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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Election Fever/Crime Fiction

Sense About Science claim the party’s manifestos contain too much ‘crime fiction’.  Their report ‘Making Sense of Crime’ is available at http://crime.senseaboutscience.org

This blog set out a summary of  that work but with some additional comments.

The general election manifestos of five of the UK’s biggest parties contain sweeping claims about the causes of crime and the best policies to reduce it. Their experts warned that such broad statements are nearly always wrong, and are calling on politicians to stop misleading voters.  Sadly only ‘Crime Scientists’ seem to have been asked; sociological criminologists might agree with much in the report but could have added some nuance.
They offer these ‘insights’:
  • Most types of crime are falling across developed countries and have been for around 25 years, so individual policies don’t have a big effect [‘most types’! lot of argument about this one]
  • The most effective ways to cut crime might lie outside the criminal justice system [agreed]
  • Crime isn’t caused by a single factor such as unemployment, poverty, bad parenting, government cuts or influences such as video games [‘society’ that where they missed the sociological input!]
  • ‘Criminals’ aren’t a separate group from the rest of society [‘society’ that where they missed the sociological input!]
  • Police statistics are not the best way to judge crime rates [that’s criminology 101!]
They want to encourage people to use the ‘crime exaggeration checklist,’ published alongside the guide, to spot misleading statements on crime by politicians, commentators and think tanks, such as:
  • The fall in violent crime over the past decade is due to my policies [or recent and local rises?]
  • [This thing] is the main cause of crime [genes, parents (for which read mothers), psychopathy, nutrition, immigrants, ‘the media’ (by other media) or videogames (by ‘the media’), song lyrics etc] 
  • Criminals are different to the rest of us [show me the person who hasn’t committed some crime OR been the victim of one]
  • I know [this policy] will reduce crime [throwing away the keys to ‘love and peace’]
  • Prison works [how may essays have I set on that?]
  • Prison doesn't work [define ‘work’ and on what it is meant to be working?]
The checklist will help members of the public who care about crime policy to question the evidence behind such broad claims, at the 2015 election and whenever new crime policy is announced. This puts public figures on notice that they won’t get away with misleading people on crime with policies that contradict the most reliable evidence.
The manifestos contain broad promises to cut crime by putting more bobbies on the beat (Labour Paragraph 4, Page 51), introducing tougher prison sentences (Conservatives Bullet point 2, Page 58) or tough community sentences (Liberal Democrats Paragraph 1, Page 123), reducing unemployment (Green Party Paragraph 1, Page 76) and deporting foreign criminals (UKIP Paragraph 3, Page 55).
This my take on these: most criminologists will know of the work on the effectiveness or otherwise of beat policing and current events in the USA should remind us that not everyone finds the presence of police reassuring.  Moreover, police on beat aren’t going to catch the paedophiles that the media encourage us to think about nor any cybercriminals or perpetuators of violence against women in the home.
At the risk of outrunning the evidence I’d say prisons work very well at smashing up people’s lives and that doesn’t help victims whose lives have been smashed nor does it seem likely that damaged people are going to make model citizens.
I used to work in the Home Office Probation Division 25 years ago and we knew then that community sentences could be effective – if properly resourced, monitored and evaluated – but that they needed ‘selling’ to magistrates and the public and media as ‘tough’.  This sounds like more of that.  A pledge to renationalise the Probation Service and properly fund it would be of greater assistance.
Reducing unemployment would be a good thing in its own right but is no panacea.  Some of the biggest crimes require you to have a job.  Unemploying a few bankers might have prevented much crime.

And finally, I also worked in the Home Office’s Immigration Department as a caseworker granting or refusing immigrants leave to remain and eventually considering the deportation of foreign criminals.  I’d be interested to know how much money UKIP propose to spend on rounding up immigrants, what powers and uniforms they’d give them and what about the return of many British criminals to the UK when the countries of the European Union throw them out?

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