How Coronavirus is changing crime and deviance

The societal reaction to Coronavirus is certainly a very stark illustration of the context dependency of crime and deviance…..

The recent emergency legislation which put the country into lockdown has made a whole swath of previously ‘normal activities’ deviant, if not criminal, and it’s changing the nature of what we think of as both criminal and deviant.

The Emergency Legislation in the UK: Grey Areas

The ‘government advice’ is that no one is allowed to go out of doors without good excuse, which includes:

  • Buying essential food and medical supplies for you own household and vulnerable people
  • Getting money, to exercise and for essential work
  • To avoid injury, illness or risk of harm. 

Social gatherings of more than two people are also banned except from within the same household.

Emergency legislation gives police the powers to enforce lockdown laws, by insisting people go home and by issuing fines of up to £60, arrest, or dispersal using reasonable force.

However, it’s unclear about what actually constitutes deviance with the above advice and legislation: the law doesn’t state how many times people are allowed out, what constitutes food, and while advice says stay local when doing exercise, it doesn’t specify what local means!

As a result, there is room for interpretation over what constitutes ‘deviant behaviour’, and the police in some areas have been more rigorous in enforcing the lockdown than in others.

So what counts as deviant in the age of the lockdown?

There is some uncertainty, but clarity seems to be emerging as the agents of social control offer more explicit guidelines on what people can and cannot do, hence why this bizarre situation is such a wonderful example of the context dependency of deviance…..

Deviant: Sunbathing, picnicking and playing sports

For example Liverpool Council have made it clear that you can go outside if you keep moving (the ticks below) but not to stop or play sports…..

The police’s reaction to various people flouting lockdown rules also gives further clarification:

Deviant: Not social distancing

People are now being fined for getting too close to other people.

The first example of this I know of was Steve Mackie, who was fined £500 for ‘repeatedly approaching people queuing‘ outside a certain branch of Tesco.

The police have also allegedly fined some runners for ‘running to close to people‘.

Deviant: letting your kids outside four times in one day

A father in the West Midlands was recently fined £680 because his son had been spotted outside by the police four times in one day. I feel sorry for this guy, I can imagine it’s tough to have to keep your teenage kids indoors at this time.

Deviant: taking a 240 mile round trip to buy bread

One guy was recently stopped by the police doing 110 MPH on the motorway, he tried to explain his driving-jolly as buying bread, but he didn’t get away with it.

Here at least is some clarity on what counts as local – not 120 miles away!

Deviant: running for more than 30 minutes?

Michael Gove recently suggested that people shouldn’t be running for more than 30 minutes….

So am I a criminal?

Upgraded to assault: spitting at key workers

Spitting or coughing at key workers may now be prosecuted as ‘common assault’. One man has already been jailed for 26 weeks for spitting at a police officer, saying he wanted to give her Covid-19.

Fair enough I say, just being a thoroughly unpleasant individual.

Coronavirus: making it easier for some ‘normal’ criminals

Meanwhile there is one criminal activity you’re less likely to be prosecuted for – watching your T.V. without a licence because enforcement letters and visits have been stopped. I guess it makes sense keeping in mind how crucial TV is for social control!

Finally, trials for all non serious crimes have been put on hold, so I guess some criminals are actually getting some extra free time to enjoy their ‘softer’ variety of lockdown (rather than jail)

What is Social Control?

Social control refers to the mechanisms a society uses to get individuals to conform. This post covers sociological perspectives on social control such as Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism

A broad definition of social control is ‘all of the formal and informal mechanisms and internal and external controls that operate to produce conformity’*

Social control is the opposite of deviance. Sociologists of deviance ask ‘why do people break social norms and values’? Social control theorists ask ‘why do people conform to social norms and values’?

NB for students studying the crime and deviance component of A-level sociology, most resources tend to focus on the ‘crime and deviance‘ aspect, NOT the social control aspect, but the question of why people conform is just as important as the question of why people break the rules!

