Left Realists, Lea and Young suggest that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in comparison with other groups in society, and this is especially true for young black males who have much higher levels of unemployment. In comparison with their peers from other ethnic groups, they are much less likely to be successful in the labour market and so suffer lower wages and thus higher levels of relative deprivation.
Young ethnic minority males are also more likely to experience marginalisation because they are under-represented at the highest levels of society, in government, political parties and trades unions for example.
Lea and young argue it would be surprising if there were not higher crime levels among those groups which experienced higher levels of deprivation and marginalisation.
Evaluating Left Realism
Read through the following two items, you should be able to find at least two reasons why Left Realism may be inadequate to explain the higher rates of offending by Black and Asian people.
Item A: Statistics on ethnicity and relative deprivation
Some ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of poverty than white people. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.
In terms of social class, 42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.
This recent report seems to offer broad support for Left Realism, but also suggests there are other factors which need to be taken into account in order to explain variations in patterns of offending by ethnicity…
Data gaps prevent us from building a comprehensive picture of young black people’s overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. However, the evidence we received suggests young black people are overrepresented as suspects for certain crimes such as robbery, drugs offences and—in some areas—firearms offences. Young black people are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes.
Some of our witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young black people’s involvement in crime. Research commissioned by this Committee contradicted this view, indicating that most members of the public reject stereotyping as regards young black people’s involvement in crime.
Social exclusion is a key underlying cause of overrepresentation. Eighty per cent of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. Deprivation directly fuels involvement in some types of offence—such as acquisitive crime—and also has an important impact on educational achievement and the profile of the neighbourhood young people will live in. The level of school exclusions appears to be directly related to educational underachievement and both are linked to involvement in the criminal justice system. Witnesses also emphasised factors within black communities which help exacerbate disadvantage and fuel involvement in the criminal justice system.
They drew attention to a lack of father involvement and to other parenting issues. In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film. Criminal justice system factors play an important role in promoting overrepresentation.
There is some evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system. However, the perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.
Some Sociologists have suggested that cultural differences, especially differences in family life, may be responsible for underlying differences in offending between ethnic groups.
Single Parent Families are more common among African-Caribbean Families, which may be related to higher rates of crime
In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.
Rates of teenage motherhood are also significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18.
The higher rates of single parenthood in Black-Caribbean families may lead to boys from this group being more likely to offend because of the lack of a male role-model to provide guidance and keep them in check.
However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that British Caribbean single parents are far from isolated, and not even really ‘single’ at all. Research by Geoffrey Driver in the 1980s revealed that Caribbean single mothers are often well-connected to other people in their communities, so not necessarily isolated. Networks existed within neighbours to provide informal help with childcare and school runs. Other research has also found that family connections to brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) are strong in British Caribbean communities, while Tracey Reynolds (2002) points out that many single Caribbean mothers are in a long term relationship with a man who doesn’t live with them, but visits every day and plays an active role in childcare.
In contrast, Asian families tend to be more stable, which might explain the lower rates of offending within Asian communities. Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life. A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person.
However, there is a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages in the UK. This crime will of course be practically invisible in the official statistics.
The culture of anti-school black masculinity may also be related to higher rates of black criminality
Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.
Sewell (2003) argued that “black boys today have real opportunities but they are failing to grasp them. I talk to middle class, black parents who tell me they literally have to fight to keep their boys on task. These are boys from well-resourced homes, they go to the better state schools and yet they are performing below their potential. A black male today faces anti-school peer pressure that dominates our schools. Ask your son about it if you need some enlightenment. A head teacher told me how one student was jumped outside of his school: he was beaten and his attackers took his mobile phone, his trainers, his jacket and his cap. In our inner cities, black male youth culture has moved from a community of safety and brotherhood to one of fear of each other.”
Evaluating the Role of Cultural Factors
There are limitations with cultural explanations of differences in offending
Firstly, these theories might be accused of explaining crimes by drawing on crude stereotypes – there are significant cultural variations within Black and Asian ethnic groups, and official statics only collect very basic stats on ethnicity (literally just recording whether people are Black or Asian) thus there is no real way to evaluate the above theories.
Secondly, it is difficult to separate out cultural from material factors such as unemployment and poverty, which are emphasised by Left Realists.
Thirdly, these theories don’t take into account the fact that underlying differences in crime rates may be a response to blocked opportunities which are in turn caused by structural racism in wider society.
Fourthly, these theories do not consider the fact that that the statistics might be a social construction and exaggerate the true extent of Black and Asian criminality. Critical criminologists, for example, argue that the over-representation of minority groups in the criminal justice system is because they are more likely to be criminalised by agents of social control.
In this topic we examine the relationship between social class and crime.
According to available statistics, class background is correlated with both the amount of and type of offending, but there are some significant limitations with the statistics on social class and crime and these limitations are the first thing we examine.
We then simply selectively apply some of the perspectives which we’ve already looked at earlier in the course: Consensus theory explains the higher rates of working class crime in terms of differential access the working classes and middle classes have in relation to the legitimate opportunity structure, which generates different cultural responses; Interactionism broadly rejects the consensus theory arguing that the higher rates of working class crime are a social construction; Marxism recognises the fact that the high levels of working class crime are a social construction in that emphasises the role of crimogenic capitalism in generating crime.
