Jailing Drill Musicians – justified, or a moral panic?

In January two ‘drill’ musicians from the Brixton group 410 were effectively jailed for playing a particular song: ‘Attempted 1.0’. Two artists from the group, Skengdo and AM, both received 9-month suspended sentences for performing this song.

Here it is with lyrics:

It’s still up as of 20th Feb…. I don’t how much longer it will remain up, but while it does it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the authorities may have deemed to offensive: the strap-line for a start… ‘attempted… should’ve been a murder’ and then all the various references to guns and people getting knifed.

The problem is, by performing this song 410 weren’t technically engaged in an illegal act. The laws preventing inciting of violence only apply to specific acts, and this is not the case with this song.

The two artists were actually found guilty of breaking a criminal behaviour order (CB0) that had forbidden them from mentioning death, injury or rival drill crews in their songs. The nine-month suspended sentence is for breaking the CBO not inciting violence, which they weren’t technically doing by performing their song.

The authorities have criminalised this non-criminal act for these particular artists.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of a ‘right realist’ policy in action – In fairness to the authorities, there has been a recent increase in knife crime, and this is all part of the response to that. I imagine most of the public would agree with this harsh treatment.

And it’s fair to say that some Drill songs which have been put up on YouTube do have specific references to gang’s ‘score cards’ and specific knife and gun and attacks. So there is a real basis for all of this it’s not just hyperreal. 

Moral Panic Drill.png

However, it also relates to the labelling theory of crime – here we have a legal act (performing a song) which is turned into an illegal act for this specific band by the actions of the authorities. Maybe this is an unnecessary moral panic about this form of artistic expression?

What ‘blaming Drill’ for the increase in knife crime fails to take account of is all of other underlying factors which result in inner city violence – such as funding cuts, relative deprivation, poverty, and structural inequalities which stretch back to the 1980s. 

This is also a new development in the censorship of particular cultural forms: using ASBOs to effectively restrict certain forms of freedom of speech. What’s next I wonder:

– Banning violent video games?
– Preventing campaigners discuss poverty and inequality?
– or climate change?

It’s highly unlikely that Criminal Behaviour Orders are going to be used to stop people spreading Fake News or Politicians lying to us.

Sources

The Guardian

Vice – A nice article on the moral panic over Drill. 

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The nationwide expansion of drug gangs

Drug gangs are expanding their operations from large city centres such as London, Birmingham and Manchester into smaller towns and rural areas. To do so they are using a new business model referred to as ‘county lines’ – dedicated mobile phone drug deal lines which local drug dealers in smaller towns can use to order drugs from the suppliers in the city centres. According to a recent report by the National Crime Agency, there are over 1000 established county line networks which are each capable of making profits of £800, 000 a year.

These lines are so profitable that gangs increasingly resort to violence to protect them, so this county line model of drug gang expansion probably goes a long way to explain the 50% increase in knife crime since 2015. In fact, a spike in knife crime in a small town or city is believed to be an indicator that a new drug line has been opened up.

How county lines work

Drug gangs in larger cities establish branded mobile phone lines using ‘burner phones’ which are disposable and anonymous, and these are then used to send out group messages to the local dealers around the country offering what drugs are for sale, which is mainly heroine and crack cocaine. Frequently there are special offers such as two for the price of one deals. The drugs are delivered by runners who also collect payment from the local dealers.

Children and drug lines

School-aged children, typically aged 15-17, but as young as 11, are usually used to deliver the drugs and collect payment. The charity Safer London estimates that 4000 children from London are involved. Sometimes these children might stay away in a drug-hub for an extended period, which is known as ‘going country’ or ‘going OT’ (out there).

county lines.png

The children recruited are usually vulnerable, having been excluded from school or from broken families, and many are drug users themselves. They are roped into the gangs by the lure of financial reward, or some might be debt bondage because of their drug habits. Once in, they are exposed to a violent lifestyle and effectively take all the risks for the upstream dealers.

NB – from a legal perspective, the use of children as drug mules now counts as child trafficking, so anyone caught being involved in this is likely to get a very lengthy spell in jail.

Cuckooing

A particularly insidious aspect of these drug networks is a process known as cuckooing…. Where a new local recruit’s house in a rural or coastal taken over by a drug dealer from one of the main centres and that house is turned into a local dealing hub, used to store and possibly manufacture drugs, and sell drugs.