Origins of the Concept of Social Control

The concept is often traced back to the seventeenth century Philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued that in a society of self-interested individuals a great power (the State) was needed to prevent things deteriorating into a war of all against all.

Individuals agreed to give up some of their individual freedoms by promising to obey the laws of the State, and in return the State promised to protect individuals.

Talcottt Parsons (1937) developed one of the earliest sociological perspectives on social control. He argued that conformity was not just produced by external agencies coercing individuals to obey rules through the threat of punishment, but also through individuals internalizing norms and values through socialization.

Travis Hirschi (1969) developed this idea further when he argued that juvenile delinquency was the result of an individual’s bonds to society were weakened. His theory emphasized the importance of ties to family, peers and other social institutions such as education and work as important in maintaining social control.

Types of social control theory

One way of dividing up theories of social control is to separate them into conformity producing and deviance repressing approaches (Hudson 1997) suggested there were

Conformity producing theories tend to focus on how people learn to conform by internalising social norms and taking on social roles (like with the Functionalist view of the family or education)

Deviance repressing theories tend to look at the relationship between deviance behaviour and the measures used to reduce it (like with right and left realist approaches to deviance).

Better methods combine both types of approach

Parsons’ approach to social control

Parsons was interested in the question of how societies produce enough conformity to reproduce themselves (or carry on) across several generations.

He pointed out that the majority of people to do not seem to mind conforming to most of society’s norms and values for most of the time during most of their lives. In other words most people willingly conform.

Parsons argued that socialization was central to this ‘willing conformity’. Socialization within institutions such as the family and education helped individuals to internalize the norms and values of a society and convince people that a ‘good-person’ was one who willingly conformed to society’s rules.

Matza’s Techniques of Neutralisation

David Matza’s work on ‘techniques of neutralisation’ supported this view. He pointed out that even people who broke the laws of society still shared the general values of that society.

Matza argued that when people committed deviant acts, they employed ‘techniques of neutralisation’ to explain why they had broken social norms and/ or values.

Techniques of neutralization may include such things as ‘I was drunk, so I was out of control’ or ‘that person is nasty, they deserved it’, and they are used by individuals to justify why they were temporarily deviance on that particular occasion.

Matza argued that ‘techniques of neutralisation’ enabled people to convince themselves that there were exceptional circumstances which explained their occasional acts of deviance, while at the same time allowing them to maintain their self-concept as someone who generally conforms to social norms most of the time.

Hirschi’s Control Theory

Hirschi’s theory of social control emphasized the importance of attachments and social bonds. The more bonds an individual has to society, the more time he or she spends involved with other people and social institutions, then the less likely that individual is to commit deviance.

In Hirschi’s theory, deviance doesn’t really need explaining: it happens whenever an individual is cut free from social bonds and has the opportunity to be deviant.

Marxist Approaches to Social Control

Unlike the three consensus approaches above, Marxists tend to see social control as being consciously or unconsciously ‘engineered’ by the capitalist class and the state.

In terms of ‘conformity producing’ approaches – Marxists see the norms and values of education as working to produce a docile and passive workforce – as outlined in Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Theory.

The media is also seen as an important agent of social control – processes such as agenda setting and gatekeeping mean the elite’s view of the world is presented as normal, thus producing ideological control.

Marxists are also critical of how ‘deviance is reduced’ – seeing the police as working with the elite and the state – working class street crime is, for example, over-policed and prosecuted, while Corporate Crime is relatively under-policed and prosecuted.

Interactionist Approaches to Social Control

The labelling perspective sees social control and deviance as having an ironic relationship.

The more the agencies of social control try to prevent deviance, by labelling and policing certain behaviours as deviant, then the more deviance will be created.

A lot of research from the interactionist perspective has focused on how it is certain types of people (rather than behaviours) who tend to get labelled as deviant, and thus are more likely to become deviant.

Sources

(*) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

Global phishing scams – too difficult to stop?

