Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK?  Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?

These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.

Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime 

prison population and crime rate.PNG

  • England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
  • Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
  • Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!

Does Prison work?

In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.

How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?

it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:

  • 63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
  • 56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
  • 54% of those who receive suspended sentences.

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!

Conclusions 

Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.

Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?

Sources 

This post is based on data taken from ‘Prison the facts, Summer 2019‘, published by the Prison Reform Trust.

Advertisements

Lost Wallet Crime and Deviance Experiment

People are more likely to return a lost wallet if it has cash in it than if its empty

In a recent field experiment researchers posing as members of the public dropped off 17000 lost wallets at reception desks of banks, hotels and museums in cities in 40 countries.

Some wallets contained no money and others £10 cash, and each had a shopping list, a key and business cards with contact details for the owner.

Only 40% of the empty wallets were returned compared to 51% of wallets with £10. The researchers also tried the experiment with £75 in which case the wallet was returned in 72% of cases.

There were significant cross-national variations: In China less than 20% of wallets were returned while in Switzerland the figure was 75%.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example of a field experiment and a cross national study combined, which seems to be designed to test levels honesty in different countries.

It’s mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module and seems (at face value) to be supporting evidence for the view that 60% of the reception staff in hotels around the world won’t go out of their way to return a wallet with no money it to its owner – but progressively more of them will if there is more money in the wallet – this seems to be suggesting reasonably high levels of empathy/ honesty – if 75% of people return a wallet with £75 in, that’s higher than I would have expected. (Then again perhaps I’m just dishonest scum?).

Limitations of the experiment

Despite the 40 countries, it’s not very representative of the populations within those countries – basically reception staff in hotels/ banks/ museums – that’s a very thin cross section of the class structure.

The experiment also tells us very little about the reasons why people didn’t return the wallets, and very little about why the return rates varied so widely.

The low return rates in China could be because the Chinese are inherently less honest, and the high return rates in Switzerland might be because the Swiss are inherently more honest.

However, it might just be showing variations in cultural norms and values.

In China, for example, the low return rates may be due to a collectivist culture resulting in everyone thinking a lost wallet is no big deal, as everyone’s going to be OK whatever happens to them, due to a collective safety net.

Also, people may not have bothered to return the wallets because very few people actually use cash in China (at least in the cities) – money transfers are done by phone, and people increasingly use their phones to access their properties. Thus, maybe the low levels of return there are because the wallets were seen as something of a ‘back up’ or an ‘eccentricity’?

In Switzerland on the other hand, maybe the high return rates signify the high levels of individualism?

As with many things sociological/ psychological, more research required to dig deeper!

Sources:

I stumbled upon this in a recent edition of ‘The week’, however there’s also a summary of the experiment here.

 

The dumping of plastic waste – a green crime?

Only an estimated 9% of the world’s plastic waste is recycled. A further 12% is burnt and the rest, 79% is buried in land fill or just dumped.

China used to be the main dumping ground for the world’s rubbish, but it banned the import of plastic waste in 2017, which then lead to a surge in the amount of used plastic sent to other countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia.

In Malaysia, much of the world’s used plastic is either burnt, releasing toxic chemicals into the air or dumped in rivers, polluting local water supplies and ultimately the oceans.

The BBC recently made a documentary about the harmful effects of the vast plastic-waste mountains in Malaysia, caused by wealthier countries such as the UK not dealing with their plastic waste at home, but rather outsourcing its disposal to a poorer country, because it’s cheaper to do so.

green crime plastic waste
A pile of plastic waste somewhere in Malaysia

From a traditional criminology perspective there is nothing necessarily ‘criminal’ about a company in one country engaging in ‘law evasion’ by exporting plastic waste to a second company in another country with slacker environmental protection laws and then that second company burning or just dumping the waste –   it is up to each individual country to establish its own environmental laws, after all.

However, this case study may well be an example of a ‘green crime‘ from a green-criminological perspective – in the above example company A is knowingly doing something that will result in pollution and thus do environmental harm – even if it is thousands of miles away.

NB Malaysia recently announced that it will no longer accept imports of foreign rubbish, and has threatened to return 3000 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste back to the U.K. other countries.

Sources 

The Week, 8 June 2019

 

Why do some victims not report their crimes?

This topic came up as the 6 mark question in the 2019 AQA A-Level Crime and Deviance Paper.

More precisely the question was ‘outline three reasons why victims may not report crimes’

This strikes me as a very easy question, as all you need to do is identify three reasons and then state why. To my mind, this would have been much better as a 10 marker, in which students have to demonstrate more analytical skills by discussing reasons in much more depth. It would surprise me in fact if this comes up as the 2020 10 mark question!

A few ideas on why some victims do not report crimes to the police.

NB – Written in a verbose exam style – you could get away with writing less and still get max marks on the above question! 

The first reason is that people may not be aware that they have been a victim of a crime – young children may not have the mental capacity to be aware that they are victims of abuse, or they may have been socialised into thinking abuse is normal.

