Critical Conversations on Criminology and Gender: Innovations in Research

Reflections on dynamic and innovative contemporary research methods in criminology and gender studies

duggan-marian

 

Dr Marian Duggan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Kent and the new Chair of the British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network.

 

 

British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network’s 3rd Annual Event.

Inspired by burgeoning developments in creative and innovative methodologies in criminology, 2019’s annual WCCJ ‘critical conversations’ event showcased an array of innovative ways of doing and communicating criminological research via visual methods, arts and multi-media methods, documents and the positioning of the researcher. While we fore-fronted methodological innovations, the conference reflected a rich feminist tradition of attending to critical issues of power and politics in research. As well as offering opportunities to share knowledge and experiences of using innovative methodologies, we intended that the day also offer opportunities for networking. As the incoming Chair of the BSC’s Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network I am delighted to share my reflections on the day’s events with you in this blog.

Approximately 65 attendees congregated at City, University of London, in April 2019. Speakers were invited to step outside of the confines of PowerPoint and were given around 15 minutes to share their research. We were delighted that all accepted the challenge, bringing along films, photos and art-works connected to ongoing projects. Our invited speakers included a mix of committed criminologists and those working in cognate disciplines, as well as a mix of established and early career researchers.

The day was divided into four thematic panels: 1) Film and photo, 2) Arts and multi-media, 3) Words and documents, and 4) Researchers and selves, before finishing up with a critical insight from our Keynote Listener, Dr Emma Wincup (University of Leeds). The day’s events were tweeted out (with presenters’ permission) under the #wccj2019 hashtag to @bsc_wccjn followers. Using these and others’ tweets (particularly those by Stigmatised Sexualities & Sexual Harm Research, @SSSH_research), we bring you this round-up of the day.

In the first panel (film and photo), Dr Wendy Fitzgibbon (University of Leicester) and Dr Camille Stengel (University of Greenwich) shared photos and discussed their use of Photovoice as a research methodology in their respective research projects. The synergies between their studies led them to co-author a journal article which was awarded the WCCJ 2018 Best Paper Prize, so a great start to the day indeed. Photovoice is the method of choice in the project currently being undertaken by Dr Tara Young (Kent) and Dr Susie Hulley (Cambridge) into how joint enterprise is affecting young people. The audience learnt how this creative method was shown to give voice to individuals while increasing their self-worth, proving to be transformative for participants and others who see similar experiences represented in the images. We were also guided on how best to employ the method, with advice including limiting the number of images per participant (to around 10) and having them think carefully when composing the photos. The ethics of such innovations were also covered by speakers, particularly in terms of representation, ownership and respecting anonymity. The final presentation was by Dr Shona Minson (Oxford) who has produced a series of excellent video resources on the impact on children whose mothers are sentenced to prison. Demonstrating how film offers instant communication with target audiences, the presentation was interwoven with snippets from one of the film to indicate how, where, when and why particular strategies had been employed throughout. Ethical considerations were as relevant here too, with issues of power, politics and positionality (of both the researcher and researched) discussed in some depth throughout. Shona highlighted the importance of having ‘buy in’ from participants, particularly those with significant status and authority, to elicit the maximum impact in disseminating the message.

Continuing with the interactive theme, Panel 2 (arts and multi-media) began with Dr Jo Deakin (Manchester) outlining the classroom dynamics of her arts-based research with young people and their thoughts on the Prevent Agenda. This method involved employing poetry writing, drawing, drama and physical games with school-aged young people to gain their trust and foster more open means of communication. Jo showcased several of the drawings produced by participants alongside the narratives they provided before signposting attendees to the online resource: Extremely Safe Radical Preventions. Next up was Dr Magali Peyrefitte (Middlesex) who reflected on her work using objects to open up narratives about migration, belonging and identity. Drawing out the importance of intimacy to her method, Magali described the story circle format she employed and participated in, while also providing pictures of some of the objects which featured in the research. Finally, Dr Fay Dennis (Goldsmiths) provided an interactive presentation whereby she played audio clips of her research participants alongside the pictures they had drawn to explain their experiences of drug taking. This powerful representation of emotion and sensation using image and colour excellently illustrated the additional understanding that can be gleaned beyond text.