A recent BBC Panorama documentary provides an insight into how global computer fraud works. The documentary focuses on one criminal organisation based in India who use phishing scams to extract hundreds of pounds out of their victims.

This is a good example of a global crime, and clearly relevant to both globalisation and crime and deviance. In this case the scammer-criminals are in India, their victims in Great Britain, America and Australia.

In the UK we get 21 million scam calls a month, 8 every second, and some scamming organisations can make millions of dollars a year from their victims.

The program starts by focusing on ‘scambaiters’ – individuals who play along with the scammers and film themselves on YouTube doing so. Some (who don’t film themseves) go further and use hacking to try and disrupt the scammers.

One of the people who ‘hacks the hackers’ calls himself Jim Browning on YouTube – the video below give you an idea of what he does!

He seems to be quite a successful anti-hacker – he’s gained control of one call center’s security cameras and managed to record details of 70 000 scam calls.

How the scams work

The scammers in call centers in India take control of people’s computers, and freeze them. A pop up window then tells them their computer has been infected with a virus, and their security compromised, as well as providing a a ‘Microsoft’ (or something similar) number to call to fix the problem.

The scammers in the call center (NOT working for Microsoft) then tell their victims their computer is infected, that their money is at risk and charge them hundreds of pounds to ‘remove’ the ‘viruses’

Police in the UK get around 50 000 reports every year of Indian scams, and police in the UK have successfully worked with police in India to shut down several call centers, but there are many more that have not been shut down, and some of those that do will re-open shortly afterwards in a slightly different location.

High reward and low risk…

For the scammers it would seem there is a lot of potential reward ($10s of thousands) and very little risk of getting caught or punished.

Part of the reason for the low prosecution rates is that the police in India need complaints from victims in the UK (or wherever they may be based) in order to take action against a call center.

All of this further complicated by international payment companies not doing enough to restrict illegal business operations – the documentary uses evidence collected by Jim Browning to track one guy (Amit Chauhan) running an illegal call center who uses PayPal to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars every month from his victims, despite PayPal being aware of the allegations against the scammer.

Final thoughts… to difficult to police?

The documentary ends on a rather depressing note – the guy above hasn’t been prosecuted, and it seems this is going to be an ongoing problem for years to come….

The deportations of foreign nationals – an example of a state crime?

The British government recently tried to deport 42 Jamaican nationals who had committed offences and in the United Kingdom and served more than 12 months in jail.

However, a last minute human rights challenge in the Court of Appeal meant that only 17 were deported and 25 were taken off the plane, because for the government to deport them would have been against their human rights, protected under International Law.

Many of those people who were saved from deportation had come to Britain from Jamaica as children, and had lived in Britain for several years, some for over a decade, and some even had families here.

The government attempted to claim that all 42 had been committed of serious offences. Some had, but others appear to have been committed on relatively minor drugs offences.

One of the people taken off the flight (according to this BBC article) had actually served for the British army in Afghanistan, had been diagnosed with PTSD and been convicted of GBH, related to his poor mental health.

Is this a state crime?

Technically the government has the right to deport people who have committed an offence that resulted in more than 12 months in jail, UNLESS it is against their human rights.

So whether these deportations are examples of state crimes depends on whether deporting them harms their human rights….

The guidelines for this lie in the United Nation’s charter of Human Rights, and as far as I’m aware the lawyers for the 25 people taken off the plane picked up on article number 8 – the right to legal support if we are treated unfairly.

There’s also a possibility that deporting people with young families breaches article number 16.

Is this an effective measure of control?

While shipping criminals out of the country is obviously a very effective way of getting rid of criminals, and a pretty effective deterrent, I have to ask what the effect of this will be on those leaving behind younger children?

What do you think? Is this an appropriate response, should criminals’ individual rights be taken into account in such matters?

Deported to Death – What happens to Mexican Migrants after Deportation?

