Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

A new moral panic?

with one comment

Brown is set to target crime in his Labour party conference speech today. He plans to introduce Drink ASBOs (presumably called DASBOs) and more Parenting Orders. A key source for this adoption of a law and order base appears to be case of Fiona Pilkington who was abused by youths in her area and received so little support from the statutory sector that she ended up killing herself and her daughter. I’m a bit confused about all of this: firstly, why does the Fiona Pilkington case result in the need for more punitive measures such as DASBOs? Secondly, why do we even need more ASBOs? Thirdly, I don’t mean to denigrate the tragedy of the story itself, but is this a convenient case that has popped up just in time for the pending election? And, fourthly (if you’ll excuse the upcoming pun), why on earth do Labour want to use law and order to try and carry them through to a fourth term?

The Fiona Pilkington case seems to suggest that we don’t need more punitive measures such as ASBOs (because ASBOs don’t really work very well and tend to get breached leading to the criminalisation of non-criminal actions) but that a major cause of the deaths was a lack of support from the police and social services. It’s quite possible that had the police taken Fiona’s calls seriously they would have been able to avert disaster- either by ‘giving the boys a good talking to’ like in the ‘good ole days’ or by alerting social services that there was a vulnerable family in need of support.

I really don’t know why we need more ASBOs especially ones which are targeted towards drinking. There are so many stories about ASBOs being used against people who have sex too loudly, have noisy arguments (so they get banned from their house), or put up missing cat posters that one would think that they are flexible enough. And also, aren’t there enough other laws in place to tackle drunken behaviour such as that one, oh, what’s it called? Oh yeah: drunk and disorderly. I suppose you could argue that an ASBO would prevent someone from getting drunk in the first place but any ASBO could do that. Other options already on statute would include: an Alcohol Treatment Requirement, an Exclusion Order, or possibly a curfew depending on their drinking habits. I think I’ve just realised why they’re not preferred by the government- you actually have to convict someone of something in order to punish them with those laws and we like to punish people who haven’t committed a crime!

All parties seem to be talking about the Pilkington case- it just seems a bit odd that it’s the last party conference season before the next election. Someone said on the Today programme this morning that ‘it has triggered alarm’ (or something to that effect)- I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a moral panic.

I honestly do not know why the Labour government thinks it can win the next election with a law and order ticket. It seems to me that they have completely alienated both sides of the divide. The left think that the prison population is too high, there are too many punitive measures now available- both civil and criminal, the government has failed to tackle the ’causes of crime’ although I expect that people on this side of the argument do have some belief in Sure Start, etc. I would guess that they are also dismayed at the number of laws this government has introduced, the ID cards debate, the burgeoning use of CCTV and Orwellian Terrorist Laws. On the right, people take issue with people in prison having TVs (even though they are crammed in like battery hens), are angry about the problems resulting from automatic early release from prison, see Community Orders as ‘soft’, think retribution should be a key philosophy underlying punishment but are angry that this is not possible due to an overcrowded prison estate. I would guess that they are also dismayed at the number of laws this government has introduced, the ID cards debate, the burgeoning use of CCTV and Orwellian Terrorist Laws. Sections of both sides probably think that crime has been rising despite the most reliable measures we have indicate that it’s going down and has been going down for over ten years but they are so cynical of the government that they just don’t believe it- as Dan Gardner says in his book, Risk, once instinct has stuck its feet in, it is impossible to shift using the head.

The government is going to have go a long way in persuading people that they are the party of law and order if they are going to get their vote. It doesn’t really seem like a very good strategy to me- but, then, I’m not a politician. But I do have to live with the fallout of a Tory government when the government cocks this up.

UPDATE: The Guardian elaborates and the comments are quite interesting too!


Written by criminologyandstuff

September 29, 2009 at 9:02 am

Posted in criminal justice

One Response

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  1. I was quite pleased when I heard that he wants to abandon compulsory ID cards and hold a referendum on alternative vote. Then these two policies were described as “designed to appeal to Lib Dem voters”. Really. No. I can’t be.

    Is there any merit to the idea of sticking 16 year-old mums in supervised housing? Sounds like one of those things that sort of makes sense, but is likely to be completely fucked up in practice.


    September 29, 2009 at 7:53 pm

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