After a delicious lunch, Panel 3 (words and documents) began with Dr Alpa Parmer (Oxford) and Dr Coretta Phillips (LSE) outlining their use of oral life history methods to explore race in relation to culture, structure and agency. Important points of note were being aware of what information stays with the researcher once the interview is done, and how sensory experiences can shed greater light on the data being gathered. Next was Dr Tanya Serisier (Birkbeck) who drew on her recently published book about feminism, rape and narrative politics to highlight the prevalence of fairy-tales in published rape memoirs. Finally, Dr Jennifer Fleetwood (Goldsmiths) introduced the audience to innovative research using podcasts, in particular My Favourite Murder, to explore routine, repetition and meaning in women’s first person narratives.

Presenters in panel 4 (researchers and selves) adopted a different approach, reflecting on their positionality in relation to their research and chosen methods. Dr Hannah Mason-Bish (Sussex) drew her recently published paper in which she outlined methodological issues relating to elitism, power and identity in what she termed the ‘elite delusion’. Returning to the earlier discussion of researching with people in positions of authority, Hannah reflected on the insider/outsider dichotomy and how this shapes the research according to how one’s status is interpreted by participants. Discussions of status and transitions in and out of identities and spaces were also key theme in Dr Ross McGarry’s (Liverpool) work on militarised identities and the meaning given to key sites that formed part of the celebrations of Armed Forces Day. The use of public space was also relevant to Dr Alex Fanghanel’s (Greenwich) presentation, which drew on her recently published book into the use of the sexualised female activist body in women’s and animal rights protests. Alex’s reflection on her own ethnographic participation in the research invoked questions about gender, rape culture and positionality. Finally, Rachel Stuart (Kent) ended on a similarly feminist note by discussing her research into webcammers and the access issues that come with researching stigmatised communities.

Dr Emma Wincup accepted our request to close the conference as our Keynote Listener. Emma is a long-standing network member and an expert in qualitative methods and feminist methods. She artfully drew together some of the latent themes and questions of the day, challenging us to think critically about the use of innovative methodologies for doing and communicating research. She reminded us that feminist research approaches, research on women and methodological innovation haven’t always been valued in criminology. Emma especially thanked our presenters for their candid accounts of their work, and sharing what happens when things don’t quite go to plan, as well as the personal commitments, and emotional impacts of doing criminological research. She made two observations about the potential of innovative methods in particular: firstly, their usefulness in ‘making the familiar strange’, both to respondents and ourselves, and secondly, their capacity to open up the seemingly banal or mundane for analysis. Emma concluded by reflecting on some pragmatic considerations in innovative methodologies – these are time consuming modes of data collection and communicating research, demanding new skills, training and collaboration. Furthermore, ethical issues become magnified and more complex. But, as the day’s presentations demonstrate, the kinds of data that can be generated have the capacity to communicate critical issues in novel and important ways.

This event was made possible thanks to the British Society of Criminology’s annual funding of the women’s network and a significant sponsorship from City, University of London’s Centre for Crime and Justice Research. Planning is already under-way for next year’s events. If you would like to join the Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network, please email our Membership Secretary Dr Emma Milne on e.milne@mdx.ac.uk and provide your details (including up to five research interests) to be added to the WCCJ network database (overseen by Dr Gemma Birkett). Alternatively, to stay in touch and hear news from WCCJ and our members, join the Jisc-mail list. Finally, do take the time to visit our website.

Contact

Dr Marian Duggan,  University of Kent

Email: m.c.duggan@kent.ac.uk

Twitter: @marian_duggan

Images: courtesy of the author

The ESRC and the Futures of Criminological Research: A BSC/CCJ Symposium

This event was organised by the BSC, in conjunction with the editorial team from our journal Criminology & Criminal Justice

 

Dr Charlotte Harris and Dr Helen Jones, British Society of Criminology

The futures (nature, funding and publishing) of criminological research was the topic of a day event at the beautiful Adam Lecture Theatre, Old College at the Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh at the beginning of April 2019. The event was organised by ourselves at the BSC, in conjunction with the editorial team from our journal Criminology & Criminal Justice.

