From Narrative Justice to Narrative Methodology

Exploring the relationship between narrative representation and the reduction of ideologically-motivated crime and harm

RMcGregor

Rafe McGregor is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Edge Hill University.  His research specialisations are narrative criminology, criminological fiction, and neoliberalism.  Narrative Justice was published by Rowman & Littlefield International in 2018.

 

In Narrative Justice (2018), I defined methodology as a theory of research, set of principles, and system of methods regulating a particular inquiry or a discipline more generally.  The theories I developed involved research into the ethical and cognitive values of exemplary narratives (narratives high in narrativity in consequence of their circumstantial, causal, thematic, and closural complexity) and concluded that regardless of their truth or falsity: (1) every story has a moral, but that moral may be virtuous, vicious, or somewhere in-between; and (2) stories can provide genuine knowledge just by being stories.  These conclusions were combined in the theory of narrative ethical knowledge, which establishes the first principle for a methodology: (a) stories convey knowledge of what lived ethical experience is like in virtue of their narrativity.  The second principle is widespread and uncontroversial within criminology: (b) explanations of crime or social harms have the potential to reduce crime or social harm in virtue of developing understanding of the causes of the crime or social harm.  The methods employed for the three practical examples in Narrative Justice involved a comparative analysis of two exemplary narratives.  The first employed two biographies, one of a real person and one of a fictional character, in order to establish the former’s responsibility for collaboration in crimes against humanity.  The second employed two narratives concerned with totalitarian oppression, one fictional and one documentary, in order to understand how an exemplary narrative can succeed in exploring the psychology of a torturer while simultaneously condemning his or her actions.  The third employed a comparison of two ostensibly documentary narratives, an article and an essay, to illustrate the fictional basis of both.  With respect to the distinction between fiction and documentary, these can be set out as: (i) the use of a fictional narrative to illuminate a real person’s character; (ii) the use of a documentary narrative to illuminate a novel’s psychological failure; and (iii) the comparison of two documentary narratives to reveal their fictional basis. (i) and (ii) can be collapsed into: the comparison of a fictional and documentary narrative for the purposes of disclosure.  (iii) is the comparison of two documentary narratives in terms of fiction for the purpose of demystification.  In each case, the relationship between fiction and documentary is exploited in order to explain the causes of ideologically-motivated crime.

The method involves the careful selection, analysis, and comparison of documentary and fictional narratives.  One begins with the subject of inquiry and then selects two complementary exemplary narratives, either one documentary and one fictional (if one’s purpose is disclosure) or two documentary (if one’s purpose is demystification).  In the former case, the fictional narrative is employed to illuminate the documentary (by direct or indirect means) and in the latter, the comparative analysis of two documentaries as exemplary narratives (rather than as documentaries) reveals the extent to which they are fictional.  Two brief examples will demonstrate the method in practice.  If one wanted to explore the extent to which wealthy expatriates are complicit in the crimes against humanity the Emirate of Dubai perpetrates against migrant workers, one might select Jim Krane’s Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City (2009) as one’s documentary narrative and Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog (2014) as one’s fictional narrative.  At the general level, the two can be juxtaposed so as to exploit the extent to which the latter’s basis in the imagination complements the former’s basis in fact, combining the representation of objective facts about the relationship between expats and migrants with the representation of subjective experiences that could not be achieved in non-fiction.  More specifically, there is a contrast in the way in which the two narratives represent the relationship between prosperity and deprivation in Dubai.  Krane is for the most part concerned with growth, development, and success, devoting only one of four parts of the history to the cost in terms of human rights violations and environmental damage, whereas O’Neill’s narrative focuses on the moral corruption of the anonymous narrator, of the extent to which his lucrative employment requires him to not merely consent to crimes against humanity but play an active role in their commission.  If one wanted to explore the fallacies employed to justify the crimes against humanity perpetrated by colonial powers against communist insurgents during the Cold War, one might select George Robert Elford’s Devil’s Guard (1971) and Tim Bax’s Three Sips of Gin (2013).  The two can be apposed so as to reveal the identical contradictions in form and content that undermine both narratives from within.  Elford’s narrator and Bax’s autobiographical narration describe situations in which traditional non-combatants are prepared to die for their freedom and combatants to fund their resistance by any means available, belying the colonisers’ claims that the counterinsurgency was in the interests of the indigenous populations.  The comparative analysis of the two texts exposes a multiplicity of self-contradictions that demystify the justifications endorsed by both authors – which are revealed as at best ignorant and at worst deceitful.

These examples are textual rather than visual, but the theory and principles underlying the method facilitate its application to any type of exemplary narrative as well as across different modes of narrative representation.  In consequence, one might juxtapose Roméo Dallaire’s autobiographical Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003) with Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda (2004) in order to illuminate the question of responsibility during the Rwandan genocide.  With respect to the methodology I am setting out here, the distinction between minimal and exemplary narratives cuts across the distinction between descriptive and depictive modes of representation.  The method involves the selection of two exemplary narratives, one fictional and one documentary (if the aim is disclosure) or both documentary (if the aim is demystification), and facilitates a variety of combinations within these parameters (including the use of more than two exemplary narratives for sustained analyses).  There is coherence among the theories, principles, and methods described above such that the theories determine the principles, which underpin the methods and although I have identified two methods, these are more accurately described as two instantiations of a single method of comparative analysis.  The central thesis of Narrative Justice, which is that exemplary narratives can reduce ideologically-motivated crime, thus establishes a new methodology for criminology and my hope is that it will be adopted, adapted, and developed by others.