One way this can escalate is that the local dealer is allowed to get into debt, and then has their house taken over as a means to repay this.

Such victims will often be drug addicts with mental health issues and are also likely to be in poverty.

Countering the problem of drug gangs and drug lines 

This is an enormous problem, and its growing fast: 75% of police forces believed new lines had been opened up in 2017 and it’s estimated that the 1000 lines in existence are worth £500 million a year. With that kind of coverage and that amount of money involved, tackling this isn’t going to be easy!

A new National County Lines Coordination Unit has recently been established so the 43 police forces in England and Wales can easily share information, and the police are using anti trafficking and anti-slavery laws to punish the dealers.

In a week of raids in January police arrested 600 people and referred 600 children and 400 adults to safeguarding authorities. More than £200 000 in cash and 140 weapons were also seized.

drug gangs.png

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is obviously highly relevant to the crime and deviance specification. Probably the most obvious links are to right and left realism, and to my mind it’s a great example that proves the limitations of the right realist approach – the nature of this crime is that it’s hidden, and so right realist crime control techniques will probably be ineffective in controlling it.

It seems to offer support for left realism – relative deprivation and marginalisation are the root causes, and maybe addressing these are the only way we’re going to see a reduction in drug related crime in the future?

Sources

NCA 2018 report on drug gangs

NCA county lines report 2017

The Week, 9th Feb 2019

 

 

Contemporary sociology: how should we tackle the increase in knife crime?

knife crime in London seems to be increasing rapidly, but how would left and right realists tackle this? Or is this all just a moral panic?

According to a recent BBC news article, London’s murder rate is increasing rapidly, so rapidly in fact that it’s just overtaken the murder in New York’s, a city historically notorious for its problems with violent crime.

Murder London

So is this just a moral panic, or is this recent increase in violent crime something we should be taking seriously?

What are the recent statistics?

So far in 2018 the MET police have investigated 46 murders, and the rate seems to be increasing alarmingly:

    • 8  murders were investigated in January
    • 15 murders were investigated in February
    • 22 murders were investigated in March.

Of the 44 murder investigations so far launched by the MET in 2018, 31 have been the results of stabbings.

So is this just a moral panic?

Focusing just on knife crime here, because this is the implement used in nearly 3/4s of all murders, the short answer is, probably not….

This recent increase seems to be in the context of a longer term increase in knife crime…

knife crime statistics

Although London’s knife crime rate is twice the national average…

Knife crime London

So while there does seem to be an issue with London’s knife crime rate increasing (rapidly!) this may not be representative of the country as a whole!

What’s causing this increase in Knife crime and murder?

A lot of the debate has focused on the fact that the police are stopping and searching fewer people. Police have become more withdrawn and are less pro-active in preventing crime through the use of stop and search:

stop search
Source: Ministry of Justice/ BBC

There is anecdotal evidence from the police that this has led to an increase in knife crime because young people are now more inclined to carry knives because they know they are less likely to be stopped and searched.

(Ironically it was Theresa May who oversaw this reduction as home secretary, partly responding to fears that the disproportionate use of stop and search against young black men was alienating huge numbers of people.)

Interestingly, knife crime is increasing despite a stiffening of penalties for possessing an offensive weapon:

Knife crime punisment
Source: Ministry of Justice/ BBC

You’re significantly more likely to get a custodial sentence today than compared to 2009, but this doesn’t seem to be putting people off carrying or using knives. I guess the ‘less likely to get caught’ outweighs the ‘likeliness of a stiff penalty’ or the ‘risk of being a victim if I don’t carry one’ factors in the cost-benefit calculation.

Right realists would agree with this approach – of increasing stop and search, of going back to a more random stop and search strategy.

Do we need a public health approach to reducing knife crime?

Labour MPs Sarah Jones (chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime) and Dianne Abbott (both speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme), have both suggested that London needs to adopting a public health approach to reducing Knife crime – which means, for example:

  • engaging in major intervention work with youth workers
  • going into schools, changing the social norms, educating kids, teaching them what it is to be a man, teaching them how they don’t need to carry knives.
  • Working with mental health charities

Both point to case studies of New York and Glasgow, where such interventions have been adopted with both seeing significant reductions in violent crime (while at the same time also having a lighter touch approach to stop and search.

These policies are very left realist in nature – and both of the above MPs are skeptical about the usefulness of increasing the role of random stop and search – pointing out the toxic legacy it leaves in terms of police-community relations.