What came most clearly from the day and the range of discussions and discussion topics (charismatically chaired by 2015 BSC Policing Network article prize winner Dr Genevieve Lennon, Strathclyde University) will come as no surprise to many of our members – the wide sphere and reach of the criminology discipline and its practitioners’ interests, insights and concerns. For contemporaneous observations please see the Twitter comments

Professor Richard Sparks began the event with a presenation based on his Crime and Justice ‘think piece’ commissioned by the ESRC to ‘inform decision-making around potential future investment in strategic research initiatives and related research activities’ (see the original guidance notes here).  This was one of 13 such ‘think pieces’ covering various aspects of the research remit of the funding body from Ageing to Sustainable and equitable (big) data infrastructure.

Screenshot_2019-04-30_Diana_Miranda_on_Twitter

You may remember that Richard spent some time garnering views from the criminological community last year helped in part by the BSC and his eventual report covered many bases, though finally settling on three ‘propositions’ (and if you have better eyesight than mine you might make out from the slide above Richard’s head), Violence (a new look taking in the multi-faceted nature of modern, individual and group, physical and technological violence); Punishment Conviction and Beyond; and Global Challenges and Global Harms.

Professor Sandra Walklate, President Elect of the BSC, and Professor Pamela Davies, Vice President of the BSC responded to the talk offering more perspectives on criminology, the community, research, focus and methodology.

Sandra spoke about the impact of the REF/TEF administrative context to criminological research, a misplaced focus on the concerns of the global north, and the positives and negatives of slow and fast – reactive? – criminology.  She spoke additionally from the perspective as Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Criminology (BJC) which the BSC historically supports by giving all full members access. She also spoke with interesting insight into the work of the winners of the Radzinowicz prize, awarded by the editors of the BJC for ‘contribution to knowledge of criminal justice issues and the development of criminology’: none of which was ESRC-funded, or seemingly funded outwith university employment at all.  Sandra also spoke about ‘Plan S’, the proposal by the European-wide Coalition S of funding bodies including UKRI,  for all publicly-funded research to be published only in ‘compliant’ open access journals – those where all articles published are without embargo fully available to read without payment – into which number neither Criminology & Criminal Justice nor BJC currently fall.

Pam followed up with comments about further aspects of criminology and the criminological community. She spoke about the inhabitants of that community in terms of the contract recently won by Northumbria University, to offer degree programmes to police recruits and the nature and procedures of recruiting new criminology lecturers. She also discussed some emerging insights from the BSC National Criminology Survey undertaken last year, and to be the subject of a paper at this year’s BSC annual conference at Lincoln, about how widely public funds are spread within that research community, specifically the proportions between post- and pre-92 institutions.

The last of the formal presentations came from Criminology & Criminal Justice editors-in-chief: Dr Sarah Armstrong, Professor Michele Burman and Professor Laura Piacentini.  The team, who have made inroads on further internationalising the journal (not least by making the submission process supportive), spoke about the need to be transparent about academic workload pressures. They also highlighted the relative dearth of submissions about technology that go beyond the local and evaluative, and similarly the need to be more theoretically challenging within governance research than small scale policy implementation, with a concomitant restraint about the merits of international policy transfer.

Dr Jacqui Karn, Head of Policy and Practice Impact at the ESRC, responded by saying the ESRC had to put limited resources where they will ‘make most difference’, adding that it is the responsibility of academics to make this case.  While Jacqui said she was not in a position to guarantee funding, she did point out that the ESRC had commissioned the think piece knowing that there were gaps in the field while acknowledging that criminology ‘was a strong community who put in strong bids’.  One promising area for funding she did highlight was working in partnership using administrative datasets. Dr Linda Cusworth from Lancaster University presented details about a ‘good news story’ from the family justice field where this approach has recently resulted in a research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