 

Contact

Dr Rafe McGregor, Edge Hill University

Email: mcgregor@edgehill.ac.uk

https://sites.google.com/site/rafemc/

 

Images: courtesy of the author

Thinking about Knife Crime Beyond Dangerous Myths and Comfortable Untruths

Knife crime has recently become the staple of public discussion in the media, but remains frequently misunderstood through a series of dangerous myths and comfortable untruths that are unhelpful as they are misleading

Dr Lambros Fatsis, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is the 2018 BSC Blogger of the Year.

A weekday evening in front of the telly usually evokes images of idling on the sofa, engaged in bouts of momentary eye-rolling, head-shaking, and throat-clearing in response to breaking news. For criminologists and other social scientists, however, the situation is much worse. The tiniest falsehood attacks us like a mutating virus which instantly transforms us from spectators, who tune in to find out what is going on, into detectives who comb out truths that news anchors and their guests ignore, conceal, avoid or deny. Unsurprisingly, recent news stories about knife crime are one such example of media frenzy and a source of criminological nightmares. This is because what often passes as serious discussion on this issue often degenerates into a grotesque pantomime where “the right approach” is sought without due respect for the available evidence or regard to the communities that are worse affected. As a result, much of what non-criminologists are exposed to when knife crime becomes news is blunt sophistry at the expense of sharp-edged facts. Sensible, perceptive, and considered responses are hardly absent of course, but they are drowned out by the white noise of superficial, impulsive, knee-jerk punitive reactions that reinforce, instead of challenging, dangerous myths and comfortable untruths about the issue in question.

In the aftermath of the Jaden Moodie murder, the usual explanations (gang membership and “black-on-black” crime) reappeared for an inevitable encore, accompanied by their equally predictable solutions (more stop and search). The best illustration of such views can be found in the last twenty minutes of the recent Question Time  in the form of Melanie Phillips’ ill-informed spiel on the matter, with Rod Liddle’s Sunday Times op-ed being another contender. If such analyses and their recommendations were correct, it would all be well and good. But since they are not, a fierce rebuttal of these frequently recurring falsehoods is due especially since rogue demagoguery of this kind has achieved the status of common knowledge despite most, if not all, evidence to the contrary. The remainder of this blogpost, therefore, will tackle these issues head-on before concluding with an invitation to think about crime by enlisting our intellectual, moral, and civic conscience as active ingredients of any solution to the social problems that cause crime.

Gangs

Every time knife crime is debated, gangs quickly appear as the usual suspects that ought to be responsible for the violence that haunts city streets and citizens’ minds. In fact, this idea is so widespread, even among senior law enforcement officials, that the commentariat could be excused for falling prey to it. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, for example, recently declared a ‘relentless war on gangs’ as a fitting response to the “knife-crime epidemic”. Given the seriousness of the matter, the head of the Met could be excused for her rough and tough approach were it informed by evidence and not so gravely misguided.

However, recent data on gangs from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies show no concrete evidence of the link between knife crime and gang membership, as does the evidence from Stopwatch and Amnesty International on the Metropolitan Police Gangs Matrix database. To make matters worse, a recent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found the Matrix in breach of data protection laws ‘with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. This echoes criticisms voiced against the Matrix by criminologists like Becky Clarke who describe it as ‘racist’ as did the UN’s Special Rapporteur on racism who feared its disproportionate use as ‘the basis for surveillance operations against young men and boys who are predominantly black and are listed as potential future violent offenders, sometimes without any basis’.  A previous posting on this blog in 2018 by Keir Irwin-Rogers was also critical of the significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs. Such evidence-less approaches to knife crime as the modus operandi of young Black gangsters simply expose the allure that “gang talk” has on the minds of police chiefs, while also demonstrating how easily young Black people “become” gang members when they are perceived, labelled and processed as such by criminal justice system institutions. This might explain why 78% of the people on the Met’s Gangs Matrix database are Black when the Met’s own data shows that only 27% of people accountable for serious youth violence are Black as criminologist Patrick Williams, dutifully reminds us on page 5 of the aforementioned Stopwatch report.

“Black on Black” Crime

Following gang membership, “Black on Black” crime often comes second in the causal pecking order of knife crime, the assumption here being that since most young Black men are the perpetrators and the victims of such crime there must be something criminogenic about “blackness” either as a biological or a cultural trait. Melanin levels excluded, there can be no other explanation for this like involvement in criminal activity because of levels of poverty and disadvantage. Yet according to a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report, Black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately locked into a position of disadvantage; a fact which might serve as a more reliable predictor of violent crime than skin colour or cultural pathology.

Against airy-fairy fantasies such as structural disadvantage, however, unqualified self-appointed pundits would have us believe that “blackness” is among the causes of knife crime much like “the evil eye” causes natural disasters or fiscal crises. There must, therefore, be something intrinsically “criminal” about Black people and their deficient ‘fatherless’ family arrangements which causes young people to stab each other. It couldn’t possibly be inequality or social exclusion that lead people to commit desperate and often unjust acts within a violent living environment marred by inequality and social exclusion. The only apparent solution must be to reduce or eliminate “blackness”, not remove the structural barriers that block Black Britons’ welfare.

