Nick Gibbs reflects on his experience of this year’s conference…
As I write this, we’ve just waved goodbye to another wonderful conference hosted by the BSC, in conjunction with the Open University. For me, it’s been an event that has simultaneously felt entirely unprecedented and yet strangely comforting, given that it’s been the first time since 2019 that we’ve all got together as a discipline. In this post, I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences of this year’s virtual event and some of the highlights that I particularly enjoyed.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Professor Sandra Walklate for her fantastic welcoming address to the post-grad conference and, heroically, stepping in for Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe when we encountered our first technical issues of the event. Her wise words brought us into the first panel sessions where I enjoyed presenting my paper on criminological connective ethnography and chairing for the wonderful…
The Windrush ‘Scandal’ as state crime evidenced by Britain’s hostile environment policy and failure to rectify wrongs done in furtherance of the policy.
The Holocaust. The genocide in Rwanda. Even the 2003 invasion of Iraq. If you ask the person sitting next to you on the train (properly socially distanced, of course) whether these events are crimes perpetrated by states, the answer would likely be yes. The picture becomes less clear when we talk about state action that more subtly causes harm. What if we’re talking about the Windrush ‘Scandal’? Well, your companion might ask, what exactly do you mean by state crime? What are its elements? How can the Windrush ‘Scandal’ be thought of as state crime?
We will not rehash the history of the Windrush ‘Scandal’, the changes to the Immigration legislation, or the development of the hostile environment policy that have all facilitated the many breaches of human rights observed in this case. These have been comprehensively discussed elsewhere. Instead, this article focuses on the application of the label state crime to the ‘Scandal’ and what this tells us about the UK Government’s treatment of racially minoritised groups. So, what exactly is state crime and why should you or your commuter companion care?
Green and Ward define state crime simply as “state organisational deviance involving the violation of human rights”. No need for breaches of the criminal law: simply deviant state action resulting in breaches of rights. It is not every action of a state employee that would (or should) result in a label of state crime or deviance. Some people might engage in deviant behaviour for their own purposes. How then can we tell the difference? Green and Ward are helpful here, they suggest that we consider two things:
The goals of an organisation. If an action is carried out in accordance with the goals of a state organisation it is more likely to be seen as state crime or deviance.
The state’s or the organisation’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to deviant behaviour.
The Windrush ‘Scandal’ fits the first criterion as it happened within the context of the hostile environment policy. This policy, first announced in 2012, aims to deter people from entering the UK illegally and to encourage those who have already done so to leave. It does so by making it difficult for illegal immigrants to work, access social welfare, rent a home, receive routine healthcare, or even open a bank account. One of the difficulties with the policy (there are many), is that it ‘outsources’ its policing. The Government depends on landlords, employers, police, doctors, and banks, to check a person’s immigration status and in certain circumstances report to the Home Office. This has created a breeding ground for prejudice and racism that disproportionately affects immigrants of colour, regardless of their immigration status. Research shows that landlords are less likely to rent to people who do not hold a British passport, or who have ‘foreign sounding’ names.
In accordance with the State’s goals – the hostile environment policy – people who were legally entitled to liberty and security, housing, healthcare, employment, and benefits, were illegally detained, refused access to housing, healthcare and benefits, and lost jobs and job opportunities, breaching their rights enshrined under the Human Rights Act 1998 and declared within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The actions of the state, in furtherance of its goals, caused significant breaches of human rights. The Home Office, under the guise of migration control, can more accurately be said to be wielding control over access to human rights.
The Windrush ‘Scandal’ also fulfils the second point of the definition of state crime. In the wake of the media furore of the ‘Scandal’, Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary and Sajid Javid, the (then) new Home Secretary set up a Task Force, Compensation Scheme, and commissioned a review into the scandal. Priti Patel, the present Home Secretary has voiced her committal to evaluate and review the culture of the Home Office. So, there is evidence that the State is not turning a blind eye. But has it done enough?
The Home Office has consistently blamed its actions on ‘mistakes’ and the Task Force and Compensation Scheme have been criticised. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chastised the Home Office as being “complacent, neglecting to identify those affected and denying people support to rebuild their lives.” The PAC found that the Home Office was not doing enough to address the defects in its systems, processes and data quality, which contributed to the ‘Scandal’.