A panel then led discussion within the room. The panel members included Professor Allan Brimicombe, BSC Crime and Justice Statistics Network (Chair); Dr Teresa Degenhardt, Queen’s University Belfast; Anita Dockley, Research Director of The Howard League for Penal Reform (and user member of REF 2021 sub panel for social work and social policy and 2014 REF law sub panel); and Rachel Tuffin, Director of Knowledge and Innovation, College of Policing). Unfortunately, Professor Fiona Brookman, University of South Wales was unable to attend.  While, understandably, a large proportion of attendees were from Scotland, mainly from universities but also from HMICS, Police Scotland and the Scottish government, other participants ranged from professors, early career researchers and postgraduates, from as far afield as the University of Bangor, Derby University and the University of Oxford, as well as some independent researchers and writers.

Topics covered included:

  • the desirability of restoring the ESRC small grant scheme which was accessible to early career researchers who do not have the wherewithal to put together a 6-figure bid, and which encouraged exploratory work;
  • The need to support early career researchers in general in healthy work environments;
  • Dissemination is not Impact. Impact is Change;
  • Northern Ireland is not just about conflict;
  • The possibility of involving practitioners in research without them having to do a PhD to encourage dissemination;
  • The need to include writing time in funding;
  • The problems of job security in three-year funding patterns where researchers are out of a job each time the money runs out;
  • The problems in funding bodies not wanting to do anything risky while claiming to value innovation;
  • The intricacies of secondary data use – who has collected the data, how is it used, the dangers of algorithms; and
  • The managerialism of workplace targets being international, with larger student numbers, publication targets and journal specification widespread.

Richard’s think piece has not yet been published by the ESRC.

 

Contact

BSC Office: info@britsoccrim.org

 

Images: courtesy of LWYang from USA – University of Edinburgh, CC BY 2.0, and Diana Miranda via Twitter @DanaOHara

Systemic Elite Abuse: sexual violence against women in universities

If sexual abuse is reported how do the university, police, prosecutors and courts react; how is the accused treated and sanctioned; and, crucially, how is the victim treated?

M Punch

Dr. Maurice Punch, Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE, has worked in universities in the UK, USA and the Netherlands (where he lives): his areas of specialisation have been policing, corporate crime and research methods; he is currently writing on deviance in elite student societies and sexual violence against women in universities. His last book was What matters in policing? (with A. van Dijk & F. Hoogewoning: Policy Press: 2015).

There’s disturbing evidence of an ‘epidemic’ in universities in the UK, USA and Australia which should redirect our gaze to ‘crime in the colleges’.  I refer to Systemic Elite Abuse regarding the sexual harassment and abuse of women students. My focus is mainly student-student and male-female as women are disproportionally victimized. Universities are elite institutions in educational systems including prestigious establishments; women students can be victimized by an offender perhaps with high status in the university community; and the offences can have a systemic character. Indeed, there’s ample evidence with great concern in UK, Australian and US universities. Sexual harassment of women students is said to be “at epidemic levels” in UK universities (The Guardian): and “more than half of university students in Australia were sexually harassed at least once in 2016”. The Australian Human Rights Commission reported on this with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner stating:

“It is confronting to learn that sexual assault and sexual harassment are a common part of these students’ experiences in their academic, their social and their residential life —- Sadly, the impacts of these experiences have devastating impacts and it can be life-changing, affecting health, studies and future careers’” BBC News

In response the ‘Universities UK’ organization has proposed useful guidelines in this area (Changing the culture); US President Obama launched a Task force on college sexual assault; and the AAU mounted a survey in 2015. Some 150,000 students took part in this survey from 27 institutions with around a quarter of “female, college seniors” reporting  “unwanted sexual contact – anything from touching to rape – carried out by incapacitation, usually due to alcohol or drugs, or by force”. Two ‘Ivy League’ universities were high offenders in the survey. I’ll mention a particular US case illustrating incapacitation and force: but first I’ll outline some focal points.