Finally, we look at the realisms – Right Realism focuses our attention on the underclass, rather than the working class as the main cause of crime in society today, while left realism sees crime as an outgrowth of inequality and marginalisation, without blaming Capitalism per se as Marxists do.
Consensus Theories, Social Class and Crime
Consensus theories generally accepted the fact that crime rates were higher among the lower social classes and set out to explain why – two theories which explicitly focused on the differences between working class culture and crime were Strain theory and Status Frustration theory.
Robert Merton: Strain Theory, Blocked Opportunities and Working Class Innovation
Robert Merton argued that crime increased when there was a strain (or gap) between society’s success goals (achieving material wealth) and the available opportunities to achieve those goals through legitimate means (having a well-paying job). Merton called this imbalance between goals and the ability to achieve them ‘anomie’.
Merton argued that crime was higher among the working classes because they had fewer opportunities to achieve material success through legitimate means and were thus more likely to adopt innovative cultural responses in order to achieve material success through criminal means – through burglary or drug dealing, for example.
Merton saw crime as a response to the inability of people to achieve material wealth, emphasising the role of material or economic factors.
Albert Cohen: Status Frustration and Working Class Subcultures
Albert Cohen put more emphasis on cultural factors (values and status) rather than material factors in explaining working class crime.
Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.
In Cohen’s view they resolved their frustration by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there were several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.
This delinquent subculture reversed the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who were the most deviant. Status was gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.
This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first started in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gangs.
The main piece of sociological research which has specifically examined the relationship between the police and the social class background of offenders is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)
Cicourel argued that it was the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explained why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds, and that the process of defining a young person as a delinquent was complex, involving mainly two stages of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants.
The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.
The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.
When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.
As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.
Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.
Marxism, Social Class and Crime
Marxists argue that while working class crime does exist, it is a rational response to crimogenic capitalism. Moreover, all class commit crime, and the crimes of the elite are more harmful than street crime, but less likely to be punished.
Capitalism encourages individuals to pursue self-interest before everything else.
Capitalism encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle.
Capitalism in its wake generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.
Marxist Sociologist David Gordon says that Capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own interests before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment. If we look at the Capitalist system, what we find is that not only does it recommend that we engage in the self-interested pursuit of profit is good, we learn that it is acceptable to harm others and the environment in the process.
Marxists theorise that the values of the Capitalist system filter down to the rest of our culture. Think again about the motives of economic criminals: The burglars, the robbers, and the thieves. What they are doing is seeking personal gain without caring for the individual victims.
The Capitalist system is also one of radical inequality. At the very top we have what David Rothkopf calls the ‘Superclass’ , mainly the people who run global corporations, and at the very bottom we have the underclass (in the developed world) and the slum dwellers, the street children and the refugees in the developing world.
The Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out that the super wealthy effectively segregate themselves from the wealthy, through living in exclusive gated communities and travelling in private jets and armoured vehicles with security entourages. If people can afford it, they move to a better area, and send their children to private schools. However, this doesn’t prevent the poor and the rich from living side by side.
Marxists argue that the visible evidence of massive inequalities give people at the bottom a sense of injustice, a sense of anger and a sense of frustration that they are not sharing in the wealth being flaunted in front of them (the flaunting is the point is it not?) As a result, Capitalism leads to a flourishing of economic crime as well as violent street crime.
William Chambliss even goes so far as to say that economic crime ‘’represents rational responses to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies”. As we have seen from previous studies. Drug dealers see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs. So internalised is the desire to be successful that breaking the law is seen as a minor risk.
Marxists hold that more egalitarian societies based on the values of the co-operation and mutual assistance, have lower crime rates.
The Crimes of the elite are more costly than street crime
Marxists argue that although they are hidden from view, the crimes of the elite exert a greater economic toll on society than the crimes of the ‘ordinary people’. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that the cost of White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime to the economy far outweighs the cost of street crime by ‘typical’ criminals.
White Collar Crime: Crimes committed in the furtherance of an individual’s own interests, often against the corporations of organisations within which they work.
Corporate Crime: Those crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.
The Cost of Financial Crime (Fraud)
Organisations such as Corporate Watch and…. Multinational Monitor, suggest that Corporate Fraud is widespread. The General Accounting Agency of the USA has estimated that 100s of savings and loans companies have failed in recent years due to insider dealing, failure to disclose accurate information, and racketeering. The cost to the taxpayer in the USA of corporate bail outs is estimated to be around $500 billion, or $5000 per household in the USA.
Case Study – Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
The US district judge Denny Chin described the fraud as “staggering” and said the “breach of trust was massive” and that a message was being sent by the sentence. There had been no letters submitted in support of Madoff’s character, he said. Victims in the courtroom clapped as the term was read out.
Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. The sentencing, in what has been one of the biggest frauds ever seen on Wall Street, was eagerly anticipated. Described by victims in written testimony as a “thief and a monster”, Madoff has become an emblem for the greed that pitched the world into recession. Nearly 9,000 victims have filed claims for losses in Madoff’s corrupt financial empire.
Madoff masterminded a huge “Ponzi” scheme. Instead of investing client’s money in securities, it was held with a bank and new deposits used to pay bogus returns to give the impression that the business was successful. At the time of his arrest in December, he claimed to manage $65bn of investors’ money, but in reality there was just $1bn left.
