I can't be bothered with why it's all the 1960s fault either, Norm. And I've been dismantling a greenhouse - somewhat tired. So here's an old bulletin board post and a few useful links.
Liberals say that crime has been falling since 1995 and that those who worry about it are guilty of ‘moral panic’. They quote approvingly the Guardian’s favourite criminologist Jock Young, of Middlesex University (formerly Hounslow Technical College).
Two teensy pointettes – it is true that overall crime has been falling since 1995, in line with the increased use of imprisonment pioneered, against the advice of the entire liberal establishment, by Michael Howard. It is the continuation of this policy by Jack Straw and David Blunkett which is deplored by the Guardianistas.
Jock Young was one of the first criminologists to accept that rising crime (1960-1990) was a reality rather than the result of ‘moral panic’. Despite this, he’s in the forefront of the ‘prison doesn’t work’ brigade. Those who wish to read more of him than a Guardian article are recommended to read his chapter in the book ‘Does Prison Work’ (available from www.civitas.org.uk) in which two anti-prison sociologists debate crime and punishment with two realists. I don’t find his arguments convincing – he’s VERY selective in his use of data and has that leftish propensity to avoid a losing argument by concentrating on the (perceived) political beliefs of his opponent.
One large pointette – the idiotic idea that people concerned about crime are guilty of ‘moral panic’. Overall crime has fallen since 1995 (though violent crimes including homicide have increased), but crime is still at historically unprecedented levels. At the Office of National Statistics there were in 2002 a few Jubilee pages comparing life in 1952 with 2002. The page on crime showed it’s running at something like 10 times 1952 levels (and the number of prisoners has doubled).
I wrote some time ago on another website
Stay in Denial - the way to keep your idealism.
The pro-criminal lobby have reacted to the enormous growth in crime over the last 50 years with three distinct and successive strategies, the Three Stages of Denial.
First, they denied that crime had increased at all - society was merely in the grip of periodic 'moral panic' on the part of the old or ill-informed, aided and abetted by those sinister forces in society (the Daily Mail again ?) who wanted more power for the police. The old had always criticised the morality of the young throughout history - therefore concerns about crime were not justified and were a cultural phenomenon - the result of the old failing to accept the new-found freedoms of the young. This argument was common in the 1970's - Stanley Cohen's book 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics' is a typical and influential example.
But as the 1970s rolled on the inexorable increase in crime figures could not be ignored - a new explanation was necessary. So secondly, it was conceded that reported crime had increased, but that this was not due to changes in the actual crime rate, but due to changes in society. 'More people have phones, so it's easier to report'. 'More people have insurance, and so must report offences which they previously wouldn't have reported'. 'People report crimes now which they would have accepted in past times'. 'The police are inflating the figures to justify demanding increased resources'. The riots of the 1980s and 1990s and the flood of reports from the inner-city terraced streets and edge of town estates provided the evidence which finally killed this 'theory'. To quote Norman Dennis, 'by the mid-1990s ... the pernicious consensus was crumbling under the sheer weight of the facts that contradicted it'. It had only taken 25 years, years of unremitting rises in crime, for the fact of increased crime to sink in. But hang on, it couldn't be the criminals' fault. Whose fault was it, then ?
Suddenly there was an avalanche of theories designed to explain the rise in crime that had previously been denied. Bad housing, unemployment, the design of estates - all manner of physical, mechanistic explanations for crime. And the greatest of these was poverty. From the Church of England's 'Faith in the City' report in 1986 to the many reports of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group, the message, put simply, was 'they thieve because they're poor'. And there was great political utility in this view during the Thatcher years. The same people on the 'left' who in the 1970s had characterised paid employment as soulless capitalist wage-slavery, the cause of alienation, suddenly decided that paid employment was a basic human right the ABSENCE of which caused alienation, of which crime was one symptom. Again put simply, the answer to the question 'whose fault was it, then ?' was 'THATCHER !'. So we have the third stage of denial - that yes, there is a lot of crime, but a) it's caused by poverty and our unjust society b) nothing can be done about it without relieving poverty/creating social justice.
There is only one problem with this view - it's contradicted by all the evidence. The evidence in favour of the view is basically - 'many criminals are poor, therefore poverty causes crime'. Unfortunately our great-grandparents (or grandparents if you're decrepit as I am) lived in conditions of much greater poverty and committed practically no crime.
Ah, say the pro-criminals, but it's RELATIVE poverty that counts. Again, alas, relative poverty was greater in the 20's and 30's - and it was rapidly decreasing during the 60s and 70s when crime was rising fast. For a comprehensive demolition of the crime/poverty equation Norman Dennis' book 'The Invention of Permanent Poverty' available from www.civitas.org.uk is a rattling good read. But for the Howard League, NACRO and their many, many political allies it is is almost impossible to conceive of crime as being the result of rational decisions taken by rational if unpleasant people. It must always be someone else's fault. Personal responsibility isn't a concept they're terribly keen on.
'Rising Crime and the Dismembered Family' can be downloaded here
'The Invention of Permanent Poverty' can be purchased here
(you can never get anywhere, at any price, a product quite so thrilling
'Families without Fatherhood' may be downloaded here
Ray Mallon, Ray Bratton et al
- 'Zero Tolerance' may be downloaded here
'Underclass +10' here
Also see my Crime links.