Some material focuses on ‘harassment’ as when in Sydney male students broke into women’s bedrooms and trashed them or barged into female showers. But lists were produced of women considered “bait” for sexual advances who were then pursued which forms potential criminal activity. And if abuse is reported how do the university, police, prosecutors and courts react; how is the accused treated and sanctioned; and, crucially, how is the victim treated?  Particularly in the USA but also elsewhere the university often reacts poorly and / or defensively; the criminal justice agencies are inadequate or reluctant to pursue cases; and if it reaches court the accused gets off lightly but the female victim is systematically discredited. Sometimes the university uses its legal muscle to reach a settlement, to deny liability and to impose non-disclosure: the victim never gets to court to give her account or see the offender prosecuted.

Yet some cases are serious sexual assault or rape, including group rape, and are indisputably criminal. It is a major injustice if such cases are not pursued or the offender gets off lightly while the victim is not taken seriously and is undermined in court. In some US cases involving college athletes as offenders there was clear institutional and judicial bias. One such case attracted intense publicity for the powerful victim statement which went viral (with her approval: The Guardian). At Stanford University during a fraternity party a male student – and star swimmer – took a highly intoxicated woman, not a student, outside and aggressively sexually assaulted her: he was interrupted and caught by passing students. He contested the case with the trial drawing much attention. Firstly, there was the mild sentence passed by the judge (six months with three years’ probation): he served half of the sentence. Secondly, and crucially, this blatantly downplayed  the victim’s suffering. Indeed, she made a court statement which powerfully conveyed the long-term deleterious consequences for women of sexual abuse – irrespective of a trial`s outcome – while the abuser proceeds with his life and career. She graphically details the aggressive nature of the assault; the profound and lasting effect on her; and especially her resentment at him insinuating consent. In court she was subjected to:

“narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy —— After a physical assault I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up” The Guardian.

She especially stresses that being a top athlete at a leading university should never lead to leniency and how fast someone can swim “does not lessen the impact of what happened to me” The Guardian.

The universal factor here is the dramaturgy not only in university sexual offences trials but in most such trials. In campus cases the offender is presented as the ideal student with a bright career ahead and the female victim has to be denigrated. The status of the offender, and the university, are in effect employed to minimize the offence and sentence while the female victim may have to leave the university and remains scarred for life.

This topic does make for gloomy reading: are there, then, any positive developments? In recent years there’s been increasing attention to the matter; several high-profile prosecutions have attracted stiff sanctions; and diverse universities – also medical and judicial agencies – have made provision for prevention and for treating victims. These include:

  • New York State passed a 2015 law requiring, “all universities and colleges in the state to adopt ‘yes means yes’ affirmative consent policies and guarantee the rights of sexual assault survivors”. Police launched an initiative with a dual mission, “reduce sexual violence on campuses and get more victims to file police reports” (Mother Jones: 2018)
  • Sydney University has a confidential, single point of access call-centre and an on-line module on “consent, respect, good communication and positive intervention” (University of Sydney)
  • Cambridge University has been working, “with students, staff, victims and specialist organizations for the past two years to try to improve things. This work has culminated in the campaign Breaking the Silence – Cambridge speaks out against sexual misconduct, launched in October 2017. Spearheaded by the Vice-Chancellor, it raises awareness of the University`s zero-tolerance approach to sexual conduct”. Students can access a ‘University Sexual Assault and Harassment Adviser’ and attend bystander training and consent workshops.

Clearly many initiatives are new and piece-meal but they do raise awareness, establish facilities and, above all, treat victims in a caring manner. A key factor is the explicit stance of the university.

Universities are primarily for scholarship, research and teaching. But nowadays many strongly support diversity, absence of discrimination, gender equality, protection of the environment, free speech and oppose any form of discriminatory conduct. In particular drunkenness, violence, abusive behaviour – especially against women, minorities, staff or visitors – are matters of deep concern. Given the contemporary debate within academia about sexual and other forms of harassment and discrimination, it simply must be that the university endeavours to ensure an environment where everyone can study in peace, everyone is safe and there’s no discrimination; and where a persistent effort is made to tackle sexual abuse. The tenor here is that offences committed within the university community and its remit should be taken most seriously under an explicit code of conduct and be backed with serious sanctions from the university itself.  For it surely cannot be that marauding males can abuse women students with impunity.  And that some universities, police and courts, treat serious sexual offences against female students poorly or weakly and with the offender treated lightly while the victim faces prolonged trauma.

