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Social Wrongs and Human Rights in Late Modern Britain: Social Exclusion, Crime Control, and Prospects for a Public Criminology.

Setting the Scene: New Labour, Old Anxieties

IN WAYS ECHOING THE LATE-VICTORIAN TRANSITION FROM THE 19TH TO THE 20TH century, the late-modern anxieties of fin-de-siecle and new-century Britain [1] coalesce around themes of social exclusion, fear of crime, and questions about the morality and waywardness of young people. Sociopolitical images of "falling standards" and a "decline in moral values" are commonly expressed in the otherwise competing discourses of the new Labour government and the Conservative opposition, and find further representation in news features and editorials, TV documentaries and talk shows. The recurrence of such perceptions is now well established (Pearson, 1983) and hence we should, perhaps, not be surprised to see them ascendant again. However, for many people, it was hoped that a new Labour government, elected with a dramatic majority in 1997, would bring a new political vision. Intimations were that "New Labour" (as it had restyled itself) would be committed to addressing social exclusion and "social wrongs" and to championing social justice and human rights. As the political parties and media sta rt to prepare for the next election, this essay reviews aspects of Labour's period of office, particularly in relation to criminal justice, and places developments and debates in recent historical, as well as comparative, contexts.

Since the early 1980s, complex concerns have repeatedly been addressed by Conservative and now New Labour administrations through appeals to nostalgia and promises to recreate the safety, security, and reasons to "feel good" of earlier decades (Young, 1999: 49-50). The Conservatives promised a "Back to Basics" return to the moral values of a more settled, orderly, and consensual past, but then faced an embarrassment of rich news stories about the moral failings of senior members of their own government. Under New Labour, Prime Minister Tony Blair has shown a fondness for speeches that political commentators compare to the kind of moralizing sermons one would expect to hear from the Church pulpit -- satisfyingly reassuring that values are still important, but nonthreatening in their implications for the converted of the congregation. Perhaps intended for a different audience, early on in its administration, New Labour's spin doctors and supportive media promoted the vision of a new Cool Britannia, an idea har king back to an earlier period, the 1960s. This was a time when postwar renewal was achieved and now Britain was experiencing cultural excitement and economic prosperity, coupled with (measured and controlled) liberal social reforms, all of which reflected well on the Labour government of the day.

It is obviously attractive to political parties to find that they can woo voters with comforting promises of a return to less-troubled times. Even New Labour's declaration that it is the party of "modernization" carefully adds that this is to be achieved by valuing and building upon the strengths of tradition. Such promises are contradictory and unrealistic. They appeal to images of the past that are now so reconstructed by memory and media that these have become edited versions of history, repackaged by a thriving nostalgia industry (McQuire, 1997). Inevitably, the realities of crime and victimization in the here and now remain unchanged, and invariably governments--of the Right and now the Left--turn to calls for "more policing, more law, more punishment" as "the answer." This social policy prescription for crime control represents one of the clearest areas in which political convergence between the Right and Left has occurred in British politics. In 1997, at his first Party Conference as home secretary of the new Labour government, Jack Straw told delegates: "We said we would make Labour the party of law and order. And we did." Since this title had previously been the proud claim of the Conservative governments of the 1980s and early 1990s, some on the Left complained that they could see little difference between the criminal justice policies of the new government and those of their predecessors. Notwithstanding New Labour's acknowledgment of links between social conditions and crime and its creation of the Social Exclusion Unit as a policy task force to address issues of social deprivation and community disadvantage, the continuation of a populist punitive approach has been evident (Criminal Justice Matters, 1999/2000). In the process, New Labour runs the risk of perpetuating what Brownlee (1998) has described as a "punishment deficit," which comes from a mismatch between supply and demand regarding forms of punishment that will (supposedly) make society safer. The contradictions between "getting tough" on c rime and the other main strand of penal policy, securing greater efficiencies and economies (since rehabilitation is no longer an aim), are therefore apparent:

Political rhetoric which...prioritizes an aggressive and unmistakably punitive response to even middle-order and petty offending (the so-called "zero-tolerance" approach) serves primarily to stimulate a "taste" in the public for punishment. Once excited, this desire can become insatiable, as appears to have happened in the United States of America.... In the end, by continuing to allow the prison population to expand, therefore, the recourse to populist punitive "solutions" merely reproduces the very pressures upon the system which provoked the move to actuarial justice and the abandonment of more reintegrative strategies in the first place, threatening to bring into even starker relief the limitations and inequities inherent in that approach (Brownlee, 1998: 327).

The Prison as a Political Barometer

In malting sense of late-modern tensions in criminal justice policy, imprisonment provides us with a stark barometer of the condition of democracy in society. This point has long been recognized, for as de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s, while "the United States gives the example of the most extended liberty, the prisons of that same country offer the spectacle of the most complete despotism" (cited in Garland, 1990: 11). More recently, Bauman (1995: 205) has argued that the massive experiment with incarceration underway in the USA since the early 1970s is a "totalitarian solution without a totalitarian state." That over one in three young, urban, black males are under some form of criminal justice supervision (Mauer, 1997) has usually been characterized as an instance of "American exceptionalism." In this sense, it is taken as evidence of the continuing presence of urban apartheid, the destruction wrought by the war on drugs, the success of the intellectual campaign mounted by the Right against the Civil Rights Movement, and the dramatic shift in public expenditure from welfare provision to the penal estate.

However, similar processes are also occurring across Western Europe. For example, the prison population in England and Wales, which represented the highest rate of imprisonment per capita in Europe at the end of the 20th century, is expected to reach 82,800 in 2005. In particular, young second-generation Afro-Caribbean men are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than are their white or Asian counterparts, while West Indian women are 10 time more likely to be imprisoned in Britain than are white females (Wacquant, 1999: 216). Wacquant suggests that similar figures can be found for Turks and Gypsies in Germany, or Tunisians and Albanians in Italy. His argument is that the non-European foreigner has become a "suitable enemy" (Christie, 1986): both a symbol of, and target for, all social anxieties and thus legitimating the drift toward the penal management of poverty (a point to which we shall return).

Of course, all of this is not occurring on the same scale as within the North American experience. What we wish to emphasize is that there are shared tendencies at work on either side of the Atlantic. These would include governmental faith in the freedom of the market, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the criminalization of poverty. We will argue that these tendencies raise fundamental questions about the nature of social justice in Western societies, specifically regarding the human rights and civil liberties costs of exiling "the outcasts," of the denial of basic rights of citizenship, and of the increasing number of those in poverty who are excluded from participation in societies where measures of individual worth are increasingly expressed in terms of legitimately resourced consumerism. However, although that situation represents the grand pattern of penal policy, closer examination of contemporary developments reveals contradiction rather than coherence (O'Malley, 1999). There is nothing parti cularly new in these various late-modern tensions and contradictions (Carrabine, 2000); rather, they represent the persistence of a key and monotonous message of modernity -- "those that have shall get, those that have not shall not."

An example of these tensions and conflicts within late-modern penal practice is the way in which incapacitation (the heart of old-style penal policy) is at marked odds with the development of new-style incentive and "enterprise" schemes in prisons. In many respects, incapacitation represents the moral exhaustion of the philosophical justification for punishment, as the practice amounts to little more than the "warehousing" of prisoners. The human character of the offender is not recognized and the reasons for offending are not addressed in any fundamental way, as this is viewed as a pointless exercise. From this position, the "warehousing" of prisoners is considered to be an important aim of imprisonment in and of itself. It seemed astonishing to liberals and the Left when in the early 1990s, Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard forwarded his view that imprisonment is justified because "it works," that is, simply by removing offenders from society and thereby their capacity to commit further crimes. In fact, even if one focuses simply on incapacitation effects, official research suggests that even a 25% increase in the prison population would be unlikely to produce more than a marginal reduction of one percent in the crime rate (The Guardian, October 15, 1993). Not only does the incapacitation strategy fail to "work," it also offends against human rights. The conditions in some British prisons and their denial of prisoners' basic rights (such as association with others or access to exercise and daylight) have been attacked by Amnesty International (1998) as amounting to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