What happens to those many thousands of migrants who make it across the Mexican U.S. border, but are later sent back to their countries of origins?

This is the topic which Jeremy Slack, Professor of Geography at the University of Texas, addresses in a recent book: Deported to Death : How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexican Border.

This is a book about people how are out of place, about people trying to claim asylum or people who have been deported – the book aims to humanize these people and get into the experience of what its like for them.

The book uses in-depth qualitative research methods to find out ‘what happens next’ once mexicans have been deported, with Slack using in-depth interviews and hanging-out in places such as Migrant shelters on the Mexican side of the borders.

Slack found that one third of people he interviewed regarded the US as their home. Many of them had put down roots in the US – they had homes, young children, no close contacts in Mexico, and no understanding of the Mexican system, some had been living and working in the U.S. for over a decade.

These people are really victims of a hostile immigration environment in the U.S. Ever since Trump declared a national emergency back in 2019, authorities in the Southern States have ramped up their efforts to deport people.

The number one federal crime for being deported is now ‘immigration offenses’ itself (which doesn’t have to be illegal, or dealt with harshly), the second major reason for deportation is traffic violations – people get caught speeding, for example, the authorities realize they are illegal and they end up in a detention center and deported.

Grey Zones

Once they’ve been deported, deportees enter a sort of ‘Grey Zone’ – they’re in Limbo, as they are regarded as criminals by the Mexican authorities while they try to challenge their deportation and gain the legal right to stay in the United States, which, following the introduction of the Orwellian named ‘Migrant Protection Program’ now has to be done from Mexico, rather than them staying in the States.

It seems like the chances of being granted legal access are slim – They don’t get access to third party rights A third of people interviewed didn’t have access to asylum, no lawyer if you can’t pay.

Some Mexican deportees from the United States become the targets of extreme drug related violence upon their return to Mexico.

Other migrants are subject to kidnappings by the police, with 7% reporting that they’ve been held against their will and subject to forced labour and torture.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This book has clear relevance to Crime and Deviance, especially critical victimology.

The Cyprus Rape Case – A Sad Example of Victim Blaming

You might have seen the unfolding of the ‘Cyprus gang rape case‘ over recent months.

This seems to be a good example of how the courts in Cyprus engage in ‘victim blaming’ when it comes to rape, and seems to illustrate many of the ideas of radical feminism – about how patriarchal institutions punish women for the violence men do against them. It’s of obvious relevance to Feminist theory applied to Crime and Deviance.

The Cyprus Rape Case…

On 17th July 2019 a British woman filed a report in a police station in Ayia Napa claiming she had been gang raped by 12 Israeli men. The men were detained, and various examinations carried out, linking 7 of them to the alleged victim through DNA evidence and or shared scratches/ bruises. The incident was also filmed.

On 27th July the victim visited the police station again, to give a statement, but after 8 hours of questioning without a lawyer retracted her original report saying she had consented to having sex with all 12 men.

The alleged rapists were then released and allowed to go home to Israel while the British woman was charged by the Cypriot authorities with making a false statement – and had to spend the next 6 months on bail why she waited for her trial to take place.

On the fourth of January, the woman was found guilty of misleading the police, but the judge refused to take into account certain crucial pieces of evidence – he didn’t even look at the video footage which was taken, for example.

As punishment she received a four month sentence, and was allowed to return home to the UK, and she is now going to appeal her conviction.

If you want to find out more, from a Feminist perspective, then this Huffington Post article is a useful source.

IMO this is a grim case which clearly shows the lengths the police and the courts will go to in Cyprus to protect men by blaming women who get gang raped.

Keeping Women out of Prison

Why do women offend, reoffend and how do we break the cycle?

This recent Positive Thinking Podcast on radio 4 (30 December 2019) explores why women offend, reoffend and how to break the cycle.

It has obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance module and this is also an excellent example of a Feminist inspired programme, with the focus on stories rather than stats and solutions rather than causes.