Selected sources 

Crime in England and Wales: Year Ending 2017

London murder rate overtakes New York’s (BBC)

Nine charts on the rise of knife crime in England and Wales (BBC)

Relevance to A-level sociology

Knife crime and other violent crimes seem to be increasing recently in England and Wales, so this topic is of continued relevance within the crime and deviance module.

Are cuts to community policing making it harder to prevent terrorism?

Government cuts to community policing have made it harder to prevent terror attacks, at least according to Ed Davey, the Shadow Home Secretary, as stated in an interview on C4 News (Sunday 17th Sept 2017).

Ed Davey MP
Ed Davey MP: ‘cuts to community policing are making it harder to prevent terrorism’

Robert Quick, Britain’s former counter-terrorism chief agrees. Back in June he said “Counter-terrorism funding is ring fenced but cuts to the general policing budget has impacted on neighbourhood policing teams in many parts of the country including London.” (1)

Quick, along with a whole range of other people working in anti-terrorism argue that funding has been moved towards more ‘reactive policing’ (such as armed police units) and away from community policing, so policing has become more ‘reactive’ and less ‘preventative’.

The reduction in community policing has reduced the capacity of the police to work in communities building relationships and trust to in turn generate community-based intelligence about persons of concern.

Another factor which prevents the police from ‘preventing terrorism’ is that, as other public services have been cut, demands on police have increased as they have to spend more time dealing with those with mental health problems.

Relevance to A level Sociology

Theoretically, what’s being discussed here are criticisms of the move away from Left to Right Realist policies of policing.

Methodologically, it’s worth noting that it’s difficult to assess the impact of community policing on preventing terrorism – because it is so intangible: how can we ever actually MEASURE and prove that ‘increased trust’ between local communities and ‘police’ result in information which in turn prevents a terror attack?

Intuitively I agree with the idea that community policing is the most effective prevention strategy, but is it possible to move from intuition to actual fact in this case?

Finally, it’s highly likely that David Garland’s theory of popular punitiveness is at work here – increasing funding to armed police units is a very visible strategy which makes the government look like they’re doing something to ‘prevent terrorism’, which is likely to increase their popularity, whereas if they were to increase funding to community policing, this isn’t as visible, and so has no ‘political purpose’, even if it is more effective….

Armed Police UK.jpg
Armed Police – A visible but ineffective means of preventing terrorism?

Sources 

(1) Guardian article (June 2017)

Evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Broken Windows Theory suggests that high levels of physical disorder such as litter, graffiti, vandalism, or people engaged in Anti-Social Behaviour will result in higher crime rates. Broken Windows Theory is one aspect of the Right Realist approach to criminology

The evidence supporting Broken Windows Theory is somewhat mixed

This 2008 ‘£5 Note Theft and Social Disorder Experiment’ offers broad support for the theory…

In this (slightly bizarre sounding) experiment an envelope containing a £5 note was left poking out a letterbox, in such a way that the £5 note was easily visible. The researchers did this first of all with a tidy garden, and later on (similar time of day) with litter in the garden – on the first occasion 13% of people took the envelope, on the second, the percentage doubled to 25% – suggesting that signs of physical disorder such as littering encourage deviant behaviour.

broken windows theory

The experiment was actually a bit more complex – for the full details see the Keizer et al source below – this was also actually one of six experiments designed to test out Wilson and Kelling’s 1996 ‘broken windows theory’.

A second experiment, however, does not support broken windows theory…

Empirical results of the “Moving to Opportunity” program (reviewed in 2006) – a social experiment in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston did not support Broken Windows Theory. As part of the program, some 4,600 low-income families living in high-crime public housing communities—characterized by high rates of social disorder—were randomly assigned housing vouchers to move to less disadvantaged and less disorderly communities. Using official arrests and self-report surveys, the crime rates among those who moved and those who did not remained the same.

The problems with evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Wesley Skogan (see source below) identifies several reasons why Broken Windows theory is hard to evaluate – mainly focusing on how hard the theory is to operationalise:

  • Firstly, there are several different ways of defining ‘social disorder’ (litter, vandalism, antisocial behaviour) – so which do you choose?
  • Secondly it is difficult to measure levels of social disorder accurately – how do you actually measure how much disorder what type of littler represents – is one sofa in a garden worth 14 toffee wrappers, or what? And if you’re talking about anti-social behaviour, you can’t necessarily rely on public reports of it because sensitivity levels vary, and it’s just not practical to measure it using observational techniques.