By contrast, under certain penal regimes, there have been recent developments aimed at creating "enterprising prisoners" (Garland, 1997; O'Malley, 1999), in which the prisoner is regarded as an "active subject" in the government of their confinement. Garland's (1997: 191-192) discussion of the Personal Development File, developed by the Scottish Prison Service, or the introduction of "earned privilege" schemes in English prisons (Liebling et al., 1997), would be examples of techniques aimed at shaping the "responsible" prisoner, albeit in alignment with the institutional requirements of the authorities. Such rehabilitative approaches may be reminiscent of earlier, behaviorist-based reward and incentive schemes, frequently criticized by Marxist or Foucauldian-inspired commentators (Cohen, 1995). Nevertheless, the important point in terms of trying to identify and deliver a more just and human penal system is that (albeit at a very basic level) the prisoner's agency is denied articulation in "incapacitation" p olicies, whereas the notion of "enterprise" implies valuing individual volition on the part of prisoners.

O'Malley (1999) provides a useful guide to three accounts seeking to explain tensions in contemporary penal practice. One is Garland's (1996) contention that governments recognize their limitations in dealing with crime control, yet deploy punitive strategies to reinforce the message about the state's commitment to addressing the problem. This leads to two contradictory administrative criminologies -- "of the self" and "of the other." In the former, crime is characterized as a regrettable, but manageable, instance of everyday life, while in the latter it is regarded as "a product of personal and social monstrousness requiring punitive state intervention" (O'Malley, 1999: 181). Garland (1996) highlights how one potent contradiction in crime control policy has been politically resolved, yet others do not easily fit into his scheme. Notably, why and how has there been a resurrection of forms of crime control based on nostalgia?

Simon (1995) offers an alternative explanation of the incoherent nature of contemporary penal policy, arguing that the assumptions underpinning modern penality have ruptured and may even have been destroyed with the advent of "postmodern penality" and the disintegration of modernist certainties. An important element of the resulting uncertainties and anxieties is a "willful nostalgia" for older forms of regulation, such as the resurrection of Boot Camps and chain gangs in the USA and legislation for curfew laws under New Labour in Britain. However, the argument does not resolve other questions and the phenomenon of postmodernized nostalgia cannot explain fresh developments that contribute to the incoherence of contemporary criminal justice policy. [2]

Recognizing this, O'Malley (1999: 185) argues that a revised understanding of neoliberalism can account for the variety of such diverse and contradictory forms of punishment as incapacitative warehousing, disciplinary retribution, prisoner enterprise, reintegrative shaming, and negotiated restitution. In such a revisionist account, it is necessary to recognize that neoliberalism is not a single, unified political rationality. Rather, it encompasses social authoritarianism (with an emphasis on order, discipline, and traditional forms of obligation) as well as free market individualism (which expounds autonomy, enterprise, and the significance of innovation). In other words, neoliberalism is an alliance between competing discourses on the nature of governance that finds its most obvious expression in a dislike of welfarism. This terrain is not solely the province of the Right, as fractions of the Left can be equally vocal in their skepticism about new interventions aiming to make a difference, which explains w hy New Labour represents a continuation of the tensions in criminal justice policy rather than a transformed horizon of possibilities. We will return to the implications of O'Malley's (1999) diagnosis later. For now, we wish to maintain the momentum of our overview of key sites of criminal justice.