The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights came to a similar conclusion and issued a scathing statement,
“The Home Office does not appear to have acted like an organisation that had discovered it had made serious mistakes. When an organisation comes across a serious mistake, they take steps to address it… Yet the Home Office has not reported taking any action in respect of any of the individuals who played a part…”
Despite the above findings, very little has changed.
The Windrush ‘Scandal’ resulted in significant breaches of human rights. Not only were these actions undertaken in pursuance of official state policy, they also did not receive adequate state condemnation nor rectification. The evidence of state crime is sufficiently clear here. Yet this also highlights a wider problem – the State’s persistently poor treatment of racially minoritised groups in the UK, and its subsequent denial of both the treatment and its effects. Consider the ongoing effects of the Windrush Scandal, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report’s denial of institutional racism, the Equalities Minister’s targeting of critical race theory, Baroness Harding’s bid to “end England’s reliance on foreign doctors and nurses”, and declared intentions to overhaul the immigration and asylum system, that fly in the face of protections enshrined in the Refugee Convention 1951. Each factor, taken on its own, might signify individual shortcomings or ignorance. Taken together, they illustrate a dangerous pattern of behaviour by state actors that cause harm to minoritised groups.
Green, P. & Ward, T. (2004). State Crime; Government, Violence and Corruption. Pluto Press.
Dr Melissa Mendez, Lecturer in Criminology, Swansea University
The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation.
Looking ahead to the annual BSC conference at the Open University
As we hurtle towards the start of this year’s conference, we thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time introducing it and signalling what is to come.
We are confident that this will be an exciting, innovative, and timely exposition and exploration of many important and pressing issues. Naturally, our planning and thinking around the conference has been heavily influenced by events over the past eighteen months – in terms of its online delivery, and the areas of focus. The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation. These themes are also closely linked to much of the curriculum and research at The Open University, which has always been critical and pioneering, as well as the enduring social justice and equality mission at the heart of the institution.
Our initial expectations for the conference have already been surpassed through the fantastic response we have received from our plenary speakers, our presenters, and those just wanting to attend. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm we have received for the conference. We are delighted to have a diverse set of plenary speakers, all of whom are internationally renowned in their respective fields of teaching and research. These speakers will be presenting from locations across the globe – from the UK, Australia, and the USA, to Hong Kong, Canada, and various countries in Europe.
It goes without saying that hosting the conference this year has come with a number of challenges, and the wider circumstances have required us to adapt in terms of moving to online delivery and dealing with the difficulties this has thrown up. This seems apt given the nature of The Open University and our focus on online delivery of programmes – albeit, within a blended model of teaching. Yet, it has still been a challenge in terms of how best to organise and run such a large and complicated conference online.
We hope the product of our efforts will prove to be a rich and stimulating three days. While much of the conference programme illustrates a tight connection with the conference themes, the diversity of topics and disciplinary backgrounds within these parameters remains remarkable. So too is the mix between some well-established names in the field, up and coming early career researchers, and those just beginning to dip their toes in conference waters.
We have five plenary sessions (one on each conference theme, plus a postgraduate one), seven sessions for papers (encompassing up to fourteen rooms per session), a postgraduate workshop, various publisher stands and activities, and many activities within the dedicated networks session. There will be a special edited edition of the CCJ in the run up to the conference and a special journal edition from the BSC published from papers presented at the event.
While the fully online nature of this year’s event may preclude the traditional face-to-face opportunities to meet, catch-up and network over food and drinks, we very much hope there will be plenty of spaces to establish new connections and relationships throughout the duration of the conference. Beyond the serious academic stuff, we have a range of fun social activities built into our programme, ranging from ‘Crim Dine With Me’, to live music, and a magic routine! Clearly, we cannot quite hope to match the fun and frolics that have characterised previous BSC conferences, but we have at least invested energy into making the social side of the conference just as memorable as the academic discussions.
We plan to post a more substantial follow-up piece following the event, to reflect upon the key messages and next steps, so please do look out for that.
For now, thank you in advance to everyone for taking part in this year’s conference — we very much look forward to welcoming you!
Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers
(on behalf of the OU organising team)
For information about the conference please see the BSC website