Stop and Search

Having established that knife crime is what gangs of marauding Black youths do with as well as to each other, dispatching police officers to prowl the streets in search of suspects must be the most appropriate response. Otherwise known as stop and search, this police power enjoys the unequivocal support of police chiefs, the Home Office, and mainstream political parties. So much so that the Home Secretary leapt to his feet to ‘reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency’ in the deployment of “suspicionless” stop and search which was (thankfully) overturned by government ministers shortly after. Despite such skepticism about the use of “suspicionless” stop and search, authorised by section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, there was a 400% rise in the use of those powers in 2018. Reservations notwithstanding, the widespread use of stop and search to combat knife crime or gang violence remains unchallenged, despite all evidence to the contrary.

According to the latest evidence, this ostensibly indispensable police power is as ineffective and ill-judged as it is discriminatory and criminogenic even, due to its damaging effect on the public’s trust of the police (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Indeed as LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues (p.2) note, the ‘defensive rhetoric’ around stop and search as ‘a ‘vital tool’ in the fight against knife crime does not ‘stand-up to empirical scrutiny’. Contrary to ‘police narratives about stop and search’ which ‘revolve around knives, gangs, organised crime groups, drug supply, county lines and modern slavery’, the authors’ ‘analysis tells a different story – one of deprived, minority communities being over-policed and selectively criminalised’. Equally, despite Melanie Phillips’ belief that the police refrain from using stop and search for fear of being accused of racism, Shiner and his co-authors (p.8) found ‘no credible evidence’ to support such a claim. Yet stop and search always wins over facts, acquiring talismanic powers and totemic status by those who defend it, including police leaders whose professional practice should be informed by the available evidence not reflex responses.

Moving forward

Faced with a culture of denial about illegitimate police practices and the institutional racism that guides them, any step forward becomes an uphill struggle especially when evidence of it is regarded as treason. In Melanie Phillips’ mind for instance, it is not the conclusion that institutional racism exists that shocks, but the very suggestion that institutional racism exists. Whatever her confusing argument was Sub-chapter 6.45 and Chapter 46 of the Macpherson report, which she mentions, prove her wrong either way. The challenge is to recognise that (knife) crime is often the visible manifestation of deep-seated patterns of inequality and social exclusion. Policing our way out of social problems, therefore, seems misplaced when the emphasis should be on improving ‘dangerous places’, not hunt for ‘dangerous people’ as Eric Klinenberg argues in Chapter Two of his new book. Taking a stand against the conditions that produce knife crime, therefore, ought to be our civic and moral priority instead of pursuing scapegoats by rethinking knife crime and (re)acting towards it through a combination of a public health and social justice approach to public safety, defended by the Youth Violence Commission and London’s nascent Violence Reduction Unit in London.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

 

Copyright free image courtsey of Shutterstock

 

The spurious link between immigration and increased crime

In the era of Brexit attempts have repeatedly been made to associate recent immigrants with criminality; and despite all evidence to the contrary this slur continues.

(Photo above: Anthony Stansfeld, Thames valley Police and Crime Commissioner, reproduced with permission of the Oxford Mail).

Danny Dorling works at the University of Oxford. He was previously a professor at the University of Sheffield, and before then at Leeds. His earlier academic posts were in Newcastle, Bristol, and New Zealand. His most recent book, with Sally Tomlinson, is ‘Rule Britannia: Brexit and the end of Empire’.

Sally Tomlinson was born in Stockport. Her first primary school job was teaching children from the Caribbean and Asian subcontinent in Wolverhampton in the year Enoch Powell was making his anti-immigrant speeches. She has worked in universities in Warwick, Lancaster, Goldsmiths London and Oxford’.

On Saturday 22nd December 2018, three days before Christmas, the Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire – Thames Valley – Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Anthony Stansfeld, was reported to still be standing by his very recent allegation that that ‘foreign nationals’ were one of the reasons for increasing demand being placed upon Oxfordshire’s police officers in recent years . He had been quoted as claiming that “A significant amount of the more serious crime is now being committed by foreign national offenders.”

Local members of parliament reacted angrily. The Oxford West and Abingdon MP explained that “I am concerned that the PCC singling out foreign nationals as the perpetrators reeks of dog whistle politics and risks an increase in hate crimes to people from other nations who’ve made their home in our communities” The Oxford East MP used statistics to explain that the number of people from abroad committing crimes was actually declining, yet still Anthony Stansfeld (pictured above) would accept no criticism, simply claiming that “I tell the truth on these things.

So where does this particular version of the ‘truth’ come from? And how does it manage to resist so much good sense, statistical evidence, or warnings of the potential consequences of repeating such accusations which are often echoes of a much older prejudice?

Students of criminology could request interviews with the Thames Valley PCC to ask him where his views come from, but he may not know. Few of us make good judges of our own motivations, beliefs, and what lead to our particular prejudices developing in the first place. Fear and mistrust of others is common worldwide, especially of people who are seen as different. However, the reactions of the two members of parliament for the city of Oxford in this case helps to illustrate that there is also now a strong movement to counter such stereotyping, and that fight-back also has a long history.