Women make up a tiny proportion of the overall prison population and are twice as likely as men to be given a short sentence (of two years or less). However, the reoffending rates for women given short sentences is around 70% compared to men’s which is 20%.

It’s suggested that short prison sentences hit women a lot harder than men, especially the 50% of them who have children. A short sentence is just enough to mess up their lives and break down their social and emotional support networks, but not enough time for them to receive the structured support/ therapy that might help them break out bad habits such as substance abuse, for example.

The programme is co-presented by an ex-offender, Whitney, who has had 10 convictions for offences such as drugs and carrying weapons, and has spent time in jail. The programme focuses a lot on her story about why she started and continued offending ( rather than focusing on statistics) but its real focus is on solutions.

Whitney’s case is presented as ‘typical’ and it’s pretty bleak (well worth a listen first five mins of the podcast) – she was abused as a four year old by someone known to the family, and taken into foster care at 7 years of age along with here siblings, then spent the next several years in various foster homes, making 47 run-away attempts during that period. She was also excluded from multiple schools.

Eventually the authorities let the siblings go back and live with their mother, it seems because of their belligerence, but rows happened between Whitney and her mother, and that’s where her criminal record started. However, it was getting caught carrying a knife that led to her first jail sentence – she never used or drew the knife, just carried it for self defence, and she didn’t actually get a jail sentence for carrying it – she got sent down for failing to stick to the restrictions but on her as part of her remand-sentence – interfering with her tag and staying out clubbing after curfew.

She describes going to jail for 2 months as something which ‘broke her’ – she says she saw women going and coming back during that time, saw and learnt things that maybe she never should have.

Probably the most interesting section is when Whitney asks ‘could I as a four year old stopped myself from being abused? Could I as a 7 year old stopped my siblings being taken into care?’

The answer – ‘Probably not’ reminds us that Whitney is actually a victim of abuse, and that’s the root cause of her offending behaviour, so maybe being tough on such people by giving them prison sentences is not the right answer, especially when the stats show that prison does very little to break the cycle of offending.

Solutions – breaking the cycle of offending

The show looks at three projects working on solutions – one of the most interesting is a hair dressing salon in Dagenham, Essex, in which one enterprising woman trains ex offenders and drug users in level one hair dressing.

Part of the reason this works is that hairdressing is very social, and so it gives the students a connection to ‘normal’ life – and the feeling that ‘other people’ are interested in them – one student referred to didn’t have that as all she’d ever known was abusive relationships.

This project is really about going back to the very basics and just giving women the building blocks to structure their lives, and it seems to work – out of more than 40 people who took the course, only 3 didn’t complete it – 1 died and 2 went back to their own ways.

It’s worth mentioning that are some obvious links to left realist criminology here!

There are two other solutions mentioned, but I’ll let you listen to this excellent podcast to find out about them, it really is well worth a listen!

Can religion lead gang members away from crime?

The short answer is yes: ex gang members who join a religious ‘support’ programme as a way out of crime have lower re-offending rates. However, the re-offending rates of those who quit such programmes have higher reoffending rates than those who never took part at all!

This is according to some recent research summarized in this interesting Thinking Allowed podcast. The research summarized is clearly relevant to both the beliefs in society module and the crime and deviance module.

The podcast starts off with a discussion of what gangs are, focusing mainly on how uncritically the term is used.

There’s an especially interesting discussion on labelling as applied to gangs and how naming a gang can sometimes be enough to bring it into existence.

There is also commentary on how the gang label is typically applied to groups of young people, and how it has racial connotations, being applied more to black youth.

The podcast then moves onto routes into gangs, outlining how various ‘causal factors’ have been identified through research, such as poverty, deprivation, and childhood trauma.

However research on causes is a bit 1990s, and the focus today is more on routes out of crime, or what criminologists call desistance

Desistance: Routes out of Crime

This episode of Thinking Allowed finishes off with a summary of Professor Ross Deuchar‘s work on the routes out of gangs.

