Actuarial Justice and Risk Management

Feely and Simon (1994) argue that a new ‘technology of power’ is emerging throughout the justice system. It differs from Foucault’s disciplinary power in three main ways:

  • It focuses on groups rather than individuals
  • It is not interested in rehabilitating offenders, but simply in preventing them from offending
  • It uses calculations of risk or ‘actuarial analysis’. This concept comes from the insurance industry which calculates the statistical risk of particular events happening – for example the chances of drivers having an accident.

Feely and Simon argue that this actuarial approach is increasingly used in crime control – airports for example screen passengers before they come to an airport – passengers are awarded points based on gender, age, ethnicity, criminal convictions, and the more points, the more likely you are to be stopped at customs.

Social Sorting and categorical suspicion

David Lyon (2012) argues that the purpose of sorting is to be able to categorise people so they can be treated differently on the basis of risk. This subjects people to ‘categorical suspicion’ – they become suspects simply because they are a particular age or ethnicity (or combination of factors).

In 2010 West-Midlands police sought to introduce a counter-terrorism scheme to surround to mainly Muslim suburbs of Birmingham with about 150 surveillance cameras, some of them covert, thereby placing whole communities under suspicion.

One of the most obvious problems with actuarial risk management strategies of crime control is that it may reinforce the processes of labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy emphasised by interactionists.

Young Minds – An example of social control through actuarialism?

The text below is taken from the Young Minds’ web site – how would Simon and Feely interpret this advice?

Young People at Risk of Offending – Advice for Parents (Young Minds)

No parent wants their child to become a ‘young offender’. But unfortunately, many young people do end up getting involved with crime or antisocial behaviour. Parents Helpline advisor Claire Usiskin advises parents on how they can help support their child.

The factors that cause young people to offend are often complex. Both parents/carers and the young person may feel blamed and stigmatised, although the factors contributing to the situation are often not their ‘fault’.

Young people who experience the following issues are more at risk of offending:

◾Poor housing or living in a neighbourhood with poor services
◾Financial hardship
◾Difficulties achieving at or attending school
◾Bullying (as a victim or perpetrator)
◾Behavioural problems
◾Hyperactivity or poor impulse control (for example ADHD)
◾Specific learning difficulties (for example dyslexia)
◾Violence or conflict within the family or social environment
◾Drug or alcohol issues within the family or social environment
◾Family or peer group attitudes which condone crime
◾Abuse or trauma in childhood
◾Spending time in local authority care

These ‘risk factors’ tend to add up, so the more of these factors a young person is exposed to, the more likely they are to get involved with crime.

As a parent or carer it can be very difficult to support your child or young person to stay the right side of the law. Peer groups can be very powerful, and teenagers may feel it is more important to stay ‘in with’ their friends than to respect the law.

Even if the child is experiencing some of the risk factors above, parents and carers can do a lot to support their child and try to prevent them breaking the law.

◾ Just one strong, positive child-carer relationship can offset many other problematic issues. Spell out clearly what is and isn’t acceptable, and tell them why this is. If relatives or friends are around, ask them for help in backing you up and giving your child firm but caring messages about keeping to boundaries.

◾ Do your best to get help and support for the child around education and mental health – even if services are not so easy to access, it is worth fighting for the child’s rights. If you think your child has learning difficulties or another condition that has not been diagnosed, ask your GP or school for an assessment.

◾Youth services, mentoring schemes and anti-crime, drug or gang projects are often run by practitioners, including ex-offenders, who have a lot of expertise in engaging with young people and motivating them to change their behaviour.

◾If you are struggling to parent your child and feel things are getting on top of you, ask for some support for yourself via the GP or a local counselling service. It’s not a sign of failure, it shows strength in wanting to be the strongest you can to support your child.

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2 Responses to Actuarial Justice and Risk Management

  1. Pingback: Sociology in the News: Parental Choice Versus State Control | ReviseSociology

  2. Pingback: How I would’ve answered A level sociology paper 3: crime and deviance with theory and methods, June 2017 | ReviseSociology

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