For these reasons, the validity of broken windows theory is always likely to remain contested, and so it’s worth considering the possibility that it’s popularity could be more to do with ideological bias rather than being based any significant body of supporting evidence.

Further Reading

Keizer et al – The Spreading of Disorder – Science Express Report

More details on the Moving to Opportunity study

This chapter by Wesley Skogan identifies a number of reasons why Broken Windows Theory is difficult to evaluate

Right Realist Criminology

Right Realism believes individuals make a rational choice to commit crime, and emphasises tough control measures to reduce crime – such as zero tolerance policing.

By the end of the 1970s Marxist and Interactionist approaches to crime were beginning to lose their popularity in criminology. The basic problem was that these approaches weren’t that useful in actually helping to control or reduce crime – knowing that crime is an outgrowth of capitalism, for example, doesn’t offer any practical solutions to preventing burglary, other than abolishing capitalism, which, let’s face it, isn’t that likely to happen. Similarly, Interactionist approaches which saw crime as socially constructed, and thus not ‘real’ didn’t do much to help the millions of victims who were victims of actual rising crime rates in the 1970s and 80s.

Hence by the beginning of the 1980s, Realist criminology emerged, which differed from previous approaches such as Marxism and Interactionism because it thought criminologists should abandoned grand theorising about the ultimate causes of crime; they should work with governments to develop practical solutions to crime; and they should take seriously the widespread public fear of crime.

Realist Criminology differs to previous criminological theories because….

  1. They abandon ‘Grand Theories’ such as Marxism. They are not interested in looking at the ‘deep structural causes’ such as Capitalism – It is not Criminologists’ job to get rid of Capitalism so it is pointless focussing on it.

  2. They are more ‘pragmatic’. They ask how governments can reduce crime here and now, and work within the constraints of the social system.

  3. They take a victim- centred approach to crime, putting victims and the public’s concern about crime at the centre of theorising and policy making.

Realist approaches emerged in the 1970s and 80s in the context of right wing neoliberal governments coming to power in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Although neoliberal governments favoured policies of lower taxation and the rolling back of the welfare state, the one area where the state did have a a role to play was in the maintenance of law and order, and realists take a tough approach to offenders, generally emphasising the increased use of police and punishment to keep crime rates in check.

Right and Left Realism

There are two types of realism – both share the above features in common, but there are signficiant differences –

Right Realism is associated with the right wing neoliberal government of Margaret Thatcher which came to power in 1979, although most of the governments which followed have adopted more right realist policies.

Right Realists Reject the idea put forward by Marxists that deeper structural or economic factors such as poverty are the causes of crime – they mainly hold that the individual is responsible for crime – although they do accept that high levels of ‘social disorder’ and low levels of ‘social control’ are associated with higher crime rates. Right Realism tends to focus on the individual as being responsible for crime, arguing that we need to get tough on criminals to reduce crime.

Left Realists on the other hand are more left wing and and argue that inequality is the main cause of crime and we need more community interventions to reduce crime.

Right Realism – The Causes of Crime

Although they aren’t especially interested in the causes, they still have a theory of what ‘causes crime’ – The two main theories about the causes of crime associated with Right Realism are ‘Rational Choice Theory’, ‘Broken Windows Theory’, and Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory (also a form of subcultural theory).

Rational Choice theory

An important element in the right realist theory of crime is the idea that crime is a matter of individual choice – individuals choose to commit crime.

Rational Choice Theory states that most criminals are rational actors. If the criminal calculates that the risk of getting caught is low, or that the punishment if caught will not be severe, then they are more likely to commit crime, assuming the reward for doing that crime is high enough. They are rational in that they weigh up the costs and benefits in order to assess whether a crime is worth committing.

What rational choice theory predicts is that crime will increase if the following happens:

  • If crime brings higher rewards relative to working within the rules of society. Rewards could be material, or they could be things like higher status or more security.

  • There is no risk of getting caught committing a crime

  • There is no punishment for crime

Rational choice theory has been developed by Cohen and Felson in their ‘Routine Activities Theory’ (1979). They argued that in most circumstances social control mechanisms, lack of opportunity and/ or the risk of getting caught prevented crime from taking place. Crime therefore needed three conditions to take place:

1. Individuals who were motivated to offend

2. The availability of opportunity and targets

3. The lack of capable guardians such as parents or police who might prevent crime occurring.

Most crime in their view was opportunistic, rather than planned in advance. Therefore, if individuals motivated to commit crimes encountered easy opportunities to commit them in the routine activities of their daily lives then crime was more likely to occur.

