant funded to the public?

The activities which the grant funded were promoted in several ways . Flyers were mailed to several local colleges and universities near Philadelphia offering unpaid archival internships to interested students. These flyers offered opportunities to students to participate in the Project and obtain experience in conducting background research in newspaper files, researching criminal docket indices, and building a data base of information about the records.(See Appendices). An intern from Villanova University, Anna Martin, who had been attracted to the Project by this method, was so adept in its work that she replaced Gail Farr, our original Project Archivist, and was in charge at the beginning of the work on this phase of the court sampling until she resigned for personal reasons and was replaced by a successor. We also contacted the Corporation for Transition Work and requested transitional workers (those being trained to go from welfare to work) for the Project Two young ladies participated in the Project doing valuable support work and, in turn, developed important work skills.. Finally, since this particular Project was but one phase of a long term Criminal Court record sampling project supported by grants from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, we also might mention and open meeting of the Project?s Advisory Committee which was held at the 1998 NAGARA Meeting. This was open to the public and members of the profession were present and offered comments and suggestions. This allowed us to make contact with representatives of other archival institutions which faced similar problems and from whom we , in turn, received valuable imput.

 

Describe the activities that the grant allowed the organization to undertake. List final work products.

This grant was used to fund the purchase of services, under personal services contracts, of Project Archivists who carried on the Criminal Court Record Sampling Project. The Project Archivists were Valerie Ann Lutz and Bridget Elwork, who succeeded Ms. Lutz. The Project Archivists did research in court docket indices of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions in order to select entries of homicides and spectacular and notorious cases. Our intent was to retain a 100% sample of each of these categories as part of our sampling strategy and in order to satisfy the State-mandated permanent retention period for homicide cases. This information was then entered into the Criminal Court Records Sampling data base. This data base includes the numbers of inclusive bills of indictment related to a case; first, middle, and last name and alias of the person indicted, the charge, indication of how this particular sample was selected, the box number in which the original indictment was found, and the box number to which it will be moved (although the latter has not yet been assigned.). Index research on the homicide and spectacular and notorious cases and entries into the data base have been made to 1955. The Project Archivists also did segregation of the Bills of Indictment and Notes of Testimony in order to separate those Bills and Notes which have been selected for permanent retention using our sampling methodology. The Bills of Indictment had already been divided into clusters related to individual cases by transitional workers. With the exception of homicides and those cases deemed spectacular or notorious , a sample of these clusters for certain months was selected using random number tables. The sampled Bills, including those for homicides and spectacular and notorious cases were segregated into separate boxes. Notes of Testimony relating to the selected Bills of Indictment were also segregated. Segregation has been completed to 1952. Those records which were not selected as part of the sample will be retained until their retention period is completed in accordance with the County Records Manual . The sample will be retained permanently.

The long range result of this grant will be a considerable reduction in the great bulk of Philadelphia?s criminal court records and the retention of a representative sample selected using a rigorous sampling methodology. At the end of the process our Project Archivists had managed to reduce the bulk of Bills of Indictment and Notes of Testimony by 55% from 133 cubic feet to 60 cubic feet which will be permanently retained.(See Appendix A). During this period we also received permission from the Office of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions to dispose of 337 cubic feet of Bills and Notes which had been sampled earlier and which were now past their retention period according to the County Records Manual. Records which are being retained permanently have entered into a data base for use by researchers. A printout of the database for the year 1949 has been attached to this report to illustrate the fields used in compiling the data (See Appendix B). Another product of the grant has been the opportunity to test the clarity and usefulness of the written procedures for sampling criminal court records.(See Appendix C). These procedures will be available on the City Archives? web site when a final revision is completed. Since both Project Archivists were new to the Project, it allowed us to determine whether the procedures could be easily understood by others who wished to use our methodology and, in our experience they can.

How did the community benefit? (include attendance figures if appropriate.)

The primary community which the end product of this grant will benefit is that community of historians and social scientists who think of criminal court case records as a useful resource for the study of crime, of the treatment of individuals and classes of citizens by the criminal justice system, and for information on the impact of social change on the volume and nature of criminal acts. In the past the existence of the Bills of Indictment and of the Notes of Testimony was not readily known by the scholarly community and even when scholars were aware of the existence of these records, their bulk was so great that researchers were hesitant about using them. By condensing the volume of these records by use of a rigorous sampling methodology, the City Archives is able to present interested scholars with a much smaller body of records which accurately represents the whole and by entering the retained sample in a data base, we have made the records more usable by researchers. Since the retained sample has been transferred to the City Archives, their availability and the sampling procedural guidelines will be made known to the scholarly community through the Archives? web site and through the Philadelphia Information Locator Service.

The secondary benefit is to the public at large. By establishing a sampling methodology which will allow a representative sample of the whole to be retained permanently, while the balance of these records are destroyed at the conclusion of their retention period, we are reducing the volume of records that must be retained in storage. Therefore, we also reduce the cost of storage to the local government and the taxpayers who support it.

 List of Appendices:

Appendix A: Report of Reduction in Bulk for Years 1949-1952

Appendix B: Printout of database inventory of cases selected for permanent retention for January & February 1949.

Appendix C: Procedural Manual