There is no correlation between immigration rates and crime. Meticulous research recently revealed that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment of people to be found anywhere in Europe. Wales is hardly a favoured destination for immigrants, unless you count English people moving there in retirement. Wales suffers from one of the lowest immigration rates in all of Europe. In 2014 less than 5% of its population were born abroad (see the map below). This is a rate of in-migration that is amongst the lowest of any country or region in Europe. Outside of London and Northern Ireland the rate of migration from abroad into much of the UK very low. It is a low rate of immigration into  a large home born population that is most comparable to that found in many Eastern European countries. Eastern Europe also tends to receive few people born abroad, and is very like the North of England and Wales in that respect. The highest rate of immigration from abroad in Europe is found in Switzerland, a country not known for its high crime rates. Next most attractive is the Mediterranean coast of Spain, where a high proportion of the large number of immigrants were born in Britain (we often call them ‘expats’). After those two areas it is central west London that attracts the most people born elsewhere.

Immigrants: The proportion of people living in each region of Europe born in another country (2014)

dorlingtomlinson1

Key– in the darkest shaded areas over a fifth of people were born abroad, in the lightest areas less than one in twenty was. Areas in the map are drawn in proportion to their total populations.

Source, Figure 9.4 of Dorling, D. and Gietel-Basten, S. (2017) Why Demography Matters, Cambridge: Polity (reproduced with the kind permission of Benjamin Hennig)

We have recently written a book in which we try to explain that, people are apt to blame others when the relative position of their place in the world is falling, as it is currently in the Britain. There is a very real sense that things fall apart when empires crumble, and Britain remains, at the heart of what is a still contracting relic of a former world empire. The fear of outsiders in Britain has been stoked up in recent decades by newspapers whose owners want people to blame others, rather than the single political party they almost all support. Above all else they do not want the blame placed on the economic inequality by income that has been allowed to grow to become the worse, to have become the highest, in all of Europe. Some even try to blame immigrants for that inequality too, claiming that their presence lowers wages, as if people choose to be badly paid! But the highest median wages in Europe are found in cities on the mainland with high proportions of immigrants (the dark areas in the map above).

We all too easily fail to see what is happening when the rich take more and more leaving less for the rest, especially for the poorest. We are encouraged to imagine ogres that are not there. These ogres include ever rising numbers of apparently ‘criminal immigrants’, the fictional supposedly quick-breeding migrants who are taking ‘our’ homes, ‘our’ partners’ jobs, and claiming the best places in what should be ‘our’ children’s schools, and at the very same time apparently committing so much crime. However, the most common serious crime in the UK is speeding in a car. It is also by far the most deadly. The vast majority of car drivers who speed are not immigrants, although the Duke of Edinburgh, was recently involved in a collision and then found to be not wearing a seat belt, and he was born abroad. But the reason he choses not to wear a seat belt, or to drive as he does, is unlikely to be related to some early experience he had as a child living in Greece, France and Germany.

dorlingtomlinson2

Source, Figure 4.2 of Dorling, D. and Tomlinson, S. (2019) Ruel Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback, Reproduced from the archive of the Daily Express (out of copyright).

Fear of immigrants tends to rise at times when economic fortunes are falling and people are questioning the political strength of their country; scapegoats are searched for. In 1899 the Second Boer war began in South Africa, a war in which the British suffered very bad losses . In 1901 there were racist campaigns against foreign immigrants in the Daily Express.  In 1903 George Edalji, a Midlands solicitor with a mixed race background, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years hard labour for crimes he did not commit. His sentence was reduced and he was later found to have not been guilty of the most serious crimes of which he had been accused. However, he was never found completely innocent despite his sister, Maud, campaigning to clear his name for nearly 60 years, right through to her death in 1961. His wrongful conviction did help bring about the establishment of the  Court of Criminal Appeal for England and Wales which first sat on May 15th 1908, 111 years ago this year. We can adapt, so when will we learn to stop saying ‘foreign national offenders’?

The crimes people are least likely to be found out for are the common crimes of the rich: driving dangerously, evading taxes, and fraud. The crimes which are most often publicised are the crimes most strongly associated with the poor. Recent immigrants from poor backgrounds are often labelled as racially or ethnically different, living in urban squalor that is apparently of their making (despite the fact that they have only just arrived and have had no time to make it). In contrast, recent immigrants who are wealthy are rarely labelled as living in unusually higher concentrations, but most do. The segregation of the rich away from other people’s neighbourhoods is the most concentrated spatial segregation of all. The rich tend not to mix.

In 2007 it was shown through analysis of the national census that the greatest concentration of overseas born children living in the UK were to be found around affluent Hyde Park in London. They had been born in the USA, their parents most likely worked in finance. In the next year came the great financial crash, for which no banker in the UK was jailed, British, American or of any other nationality.

A century earlier, in 1905, as we recount in our recently book (‘Rule Britannia’) the MP Major Evans-Gordon was instrumental in bringing in the Aliens Act which ‘…gave the Home Secretary overall responsibility for immigration and nationality matters. Ostensibly designed to prevent paupers and criminals from entering the country, one of its main objectives was to stop Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. Campaigning in favour of the law, Evans-Gordon said, ‘Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders,’ and ‘The rates are burdened with the education of thousands of foreign children.’ Problems with health, housing and education were all claimed, as now, to be caused by immigration. A little later, the league was absorbed by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.’