The Police and Policing

The horizons or limits (depending on how you look at it) of New Labour's penal imagination are also apparent in their endorsement of "zero tolerance" policing, as popularized by the previous Conservative government. Zero tolerance as an American invention refers to the intensive community policing strategies that were introduced in New York in the mid-1990s. The strategy is based on the principle that by clamping down on minor street offenses and incivilities, more serious offenses will be curtailed. In Britain, as in the USA, this often translates into more intensive policing or specific operations against underage smoking and drinking, obstruction by street traders, public urination, graffiti writing, and the arrest or moving on of aggressive beggars, prostitutes, pickpockets, fare dodgers, "squeegee merchants," abusive drunks, litter louts, and so on. In part, the strategy is based on Wilson and Kelling's (1982) neoconservative proposition that if climates of disorder are allowed to develop, then more ser ious crime will follow. Politicians from government and opposition, as well as prominent senior police officials, have argued that the approach is a success, reducing rates of robbery and murder. Critics, however, question the precise reasons for any decline in crime rates, and the efficacy of the zero tolerance strategy overall. Among the skeptics are other senior police officers who recognize that a zero-tolerance approach to tacking low-level disorder and incivilities is "narrow, aggressive, and uncompromising and, by its very nature, targets people rather than addresses the underlying problems" (NACRO, 1997: 18).

Giving a high profile to a zero-tolerance policy is, of course, a neat "sleight-of-hand" conjuring trick, for it diverts attention from numerous other pressing concerns regarding policing and criminal justice in general. Zero tolerance does nothing to address issues related to the racialization of law and order, which routinely produces high rates of "stop-and-search," and of arrests, prosecutions, and the use of custody for Afro-Caribbean youth. Overall, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than are white people (Home Office, 1999). As Lea (2000) argues, the increasing use of "stop-and-search" by the police, while the proportion of stops actually leading to arrests for crimes has declined, indicates the importance of the role of police surveillance of the excluded and the threatening:

figures suggest that stop and search is anything but a useful method of apprehending criminal offenders. It may, however, have other purposes.... This function [of generalized surveillance by] the police is again becoming prominent with the growth of social exclusion and a substantial underclass of people with high rates of poverty, homelessness, school expulsions, etc.

This over-policing of particular sections of society has serious implications, especially against a background of continuing revelations about police misconduct and abuses of power. During the last decades of the 20th century and continuing today, the credibility of the police has been seriously undermined by many revelations of miscarriages of justice (where police suppressed evidence and/or willfully prosecuted the wrong parties), as well as cases involving other forms of police misconduct and corruption. In 1998, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police acknowledged that there may be up to 250 corrupt officers serving in his force, which suggests that the pursuit of an unknown number of criminal investigations may be seriously compromised. In response, a special squad of anticorruption investigators, including accountants and private surveillance experts, was established to target officers believed to be implicated in offenses that include planning and carrying out armed robberies, large-scale drug dea ling, threats of violence against the public, and contract killings.

The failure of the state to provide effective legal mechanisms to deal with allegations of police abuse, coupled with the large number of successful claims against the police for civil damages or substantial out-of-court settlements paid by them, have attracted the attention of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ECPT, 2000). The ECPT Report was highly critical of the existing system of dealing with police misconduct, which has often resulted in police officers not being brought to justice even when victims have been awarded damages. Even in cases where there may be prima facie evidence of the nature and gravity of police abuses, it is rare for criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings to be brought. It is even rarer for police officers to be convicted of a criminal offense as a result of an investigation arising out of a complaint.

Institutional Racism, Human Rights, and the Police

In 1999, an out-of-court compensation payment by the Metropolitan Police to Winston Silcott (a black man wrongly prosecuted for the murder at the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot of a white police constable, Keith Blakelock) was welcomed by Silcott's family, support groups and the liberal press, but according to news reports, also generated a "backlash" among rank-and-file police officers who saw the award as "pandering to the race lobby" (The Independent on Sunday, October 17, 1999: 8). This defensive reaction from within the police service reflects a new context in which their performance has come under scrutiny. Significantly, injustice related to police actions (or in some important cases, their inaction) regarding ethnic minorities has become anew focus for examining police failings. This has followed from the shameful police mishandling of one, particular, landmark case.

