I came across this interesting article by David Friedman on the operation of the English criminal law in the period before police and public prosecutions. At this time there was almost no use of prisons as a form of punishment and criminals were most usually prosecuted by their victims.
I was led to the article by an off-hand remark by Dr Stephen Davies in this old lecture on a subject of great interest to me, namely the libertarian radicals of the English Civil War, which those of you who know me will be aware tend to crop up with some regularity in diverse discussions of politics and history.
The remark was a reference to Associations for the Prosecution of Felons, whereby private interests mutually and voluntarily banded together to prosecute criminals who had victimised their members. As Dr Davies notes, libertarians are often challenged on the practicality of some of their ideas, such as the private production of security, and fail through ignorance to draw upon the many examples to be garnered from history of times when such ideas prevailed. For this reason, libertarians probably waste time theorising in a vacuum, when they should be examining the data of past experience.