Right Realism/ Underclass Theory and Crime
Right Realists disagree with Marxists – Right Realists point to the underclass as being responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in society.
Charles Murray and the Underclass
Charles Murray argued that changes to family structure was responsible for much of the increase in the crime rate in the 1970s and 80s – he largely attributes the growth of crime because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ who are defined by their deviant behaviour and fail to socialise their children properly. The children of the underclass fail to learn self-control and also fail to learn the difference between right and wrong.
The underclass has increased because of increasing welfare dependency. Murray argues that increasingly generous welfare benefits since the 1960s have led to increasing numbers of people to become dependent on the state. This has led to the decline of marriage and the growth of lone parent families, because women can now live off benefits rather than having to get married to have children. This also means that men no longer have to take responsibility for supporting their families, so they no longer need to work.
According to Murray, lone mothers are ineffective agents of socialisation, especially for boys. Absent fathers mean than boys lack paternal discipline and appropriate male role models. As a result, young males turn to other, delinquent role models on the street to gain status through crime rather than supporting their families through a steady job.
Increasing crime is effectively a result of children growing up surrounded by delinquent, deviant criminal adults which creates a perfect crimogenic environment.
Unemployment and Crime –
A recent comparison 4.3 million offenders in England and Wales whose names appeared in court records or the Police National Computer with separate benefits records held by the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that more than 1.1 million of the 5.2 million people claiming out-of-work benefits had a criminal record, or 22 per cent. This means that people who are claiming unemployment benefit are more than twice as likely to have a criminal record as those who are not. (Source: More than a fifth of people on unemployment benefits have a criminal record.)
NEETS and Crime –
NEETS stands for young people aged between 16 and 24 Not in Education, Employment or Training. They first came to the government’s attention in the mid 2000s when they numbered 1.1m. At that time, a study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimated that each new NEET dropping out of education at 16 will cost taxpayers an average of £97,000 during their lifetime, with the worst costing more than £300,000 apiece.
Their impact on crime, public health and antisocial behaviour was so marked that the study found that a single 157,000-strong cohort of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs would cost the country a total of £15 billion by the time they died prematurely in about 2060. They are, says the study, 22 times more likely to be teenage mothers; 50% more likely to suffer from poor health; 60% more likely to be involved with drugs and more than 20 times more likely to become criminals.
Left Realism, Social Class and Crime
Left Realists Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.
Lea and Young argue that crime has its roots in deprivation, but deprivation itself is not directly responsible for crime – for example, living standards have risen since the 1950s, so the level of deprivation has fallen, but the crime rate is much higher today than it was in the 1950s.
Left Realists draw on Runciman’s (1966) concept of relative deprivation to explain crime. This refers to how someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations.
The concept of relative deprivation helps to explain the apparent paradox of increasing crime in the context of an increasing wealthy society. Although people are better off today, they have a greater feeling of relative deprivation because of the media and advertising have raised everyone’s expectations for material possessions – we are wealthier, but we feel poorer, and thus there is more pressure to get more stuff to keep up with everyone else, which generates historically high crime rates.
This is where people lack the power or resources to fully participate in society. According to Left Realists marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as wanting better pay and conditions) and organisations to represent them (such as trades unions), and as such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.
By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised – they have no specific organisation to represent them and no clear sense of goals – which results in feelings of resentment and frustration. Having no access to legitimate political means to pursue their goals, frustration can become expressed through violence.
Left Realists see subcultures as a group’s collective response to the situation of relative deprivation, and they draw on Cohen’s theory of status frustration to explain how they emerge. There are many different subcultural adaptations to blocked opportunities, and not all result in crime – but those subcultures which still subscribe to the mainstream values of material wealth but lack legitimate opportunities to achieve those goals.
One way of controlling and reducing crime is to punish offenders. Given that punishment typically involves restricting people’s freedom and sometimes inflicting harm on people, it requires some justification as a strategy for crime control. Two main justifications exist for punishment: Crime reduction and retribution. These methods link to different penal policies.
One justification for punishing offenders is that it prevents future crimes. This can be done through:
Deterrence – Punishing the individual discourages them from future offending – and others through making an example of them.This relates to Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory that crime and punishment reinforce social regulation, where prison sentence for a crime committed reaffirms the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
Rehabilitation – The aim is to change offenders’ behaviour through education so they can earn an ‘honest living’ on release
Incapacitation – Removing the capacity for offenders to re-offend through long term prison sentences, cutting of hands, chemical castration or the death penalty.
Reducing crime is not the only function of punishment, it also performs a straightforward ‘retributive function’ – in which the criminal is simply punished for harming another person, and the victim gets a sense of satisfaction that the criminal is ‘paying for their crime. This is an expressive rather than an instrumental view of punishment – it expresses society’s outrage at the crime.
Left realists believe that prison alone is an ineffective method at reducing crime. They believe it needs to be combined with the practice of restorative justice…which involves the offender actively doing something to make up for the harm done as a result of their crime. This may involve measures such as reparation, (paying back) mediation, (offender meeting victim) reintegrative ‘shaming’, (facing offenders with the consequences of their actions and family conferencing which seeks to bring offender, victim and members of the community into some form of dialogue and ‘healing’ process. All this is very unlike the anonymous processing and exclusionist shaming of the courts and prison sentences.