He has spent time with gang members who have served their time for gang related offenses and in a liminal phase, trying to transition away from gang life, and his research has a real global focus, he’s researched desistance in Scotland, the US and Asia.

Previous research of his highlighted the fact that traditional, or hegemonic masculinity played a big part in gang members criminality – much of the violence was about playing out a hyper masculine role.

His research shows that religious groups offering therapeutic support to ex gang members have a higher success rate than usual in helping ex gang members to desist from crime.

He suggests this might be because the focus on spirituality (rather than dogma) allows for a deepening awareness of self an others and it helps ex-gang members learn how to be men in different ways to previously.

There is a lot more to this podcast, and I suggest you check it out, click the link above to find out more!

Crime and Deviance Teaching Resource Bundle

I’ve just release a new crime and deviance teaching resource bundle as part of my A-level sociology teaching resource subscription

This teaching resource bundle contains everything teachers need to deliver 10-hour long lessons in the sociology of crime and deviance for A level sociology.  

Each lesson includes a student work-pack, supplementary resources such as PowerPoints, a detailed lesson plan and numerous lesson activities including starters, plenaries and links to some Socrative quizzes.

There is also some material on exams or formal assessment, but the main focus of these lessons is on content delivery rather than revision. If you’re interested in more assessment resources please see my you might like my various ‘revision bundles’, assessment details are contained within the relevant documents in each of these.

The resources have been designed for A-level sociology and cover the core themes on the AQA’s specification but are suitable for new 16-19 students studying any specification.

An overview of the ten introductory lessons:

  1. An introduction to Crime and Deviance
  2. An introduction to crime statistics
  3. Applying sociological perspectives to the London Riots
  4. Consensus theories of crime review lesson
  5. The Marxist perspective on crime lesson 1
  6. The Marxist perspective on crime lesson 2
  7. Research and letter- to MP writing lesson on corporate and white-collar crime
  8. The Right Realist perspective on crime lesson 1
  9. The Right Realist perspective on crime lesson 2
  10. Researching Right and Left Realist policy solutions to knife crime.

Resources in the bundle include:

  • Five student workbooks covering all of the above lessons
  • Eight Power Points covering most of the above lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
  • 10 lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
  • Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the above lessons as necessary.
  • Starters and plenaries for crime and deviance
  • Extensive gap-fill crime and deviance revision grids with answers.
  • Full crime and deviance scheme of work.

Fully modifiable resources

Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather than as PDFs, so you can modify them!

NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!

Are police officers really 100 times less criminal than the general population?

189 police officers have been convicted across 12 police forces in England in Wales in five years since 2013 , according to a recent FOI request (source: The Telegraph). This equates to just 37.8 police officer convictions each year.

According to Full Fact, there were 126, 300 total police officers in England and Wales in March 2019.

This gives us a police officer conviction rate of 0.03% per year – that is to say that 0.03% of police officers are convicted of a crime each year.

1.38 million people in the general population were prosecuted in the year (CJS Stats, 2018)

A very rough estimate for the number of adults in England and Wales is around 50 million, so this gives us a rough adult conviction rate of 2.76 per year.

This means the Police officer conviction rate is 100 times less than that for the population as a whole.

How accurate are these statistics?

Personally I’m sceptical about the police officer conviction rate.

Despite the fact that the police probably are less likely to commit crime – I mean it kind of goes with the job, not committing crime, and then there’s the embarrassment of getting caught even if you are criminally inclined, which I imagine would be a further deterrent, I still think there’s a lot of criminal police officers whose crimes are just not getting detected.

I imagine you’d be less likely to be suspected of a crime – I mean the police themselves aren’t going to get stopped and searched are they?

Then there’s the fact that prosecutors might be more reluctant to prosecute police because it makes the system look flawed.

Then of course there’s all those things which won’t be defined as criminal because it’s the police doing them in the line of duty – such as speeding and violence, and drug possession come to think of it.