The university should adopt a firm approach on such conduct backed by suspensions, expulsions and possible prosecutions within a strategy to change the culture on sexual harassment and abuse. The key is to mobilize students, academic and support staff along with a multi-agency coalition with external partners, to create a supportive environment for all to study and work in without harassment and without sexual abuse of women.

 

Contact

Maurice Punch, Senior Visiting Fellow, Mannheim Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Email: m.punch@lse.ac.uk

Images: courtesy of the author and WikiMedia Commons CC-BY-3.0

 

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

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

 

Desistance, Structures, Agency and Policy: Presenting Penal Cultures and Female Desistance at Sheffield University

the link between employment and a successful route out of crime has received considerable attention in criminology. However, gender-specific literature on the subject is minimal.

linneaLinnéa Österman is a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Greenwich. Her research interests revolve around gender and crime, desistance, comparative penology, Nordic criminal justice, and critical pedagogy. Completing her doctorate in Criminology at the University of Surrey in early 2016, Linnéa has been involved in a number of research projects focussing on women’s experiences of justice in various cultures and contexts over the last 10 years. She is a passionate criminologist and a social justice optimist, and dabbles with music-making in her spare time.

On a grey and cold January evening in the not too distant past, I got on a late train to Sheffield for a desistance conference focussing on agency, structures and policy. After a nightmare midnight AirB&B check-in and not enough sleep (think along the lines of phone dying, no charge point, the host not knowing where I was, and an old-school attempt of using a phone box, ultimately confirming that they are truly tourist-photo dedications with no practical use!), I woke up on the morning of the conference kick-off day looking at the programme with a good amount of anticipation. I had been invited to present comparative themes from my recently published book Penal Cultures and Female Desistance, and this would be the first time I would be given a chance to discuss (as well as discreetly, or possibly not-so-discreetly, promote) my newly delivered book baby. Fortunately for all parties involved, I had not been spoiled with a boundless timeslot, so I had decided to focus specifically on the area of gender, employment and desistance. Before summarising my own contributions, some general reflections on the conference could be useful.

A core focus of the event was on structures, and the 2 days contained a number of fascinating talks, many that explored desistance in international or comparative perspectives; refreshingly starting to address the Anglophone bias in the field. This generated thought-provoking discussions around culture, agency and structures, ranging from diverse areas such as the role of consumer culture and recessions for Irish desisters, the different use of time and space along desistance journeys in Israel and England, and institutional influences on young Parisian probationers, to social capital resources among different ethnic group desisters in the UK, and opportunities to design more desistance-focussed assessment tools within CRCs. In all of this, the overarching question of whether desistance can be understood as a social movement was present within many of the presentations.

While these discussions were thought-provoking and inclusive, as one conference attendee sharply pointed out early on: The one structure that seemed to be shining with its absence from much of this was that of patriarchy. Reflective of the broader literature, many of the studies presented had all male samples. However, as noted by the chair Professor Farrall early on, this recent move towards focussing on larger forces in the desistance literature may bring about new opportunities to explore gendered systems across time and space. From a historical perspective, it has for example been found that the ‘marriage effect’ in male desistance did not seem to apply about a century back in time. Professor Farrall drew interesting links between this finding and women’s disenfranchisement and lack of power at the turn of the 19th Century. Do women in recent time periods have more power to exercise social control in the home environment, thereby make the ‘marriage effect’ in desistance more relevant?