A second reason is that victims may be fearful of the negative physical or emotional consequences for them if they reported the crime. They may be afraid the perpetrator would find out and punish them for dobbing them into the police, or they may not want the sense of shame that comes with admitting to having been a victim, or not want to relive painful memories.

A third reason is that the victim may have been badly treated by the police in the past or perceive the police as the enemy- young black men are more likely to be stopped and searched and thus may have the impression that the police are institutionally racist, and thus think their racism might lead them to not take them seriously if they reported a crime – the victim might think that if they are racist, the they wouldn’t bother trying to track down someone who harmed a black person.

 

 

 

 

The extradition of Julian Assange – is itself as ‘state crime’

The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange has been in the news recently because the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid just signed an order to extradite him to the United States, where he stands accused of 18 crimes under the Espionage Act.

Assange being assaulted by state criminals

 

The United States claims that WikiLeaks has published State Secrets, secrets that have harmed the United State’s Government to the extent that they’ve compromised National Security.

The problem is that this isn’t really the case – lots of the information published by WikiLeaks has been harmful to the U.S. and many other governments because it reveals the truth about how they operate behind closed doors and the information they cover up to protect themselves.

One such example is the video released via WikiLeaks in 2007 of a US aircrew laughing over the dozen innocent people they’d just slaughtered in Iraq which exposed the US government’s lie that all of these people had been insurgents.

There is also a further problem in that Julian Assange’s Whistle blowing is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

All of this seems to be blatent case of two governments (the US and the UK) collaborating to stifle Freedom of Speech – it is an attempt by them to use blunt force (the threat of imprisonment) to clamp down on any Journalist who dares to expose State lies.

Furthermore, given that Assange hasn’t actually done anything illegal, extraditing him is a state crime on the part of the UK government (false imprisonment – Assange is currently in jail), and the US putting him on trial is also a state crime.

NB if Assange is extradited and found guilty, this could open up the door the the US being able to prosecute any of the newspapers or journalists which published WikiLeaks material.

It’s a worrying time for freedom of speech and just goes to show the power of the state in modern times: even if

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to Crime and Deviance: it’s a great example of how ‘crime’ is socially constructed’ – what Julian Assange did isn’t even a crime (because of the U.S. Constitution) and yet because it harms governments, the US and the UK are ‘making’ it one.

If you compare it to the case of the war criminal Tony Blair who lead us into an illegal war against Iraq by deliberately misleading the House of Commons, he isn’t being extradited and prosecuted.

Together these show how the ‘law’ is manipulate to protect the wealthy.

Sources/ Find out More 

This article by the Real News Network, which features John Pilger, is well worth a read – the article goes into details of how Assange can’t even access the documents he needs to defend himself, in breach of his human rights.

Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of crime and deviance. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

State crime and green crime – possible short answer exam questions

State crime and green crime are two of the most difficult topics within Crime and Deviance for students, below are two possible short answer questions (with answers) which could come up on A-level sociology paper 3

Outline two sociological explanations of state crime (4)

  • A modernization theory perspective would argue that it is only really ‘failed states’ which commit state crimes. This mainly happens in poorer countries where people see gaining government power as a means to siphoning off as much money for themselves as possible, hence the reason why there are higher levels of fraud and corruption in developing countries.
  • A dependency/ Marxist perspective would argue that ‘war crimes’ such as those by the British government/ army in Iraq in 2003 happen because nation states use violence on behalf of TNCS (e.g. oil companies) to secure valuable resources for them in far-away places.

Outline two reasons why people who commit ‘green crimes’ often do not get punished (4)


  • The first reason is that what green criminologists regard as ‘crimes against the environment’ are not regarded as illegal by the traditional legal system’ – for example, driving a large car, chopping down trees, even producing nuclear waste are all ‘legal’ under UK law, but are regarded as ‘crimes against the environment’ by more deep-ecological green criminologists.
  • The second reason is that companies may engage in law evasion to avoid laws which protect the environment in developed countries…. They may simply take their toxic waste, which is illegal to dump in the UK, to a country like Ghana and dump it there, where it is legal.

I’ll be covering both state and green crime as part of my upcoming ‘last minute sociology webinar series’….

 

For more information on Revision Webinars, please click the above gif, or check out this blog post.

Green Criminology and Green Crime – Revision Notes

Introduction – Getting your head around green crime!

Green Crime – A simple definition of Green Crime is ‘crimes committed against the environment’.

Types of Green Crime – Nigel South (2008) classifies green crimes into two distinct types, primary and secondary.

Primary green crimes are those crimes which constitute harm inflicted on the environment (and, by extension, those that inflict harm on people because of damage to the environment – our classic ‘environmental victims’ who suffer health or other problems when the land, water or air they interact with is polluted, damaged or destroyed).

There are four main categories of primary green crimes – Crimes of air pollution, Crimes of deforestation, Crimes of species decline and animal rights, Crimes of water pollution.

Secondary, or “symbiotic green crime is crime that grows out of the flouting of rules that seek to regulate environmental disasters” (Carrabine et al. 2004: 318). South provides two examples of secondary crime: State violence against oppositional groups’, ‘hazardous waste and organised crime’

Criminology – Disagreements over the concept of Green Crime

Criminologists disagree over the appropriate subject matter of ‘green criminology’.

