BSCConf2016 – Plenary on ‘criminology’ by Professor Peter Squires and the ‘near perfect storm’ by Will Hutton.
By Susie Atherton
Susie Atherton is a Teaching Fellow in Criminology at Keele University. She has recently submitted her PhD on ‘Communities, Crime and Justice: Exploring community justice and community life’ which is a case study of community justice initiatives in the North East. It examines different ways in which the police, courts and restorative justice practitioners work with volunteers and local citizens to solve the problem of crime and anti-social behaviour.
As an observer in the comfort of my study and soft leather (effect) chair it is interesting to watch how the conference this year is represented through twitter, and so I decided to collate some observations and thoughts.
Professor Peter Squires began with asking ‘What is Criminology?’ A very important question and one which we all still need to grapple with, in order to consider its role in determining the future of criminal justice policy, the political and economic contexts in which this occurs and to critique the pervasive notion of justice as punishment. It resonated with me given my own PhD research on problem solving justice, which requires practitioners, journalists and local citizens to accept different forms of ‘doing justice.’ Any number of evaluations into such approaches, (e.g. Wolf 2007, Mair and Millings, 2011; Bowen and Whitehead 2013) demonstrate the value of problem solving approaches, innovation in courts and restorative justice. However, they also emphasize the challenges in engaging citizens to work with the state to prevent crime and re-offending, whether this is seen solely as the responsibility of the state, or a problem they wish to see removed, rather than resolved. Donoghue (2014) suggests court processes can do something which is more ‘socially meaningful’ than being part of the punishment production line and others see courts as a place for ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’ (e.g. Ward, 2014) in which the adversarial contest gives way to dialogue with defendants and partnership working with a range of other agencies to prevent re-offending.
In his plenary, Professor Squires suggests the discipline of criminology needs to contribute to policy which is evidence led, asks more practical questions, looks forward and seeks to solve problems. In restorative justice and problem solving approaches in courts and in policing, there are examples of a response to crime which is more forward thinking. Perhaps then challenge for criminologists is to get this message out to those who still view justice as punishment to deter others, taking retributive glances back to the harms caused and justifying the rhetoric of control as a means to solve the problem of crime.
The theme of the political and economic contexts in which crime and the response to it occurs was then picked up by Will Hutton. He outlined the ‘near perfect storm’ of the political and social disaster of the new right project, which has seen pervasive and long term inequalities leading to what Dr Mary Corcoran described as ‘weakening civil society.’ The acceptance of contemporary forms capitalism across the board of policy makers, politicians, the media and citizens, which Dr James Treadwell described as ‘capitalism on steroids’ has now demanded attention by criminologists. Recent events have seen high profile political figures retreat from their responsibilities, even in the face of a victorious (in the eyes of Gove, Johnson, Farage et al) referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU), in a campaign which dismissed the word of ‘experts’ and which has gambled with social and economic policy. The divisive reactions from citizens focusing their frustration and anger on immigration and the role of the EU is disturbing, but not surprising. Given that it is the experts, the researchers and academics across the country who can provide evidence on what works, for whom and why, criminology has its place in using research to examine the details of how crime and justice affects individuals and communities, whilst also understanding how social structures and political ideologies inform policy, practice and perceptions of crime and justice.
Both plenaries have provided some interesting themes for the conference, so, if anyone at the conference is reading this, do keep tweeting!
BOWEN, P. and WHITEHEAD, S. (2013) Better courts: Cutting crime through court innovation, New Economics Foundation and Centre for Justice Innovation.
DONOGHUE, J. (2014). Transforming Criminal Justice?: Problem-Solving and Court Specialisation. Routledge.
MAIR, G. and MILLINGS, M. (2011) Doing Justice Locally: The North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, London.
WARD, J. (2014) Are problem-solving courts the way forward for justice? London: Howard League for Penal Reform.
WOLF, R.V. (2007) Principles of Problem Solving Justice, Center for Court Innovation, New York: Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Picture credit to Claire Davis BSC PG Chair @ClaireDavisPHD.
Tweet Susie your thoughts @SusieAtherton and follow the conference hash-tag #BSCConf16.