Home office research suggests meeting the offender benefits 80% of victims who choose to participate. For some victims it is about forgiveness – letting go of anger in order to move on with their lives. But for many, meeting the offender is about confronting them with the real impact of their crime, asking the questions that never get answered in court, and the hope that – for some offenders at least – understanding the impact of their actions might help to prevent them reoffending.
According to the Marxist Sociologist David Gordon prison benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:
The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system, keeping potential revolutionaries from forming together and taking political action.
The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it
By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime. Our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.
NB – We are not talking about small numbers here – Focussing on the USA, David Garland argues that we have entered the era of mass incarceration. Approximately 2.3 million people are in jail in the US (about 750/100 000)
Focusing on the UK, the prison population has doubled since 1993 from approximately 40 000 to nearly 90 000 today.
There is evidence to support the Marxist view that it is mainly the marginalised who end up in jail – Looking at stats on prisoners we find that…
• 10% of men and 30% of women have had a previous psychiatric admission to hospital before they come into prison.
• 48% of all prisoners are at, or below, the level expected of an 11 year old in reading, 65% in numeracy and 82% in writing.
• 71% of children in custody have been involved with, or in the care of, social services before entering custody.
NB2 – While Right Realists would claim that locking more people up is a causal factor in the crime rate going down over the last two decades, this claim is challenged. This correlation may be a coincidence – other factors (such as abortion and the rise of ICT meaning more people stay indoors) may also play a role in this).
Once a person is labelled as deviant, it is extremely difficult to remove that label. The deviant person becomes stigmatised as a criminal or deviant and is likely to be considered, and treated, as untrustworthy by others. The deviant individual is then likely to accept the label that has been attached, seeing himself or herself as deviant, and act in a way that fulfils the expectations of that label. Even if the labelled individual does not commit any further deviant acts than the one that caused them to be labelled, getting rid of that label can be very hard and time-consuming. For example, it is usually very difficult for a convicted criminal to find employment after release from prison because of their label as ex-criminal. They have been formally and publicly labelled a wrongdoer and are treated with suspicion likely for the remainder of their lives.
Total Institutions and The Mortification of the Self
Erving Goffman (1961) argued that places such as mental asylums, concentration camps and prisons function as ‘total institutions’ – places which are closed off to the outside world and where inmates’ lives come under the complete control of the institution.
According to Goffman, becoming an inmate in a total institution involves a process of “mortification of the self” – inmates are subjected to degrading and humiliating treatments designed to remove any trace of individual identity. For instance, personal clothing and items are confiscated, inmates are strip searched, their heads are shaved, and they are issued an ID number. The point of such treatment is to mark a clear separation between the inmates’ former selves and their institutional selves. Inmates are constantly under surveillance and they have no privacy. Minute behaviour is observed and assessed, and if necessary, sanctioned.
As a result of having every aspect of their daily lives controlled, inmates effectively lose the ability to construct their own identities and function independently. Rather than making sick people well, asylums make them more insane, and rather rehabilitating, prisons actually make prisoners more criminal.
Post and Late Modernism
In his classic text, entitled ‘discipline and punish’ Michel Foucault’s points out that punishment has changed from being very direct, immediate and physical – involving torture and sometimes death to being more focused on incarceration and rehabilitation. However, although punishment today may be less severe than in the past, the state has expanded its control over its citizens in more subtle ways and ‘invades’ our private lives much more than at it ever used to. This is especially true when you look at the way criminals are treated today. While prisoners are unlikely to be subjected to torture or death (unless you’re Muslim, black or stupid and live in Texas) they are subjected to an ever increasing array of what Foucault calls ‘technologies of surveillance’ – they are kept under surveillance programmes and are expected to reform their behaviour.
Prison is the most obvious example of this – with prisoners under (potential) constant surveillance, while those who avoid prison might have to subject themselves to being tagged, visit probation officers, or turn up to ‘rehabilitation classes’ (such as drug counselling or anger management) all of which involve surveillance and behavioural modification.
Foucault sees the growth of prison as a means of punishment as reflecting the move from sovereign power to disciplinary power – Sovereign power involves direct physical coercion to get people to obey the laws, and under this system punishments are carried out on people’s physical bodies – punishment is harsh – it is a spectacle.
Today, however, political and economic systems are maintained through ‘disciplinary power’ – power is exercised through surveillance – people change their behaviour because they know they are being watched. Prison seams more humane than physical punishment but in reality it is much more invasive as a means of social control.
NB – As with Marxism above, we are talking about huge numbers 7 million people (1/32 of the population) are either in jail, on probation or parole, and Garland uses the concept of Transcarceration to refer to this shift. Certain people move between various state institutions – from care – to prison – to mental hospital – throughout their whole lives, effectively being under constant surveillance by the state.
David Garland – The Punitive State and The Culture of Control
David Garland argues that there has been a relatively recent shift in attitudes towards punishment.
He argues that in the 1950s the state practised ‘penal welfarism’ – in which the criminal justice system did not just try to catch and punish offenders, but also tried to rehabilitate them, so that they could be reintigrated into society
However, since the 1950s individual freedoms have increased, while social bonds have weakened, life is more uncertain and less predictable, and (despite the fact that crime is now decreasing) the public are more worried about crime than ever.