Traditional criminology argues that ‘green crime’ should be defined in a narrow sense – thus ‘green crime’ is defined as any activity which breaches a law which protects the environment.

Green criminology, on the other hand, argues that criminologists should study environmental harms whether or not there is legislation in place and whether or not criminal or other laws are actually broken. Green Criminology takes an ecocentric (environment centred) approach to crime, and criticises traditional criminology for being too anthropocentric (human- centred).

White’s (2008) three important principles of green criminology – based on environmental rights and environmental justice; it’s ecocentric – rather than based on human domination over nature; It should include Animal rights and species justice

Green Criminology is thus a type of ‘transgressive criminology’ – it breaks the boundaries of traditional criminology and focuses on the concept of ‘harm’ rather than the concept of ‘crime’.

Advantages of a green criminological perspective – Green Criminology thus follows in the footsteps of radical or critical criminology – Marxism and Interactionism. It is more interested in the question of why some harmful acts (pollution) are not labelled as criminal, while other less- harmful acts are.

Problems with Green Criminology is that its subject matter is not clearly defined – where do we draw the line about what constitutes harming the environment? Where does it all end, and who decides?

Key Term – ‘Zemiology’ – the study of social harms. Green Criminology is Zemiological.

The Late Modern Perspective on Green Crime – Ulrich Beck (1992) The Risk Society

Beck explains green crime/environmental damage as part ‘the risk society’, whereby modern industrial societies create many new risks – largely manufactured through modern technologies – that were unknown in earlier days.

New technologies are generating risks that are of a quite different order from those found throughout earlier human history.

The most obvious type of ‘new risky technology’ is that of nuclear power, which generates small, but hugely toxic (radioactive) forms of waste which stay radioactive for thousands of years.

Ulrich Beck’s (1986) argument is that environmental problems are truly global – he argues that ‘Smog is democratic’, which suggests that traditional social divisions — class, ethnicity and gender — may be relatively unimportant when considering the impact of many environmental problems.

The future demands innovative political responses to the new environmental challenges we face. Beck doesn’t offer any solutions to how we might tackle green crime, he just points out that the emergence of the problem is new, and that it’s going to be difficult to tackle it in an uncertain, postmodern age.

A broadly Green Criminological/ Marxist Perspective on Green Crime

According to Marxists, the single biggest cause of Environmental Crimes according to Marxists (and most of the Green Movement) is Industrial Capitalism

Given that the primary aim of most governments is achieving economic growth, and the means whereby we achieve this is through producing and consuming stuff, Marxists would not expect any significant global agreement safeguarding the environment until Capitalism is either eradicated or severely controlled. As it stands, companies are all too often given the green light by governments to extract and pollute.

Marxists offer an alternative analysis of the consequences of Green Crime to that of Ulrich Beck. Marxists argue that current social divisions are actually reinforced in the face of environmental harms, with poor people bearing the brunt of harms.

An important part of a Marxist analysis of green crime is to explore who the victims of green crime are, and the victims of pollution tend to be the poorest in society. We have already explored things like the Bhopal Tragedy and the many victims in the developing world of Corporate extraction, but another interesting line of analysis here is that of ‘eco-racism’

Sources

I used two text books to put the first half of this together – Chapman and Webb, the last two points I mainly made up myself!

How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.

Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.

Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.

Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.

The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.

This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.

NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

How do we explain the surge in knife crime?

Fatal Stabbings in England and Wales are now taking place at the quickest rate since records began in 1946 (Source: The Guardian). This is clearly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module!

Two recent cases suggest that violent crime is getting out of control – Jodie Chesney was stabbed in the back while chatting with her friends in a park in Romford and in an unrelated case, Yousef Makki was stabbed to death in a leafy suburb of Cheshire. Neither victims appeared to have any links to violent individuals or crime.

According to Brooke Kinsella in the Daily Telegraph, Knife crime spiked at the beginning of the decade and then fell for several years, due to a range of policies from increased mandatory sentencing for knife crime and improved youth services

However, it started to increase again from about three years ago, with a sudden spike last year, so the above two cases do seem to be part of a recent trend.

Possible reasons behind the recent increase in knife crime 

  • There have been £250 million in budge cuts in this areas since 2010, resulting in the loss of 20 000 police and cuts to youth mental health services.
  • The growing number of children being excluded from school has also been highlIghted in the news recently, something I’ve blogged about here, and something I’ll probably come back to later as well!
  • Writing in The Times, former MET police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe suggests the rise is linked to a increased supply of cocaine from Colombia – resulting in a price fall and more competition between drugs gangs for business. So the roots here are global.
  • Related to the above, county lines also have something to do with it according this Guardian article.

To my mind, it’s likely a combination of factors that are driving this… genuine ‘external causes caused by the influx of drugs and then failed Tory policies – a double header of marketisation leading to increased exclusions (as schools look to boost their league table position) and funding cuts leaving the poor with little option other than to turn to crime.

Maybe all we’re seeing in these innocent victims of knife crime is years of neoliberalism finally catching up with the middle classes?