  [Note: This quote is an extract from Rule Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback, published January 15th 2019, By Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson; and this article is mainly based on material brought together in that book]

dorlingtomlinson3

Source, Cover of Dorling, D. and Tomlinson, S. (2019) Rule Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback [an image from the Empire marketing board]

It is good to see MPs today behaving so differently. Less than three years ago one of their number, Jo Cox, was murdered by a man shouting ‘Britain First’ as he killed her, and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as ‘Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain’. Since the referendum, racist hate crime has increased by 16 per cent across Britain, and peaked at a 58 per cent rise in the week following the vote.

Hate crime is done to immigrants, not by them. Three weeks after the Referendum a 16 year old Polish girl was found hanged at her school. She had been bullied and told that she ‘did not belong here’. In September 2016 a Polish man was killed in Essex, the Polish Ambassador visiting the scene and expressing shock at the rise of racist and xenophobic behaviour. Long before the Windrush scandal there had been a hostile environment to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers of all kinds, and a rise of far-right fascist groups in the UK. But many politicians are fighting back against the racism, more than they have ever done so before. Police forces around the country are now better informed and despite cuts, are better equipped to deal with the expectations put upon them. They do not need the spread of untruths by an ignorant Police and Crime Commissioner, or the creation of hostile environments by politicians who appear to harbour a deep dislike of people they see as not like them. It is time we called out the lie of ‘immigrant criminals’ once and for all, for what it is: racism.

Contacts

Danny Dorling, University of Oxford

Email: Danny.dorling@ouce.ox.ac.uk

www.danny.dorling.org

Twitter: @dannydorling

 

Sally Tomlinson, University of Oxford

Email: s@stomlinson.net

http://www.stomlinson.net/

 

Images: courtesy of the authors and permission given to use photograph of Anthony Stansfeld by the Oxford Mail (email Harrison Jones on 15th January 2019)

 

 

Writing the Perfect Blog for Criminology

Thinking of writing a blog? Show us what you’ve got!

 

The perfect blog post probably does not exist.

But it does help to give it an eye-catching title: admit it, the title of this piqued your interest didn’t it?!

We at the BSC have just been judging the 2018 blogger of the year prize for this site and we were struck by how good the stable of blogs from our first year was – spanning a wide range of what criminology and the BSC is all about.  The experience of reading the blogs was so enriching that we now  feel able to offer some pointers that you might find useful if you are thinking of submitting a blog to us and have maybe never thought to do it before.

First of all, we give the floor to our 2018 Blogger of the Year, Lambros Fatsis (Policing Black Culture: One beat at a time).

Blogging is often thought of as something that doesn’t quite feature as a priority, either because it is regarded as too time-consuming or simply pointless. After all, or so the thinking goes, our posts won’t really be read, they won’t make a difference to our career progression, and have little impact on the issues we specialise in. These objections are of course understandable, especially when they are weighed against the demands that our day jobs make on our time, intellectual resources, or our ability to make public interventions. Yet, blogging can paradoxically be thought of as an antidote to such pressures in at least four ways.

Firstly, blogging allows us to test, experiment with and share ideas before we feel ready to submit them to the peer review process.

Secondly, blogging gives us the opportunity to outflank platitudes, point at facts, draw attention to nuance, and salvage truths from irresponsible, misguided, ill-judged, and doctrinaire messages that litter our (social) mediascape.

Thirdly, writing blogs allows us the possibility of reaching audiences within as well as beyond academia to fellow-citizens, journalists, campaigners, activists, and monitoring groups who may be interested in our work but cannot afford the luxury of paying for the paywalled research we produce.

And fourthly, blogging encourages more thoughtful contributions compared to tweets, not only because of the 280 character limit, but also because the writing process imposes a better structure on our thoughts by urging us to make an argument as well as tell a story in a well-crafted manner unlike individual tweets or longer twitter threads.

Given that crime is almost always present on the media and political agendas, it seems all the more important to blog for the British Society of Criminology. Especially when we see our specialist knowledge denied, ignored, or misrepresented by much of what passes as public debate on matters we know a thing or two about but rarely see discussed with the seriousness they deserve.

Wise words indeed, and our aim is to make the process of submitting (and having published) as easy for you as possible.   As academics we spend our lives writing, so the last thing you want is to have to re-write. Write it once, have it published, and wait for the praise to roll in (we cannot guarantee the last step).

Here are ten things you can do to turn your content into a (slightly?) more perfect blog post, with examples from some of our 2018 blogs:

  1. Choose a relevant and interesting title

You want the right readers to find your article easily with a simple search, so don’t give it a wacky or funny title unless some of your core terms are included.

See for example: For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive, by Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

  1. Keep it short

A blog has a conversational format and is shorter than journal articles, with minimal references (but links to fuller articles is useful). Our guidelines are 700 – 1500 words (although some topics could take up to 2,500). The key thing is that articles are optimised for mobile viewing and communicate in a clear manner. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper. Two to six sentences per paragraph is a good guideline for blog posts.

See for example: Conference Update, A message from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

  1. Include a List

Look what we are doing here – letting you skim through until you find something interesting. It also encourages readers to continue until the end – everyone wants to know what’s at number 10.

A website or blog is missing the usual cues that let us know how long an article is. Pick up a book or a journal article, and you’ll instantly be able to gauge how long it will take to read. Online the only way to find that out is to scroll down to the end of the blog post and that’s what most people do. While they’re at it, they’ll also try to scan-read the post. Because reading is harder online, it’s best to break text into manageable chunks.