Broken Windows Theory (Wilson and Kelling 1982)

broken windows

This approach is based on James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s (1982) article ‘Broken Windows’, which has been described as ‘perhaps the most influential single article on crime prevention ever written’. (Downes, 1992).

Wilson and Kelling use the the phrase ‘broken windows’ to stand for all the various signs of disorder and lack of concern for others that are found in some neighbourhoods. This includes undue noise, graffiti, begging, dog fouling ,littering, vandalism and so on. They argue that leaving broken windows unrepaired, tolerating aggressive behaviour etc. sends out a signal that no one cares.

In such neighbourhoods, there is an absence of both formal social control and informal social control (the police and the community respectively). The policy are only concerned with serious crime and turn a blind eye to petty nuisance behaviour, while members of the community feel intimidated and powerless. Without remedial action, the situation deteriorates, tipping the neighbourhood into a spiral of decline. Respectable people move out (if they can) and the area becomes a magnet for deviants.

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 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 Murry, 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.

For Murray, the underclass is not only a source of crime, its very existence threatens society’s cohesion by undermining the values of hard work and personal responsibility.

Evaluations – THINK about the following…

  1. Supporting Evidence: Crimes this theory can explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study* evidence which supports this theory?

  2. Criticising evidence: Crimes this theory cannot explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study evidence which criticises this theory?

  3. Evaluate using other perspectives – What does the theory under investigation ignore?

  4. Historical evaluation – Has society changed so much that the theory is just no longer relevant?

  5. Evaluate in terms of ideology/ power – Is the theory biased, does it serve the powerful

Right Realism – Controlling Crime

Right realists emphasise two main techniques of crime control – situational crime prevention, and environmental crime prevention, both of which involve making it harder for criminals to commit crime and increasing the risk of getting caught committing crime, thus making crime a less attractive proposition to prospective criminals. Situational Crime Prevention involves protecting specific targets from potential criminals – by putting window locks on windows, or putting CCTV in a shop for example, while Environmental Crime Prevention focusses on making whole neighbourhoods or larger areas more crime-resistant, through putting more police on the streets for example, or adopting a more ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach to minor crimes.

Situational Crime Prevention (SCP)

Situational crime prevention policies focus on the specific point at which potential victims and criminals come together, making it harder for the criminal to commit crime. They stem directly from Rational Choice Theory and involve either reducing the opportunity for people to commit crime or increasing the risk of getting caught when committing a crime.

situational crime prevention

There are two basic ways you can do this – through increasing surveillance of the population (monitoring their behaviour and making them aware of the fact they are being monitored) and target hardening (making buildings, objects and people harder to steal or kidnap or damage).

One of the major reasons why governments find such policies so appealing is because they are relatively cheap and simple to implement. Situational crime prevention techniques can be carried out by a wide range of actors – not only formal social control agencies such as the government, police but also local councils, schools, business and private individuals can make their property and possessions harder to burgle or steal relatively easily.

Marcus Felson (1998) gives an example of a situational crime prevention strategy. The Port Authority bus terminal in New York City was poorly designed and provided opportunities for crimes – for example the toilets were a good place to steal luggage, deal drugs and engage in homosexual sex. Re-shaping the physical environment to ‘design out’ crime led to a large reduction in crime. For example, replacing the large sinks which homeless people used for washing reduced the numbers of homeless people hanging around the bus station.

Another example of where situational crime prevention has been successful is around suicide prevention. In the early 1960s, around half of all suicides in Britain were the result of gassing. At that time, Britain’s gas supply came from highly toxic coal gas, but from the 1960s coal gas was gradually replaced by less toxic natural gas, and by 1997, suicides from gassing had fallen to bear zero, with the suicide rate overall witnessing a corresponding decline (ie people hadn’t simply switched to other means of killing themselves.

Other policies associated with Right Realism include ASBOs and the use of prison sentences for minor crimes – we return to both of these in a later topic.

Evaluations of Situational Crime Prevention

  • The Port Authority Bus Terminal Building is an example where this worked.

  • Newburn (2013) points to an obvious link between improved car security measures and reduced car crime.

  • Ignores factors such as inequality and deprivation as causes of crime (Garland 2001).

