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Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

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

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

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

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

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

prison population and crime rate.PNG

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

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

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

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

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

Does Prison work?

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

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

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

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

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

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

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

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

Conclusions 

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

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

Sources 

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

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Lost Wallet Crime and Deviance Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance to A-level sociology

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

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

Limitations of the experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

 

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

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

Assange being assaulted by state criminals

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance to A-level sociology 

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

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

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

Sources/ Find out More 

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

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Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

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

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

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

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The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Thousands of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered in London last week to stage the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.

Extinction Rebellion is an apolitical network whose main aim is to persuade governments to take urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Their main tactic is peaceful, non-violent direct action.

They have three main demands:

  1. Tell the truth – Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now – Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics – Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Tactics over the last week in London have included a range of disparate disruptive actions such as blockading bridges, people gluing themselves to selected targets and die ins, all of this in addition to their being larger ‘people’s assemblies’ at various famous landmarks in the capital, with the usual debates, street theatrics, music, and cook-ins.

 

The cost to the economy is estimated to be millions of pounds, and the number of people arrested stands at over 1000, but with not one single police officer was injured during the last week’s peaceful protests.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The best fit is in with ‘globalisation and green criminology’.

Easy to understand is the fact that this is a global movement, so it’s a great example of ‘political globalisation’. NB – you may have missed this in the news, because as far as I can tell the movement started in the UK and London is by far the largest event.

In terms of green criminology – some actions of some of the protestors are illegal – criminal damage and public order offences for example, but they would claim that the ‘real criminals’ are governments around the world for failing to act on climate change.

There’s lots of other links to, but I’ll let you find them!

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Green Criminology and Green Crime – Revision Notes

Introduction – Getting your head around green crime!

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

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

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

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

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

Criminology – Disagreements over the concept of Green Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A broadly Green Criminological/ Marxist Perspective on Green Crime

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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Displacing the Poor from London (and its relevance to critical victimology)

Local Councils in London are increasingly resorting to moving poor homeless families out of London, because they can’t afford to meet their housing needs within London. In most cases they’re being moved to Kent and Essex, but in sometimes moves are made much further afield:

What the map above shows is the literal relocation of the poor – shifting poverty out of London and into poorer parts of the country. It’s the real life version of what happened at the end of ‘People Just do Nothing’.

The main cause: the high price of housing in the capital, fuelled by 30 years of cheap mortgages and foreign speculative investment on property in London.

The negative consequences for the poor 

At the very least these families are being removed from all of their local social connections and having their children’s schooling disrupted,  but in some cases they suffer much worse: cramped housing conditions and being housed in the same block of flats as ex criminals, as the recent case study of Terminus House suggests….

Various London councils have housed hundreds of poor recently-made homeless Londoners at Terminus House in Harlow, Essex, several miles outside of London.

The building is a 1960s 14 story, former office block converted into flats and run by the private company Caridon Property since April 2018.

The problem is that the complex is also home to several ex-offenders, including at least 25 people recently released from prison, and it’s something of a crime hot-spot, with high levels of anti-social behaviour, burglary and criminal damage.

Police figures show that in the first 10 months after people moved in, crime within Terminus House itself rose by 45%, and within by 20% within a 500m radius of the property.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This strikes me as a great example of how the poor in London are the victims of local council policies (not defined as illegal of course) – they get moved out from their local areas, and then are more likely to become the victims of crime. It illustrates perfectly how the poor are more likely to be victims of social injustice and crime than the rich!

Sources 

https://www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/harlow-terminus-house-nightmare-tower-2721068

 

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How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance to A-level sociology

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

Sources 

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

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

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

 

 

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China – The World’s Biggest Tech Thief?

Chinese theft of intellectual property from other countries (mainly the US and those in the EU) represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history according to Keith B Alexander, former director of the US National Security Agency.

intellectual property includes such things as patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and software, and China has a long history of stealing such things ever since it opened up its economy to foreign trade in the late 1970s. China has long been known as the country of origin for counterfeit DVDs (among other products), but more recently one its largest tech firms, the phone manufacturer Huwai was accussed of encouraging employees with bonuses for gathering confidential information from competitors.

To give you an idea of the scale of this, The United States estimated in 2017 that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs between $225bn and $600bn annually,

The type of information stolen covers a huge range of sectors: everything from the designs for wind turbines to cars, medical devices and computer chips. In one infamous case, Germany’s Siemens introduced the high-speed train to China only to find that subsequent extensions of the system were manufactured by its Chinese partner, China National Railway Corporation, which had developed similar technology suspiciously quickly.

How has China managed this?

Back in day China was more likely to engage in full on cyber-espionage, but more recently it has developed a set of policies which forces foreign multinationals working in China to divulge secrets while they are forbidden similar access to Chinese companies’ information.

Technically this is against WTO rules, but it seems that China, being a ‘big player’ on the international scene can get away with this.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a great example of a ‘state crime’ – state sponsored theft of intellectual property, and it’s a great example of a crime that up until this point has gone unpunished!

It also reminds us that where globalisation is concerned, there is no such thing as genuine free-trade, it’s only as free as the large nation states allow it to be.

NB – as a final note, Chinese intellectual property theft might be a thing of a past, China has invested so much in skilling its population up in technology that it is likely to become a cutting edge tech innovator in its own right in the not too distant future!

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Nine criticisms of the theory that school exclusions are to blame for knife crime

Last week, senior police chiefs wrote to Theresa May arguing that there was a link between the increase in the number of formal school exclusions and ‘off-rolling’ (where heads informally get parents to withdraw their children, without them being formally recorded as ‘permanently excluded’) and an increase in knife crime.

The theory is that those excluded or off-rolled are more likely to ‘drift’ because they are less effectively cared for and monitored in alternative provision institutions. The problem is believed to be especially bad for those who are off-rolled. When a pupil is off-rolled, the parents are responsible for finding alternative provision, and it is their kids who are much more likely to end up out of education altogether.

If we look at the stats, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in school exclusions and the increase in knife crime:

School exclusions have been increasing since 2013

Knife crime has been increasing since 2015

And regionally:

HOWEVER, it is a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation doesn’t mean causation, and there is very good reason to think that this is the case here.

Numerous commentators (see below for links) have criticised the police for suggesting there is a causal link between the increase in exclusions and the increase in knife crime, and here’s a summary of why we should be critical…

Nine criticisms of the ‘school exclusions cause knife crime’ theory

  1. For starters, even with the above crude statistics there isn’t a perfect correlation – it’s true that London has a higher exclusion rate and knife crime rate than any other city, but then the West Midlands has a higher knife crime rate than Yorkshire and Humber, but a lower exclusion rate.
  2. The above data only includes formal exclusions, not off-rolling, so we don’t get a full picture (there are validity issues) – true, it might be more likely that someone who is off-rolled turns to knife crime compared to someone who is formally excluded, but I these figures don’t show us the off-rolling.
  3. This government report from June 2018 which examined the relationship between educational background and knife crime found that ‘knife possession rarely followed exclusion’.
  4. There may be another cause behind both ‘being excluded from school’ and ‘being convicted of knife crime’ – possibly rooted further in the past of these individuals, such as their having come from a troubled family and/ or having experienced neglect or abuse during their childhood.
  5. It is unfair to blame schools for excluding children in greater numbers as they have been hit by 10 years of Tory funding cuts – schools actively educate about not getting involved in knife crime, but have become less effective at dealing with ‘troubled kids’ because they now have fewer resources to help them do so.
  6. The fact that someone has previously been excluded from school may make it more likely that they are going to get a knife-crime conviction – being excluded from school puts you on the police radar and doesn’t sit well with judges and juries. It could be that there are proportionally just as many people who have not been excluded from school who commit knife crime, but they just don’t appear in the official statistics because they are less likely to get caught and convicted.
  7. Back to underlying causes, it’s possible that a ‘deeper’ reason lying behind why people who are excluded from school are also more likely to appear in the knife crime conviction figures is because they are victims of discrimination by the system – males, the poor, and African Caribbean children are more likely to appear in both the exclusion figures and the knife rime conviction figures – it could be that both are caused by a sense of injustice at being excluded in the first place.
  8. The stats available to us tell us nothing about the life-histories, or the journies people take from being excluded (or not) to knife-crime. This could be a more complex few years than we imagine, and these possibly diverse journies are simply not going to be unveiled by crude statistical analysis. The data simply isn’t there!
  9. Finally, there are number of other variables that cause knife crime to increase – the changing nature of drug-dealing (county lines), and cuts to police funding come to mind as being two of the most obvious. These would somehow need to be factored in to any ‘causal’ equation.

In conclusion it’s a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation does not mean causation, and this particular topic is a great one to use to illustrate this.

To my mind there are so many problems with maintaining the causality argument here that the only possible reason anyone would try to make it in the first place is to distract attention away from all the other social problems that correlate with the increase in knife crime – the kind of problems government policies either exacerbate or can do little to combat.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: this is a great topic that bridges education, methods and crime!

Sources not already linked above

Huffington Post – Don’t blame school exclusions for rise in knife crime

The Guardian – Knife crime and exclusions are a symptom of wider malaise.