On April 22, 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a young black teenager, was stabbed to death in a racist attack carried out by a group of white youths in south London. The police investigation was flawed in many respects, and serious allegations of racism, corruption, and collusion between the police and criminal families in south London were made regarding the police failure to bring the murderers to justice. Following relentless campaigning, a private prosecution by the Lawrence family, a flawed internal review by the police, an inquest, and a Police Complaints Authority investigation, in 1998 the new Labour government launched a judicial inquiry led by a former High Court judge, Sir William Macpherson. The inquiry was the first major government-sponsored but independent investigation into policing and "race" since the Scarman Inquiry (1981) concerning the inner-city riots of the 1980s. The Macpherson Report (1999) details a catalogue of errors made during the murder investigation. These included basic faults in poli ce procedure, poor detective skills, missing paperwork, and confusion among the police about their legal powers and over the relevance and definition of a particular category of crime investigations -- that of "racial incident." Official guidelines are laid down to define the latter and ensure that cases involving racism receive appropriate priority and attention. In the Lawrence case, police were either unaware of, or ignored, such guidance. Macpherson's report found that the police investigation was marred by "a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism, and a failure of leadership by senior officers" (para.46.1). This was a devastating indictment of the police force and the implications of the conclusions to the Report are considerable, not least in the suggestion that "institutional racism" is pervasive within the Metropolitan Police (and, by extension, elsewhere).

Clearly, spaces for drawing attention to and remedying inequalities in provision of police protection have been created by the voices and actions of victims themselves (whether of police incompetence, misconduct, or neglect). Various reports and legal judgments regarding miscarriages of justice, as well as Macpherson, have contributed to creating a critical agenda (McLaughlin and Murji, 1999). Yet the sad fact is that such issues have been much publicized for well over two decades now, with very little effect either on policing policy or practices. For example, the record of deaths in police custody continues to create concern, attracting the attention of Amnesty International (1999) and the United Nations Committee Against Torture (1998). According to the government report, "Deaths in Police Custody: Learning the Lessons" (July 1998), about 380 people died after arrest by police between January 1990 and December 1996. Alarmingly, people in the custody of the London Metropolitan Police were seven times more likely to die than were those arrested by other forces in England and Wales. Six percent of the deaths studied "may have been associated with police restraint." This is a cautious official figure disputed by critics, for even within these confines of caution, the record is cause for concern given that 13% of those who died were black, which exceeds the proportion of black people in the general population.

Given this history of institutional failure and worrying abuse of powers and of people, what new remedies or perspectives might be developed to help promote a more favorable environment for change? Of significance here may be the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the claim of the police to have immunity against negligence claims breaches the European Convention on Human Rights:

This ruling does not mean that the police will have to pay compensation every time they fail to prevent a burglary. It does mean that when the police are aware of a real threat to life or limb, they are under a legal duty to protect that individual (The Guardian, October 29, 1998).

Importantly, both specifically within the police, and throughout the criminal justice system, the promotion of a human rights discourse could help ensure that the spaces opened up by the Macpherson inquiry are not closed down. Threats to such spaces follow both from backlash and from the narrowness of the reformist agenda emanating from the police and the Home Office. We next explore how a broader human rights discussion might engage with contemporary criminal justice and political issues in Britain.