  • Ignores the role of emotion and thrill as a cause of crime (Lyng 1990)

  • Only tackles opportunistic street crime – won’t work for DV, white collar crime, or state crime.

  • It leads to crime displacement. One criticism of situational crime prevention measures is that they do not reduce crime, they simply displace it, or make it move to another place or another time. After all, if criminals are acting rationally, they will simply move on to easier targets.

  • It creates divided ‘Fortress cities’ (Bauman), as the wealthy hide away behind gated communities leaving poorer people in the ‘mean streets’ outside.

Environmental Crime Prevention

Environmental crime prevention strategies involve changing the broader area or environment in which crime occurs through increasing formal and informal social control measures in order to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and prevent an area from deteriorating. These strategies tend to rely much more heavily on the police than situational crime prevention strategies.

Environmental Crime Prevention strategies stem directly from Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Window’s theory which suggests that disorder and the absence of controls leads to crime. Examples of ECP policies include Zero Tolerance Policing, ASBOs, curfews, street drinking bans, dispersal orders and the three strikes rule in America.

Zero Tolerance Policing

Zero Tolerance Policing involves strictly enforcing penalties for relatively minor crimes or anti-social behaviour such as begging, drug possession, public drinking.

This approach was famously used to crack down on rapidly increasing crime in New York City in the 1980s, which was suffering from a crime epidemic, linked to high levels crack-cocaine use a that time.

Specific examples of Zero Tolerance approaches adopted at that time included a ‘clean car program’ which was instituted on the subway, in which tube-cars were taken out of service immediately if they had any graffiti on them, only being returned once clean. As a result graffiti was largely removed from the subways.

Other successful programmes were put in place to tackle fair dodging, drug dealing and begging. This resulted in a 50% reduction in crime in New York City between the years 1993 and 1996.

Evaluations of Environmental Crime Prevention

  • The New York ‘Zero Tolerance’ study suggests that zero tolerance policies work to reduce crime.

  • HOWEVER, Levitt and Dubner in Freakonomics found that this correlation was coincidental – other factors were responsible for the decline in crime.

  • It is more expensive than situational crime prevention – it takes a lot of police to patrol an area and clamp down on anti-social behaviour.

  • Reiner (2015) argues that the police would be better deployed focusing on more serious crime hot spots rather than clamping down on minor forms of anti-social behaviour.

  • From an Interactionist perspective, giving more power to the police will just lead to more labelling and more criminal careers.

Related Posts 

For more please see my main page on crime and deviance.

Left Realist Criminology

Left realists believe the main causes of crime are marginalisation, relative deprivation and subcultures, and emphasise community oriented programmes for controlling and reducing crime.

As a response to the increasing influence of Right Realism, Left Realism was developed by Jock Young, John Lea and Roger Matthews. Left Realism is related to Marxism and the New Criminology, but tries to focus on finding practical ways of solving crime, as it claims that these two theories are too idealistic and have unrealistic ideas about how to solve crime.

Key ideas:

  • As a criticism of Marxism, Left Realists point out that the victims working class street crime are most likely to be the working class, and it is these types of ‘ordinary crime’ that worry working class people. Criminology should thus focus on dealing with these types of ‘ordinary crime’ rather than focusing on elite crime.

  • The three three major causes of (working class street) crime are relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures.

  • Solutions to crime should focus on social and community crime prevention and improving relations between the police and local communities.

Left Realism – Causes of Crime

Young (1997) argues that you have to be tough on crime, but this does not just mean being tough on criminals, it means being tough on trying to change the social factors which have a long term impact on crime rates and ensuring that the criminal justice system promotes social justice.

He argues that since the Second World War, rising living standards and the development of welfare provisions have gone hand in hand with a higher crime rate. Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.

Relative deprivation

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.

Subculture

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.

Marginalisation

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.

Evaluations – THINK about…

  1. Supporting Evidence: Crimes this theory can explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study* evidence which supports this theory?

  2. Criticising evidence: Crimes this theory cannot explain – Is there any statistical evidence or case study evidence which criticises this theory?

  3. Evaluate using other perspectives – What does the theory under investigation ignore?

  4. Historical evaluation – Has society changed so much that the theory is just no longer relevant?

  5. Evaluate in terms of ideology/ power – Is the theory biased, does it serve the powerful

Left Realism – Solutions to Crime

Left realist solutions to crime emphasis Social and Community Crime Prevention strategies which focus on individual offenders and the social context which encourages them to commit crime.

