Vol. 13 No. 11 (November 2003)
THE NEW POLITICS OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, by Roger Matthews and Jock Young (Editors). Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing, 2003. 260 pp. Cloth £40.00/$59.95. ISBN: 1-903240-92-1. Paper. £17.99/$28.50 ISBN:1-90324091-3.
Reviewed by Stuart A. Scheingold, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle. Email: email@example.com .
This book of essays examines the gap between the crime and punishment campaign promises of Tony Blair’s New Labour and the policies that were implemented in the wake of electoral success. Blair’s campaign slogan “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” (p.5) was political shorthand for a policy shift from the Tory’s punitive program of social exclusion to a more positive and inclusive approach which provided alternatives to crime for marginalized elements of society.
The thesis of this book, articulated in the first two chapters and traced through subsequent chapters on specific policy areas, is that while Labour delivered on the first half of its promise to be tough on crime, its response to the causes of crime was half-hearted at best. True, Labour has pursued an inclusive strategy, but a “weak” form of inclusion.
Weak inclusion focuses on what the authors see as the consequences of marginality: individuals, families and communities at risk. Crime is, thus, attributed to the criminogenic tendencies of the marginalized—in effect blaming the victims and calling upon them, albeit with some symptomatic assistance, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. A strong form of social inclusion would instead tackle the structural causes of exclusion by embracing measures necessary for “the realization of full citizenship economically, socially and politically” (p.26).
What emerges from this collection is a view of a Labour government which was at best only slightly less punitive and slightly more inclusive than its Tory predecessors were. A series of thoughtful and well-written essays document Labour’s “lost opportunity” to embrace real inclusion with respect to policing, juvenile justice, the family, drugs, urban “regeneration,” public order, and probation.
So far, so good. However, the book, rather like Labour’s new criminology, does not live up to its own ostensible promises and purposes. The book’s title implies an account of the politics driving Labour’s new criminology, but politics are given only cursory and equivocal attention. Jock Young attributes Labour’s disappointing policies to a punitive populism (p.41) and blames the mass media and the vested interests of those who profit from punitive policies (p.45). Most of the other essays are at least loosely in tune with Young—invoking Feeley and Simon’s (1992) argument that crime and punishment policies are less about reducing crime than about managing its risks. This is accomplished primarily by segregating criminals and the crime prone in prisons and urban ghettoes and by sheltering the law-abiding in gated communities, secure work places and well- patrolled shopping malls (Davis, 1990).
The problem with this analysis is that it leaves two key questions unanswered and, indeed, unaddressed. If the U.K. like the U.S. was in the grip of punitive populism:
1) How was it possible for New Labour to campaign successfully on its relatively enlightened new criminology? We are provided with no analysis of how Labour’s campaign promises on crime contributed to its electoral success.
2) Why, once in office, did the Labour government succumb to punitive populism and to weak social inclusion—turning its back, in other words, on the causes of crime? If Labour could campaign successfully against the causes of crime, why could it not so govern?
There is a substantial and instructive literature on these matters. In their different but complementary ways, Jonathan Simon (1997), David Garland (2001), Loïc Wacquant (2001), and others provide access to both the complexity and strategic importance of the political construction of crime and punishment.
This literature and its explanatory potential are largely ignored by the contributors to this volume. The one tantalizing exception is Patrick Slaughter’s subtle and suggestive analysis of how “hooliganism” has increasingly come to be, and to be seen as, a social crime. “It is from the 1970s onwards that the football hooligan establishes himself in the public consciousness as an enduring folk-devil. The development of social and political unrest during this period manifests itself in a plethora of different ways, but key to our analysis are: the growing marginalization of the industrial working class; rising unemployment; high immigration levels and increasing racial tensions; and the attack on traditional masculinity” (pp.187-88).
This catalogue of social ills is very much reminiscent of what Garland has referred to as the “decline of the sovereign state.” As for the other contributors, they seem to take Young’s punitive populism as an unexamined premise—completely ignoring its inability to explain Labour’s campaign success or its post-election retreat.
Roger Matthew in his concluding essay compounds the problem by, in effect, turning his back on punitive populism and politics more generally. Whereas politics are a loosely defined and perverse presence in most of the essays, for Matthews politics is beside the point. He argues, in a functionalist vein, that because punishment, exclusion and risk reduction policies do not work they will not persist once a more rational program is devised.
“Breaking the circle requires a system-analysis that can examine the flow of offenders through the penal system, and which can identify ways that the existing network of sanctions facilitates the process of transcarceration, while deconstructing what has become an increasingly self-referential or autopoietic penal system” (pp.244-45). Because risk analysis techniques do not actually reduce crime, they can not, according to Matthews, explain why such policies are pursued. He thus confuses criminological truths with political truths—ignoring the ways in which politicians have been able to make crime pay (Beckett, 1997)—to, as Jon Simon has tellingly put it, “govern through crime.”
Beckett, Katherine. 1997. MAKING CRIME PAY: LAW AND ORDER IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POLITICS. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Davis, Mike. 1990. CITY OF QUARTZ; EXCAVATING THE FUTURE OF LOS ANGELES. New York: Vintage Books.
Feeley, Malcolm, and Jonathan Simon. 1992. “The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and its Implications.” 30 CRIMINOLOGY 449-474.
Garland, David. 1996. “The Limits of the Sovereign State: Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society.” 36 BRITISH JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY 445-471.
Garland, David. 2001. THE CULTURE OF CONTROL: CRIME AND SOCIAL ORDER IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY. New York: Oxford University Press.
Simon, Jonathan. 1997. “Governing Through Crime,” in THE CRIME CONUNDRUM: ESSAYS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE. Lawrence Friedman and George Fisher (eds.). Boulder, CO: Westview.
Wacquant, Loïc. 2001. “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh.” 3 PUNISHMENT AND SOCIETY 95-133.
Copyright 2003 by the author, Stuart A. Scheingold.
Back To LPBR Home