See for example: What future(s) for juvenile justice in Europe? Professor Barry Goldson, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool.

  1. Provide links

Keep your bibliographies for your academic articles. In a blog post you can prove the breadth of your knowledge by linking to other online sites. Good links to longer-form content should do the heavy lifting in your article.

See for example:  The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness, Sharon Hartles, MA student with the Open University.

  1. Use Images

Use of images will draw readers in and emphasise your message. The easiest way to get hold of copyright free images is to take the photos yourself! This also makes them more interesting to your readers rather than using an image they may have seen elsewhere already.

See for example: Recent Travels in a Trump Gun culture, BSC President Peter Squires

  1. Use Keywords

Provide us with 5 well-chosen keywords. This is what people will be searching for on Google, so make sure your posting is what they find.

See for example: How Lucky Am I: Victim, to Researcher, back to Victim, David Wilkin is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leicester

  1. Keep Length in Mind

Yes, we have already said keep it short but honestly, it is important. In general, keeping a post to around 1,000 words is perfect – even with a really heavy topic. Make your key points and finish. You can always write another blog article to make further points – in fact, we encourage you to do so.

See for example: Working Together: ‘Invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms, Hannah Bows and Pamela Davies

  1. Be of contemporary interest

We can often turnaround a blog posting from submission to publication in less than a week. Our record so far is two days. The proof of the pudding of whether it is of contemporary interest is proven by how many times it is read. We can help with this too by publicising the post through our other channels.

See for example: Criminology and the USS Strike – the View from Sussex

  1. Write about what you know

Write from a position of knowledge. If you really know your stuff it will shine through.

See for example: Exploring the UK Ministry of Justice, Explaining Penal Policy Harry Annison from Southampton Law School.

  1. Be Yourself

We can give you these pointers and hopefully they are useful, but you’ve got to write your own truth. THAT is what people want to read, they want to know what YOU find fascinating or worthy of THEM giving you their valuable time. The perfect blog post will make your audience stop and think.  It will make them share your post with others and they might even tweet about it or cite it in their next book!

See for example: ‘BSC Blogger of the Year’ Lambros Fatsis for his blog ‘Policing Black Culture: One Beat at a Time

The BSC Blog 2019 will be as good as you make it. Make the BSC Blog worthy of your reading time by submitting your own posting. Come on, show us what you’ve got.

Charlotte Harris and Helen Jones, BSC Office

How to submit

 

Original copyright free image under a CC licence: pixabay.com

Safeguarding the rights of police detainees?

Official policy makes the Independent Custody Scheme visiting ineffective to safeguard suspects detained in police custody.

J Kendall

John Kendall is a retired solicitor. With no intention of writing about it, he worked as a volunteer custody visitor. He found it puzzling, and, as nothing academic had been written about it, wrote a PhD about the scheme, on which his book Regulating Police Detention is based.

 

Few police scholars, and hardly any members of the public, have heard of the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme. It is a substantial operation and an important part of the criminal justice system. Some 2,000 volunteers around the country combine to make unannounced weekly visits to check on the welfare of detainees in police custody throughout England and Wales.

I am a retired solicitor. I happened to read about the scheme in a local newspaper, and applied to become a custody visitor, with no intention of writing about it. I found working as visitor puzzling and looked for academic discussions of the scheme. I found none, so I decided that I would write about the scheme. Needing academic help, I wrote my PhD thesis at Birmingham University. The research has now been published by Policy Press in my book Regulating Police Detention: Voices from behind closed doors.

Book image

I carried out an in-depth local case study. I observed the visits and the general conditions in custody suites, and I interviewed visitors, police officers, civilian custody staff, defence lawyers, the manager of the local scheme, and perhaps most significantly, the detainees themselves. The scheme is supposed to be for the benefit of detainees, but no one had ever asked them for their views about it, or if they had, they had not published those views.  I contend that the results of my research are generally applicable because the same factors prevail in all areas: the statutory scheme, the statutory arrangements about custody, and the power of the police which, as I demonstrate, makes a strong impact on the visitors’ attitudes and their behaviour. It is particularly noticeable that they rarely challenge the police.

The Independent Custody Visiting Scheme is run locally by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).  By statute, the PCC are charged with securing the independence of the visitors from the PCC and the police. This is a remarkable conjuring trick, as the PCC have complete control over the hiring, training, managing and occasional firing of the visitors. The scheme lacks structural independence, belying its branding as independent. Visitors also lack independence of mind: they tend to arrive with, and/or develop later, attitudes similar those held by the police.

Custody visiting is part of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism. It is, therefore a form of regulation, although the official line is that the scheme is here to reassure the public about conditions in custody, which ignores the fact that so very few people have heard about it.  Unannounced visits are a familiar principle of regulation. The original purpose of custody visiting was that unannounced visits would deter police conduct that might lead to abuse, neglect or death in custody, but this has been airbrushed out of the official literature about the scheme.   Visitors have little understanding of deaths in custody, and do not see that their work has anything to do with contributing to prevent the incidence of these tragedies.

The way that the visiting operates prevents the work from being effective. It makes no impact on police behaviour. The police do not respect the visiting, despite the party line supporting the scheme.  An even more serious defect is that the detainees do not trust the visitors. A central feature of each visit is meeting the detainees in their cells. These meetings come out of the blue for detainees who do not understand what the visitors are there for. The meetings are very brief and are supervised by custody staff. There is therefore absolutely no possibility that detainees would feel able to let the visitors know anything important or disturbing about their detention.