There are two broad approaches – Intervention, identifying groups at risk of committing crime and taking action to limit their offending, and Community based approaches– involving the local community in combating crime.

One of the best-known intervention programmes aimed at reducing criminality is the Perry pre-school project for disadvantaged black children which took place in Michigan, USA. IN this programme a group of 3-4 olds were offered a two-year intellectual enrichment programme, during which time the children received weekly home-visits.

A longitudinal study following the children’s’ progress showed significant differences between the experimental group and a control group. By age 40, they had had significantly fewer arrests for various types of grime, and a higher percentage had graduated high school and made it into full-time employment. It was calculated that for every $1 spent on the programme, $17 were saved on welfare, prison and other costs.

As far as community-based strategies for reducing crime are concerned – Young and Matthews (1992) argue that improving leisure facilities for the young, reducing income inequalities, improving housing estates, raising the living standards of poorer families, reducing unemployment and creating jobs with prospects, will all help to cut crime. Long term problems must be addressed, but more immediate measures can also be taken.

Improving Policing

A third strategy for reducing crime according to left realists is to improve policing. They argue that over 90% of crimes are cleared up by the police as a result of information from the public, however research suggests that public confidence in the police has declined. Left Realists argue that if this relationship breaks down, the flow of information from the victims of crime will dry up. If Police do not have the information they need from the public, they have to find new ways of solving crime, and there is a drift towards military policing (the police having to resort to tactics such as stopping and searching or using surveillance) they then alienate people in the community and make everyone feel like criminals, and as a result trust in the police declines further. Therefore the police must concentrate on improving relationships with the community and the public should have more say in shaping police policy –where the police should listen to the public about what crime affects them most in their area.

Evaluations of Left Realist solutions to crime

  • If done effectively, these are the most costly of all crime prevention measures.

  • HOWEVER, if done properly, community prevention measures can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, by ‘turning’ a potential criminal into an employed tax-payer.

  • Marxists argue that these policies may tackle deprivation but they do not tackle the underlying structural inequalities in the Capitalist system which are the root cause.

  • Such approaches target working class, inner city communities and do not tackle elite crime.

  • Michel Foucault and David Garland interpret the these strategies as being about surveillance and control rather than real social change which prevents crime.

Extension work – Find out more about ‘Multiple Aetiology and The Square of Crime

Left Realists argue that crime is caused by several different factors. They call this multiple aetiology. Crime is a product of formal and informal rules, actions of offenders and of reaction by victims, the state and its agencies, it is therefore important to understand why people offend, what makes victims vulnerable, the factors that affect public attitudes and responses to crime and the social forces that influence the police. This can be done by drawing together a number of different agencies in the community, who should all work together to solve crime.

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For more please see my main page on crime and deviance.

The Underclass Theory of Crime

the underclassAn American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) first coined the term ‘the underclass’ to refer to that group of people in America who were long term unemployed and effectively welfare dependent. In the late 1980s he argued that the first generation of underclass were then having children and socialising the next generation of children into a culture of worklessness, thus creating a potential problem for US society because of this group being essentially cut off from ordinary social life and are not constrained by ordinary norms and values like ordinary working people. At that time, Murray looked across to Britain and warned us that in 20 years time we would be facing a similar problem….

Low and behold, A recent article reporting on some relatively recent sociological research from The Times Newspaper (NB – Link is to the Telegraph, not behind an evil pay wall like The Times) reported that….

Two decades after the American sociologist Charles Murray warned that a big new underclass was looming, official studies and ministerial papers — which ministers have chosen not to highlight — reveal that it has finally arrived in the form of the NEETS.

Aged between 16 and 24, they number 1.1m and are responsible for a social and economic drag on society that is vastly disproportionate to their numbers. A study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimates 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.

[In response to these figures Charles Murray commented…]

“When I was looking at Britain in the 1980s, the offspring of the first big generation of single mothers were small children,” said Murray, speaking from his home in America. “Now they are teenagers and young adults and the problems are exactly those that I was warning they would be — high crime rates and low participation in the labour force. These people have never been socialised and they simply don’t know how to behave, from sitting still in classrooms to knowing you don’t hit people if you have a problem. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to take these people now and provide basic conditioning. There has always been a small underclass but now you have got a major problem, who are being called the Neets.”

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The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

Robert Merton’s Strain Theory