I just listened to an interesting article on Radio 4 with historian Timothy Snyder discussing the Impeachment of Donald Trump for inciting political insurrection.
Snyder had an interesting ‘grand historical perspective’ on why the Impeachment was necessary – the insurrection, led by overt White Supremacists was the moment that post-truth started to manifest as fascism.
The Impeachment was important because ‘institutions’ had to make a statement that a group of people with radical views can not just come together in violence and overthrow the democratic will of the people.
He also made an interesting point about the void that’s been created by the death of local news outlets – he described the USA as a ‘news desert’ – you’ve only got the mainstream news which more people increasingly distrust, as demonstrated by the reporting of the recent election results.
Trump was one of these people, believing the mainstream media was his enemy and that the election results were a fraud, a view widely dismissed in most of the media, but popular in various alternative media outlets.
So Trump went with the ‘election rigged’ view, pushed this narrative on Twitter, and this an other right wing social media circles amplified this view, largely in isolation from what was going on in the mainstream.
Hence the Capitol Hill riots were based on a President spinning a narrative of ‘fake election’ not corroborated by mainstream news, but spread on social media, and the view kind of verified by ‘mob agreement’ rather than objective fact-checking.
That is pretty much was post-truth is – people united by narratives which have no easily verifiable basis. That’s not necessarily bad, but then when one such person who is spinning one of these post-truth narratives manages to make manifest a political insurrection, that’s the basis for Fascism right there.
Relevance to A-level sociology
It’s a tough one to understand this event, but certainly there are links to:
Theory and Methods – this is a very uncertain, polarised, post-truth event – truly the downside of the postmodern – a real event based on a fictional narrative of a stolen election!
Tucumbu Prison in Paraguay, South America, houses some of the most dangerous convicted criminals in the country.
It is based in the middle of a slum, and is hideously underfunded and overcrowded – originally built to house just 800 inmates, it currently houses 4000.
The prison features in a recent Netflix documentary series: Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons in which Raphael Rowe spends two weeks inside the prison finding out what life is like for the inmates and guards.
This is an insightful documentary which should be of interest to students studying the Crime and Deviance Module as part of A-level sociology.
A prison of contrasts
There appears to be a very clear structure in the prison, with three main regions being explored in the documentary:
The first is a zone run by the catholic church which seams to be relatively safe and normal (by prison standards) – where prisoners can stay if they agree to abide by 50 rules laid down by the church. This is where Raphael stays, and like prisoners in this area he’s expected to work for 4 hours a day. Work seems to help prisoners as some of them are earning hundreds of dollars a month making products they sell, and they seem to be able to keep a good chunk of the money.
The second is the much rougher outside zone, in the open air, where it seems mainly drug addicts hang out – here one of the ways of making money is to scavenge through rubbish for old bits of food, and plastic bottles.
The plastic bottles can be sold as plates, which inmates used to get their daily food ration, which is the only thing they get for free from the prison authorities. Anything else has to be paid for.
The final reason is the ‘enterprise region’ – where prisoners run full on businesses, such as restaurants, there’s a tattoo parlour, barbers, and a laundry. in this section people can pay around $300 a month for a room – and a few do seem to be making that much money!
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is clearly most relevant to the ‘social control’ topic within Crime and Deviance – this prison offers an interesting contrast to the way things are done in UK prisons.
There are very few guards per prisoner, who mainly let the prisoners get on with their lives, and there seems to be very little in the way of surveillance or rehabilitation going on.
However prisoners are also allowed the freedom to set up businesses, earn money, and have a lot of freedom when relatives come in.
It seems to be a very liberal approach to punishment – individuals are left to rise or fall depending on their own individual efforts which the state doing nothing other than providing what seems to be just one meal a day.
You could also use this as a case study for qualitative research methods.
What is crime? An introduction to crime and deviance for A-level sociology
Crime, or behaviour which goes against the criminal law, covers a very wide variety of acts, from the relatively trivial, such as possessing class C drugs to the very serious such as murder.
A definition of Crime
A simple, starting point definition of crime is:
Crime – the term used to describe behaviour which is against the criminal law. Crime is law-breaking behaviour.
What counts as criminal behaviour thus varies depending on what the laws of a society deem to be illegal. What is legal in one country may not be legal in another.
(A closely related concept to crime is deviance which is rule-breaking behaviour which fails to conform to the norms and expectations of a particular society or social group. Criminal behaviour is usually also deviant behaviour, but there is a lot of deviant behaviour which isn’t criminal.
This post focuses on the questions of what crime and criminal behaviour are (for deviance please see this post). It has been written primarily as an introduction to the Crime and Deviance module for A-level sociology students.
The social Construction of Crime
Newburn (2007) suggests that crime is basically a label that is attached to certain forms of behaviour which are prohibited by the state (government), and have some legal penalty against them. While crime therefore seems easy to define, as the law states what a criminal act is, there is no act that is criminal in itself. An act only becomes a crime when agents of the state label that act as criminal in a particular context. For example, killing someone with a knife during a fight outside a pub in the UK is a criminal offence, but killing an armed combatant during wartime with a knife is not.
Criminal law also varies from country to country, and criminal law changes over time within one country, which reinforces the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently criminal act.
