Department of Law and Criminal Justice Studies
Level 5 Module
Theories and Techniques of Crime Control
Are there conflicts between the practical application of methods to control crime and criminological thinking concerning the reasons for criminality?
I would argue that there are conflicts between the practical application of methods to control crime and criminological thinking concerning the reasons for criminality. I will demonstrate this by analysing the concepts of left and right realism and explain their links with the politics of the left and the right. I will use changes in the political landscape from the Conservative era of the 1980s to the New Labour era of the late 1990s to highlight the differences in methods of crime control and criminal justice policy. I will finally juxtapose a selection of modern criminological theories which will highlight the difference between left and right criminological thinking.
Recent criminological thinking has developed two concepts of criminology which are known as Right Realism and Left Realism. The realism concepts moved away from just talking and theorising about crime, but actually provided potential solutions on how to deal with it. Although each concept has some similarities, they differ in terms of the causes of crime and how best to address it. (Williams 2004) Jock Young is one of the most prominent authors regarding Left Realism and he argues that there are four points of convergence between Left Realism and Right Realism: Both see crime as being a problem; both see the public’s fear of crime as having a rational basis, in contrast to left idealism and administrative criminology. Both believe that the reality of crime control has been misconceived, particularly the centrality between the public-police relationship. Both are realistic about what can be done about crime and the limitations of our present day knowledge. Neither disdains marginal gains, whilst both discount utopian solutions. Both emphasise the need for closely monitored research and intervention and are critical of the widespread tendency to ‘throw money’ at the crime problem without attempting to measure the cost.
(Young, 1994: 102)
(Walklate 2003) also argues that the birth of both realist approaches stem from the politics of the right and the left, with left realists having found more of an influence in the United Kingdom with authors such as Jock Young, Roger Matthews, Pat Carlen and John Lea being of significance. The right realists influence has been predominantly stronger in the United States with the central proponent of these views being James Q. Wilson, who was a former political advisor to the Reagan administration. (Jones 2009) Both of these realist concepts attempt to address the post war increase in crime even though in contrast the relative wealth and prosperity had continued to rise in the West. Right realism theorists see the criminal as a mere tool to the act and try to explain that the act is preordained either by internal biology, or by external forces of society or circumstance (Walklate 2003)
Right realism is sometimes known as neo-conservatism and one of the main components of this area of criminology is describing the offender as having free will. They argue that the offender makes an individual choice to commit crime and analysis largely focuses on street crime (including burglary). (Jones 2009)
With the Conservative Party coming to power in the UK in 1979, it is argued that the right realist views became the focus for ‘get tough’ policy initiatives in an effort to stem the real increase in crime. This meant increased imprisonment of adult offenders and an increase in the use of cautioning, especially for youth offenders. The emphasis was on personal responsibility and punishment. In the United Kingdom there was a 60% increase in the police budget and a massive prison building program (Walklate 2003). Richard Herrnstein...
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