A key question that was repeatedly posed within these discussions was ‘Which processes may structure desistance?’. Although the replies emphasised how little we still know about the answers to this question, the role of ethnicity, socio-economic status, age and maturity, time periods and different criminal justice systems were all suggested to be influential. On the question of gender, however, the chair suggested that ‘the jury is still out on this one’. Those who are familiar with the desistance literature will know some of the grounds for this; research has found that there are significant overlaps in dominant desistance themes for women and men, including the level of immersion in the criminal underworld (Uggen and Kruttschnitt, 1998), and wider factors relating to poverty, low education levels, drug addictions and problematic family backgrounds (Giordano et al, 2003; McIvor et al 2004). That said, we cannot disregard one of the most widely recognised differences in terms of gender and offending, namely, the extent of it. Women generally ‘grow out of crime’ earlier and have significantly lower re-involvement in offending than their male counterparts (Giordano et al, 2003; Rumgay, 2004; Graham and Bowling, 1995; McIvor et al, 2004).; a finding that is confirmed in both self-reported and official data (Uggen and Kruttschnitt, 1998). Women are thus not only less likely to offend, but when they have done so, they are also less likely to do so again.

Beyond these points on extent of involvement, the small number of studies that have specifically looked at gender also find some processes that seem to be gender-related, such as the role of relationships, stigma and social capital (McIvor et al, 2004; Cobbina, 2010; Leverentz, 2014; Estrada and Nilsson, 2012). An exploration of gender roles also quickly casts a critical eye on some of the major desistance claims to date. The classic generalisability problem of just ‘adding’ women to theories developed with (and by) men rings loud in this area, a key example of this being Sampson and Laub’s work (1993; 2003) on desisting men and the value of marriage for desistance, or the so called ‘love of a good woman’ thesis (Leverentz, 2006). With the developing literature on female desisters, we now know that these findings are in direct opposition to how desistance seems to work for women – something I have detected in my work and others before me – namely, that for many women intimate relationships are commonly part of the problem rather than the solution.

Moreover, the consequences of living with both the physical and mental scars of violence and abuse can have an impact on the ability to access desistance-related processes. An unexpected discovery on the conference programme showcased some interesting and emerging work in this area in the way of a PhD student from Stockholm University – Robin Gålnander – who is doing ethnographic work with female desisters. Robin is about mid-way through a fascinating study following ten women in Sweden through their desistance journey. Meeting them every 6 months, Robin aims to catch different phases of desistance, as these women try to put decades of offending, drug dealing and using, behind them. Giving support to what we know about women in the criminal justice system, all of the women in Robin’s study have histories of violent victimisation, perpetrated by men predominantly on the criminal scene. The preliminary findings suggest that these experiences hold them back from desistance paths in various ways, including the challenges of navigating psychiatric care (or lack of), living with PSTD and in isolation, with many spending time under protected identity. As well as it being fascinating to see interesting new work on female desistance coming out of regions outside of the Anglophone setting, on a more personal basis, it was also admittedly energising to attend a criminology conference – especially one on desistance – where someone could take a quick peek at my conference tag and pronounce my name perfectly (accent and all!) without a look of apprehension or confusion on their face. My observation here is a simple one – it is encouraging and positive to see greater international perspectives on this scene, and (though I am maybe somewhat bias here) in particular, ones exploring female experiences in the Nordic sphere.

For my own 30 minutes of room control, I focussed on the comparative role of, and access to, employment for women in Sweden and England. As many readers will know, the link between employment and a successful route out of crime has received considerable attention in criminology. However, gender-specific literature on the subject is minimal. The limited studies that exist are also inconclusive, with some research suggesting that job stability is not strongly related to female desistance (Giordano et al, 2002), and other work emphasising employment as a central role for women’s post-release identity (Opsal, 2012; Leverentz, 2014). We furthermore know that women in criminal justice are especially disadvantaged in terms of employment. Women’s employment situation has been found to be significantly worse compared to their male counterparts; women are less likely to have been in employment before prison, as well as having a job to go to following release (Prison Reform Trust, 2016). As I will not need to point out to readers within this network, women are also, more generally, disadvantaged in employment and wage contexts globally (and especially so in Anglophone areas, where recent shifts in the labour markets mean women are increasingly pushed into low-wage, non-unionised areas of employment). There are additional structural aspects that need to be given attention to fully understand gendered barriers in this area, such as the dominance of female labour in sectors (i.e. care work) where a criminal record is an especially marked barrier (while at the same time, being a relatively easily accessible sector for women with lower levels of education).