Human Rights and Civil Liberties

The 1997 Election Manifesto produced by the Labour Party included a pledge to introduce a Freedom of Information Act and generally espoused the promotion of open and ethical government. In office, enthusiasm for such ideas seems to have waned. This is important, for in the 21st-century information society, more than ever before, "knowledge is power" (Foucault, 1977). If the government continues to backtrack and remains slow to deliver on promises to increase public access to information about the process of government, it will -- and rightly should -- lose some of its democratic credibility. The latter is clearly important to New Labour, as reflected in their introduction of the Human Rights Act (passed in November 1998, in effect from October 2000), which is intended to signal a commitment to equal treatment, justice, and freedom from unwarranted state interference. The act incorporates the majority of provisions in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into the domestic law of the U.K. [3] Presently, the U.K. is bound to give effect to the Convention merely as a matter of international law, which means individuals and other states complaining of a breach by the U.K. government can only bring proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. Under the Human Rights Act, public authorities (including the police, prisons, immigration authorities, courts and tribunals, etc.) will be required to exercise their powers in a way that is compatible with the Convention, and individuals will be able to challenge the acts or omissions of a public authority in the U.K. courts. Among other matters, the Human Rights Act incorporates the prohibition against torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as set out in Article 3 of the European Convention.

Suggestively, some see a commitment to human rights as reflecting an accommodation of trends associated with postmodernism. This involves the need to recognize a shift of power away from sovereign states and toward acknowledgment of multinational (e.g., European Union) and global (e.g., United Nations) sources of direction and standards about what national criminal justice systems can and cannot do, or at least, should and should not do. However, the late-modern reality is that individual states, such as the U.K. and the USA, may "sign up" to such universal visions at the level of high international policy, yet continue to pursue a set of domestic practices that are at odds with human rights aspirations.

One of the most flagrant offenders in this regard is the USA, a particularly vocal source of criticism and instruction to less economically developed nations about how to reform their human rights records, and yet a nation that makes increasing use of the death penalty and permits penal practices like chain gangs. It is somewhat ironic that a civilized and liberal state that sees itself as a champion of liberty should be condemned by organizations like Human Rights Watch (1993: 247; South and Weiss, 1998: 9-12) for being "among the world leaders" in the use of imprisonment. Yet the U.K. has also had a dismal human rights record in recent decades. Criticism from national and international watchdog bodies has been directed at violations of human rights in prisons, cases of use of restraints on those arrested on suspicion of illegal immigration, and in relation to emergency legislation and forms of army activity in Northern Ireland. Interrogation methods of the British security forces in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, such as prolonged wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, sleep deprivation, and reduction in diet, have been found to violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite its introduction of the Human Rights Act, the post-1997 Labour government has certainly not been immune from criticism. Various commentators see developments in past and recent criminal justice policy as contrary to a human rights agenda and as endangering civil liberties. Among various criticisms, we cite just a few. The use of U.S.-style police batons has been deplored as evidence of the increasing militarization of the "traditional" officer, while adoption of CS gas spray by the police is increasingly controversial following reports of deaths said to be connected to improper use of the weapon. The extension of police powers has been criticized. The 1997 Police Act gave police powers similar to the Security Service (MI5) to employ hidden cameras and microphones in cases involving serious criminal activity -- having set the legislation and precedent in place, the definition of "serious criminal activity" becomes a matter of flexible interpretation. A new national database, to hold over three million DNA samples from active criminals, is under development, raising fears among civil liberties experts that this is "the thin end of the wedge." The National Criminal Intelligence Service (established in 1992), which has incrementally incorporated several formerly distinct databases, is now supported by a new operational agency, the National Crime Squad, and in relation to organized crime and drug trafficking, by the Security Service. This creates a very powerful yet largely invisible and highly centralized information-led, elite tier of policing.

Social Exclusion and Social Justice

Late-modern British politics, public anxieties, and media coverage of both reflect tensions and contradictions: fears from the past alongside nostalgia, postmillennial aspirations alongside fears of new threats. Social justice and human rights fit within the agenda of aspirations. However, the obstacles set in place by other contemporary forces are not easily overcome, as our description of criminal justice policy and practice illustrates. We argue here for a rethinking of appropriate political and policy perspectives that should influence the level of applied practice. Two related propositions are advanced. The first involves the reclaiming and reinvigoration of a notion of social justice appropriate to late-modern politics and the second takes an established proposition for a "political criminology" (Carlen, 1996) and elaborates it further to contribute to a proposal for a "public criminology." Let us first return to our earlier discussion of O'Malley (1999).