As a result, the state has now abandoned ‘penal welfarism’, it is much less concerned with rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, it’s primary concern is now convincing the public that it is taking a tough approach on crime and reassuring communities that something is being done about crime.
Garland argues that we have now moved into a new era in which a ‘punitive state’ enforces a ‘culture of control’ – there are three main ways in which the state now seeks to control crime and punish offenders:
The state increasingly identifies potential groups who are at risk of offending at a young age and take early interventions. This links to the Actuarialism (risk management) strategy referred to in a previous topic.
The state locks increasing amounts of people up, Garland argues we have entered the era of ‘mass incarceration’ and ‘transcarceration’.
Politicians increasingly use the issue of crime control, and ‘being tough on crime’ as a means to win elections – in effect, crime control has become a political tool which politicians use to win power, rather than being about reducing crime perse.
Evaluations of Garland
This is an important contribution in that it draws our attention towards the ‘political nature of crime control – and it helps to explain the increasing prison populations and ‘transcacerated’ population even though crime has been decreasing for decades.
This is a rather cynical theory – Garland seems to be saying that politicians today simply use their ‘tough on crime’ approach to get votes and maintain power, rather than trying to do anything which will really address the underlying causes of crime. Is this really the case?
Michel Foucault would probably argue that this theory is too simplistic in terms of its understanding of political power – it diverts our attention away from other agencies of social control in preventing/ constructing deviance through surveillance.
This post simply applies a few perspectives to the role of the police in society
Consensus Theory and Right Realism
The Consensus Approach views the police as a neutral force who generally do a good job, having a close working relationship with law abiding citizens and responding effectively to the needs of local communities, defending them against the anti-social and criminal behaviour of a minority people. From this point of view most failings of the police are due to lack of funding and there not being enough police on the streets.
Right Realists – believes more emphasis should be put on Zero Tolerance policing – the main role of the police is to work with local communities and businesses to target those areas and individuals who are persistently anti-social and criminal and to clamp down hard on even minor offences. This obviously involves targeting weapon and drugs dealers, but also clamping down on anti-social behaviour, and the police being very visible on the streets to act as a physical deterrent against crime. Obviously Zero Tolerance policies would also involve the police working closely with the courts after offences have taken place.
Zero Tolerance Policing can incorporate ‘military style policing’ where the police act against whole communities.
Left Realists believe that ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies are legitimate but that the police should spend more time getting to know local communities – which involves a less militaristic approach to policing, speaking to and befriending local youths rather than pouring their beer down the drain and constantly ‘moving them on’. This will also involve more referrals to social outreach projects. Policing for Left Realists is more about working with communities and not alienating them through ZT in order to prevent crime in the very long term. Community Support Officers are a good example of ‘community policing’ – they do not have enough powers to engage in Zero Tolerance approaches.
According to Marxists the police engage in ‘selective law enforcement’
David Gordon argues that the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.
Marxists argue that the government puts more police on the streets in working class and underclass estates and underfunds the policing of businesses and Corporations engaging in Corporate Crime. Evidence for this lies in Tombs and Whyte’s study which found that The Financial Services authority (which investigates complex financial crimes) and the Health and Safety Executive (which investigate health and safety breaches by Corporations have had their funding cut in recent years.
Howard Becker suggests that police interpret working class and middle class behaviour differently – In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ.
Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals. Eventually, ‘over-policing’ alienates marginalised groups and makes it more likely that they will actually turn to crime (a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy).
Aaron Cicourel also developed a class-based analysis of how agents of social control interact differentially with people from different class backgrounds in ‘The Negotiation of Justice’ – he suggested that middle class parents have more power to ‘negotiate’ effectively with the authorities and are more able to get their children off being given deviant labels – by convincing the police that their kids are really ‘good kids’ and their anti-social behaviour is a ‘one off’.
Zero Tolerance Policing involves the police strictly clamping down on minor criminal activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Clamping down might take the form of on the spot fines, or mandatory jail sentences, as with the ‘three-strikes’ rule in California.
The best known example of Zero Tolerance Policy was its adoption in New York City in 1994. At that time, the city was in the grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic and suffered high levels of antisocial and violent crime. Within a few years of Zero Tolerance, however, crime had dropped from between 30 – 50%.
In the UK Zero Tolerance has been applied in Liverpool, a relatively high-crime rate city. Following its introduction in 2005, overall recorded crime fell by 25.7 per cent in the three years to 2008 with violent crime falling by 38%.
Another application of Zero Tolerance is the ASBO – you can get an ASBO for antisocial rather than criminal behaviour, and go to jail if you breach it, thus ASBOs police minor acts of deviance.
The rationale behind the ASBO stems from the right realist (right wing/ new right/ neoliberal view of the causes of crime – they hold the individual responsible for crime, seeing the individual as making a rational choice to commit crime – if people believe the reward of committing crime outweighs the risk of getting caught and the cost of the punishment, they will commit crime – ZT addresses this by increasing the punishments for minor crimes. This also fits in with Broken Windows Theory – by focussing on minor crimes, this prevents these spiralling into major crimes, and it fits in with the New Right’s view that the state should be ‘tough on crime’
The biggest strength of ZT is that it seems to work – as the figures above demonstrate. It is also relatively cheap to implement and seems to have an immediate effect on crime, unlike the more expensive, long term, social solutions preferred by Left Realists. It also makes the public feel as if something is being done about crime, and gives victims a sense of justice.