The national organisation for custody visiting, the Independent Custody Visiting Association, does not allow visitors to become members. Its only members are the Police and Crime Commissioners. It therefore lacks legitimacy, but few people realise this. ICVA plays an essential role in running custody visiting along the lines approved of by the Home Office and the police.

The purpose of custody visiting is to check on the welfare of the detainees, but official policy prevents the visitors from doing this work effectively. The scheme lacks legitimacy in that it makes no impact on the behaviour of the police. Custody is largely self-regulated, by the police. The existence of the scheme enables the police to argue that there is no need for further, outside regulation of police detention. If MPs, journalists and the general public knew the truth about the scheme, radical reforms could make the scheme an effective regulator of police detention, which, arguably might save lives.

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Book Prize

We were delighted to offer the chance to win a free copy of this book during November 2018.  The winner was mature student Melissa Pope, who is in her first year of studying Psychology with Criminology at Birmingham City University. She is really enjoying the course so far and praises the excellent teachers there. We hope she enjoys the book.

 

Contact

Gilbert John Kendall PhD, Visiting Scholar Birmingham Law School

johnkendall475@gmail.com

 

Images: courtesy of the author and Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Gangs and serious youth violence: Is the Centre for Social Justice using statistics responsibly?

Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that merits serious attention

KIR profileKeir Irwin-Rogers joined The Open University as a lecturer in criminology in 2017. His current research explores the implications of national and international drug policies and practices, focusing on the links between socioeconomic inequality, consumer capitalism and young people’s involvement in drug markets. He has also conducted research and published papers on the subjects of community sentences, deterrence, young people’s use of social media, sentencing, serious violence, and education for children excluded from mainstream schooling. Keir is currently studying part-time for a BSc in Economics and Mathematics.

In the 12 months to March 2017, 61 young people aged 16-24 died as a result of knife crime in England and Wales. Violence between young people in the UK is a problem that I think merits serious attention, which is why I have been supporting the cross-party Youth Violence Commission as an academic advisor for the past two years.

During many meetings, roundtables and conferences on youth violence, I have been struck by people’s fixation on gangs whenever the issue of youth violence arises. Admittedly, I myself focused closely on ‘youth gangs’ for a number of years while I conducted research for the Dawes Unit – a specialist team within the social business, Catch22. During this time, I became increasingly concerned by what I considered to be significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs.

As part of my own research, I recently contacted the Metropolitan Police Service to request their most up-to-date data on violent crime in London. In particular, I wanted to find out the proportion of violent offences that were being flagged as gang-related. Given the prominent place of gangs in government policy initiatives and the media, the results were not what I was expecting:

In 2016, just 3.8% of knife crime with injury (fatal, serious, moderate and minor) had been flagged by the MET as gang-related.

In light of the FOI statistics, I was taken aback by some of the claims made in the Centre for Social Justice’s recently published report, It Can Be Stopped: A proven blueprint to stop violence and tackle gang and related offending in London and beyond. Developing a clear agenda and narrative in its opening paragraphs, Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank state:

“It is estimated that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury…”

I was keen to find out the reason for the discrepancy between the figures I had received from the Met and the claim being made by the CSJ in their report. The source provided to support their claim was the Metropolitan Police Service’s 62 page Business Plan 2017-18. With no page number provided by the CSJ, I proceeded to hunt through chapters on the Met’s vision, finances and performance frameworks. Upon reaching the end of this document, I had failed to find any reference to such a high proportion of knife crime being attributed to gangs.

This begged the question: why were the CSJ misdirecting their readers to a reference that did not support their claims?

I emailed the CSJ to bring this ‘mistake’ to their attention, and asked if they could point me in the direction of the real source on which they based their claims. While waiting for a response (which I have still not received), BBC Reality Check came to the rescue: according to the BBC, the CSJ based this particular claim on data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). This indicated that in the year to March 2017 there had been 4,446 reported offences of knife crime with injury. If you remove the cases in which the victim was over 24, and then exclude incidents of domestic violence, this leaves 2,028, which represents 45% of the total.

In a stunning leap of faith, the CSJ have assumed that all of the remaining 2,028 cases were consequently gang-related. To be clear, the claim being made is that knife crime with injury offences involving victims 24 years of age and under, which are not incidents of domestic violence, can all be assumed to be gang-related.

This is utterly implausible. The proximate reasons for knife crime with injury offences involving young people are numerous and varied. Many incidents are triggered by isolated episodes of disrespect that have nothing to do with street gangs. The CSJ may well consider this reality an inconvenience to the gang narrative they attempt to conjure throughout their report (which contains a whopping 478 references to the term ‘gang’).

The claim that gangs are responsible for as much as half of all knife crime with injury not only flies in the face of the Met’s own statistics (discussed above), but of other recent publications, because it is patently absurd. Certainly, it is possible that police statistics are to some extent unreliable, based upon shaky assumptions and/or limited intelligence. If the CSJ believes this is the case, then calls for better data on gang-related violence ought to be accompanied by measured statements about the existing evidence base – not wild claims that lack serious foundation.

Finally, the maxim about ‘people who live in glass houses’ sprung to mind when I saw the CSJ demand in this very report (see recommendation 39 on p.120) that people ‘desist’ from using ‘flawed…statistics’ to fuel ‘false narratives’.