If we examine how the law differs from country to country, it shows us the extent to which ‘crime is socially constructed’.
One example is the variations in the laws surrounding homosexuality – which is punishable by death in 12 countries, but in the United Kingdom and many other European countries it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.
A second example is that women in Saudi Arabia are still effectively banned from wearing clothes which ‘show off their beauty’ (according to this article in The Week, January 2020), however this is open to interpretation, and some resistance from women flouting the rules, as the case from 2017 below demonstrates…
Discussion Question:why might the law (and thus the nature and extent of ‘crime’) vary so much across countries?
The Law in England and Wales
While you don’t need an in-depth understanding of the legal system it is useful to know something about it because it will help you understand where the law comes from and thus how the law changes, and consequently how crime changes over time.
There are two main sources of law in England and Wales
Common Law, which evolves through decisions made by judges at trials, which set precedents for future trials.
Statute Law, which comes about through an Act of Parliament – typically through bills proposed by members of parliament which are debated and modified, often over several months, which then become acts of law.
The Gradual Evolution of Common Law in England and Wales
English criminal law derives its main principles from common law. The main elements of a crime are the actus reus (doing something which is criminally prohibited) and a mens rea (having the requisite criminal state of mind, usually intention or recklessness). A prosecutor must show that a person has caused the offensive conduct, or that the culprit had some pre-existing duty to take steps to avoid a criminal consequence. The types of different crimes range from those well-known ones like manslaughter, murder, theft and robbery to a plethora of regulatory and statutory offences. Today it is estimated that in the UK, there are 3,500 classes of criminal offence.
Parliamentary Acts and Changes to Law in England and Wales
Over the last two centuries, many new laws have been introduced through over 4500 Acts of Parliament which have responded to various social changes, one of the most recent being the ‘Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 which made it illegal to supply a number of so called ‘legal highs’.
One single act can also make a number of behaviors illegal – such as with the 2010 equality act, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate against Transgender people and pregnant women.
NB – The fact that there are so many acts of Parliament demonstrates the extent to which crime is socially constructed. Since 2010 there have been more than 200 new Acts of Parliament.
Today, The Crown Prosecution Service recognises eleven classes of criminal offence, ranging from very serious (class A) through to Miscellaneous lesser offences (class I).
Class A: Homicide and related grave offences. E.g. Murder
Class B: Offences involving serious violence or damage, and serious drugs offences. E.g. kidnapping, armed robbery.
Class C: Lesser offences involving violence or damage, and less serious drugs offences – e.g. possession of firearm without certificate.
Class D: Sexual offences, and offences against children – e.g. sexual assault.
Class E: Burglary etc. – Domestic and Non-Domestic and ‘going equipped to steal’.
Class F- K: Theft and Fraud etc. – e.g. possession of articles for use in frauds; counterfeiting notes and coins.
Class H: Miscellaneous lesser offences – e.g. – Possession of Class B or C drug.
Class I: Offences against public justice and similar offences –e.g. Intimidating Witnesses
Class J: Serious sexual offences, offences against children – e.g. Trafficking out of UK for sexual exploitation
A quick look at a snapshot of the Crown Prosecution’s categories of offences demonstrates how crime is socially constructed – More acts become criminal as the law evolves. The table below shows how a whole raft of behaviours suddenly became ‘constructed’ as criminal following the 1998 criminal justice act, such as breaching an ASBO (ASBOs didn’t exist prior to 1998!).
The Criminal Justice System (FYI)
For those that are charged, they will either appear in Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.
Virtually all criminal cases start in the Magistrates’ courts. The less serious offences are handled entirely in the magistrates’ court. Over 95% of all cases are dealt with in this way. The more serious offences are passed on to the Crown Court, to be dealt with by a judge and jury.
Magistrates mainly deal with
Summary offences. These are less serious cases, such as motoring offences and minor assaults, where the defendant is not entitled to trial by jury and
Either-way offences. As the name implies, these can be dealt with either by the magistrates or before a judge and jury at the Crown Court. Such offences include theft and handling stolen goods. A suspect can insist on their right to trial in the Crown Court. Similarly, magistrates can decide that a case is sufficiently serious that it should be dealt with in the Crown Court – which can impose tougher punishments.
If a case is to be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, the defendant will have to enter a plea.If they plead guilty or if they are later found to be guilty, the magistrates can impose a sentence of up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000. If the defendant is found not guilty (if they are ‘acquitted’), they are judged innocent in the eyes of the law and should be free to go – provided there are no other cases against them outstanding.
Because of the seriousness of offences tried in the Crown Court, these trials take place with a judge and jury. The Crown Court deals with Indictable-only offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery or less serious offences that are too complex for the magistrate’s court
If the defendant is found not guilty, they are discharged and no conviction is recorded against their name. If the defendant is found guilty, they are sentenced and the courts can impose four levels of sentence, depending on the seriousness of the offence:
When deciding what sentence to impose, magistrates and judges have to take account of both the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender.
A sentence needs to:
Protect the public;
Punish the offender fairly and appropriately;
Encourage the offender to make amends for their crime;
Contribute to crime reduction by stopping reoffending.
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.
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)
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.
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.
(*) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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