However, there are many downsides – Firstly, Zero Tolerance Policing in New York resulted in a lot more people being arrested for possession of marijuana – 25 000 a year by 2012 (one every ten minutes) – some of those people lost their jobs or rental houses as a result. If labelling theory is correct, once labelled as a criminal, these people will find it very hard to get jobs in the future.
Secondly, despite the claims of the right wing governments who implemented them, comparative analysis shows that there are other causes of crime reduction – crime has gone down in cities in the US and the UK without the widespread use of Zero Tolerance techniques – Target Hardening, the increased time people spend online (and thus not on the streets), the declining use of drugs, and even abortion have been suggested as the REAL reasons crime is going down.
Thirdly, Zero Tolerance might be racist in consequence – somewhere in the region of 85% of people dealt with under Zero Tolerance in New York were/ are black or Hispanic.
Fourthly ZT focuses on minor crimes, and street crimes, ignoring the more serious crimes committed by elites, which Marxists see as more harmful. It also does little to address the underlying causes of crime.
Finally, and in conclusion, there is the very real possibility that rather than being about reducing crime, ZT policies are ideological in nature – they allow politicians to claim that they are the ones reducing crime by being ‘tough on crime’, but in reality, crime is going down anyway because of other reasons. Thus maybe ZT has been so widely used because it benefits politicians rather than society as a whole.
Most people manage to get through their whole lives without getting on the ‘wrong side’ of the formal agents of social control (the police, the courts and prison), so it should be no surprise hat many of the perspectives emphasize the role that the community plays in preventing crime and controlling crime.
Consensus Theory and Right Realism
Both Consensus Theory and Right Realism emphasise the importance of informal social control at the level of the community in keeping crime rates low. The following theories all emphasise the importance of the community in controlling crime:
Hirschi’s ‘Bonds of Attachment’ theory
Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory/ NEETS
Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows theory
According to left realism, crime is highest in those areas which suffer the highest levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation.
Relative deprivation refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to those similarly situated and find that they have less than their peers.
Marginalisation is where one is ‘pushed to the edge’ of that society – on the outside of normal society looking in, lacking the resources to fully participate in that society.
According to Left Realists, the conditions of relative deprivation and social exclusion ‘breed crime’, most obviously because criminal means (rather than legitimate means) are often the only way people in such areas can ever hope to achieve material success, while you have relatively little to lose if you get caught.
Left Realists argue that the government should focus on tackling marginalisation and relative deprivation and marginalisation through Community Intervention Projects (aka Social outreach projects).
Community intervention projects involve such things as local councils working with members of local communities to provide improved opportunities for young people ‘at risk of offending’ through providing training opportunities or a more active and engaging education for certain children.
According to Marxism, the fact that we have whole communities of the underclass is a structural feature of Late-Capitalism because with technological advances, Capitalism requires an ever smaller workforce. Thus we now have millions of permanently unemployed and underemployed people living in Britain.
Just for emphasis – this is the same as Underclass Theory, but from the Marxist Perspective, members of the underclass are victims of Capitalism creating unemployment through technological obsolescence.
Postmodernism/ Late Modernism
Postmodernists argue that the capacity of local communities to control crime informally, even with the help of state-intervention, is limited because communities today have a high turnover of population – communities tend to be unstable, short-lived and fleeting. Moreover, Postmodernists point out that the concept of ‘community’ is irrelevant to many people’s lives today because society is not made up of ‘communities’, it is made up of ‘networks’ Rather than being integrated into tight-knit communities restricted to one place, we have weaker connections to a higher number of people via virtual networks which spread over large distances.
These networks mean that we become susceptible to a whole range of ‘new crimes’ such as cyber-bullying, trolling, phishing, identity theft, which take place in ‘virtual space’ and there is thus nothing local communities can do to control such crimes. Moreover, members of these virtual networks are also relatively powerless to stop criminals operating through virtual networks. In short, in the postmodern, networked society, communities are powerless to control crime.
Right Realist Criminology – Includes an introduction to Realism and detailed class notes on Right Realism covering rational choice theory, broken windows theory, Charles Murray’s views on the underclass, situational crime prevention and environmental crime prevention (mainly zero tolerance policing)
Left Realist Criminology – class notes covering relative deprivation, marginalisation, subcultures, early intervention, community based solutions to crime and community policing.
Consensus Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. This is associated with the Functionalist point of view, first being expounded by Emile Durkheim who argued that when social institutions such as the family, education, and work, lose control over people, they effectively miss out on socialisation and suffer from anomie, a state of normlesseness, which can lead to criminal and deviant behaviour.
This idea was developed by Hirshchi who argued that when an individual’s bonds of attachment to institutions weaken, when, for example, they do not feel as if they belong to institutions, or when they are not involved with institutions, they are more likely to commit crime.
The blame for crime lies with weak institutions and their agents. For example, single parent families and ‘absent dads’ are accused of lacking control over their children, as are unstable families. This theory would also predict that children with a history or truancy and exclusion would be more likely to turn to crime and those who are long term unemployed could also be a problem.
This is also the point of view emphasised by both the present labour government and the conservative opposition. The then home secretary Jack Straw argued that ‘Dads need Lads’ sound bite, and David Cameron’s speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers of the problems faced by lone mothers and the underclass.
Initially, it seams that there is a lot of evidence to support Consensus Theory. For example, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Faring ton and West 1991). This Study of 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s. The study found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.
The daily telegraph recently reported that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; and children from broken homes are 70 per cent more likely to become drug addicts.’
Criminologist Martin Glyn who works closely with young offenders has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.
Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that ‘Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home.
One take on ‘Consensus Theory’ is Charles Murray’s theory of the underclass. Recent government statistics suggest that there is a relationship between the long term unemployed and youth crime. Those known as NEETS are much more likely to commit crime. In this sense it is a whole group rather than individuals who socialise their children into anti-social values.
There are many Criminologists who argue that Consensus Theory is too simplistic…
For a start, it could be regarded as deterministic. Not all broken families’ children commit crime, and there is no immediate causal link between the two variables.
Other factors often influence whether a child from a broken home to turn to crime. Albert Cohen’s status frustration theory reminds us that the pressure to attain status within a deviant group may lead an individual to get involved in violent crime to gain a reputation. Many recent documentaries on the problem of gang crime suggest there is some truth in this.
In addition to these pull factors, poverty and the area one lives in are both correlated with criminal behaviour.
Also, Merton’s strain theory reminds us that much economic crime is a result of a strain between the success goals of material wealth and the lack of opportunities for many among the lower classes to commit crime. He argued that some crime was a result of effective socialisation into the success goals (so no ‘lack of control’ here) and lack of legitimated opportunities such as high paid jobs to achieve these goals. Many sociologists who have carried out qualitative research with gangs have found evidence to back this theory up such as Sudhir Venkatesh.
Strain theory suggests that it is the fault of the system for encouraging us to want more than we can get, which creates the conditions that makes crime rational. More radical Marxists take there analysis further, arguing that it is the fault of the Capitalist system that breeds selfish individualism, inequality and poverty, all of which can lead to crime. A similar view was offered by Willis who argued that lack of control was less to blame than a system that did not meet the needs of the Lads who he studied.
Much of the evidence cited for CONSENSUS THEORY is quantitative, and even if 70% of criminals come from broken homes, it will still be a minority of families whose children commit crime. If we look at the cases of those who do commit crime in more depth, we realise that many of them face multiple problems such as living in deprived areas and drug and alcohol abuse.
CONSENSUS THEORY is thus problematic because it stereotypes all ‘broken families’ as potentially problematic. It could even be seen as ideological because it blames a minority group for society’s problems, rather than looking at the problems of the system.
It could be that CONSENSUS THEORY is a popular theory because lone parent families and NEETs are a minority and an easy target. In addition, such a simplistic theory is easy for the mass population to understand, as it fits populist discourse. CONSENSUS THEORY is also the kind of theory that can be summarised in ‘sound bite’ media, and wins politicians votes.
In conclusion, while there may be some truth in CONSENSUS THEORY, we need to be careful of adopting lack of social control and weak institutions as the main cause of crime, it is only one factor amongst many, and alone, it provides us with a very limited understanding of the causes of crime.
A list of definitions of some of the key concepts relevant to the A level sociology crime and deviance module.
Where modern social systems encourage excessive individualism – as a consequence there is a general lack of agreement around norms and values – some commentators describe anomie as a state of normlessness.
The context Dependency Deviance –
Whether or not an act is deviant depends on the society in which the act takes place, the historical period, and the actors present. The context dependency of deviance emphasises the fact that the same form of behaviour can be considered deviant in one society, but not deviant in another.
Crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.
The breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a punishment – depending on the society this might ultimately mean imprisonment or the death penalty.
The Marxist idea that the exploitative capitalist system generates crime. According to Marxists, the self-interested pursuit of profit lies at the heart of the Capitalist system. The means whereby the Capitalist class get rich is by exploiting workers through paying them as little as possible to increase their profits, and they also encourage materialism, to increase demand for the goods they produce. A final way capitalism generates crime is by creating inequality – resulting in a significant number of people at the bottom of society (the underclass) who are effectively unable to consume at a reasonable level.
Dark figure of crime
The amount of unreported, or undiscovered crime. These are the crimes which do not appear in Official Police Statistics.
Behaviour that varies from the accepted standard of normal behaviour in society. It implies that an individual is breaking social norms in a negative way.
Dog Eat Dog Society
A phrase associated with Marxist Sociologist David Gordon who said that capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own self-interest before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment.
A set of cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes that underlie and justify either the status quo or movements to change it. The culture of every social system has an ideology that serves to explain and justify its own existence as a way of life. In Sociology, Marxists use the term the ‘dominant ideology’ to refer to the world-view of the ruling class, which they present to everyone else as normal – their world view passes of inequality and exploitation as normal and natural, thus justifying their existence.
The idea that institutions such as schools and the media teach a set of norms and values which work in the interests of the powerful and prevent social change. For example, Marxists say the education system performs ‘ideological functions’ for the Capitalist system and the Bourgeois: they believe that the norms of punctuality and acceptance of authority and hierarchy prepares us for our future exploitation at work, which benefits future employers more than workers.
Labelling is the process of pre-judging/ categorising an individual based on superficial characteristics or stereotypical assumptions. For example when a teacher decides a scruffy looking student is not intelligent.
A moral entrepreneur is an individual, group or formal organization that seeks to influence a group to adopt or maintain a norm. Moral entrepreneurs are those who take the lead in labelling a particular behaviour and spreading or popularizing this label throughout society.
Neutralisation of Opposition
In Marxist theory resistance to capitalism and eventual revolution should come from the working classes once they realise the injustice of the high level of exploitation they face. However, according to Marxist criminologists, the criminal justice system works to get rid of opposition by selectively locking up working class (Rather than middle class) criminals which prevents resistance and revolution. Selective law enforcement does this in three main ways:
By literally incarcerating (‘incapacitating) thousands of people who could potentially be part of a revolutionary movement.
By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime.
The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it, thus we are less aware of the injustice of inequality in society.
Official Crime Statistics
Official Statistics are numerical information collected by the government and its agencies – the two main types of crime statistics collected by government agencies are Police Recorded Crime, and the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Crime statistics also encompass Prison Statistics, which include information about the numbers and characteristics of prisoners.
Police recorded Crime
All crimes reported to and recorded by the police. Police forces around the country record crime in categories that are outlined in the Home Office counting rules. These include: violence against the person, sexual offences, robber, burglary, theft, handling stolen goods, fraud and forgery, criminal damage, drug offences and ‘other offences’.
Rational Choice Theory
Believes individuals make rational (logical) decisions about whether or not to commit a crime the crime rate is affected mainly by three factors – the available opportunities to commit crime, the perceived risk of getting caught, and severity of the punishment the offender believes they will receive if they are caught. According to Rational Choice Theory, the more opportunities to commit crime, the lower the risk of getting caught and the lower the likelihood of punishment, then the higher the crime rate will be.
Lacking sufficient resources to maintain a standard of living or lifestyle which is regarded as normal or average in a given society; or lacking sufficient resources to maintain a living standard which is approved of by society. While it is possible to measure relative deprivation objectively, there is a subjective element to this concept which can make it difficult to measure – an individual can feel relatively deprived even when they are relatively well-off compared to the average, if they have an unrealistic idea about what ‘the average is’. This concept is associated with Left Realism and Jock Young’s Vertigo of Late Modernity especially.
Surveys in which a selected cross section of the population is asked what offences they have committed. A good example of a self-report study is the ‘Youth Lifestyles Survey’ – although the last one was done over a decade ago.
Selective Law Enforcement
Where the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals, while ignoring the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes. A concept associated with Marxist criminologist David Gordon.
Where an individual accepts their label and the the label becomes true in practice.
Where people are connected to society through social institutions. The more connections an individual has to social institutions, the more integrated an individual is to society. For example, someone with a job, with a family, and who spends time with others in the community is more integrated than an unemployed single loner.
reaffirming the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. High levels of social regulation basically mean explicit and clear rules and norms which set out clear social expectations. In Functionalist theory an appropriate amount of social regulation is essential for preventing anomie which leads to high levels of suicide and other forms of deviant and criminal behaviour.
Where something is the product of social processes rather than just being natural. For example, most sociologists agree that crime is socially constructed because people in society decide what crime is law breaking behaviour, and laws are made-up by people and change over time, thus crime varies from society to society. Similarly, we can say that crime statistics are socially constructed because they are the result of a series of social interactions – of people witnessing and reporting crimes and then the police recording them, rather than the stats reflecting the actual real number of crimes in any society.
Society of Saints
A phrase associated with Emile Durkheim which emphasises the inevitability and social necessity of crime. Durkheim argued that even in a ‘society of saints’ populated by perfect individuals deviance would still exist. In such a society there might be no murder or robbery, but there would still be deviance. The general standards of behaviour would be so high that the slightest slip would be regarded as a serious offence. Thus the individual who simply showed bad taste, or was merely impolite, would attract strong disapproval.
Ask people whether they have been a victim of crime, typically in the previous 12 months. The most comprehensive victim survey in England and Wales is the ‘Crime Survey of England and Wales’.
A concept developed by Albert Cohen in Delinquent Boys (1956) – he used it to explain working-class male delinquency as being a collective reaction against middle class success – working class boys tried hard in school and failed to gain status, got frustrated, found each other and formed a deviant subculture – status was gained within the subculture by being deviant and going against the rules of the school.
A group which has at least some norms and values which are different to those held in mainstream society, and can thus be regarded as deviant.
A term first coined by American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) – The underclass’ refers to the long term unemployed who are effectively welfare dependent. They have higher rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households and much higher crime rates. Some statistical analysis suggests that the underclass (approximately 1% of the population) might commit as much as 50% recorded crime in the UK.
White Collar Crime
White-collar crime refers to financially motivated nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals. Within criminology, it was first defined by sociologist Edwin Sutherland in 1939 as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”.
Zero Tolerance Policing
Involves the police strictly enforcing every facet of law, including paying particular attention to minor activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. It actually involves giving the police less freedom to use discretion –the police are obliged to hand out strict penalties for criminal activity.
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?
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
◾Difficulties achieving at or attending school
◾Bullying (as a victim or perpetrator)
◾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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