While there is some sound research and analysis in It Can Be Stopped, it will continue to be overshadowed by the CSJ’s refusal to acknowledge their error and be honest with the public about the available (and limited) evidence on the scale of gang-related violence in London and the rest of the UK.

Knife crime, we can all agree, needs to be treated seriously. But doing so requires a rigorous evidence base, accurately and faithfully represented, if we are to avoid counter-productive, knee-jerk policy responses.

Originally posted on Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative Blog on September 5, 2018

Contact

Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, Department of Social Policy and Criminlogy at the The Open University

Email: Keir.Irwin-Rogers@open.ac.uk

Twitter: @KeirIrwinRogers

Website: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/kir8

Image: with the permission of HERC

 

The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness

In the UK, following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, the government response took the form of austerity measures. This has had far reaching implications, one of which being the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of vulnerable and marginalised people within society, such as those affected by homelessness.

Sharon Hartles photo

Sharon Hartles is a MA student with the Open University. She has an interest in state-corporate crimes, white-collar crimes and how these exacerbate social harms. Sharon has worked in the education sector for 10 years and believes that knowledge is paramount to challenging the crimes of the powerful which are permitted and not prohibited by black letter law.

The number of people living in poverty in the UK dramatically increased as a consequence of the governments shift towards market-based capitalism, underpinned by the social-economic reforms endorsed in the 1980s. This situation was further exacerbated by the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, which led to the UK government bailing out the British banks to prevent a collapse of the British banking system. Unsurprisingly, the ramification of the government’s decision to bail out the banks initially took the form of a stimulus programme which was superseded in 2010 by austerity measures. The government’s spending cuts, as part of these measures, led to a reduction in the budget deficit which has had far reaching impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable/marginalised people in the UK, including those affected by homelessness.

Since the onset of austerity in 2010, the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England has increased year on year from 2010 – 2017. Approximately, 4,751 people bedded down outside overnight on a snapshot night in autumn 2017 compared to 1,768 people on a snapshot night in autumn 2010. Rough sleeping has therefore more than doubled over these seven years. However, the reason why rough sleepers are becoming more visible in British cities and public open spaces is because support services and hostel availability are diminishing, as a direct result of the government cuts and reform to areas such as welfare.

In July 2014, the Home Office published its reform of anti-social behaviour powers to support the effective use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour which takes place in public and open spaces. According to the Home Office reform information, “where the actions of a selfish few ruin these spaces, through public drunkenness, aggressive begging, irresponsible dog ownership or general anti-social behaviour, these places can be lost to the communities who use them”. This powerful form of labelling stigmatises homelessness as othering, the act by which groups of individuals become represented as an outsider and not one of us. Such stigmatisation associated with homelessness limits exposure, opposition, active resistance and the publics’ outrage, enabling the government to punitively criminalise homelessness and enforce this through the criminal justice system.

In England, between 2015 – 2016, 2,365 people were prosecuted for committing vagrancy-related offences including begging. Prior to the financial crisis and the introduction of austerity measures 1,510 people were prosecuted during 2006 – 2007. Vagrancy-related offences have increased by more than 70% in one decade.  In 2014, three men were nearly prosecuted for taking discarded food (cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms) from a refuse bin. In 2015, sixty-two rough sleepers were arrested by the Sussex Police for accepting money from the public. On the other hand, no members of the public were arrested for offering and donating money to rough sleepers. The resurrection of the Dickensian vagrancy law together with the new Public Space Protection Orders which have been enacted in over 50 local authorities has resulted in a growing number of vulnerable homeless people being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for street drinking, defecating, urinating, begging and rough sleeping in public spaces.

In a bid to save money the UK government implemented a crime control approach to homelessness, concerned with promoting security and controlling crime, in favour of a social welfare approach, concerned with promoting equality, inclusion and well-being. Such a decision to shift to an enforcement-based approach was underpinned by the following political and economic factors: the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, coupled with the government’s choices to bail the banks out and introduce austerity measures to reduce government spending.  This causal relationship between the government’s policy to shift towards a crime control approach to homelessness resulted in the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness. In contrast, only 28 people were charged and only 5 people were convicted in the UK for their part in the financial crisis (bankers – guilty of white-collar crimes), which was considered by economists to be the worst and most significant crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The tax-payers in the UK have borne the financial brunt of the bankers’ crimes since 2010 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  However, there are others such as those affected by homelessness who are fighting for their right to exist, not to be criminalised and not to lose or have their liberty restricted.

While homelessness in the UK has increased by 134% since 2010 in line with the imposed austerity measures, homelessness in Finland has fallen by 35% over the same period of time. In contrast to the UK government ushering in its crime control approach that punitively criminalises homelessness, the Finnish government is promoting a social welfare approach and is committed to abolishing homelessness altogether. It is clear that the UK government has scapegoated homelessness to whitewash the financial deficit resulting from the bankers’ white-collar crimes (repackaging loans and playing roulette games with the stability of global markets). As is common practice through the exercise of ‘smoke and mirrors’, the government has orchestrated the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness in order to divert the publics’ gaze away from the real crimes and the real criminals who are responsible for causing the worst financial crisis in global history.

The original form of this article was posted on  sharonhartles.weebly.com and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Contact

Sharon Hartles

Email: sh28739@my.open.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr