Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘populist punitiveness

Right to self-defence

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The recent case about Munir Hussain who chased and beat a burglar, causing him serious injuries has, apparently, lead to an outcry in newspapers which I tend not to read. This has, in turn, led to the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, saying that ‘there is “genuine concern” that the law does not provide adequate protection to householders and that an incoming Conservative government would consider strengthening the laws governing how much force householder can use when defending themselves and their property against intruders and burglars’ (BBC Today).

I don’t see how the case of a man who got a cricket bat and a gang of men to bludgeon a man almost to death for trying to break intp theit house should result in a review of the law but, according to the leading politicians in this country it seems to. Catharine Bennett has written about why the whole thing is a disgrace but I thought I would add a criminological angle.

When listening to the interview with Chris Grayling on the Today programme this morning I couldn’t help but think of Garland’s ‘limits of the sovereign state’ thesis in which the state recognises it’s limits in a late-modern society and responsibilises members of the public to look after themselves. This act of populism seems to adhere to this argument incredibly well- the state has realised that it might not be able to deal with the offence of burglary- it can’t have police officer on every street corner ready to catch whichever baddy might be about to strike so it gives the members of the public the right to do this job for them. Except this right already exists and allows for proportionate acts so that people can defend themselves and their property. The judge in the Hussain case decided that his actions were not proportionate- which seems like a fair adjudication to me- although others may disagree.

What Grayling’s proposals signify to me is that the law will now allow disproportionate actions in defending one’s bodies and property. The state seems to not only be recognising its limits here but it is giving individuals citizens more rights to inflict violence than the state which signifies something more serious than Garland’s thesis suggests. It could perhaps be more accurately described as ‘the dispersal of the sovereign state’.

Locke said that political power is the:

right of making laws, with penalties of death and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of emplying the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and … all this only for the public good (Locke: 118 my emphasis)

These ideas put forward by the Tory government are in line with Locke’s conception of political power in that they are giving the community the power to enforce the laws made by Government. The big question is, in this case, is bludgeoning a man half to death with a cricket bat ‘for the public good’ or not? If the judge is asked to decide on a case on the ground of ‘public good’ then I might not have any major quarrels but I fear that the wording of any law to come from this scenario may be considerably more individualistic than Locke could have ever imagined.

References:

Garland, D. (1996) ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society’. British Journal of Criminology 36:445-471.

Locke, J. (1962) Two Treatises of Civil Government [1690]. Ed. W.S Carpenter. Originally published 1924.. London: J.M. Dent.

Written by criminologyandstuff

December 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

State-grounded children- the ultimate nanny state

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It looks like the next general election, whenever it comes, is going to feature crime as a major manifesto promise if yesterday’s speech by the new Tory shadow home secretary. In the speech, Chris Grayling said that the Conservatives would be tough on crime and send out the message that ‘this is the Conservatives you’re dealing with now’. While I don’t agree with the Labour party’s stance on many things crime related, they have done some good things- it is just unfortunate that many innovative strategies they have implemented (such as Sure Start, the creation of Children’s services, extended schools and working to decrease levels of child poverty) have either not have time to show how effective they could be (you’ll notice the good things are all directed at young children who are yet to grow up and display criminal tendencies); have been victims of the knee-jerk target culture and been shifted round so may times that staff don’t know whether they are coming or going; or, have fallen victim to the idea that no mistakes can be made and if they do, there should widespread change.

I certainly do not think Labour have been soft on crime which is what David Cameron said yesterday- more people are in prison, more children are being criminalised in an era when we have seen consistent decreases in crime. I do not believe that this rise of punitiveness has caused the decrease in crime- it just doesn’t fit.

Practical issues of enforcement aside, the proposed policy of ‘grounding’ young people for a month smacks of penal populism, punitivism and state intervention- surely, a state who grounds people is being the nanny to a much greater extent than ever before- if the nanny can’t ground children, who can? I very much doubt that it will work. It is fairly well acknowledged that the majority of young people who get ‘involved with crime’ come from poor backgrounds and potentially destructive families- surely cooping these young people in an unproductive family environment will do nothing to help their problems and encourage desistance. Criminologists are generally in agreement that the growth of positive relationships are a key factor in recidivism- if this is the case, surely the Conservatives would be better off trying to tackle these problems. Are they planning on giving families with state-grounded children support in the form of family conferencing or do the Tories just have a blind hope that taking them off the streets for a month will cure them of their anti-social tendencies?

Over the last few years I have toyed with the idea that maybe David Cameron isn’t so bad- he has said in the past that we shouldn’t persecute young people and his social justice reports have had some good ideas (although the focus on marriage being the cure of all family related evils is something that I will never sign up to- I’ve just had a thought- maybe they are planning on forcing the parents of state-grounded children to get married while they are grounded, thereby magically reforming the child so that when they are released from their confinement (custody may be a better word) they are no longer anti-social). The appointment of this new shadow home secretary and their renewed calls for more ‘law and order’ have just put paid to that.

I wonder when we’re going to have a sensible debate about crime. Unfortunately, the media has got it in for Labour so I expect they’ll come back with something even more outlandish to counteract the perceived damage that this new Tory party policy will inflict.

Two further thoughts- why is it the shadow home secretary outlining these policies? Shouldn’t it be the the shadow minister for justice? And, secondly, the Tory party have been going on about how BASS is effectively creating prisons on our streets- isn’t locking young people up in their homes also creating prisons on our streets?

Written by criminologyandstuff

February 24, 2009 at 10:39 am