In the presentation, drawing out some key themes from the book, I touched on both symmetries and dissimilarities across the female experience in Sweden and England. My study found huge similarities in relation to how women viewed the basic value of employment; as a way to learn to live a ‘straight’ life, to build routines, and to ‘keep busy’. However, these factors on their own are not necessarily sufficient for lasting change. This is where the next identified value of employment comes in, namely, the importance of a ‘good job’. A ‘good job’ in this context is a job that, minimally, allows the woman – and those in her care – to stay above the poverty line. This is about meeting basic needs and having access to a liveable income, and it is at this point that the differences start to emerge between the English and Swedish samples in my data. More specifically, most of the desisting women in the English sample struggled to meet basic needs on their current incomes, despite being in part-time employment. These narratives in turn need to be situated in the totality of life circumstances, such as being in debt. As noted by one of my participants, ‘Amanda’; Employment gives you enough money to be able to survive, usually, but not at the minute, not in X, the wages are so crap. […] If youre in debt like I was, cos they didnt give me money for 3 months, thenyou cant survive.” The role of welfare sanctions is central here (which is why ‘Amanda’ did not receive any money for 3 months) – Many of the women in the English sample had experiences of sanctions, which often led to a direct destabilisation of their desistance process. We know, of course, that the consequences of welfare policies are gendered, with the last decade of austerity having disproportionality affected women in our society (Women’s budget group, 2016).

Contrasting this theme of ‘access to a liveable income’ to the Swedish data, this type of ‘survival narrative’ in terms of access to bare essentials is completely absent. This marks an important difference in the lived experience of female desistance across the samples. In contrast, a ‘good job’ for the Swedish participants goes beyond mere survival, and narratively links to a chance to start to re-build a new life, paying off debts, and have an economy to engage in activities. As noted by ‘Angel’: Well, I’ve got a great job now like, and I really want to treasure that […] I’ve got a fucking income now like, I can even pay my debts, it’s just like ‘wow’! You can do things that you’ve never [done before]”. Access to a livable income effectively contributes to the construction of a new non-offending identity for ‘Angel’. However, the value of a ‘good job’ goes beyond monetary factors and also link to what I refer to as ‘humanitarian values’ in the book, namely, the role of having colleagues, who, as pointed out by ‘Jasmin’ “wonder where you are when you fail to appear […] Yeah, just that feeling that people wonder where you are”; producing a lived sense of inclusion and self-worth. In this context, a ‘good job’ aids the process of becoming an integrated member of society. This experience is also supported by financial means, and access to wage subsidy schemes, which forms another major difference in experience between the two samples. While I do not have the space to write about these processes, and the role of active labour market policies, in detail here (hint: read the book – flyer and discount voucher attached!), a major overarching difference that emerges in the data is about how these experiences of a lived sense of inclusion and value that investment in quality employment opportunities and the chance to earn a liveable income produces, in turn provide a major motivating factor for lasting change in the Swedish women’s narratives. The data suggest that these subjective experiences offer a far more powerful tool for change than any of the threats of sanctions, or indeed experiences or further exclusion, that dominate the English women’s narratives.

As always with a good conference, I exit University of Sheffield’s halls with a mind filled with more thoughts and ideas than what it is realistically possible to process after a couple of days intense brain stimuli. The twenty pages of notes that awaits re-opening – after a weekend break from desistance – will hopefully allow me to make more sense of it all. Nevertheless, as I am sitting on a severely delayed and uncomfortably crammed train returning from the first conference in my life where I was able to talk about a book with my name on it – and doing so in the privileged position of a room filled with some of the field’s giants – I can positively say that I somehow manage to keep a beaming smile on my lips, whilst reluctantly switching off the automated Outlook reply and turn my attention to the column of dark blue emails that awaits me.

Originally posted on the BSC Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Blog

Contact

Linnéa Österman, Lecturer in Criminology
Department of Law and The Centre for Criminology
University of Greenwich

E-mail: L.Osterman@greenwich.ac.uk
Twitter: @LiOsterman

Images: courtesy of the author

Discount Penal Cultures Female Desistance