Even if we accept that O'Malley (1999) has correctly identified the reasons for the incoherence of contemporary penality, this sort of analysis leaves us with little more than the weary limits of this form of sociological diagnosis. It might help us to explain the world, but it does not inform us of how we might challenge or change it. We argue that one potential way forward is to reclaim and revitalize the idea of social justice. "Social Justice" as an idea needs to be reclaimed, because there are very good reasons why the notion has fallen out of favor. Poststructuralist critiques of totalizing discourses have been vital in this respect, demonstrating the hollowness of previous invocations of justice. As Harvey (1996: 342) writes:

too many colonial peoples have suffered at the hands of western imperialism's particular justice, too many African-Americans have suffered at the hands of white man's justice, too many women from the

justice imposed by a patriarchal order and too many workers from the justice imposed by capitalists, to make the concept [of social justice] anything other than problematic.

Nonetheless, we would assert that past problems with the concept do not mean the idea is without value. Of course, there are numerous theories of social justice, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Here, however, we wish to argue that a critique of universalism should not automatically mean that struggles over justice should only be reserved for local arenas of action (as, for example, Foucauldian analysis might advocate).

One way around this is to think globally and comparatively. For example, the fact that Japan has one of the world's lowest incarceration rates means that not every society has followed the penal politics of the United States or Western Europe. Obviously, there are dangers of cultural relativism in making such comparisons. [4] However, that Japan has one of the more egalitarian distributions of wealth and is a particularly "inclusive" form of society might tell us something about the relationships between crime and punishment, democracy and inequality. Another way in which we might rethink social justice is through a serious assessment of the criminalization of poverty.

Homelessness and Poverty in Britain

By the mid-1990s, some 150,000 to 250,000 young people became homeless every year in Britain (Muncie, 1999: 226). Although the reasons for becoming homeless are diverse, the dismantling of state welfare has been a key cause. Important elements would include the housing expenditure cuts in the early 1980s, the denial of welfare benefits to 16 and 17 year olds in the late 1980s, and the steep increases in youth unemployment. The New Labour government's commitment to fiscal prudence is commendable in some respects, insofar as it tries to avoid the cycles of "boom and bust" that generate uncertainties about jobs, housing, welfare, and savings. Yet this policy also means that with the exception of measures concerned with social exclusion and the introduction of a national minimum wage, the labor market is being left to its own devices. For those on the margins, McDonaldization and casualization (Ritzer, 1993) have transformed the kinds of opportunities available; traditional bases of masculinity in working-class communities have been eroded (some may argue for the better, others point to the uncertainties that follow; Campbell, 1993; Jefferson, 1997); and the gap between benefit entitlements and realistic standards of living in a consumer-oriented society is widening, with quite obvious implications in terms of the relative deprivation thesis (Runciman, 1966; Young, 1999). For some, involvement in the irregular economy (Auld et al., 1986; Ruggiero and South, 1997) and criminality becomes attractive or perhaps inevitable. Society continues to polarize: first, between the "excessively rich" and the "rest of us," while the "rest of us" then polarize between the "comfortable" and the "poor who get poorer." Some commentators have described the working-age population of the U.K. as the divided "40:30:30" society (Hutton, 1995), in which only 40% of the population have secure employment, while the other 60% are, more or less equally, split between those in insecure employment and those who are unemployed and excluded. Inequ alities have widened and continue to do so.

Youth homelessness is not new, and in historical terms the rise of urban society has always been associated with the expulsion to the margins of various groups that include young people (the mentally ill, troubled/troublesome youth, pregnant young women expelled from the family home, etc.). Significantly, the legacy of this history of reaction to shame and undesirability is still with us. As a millennial phenomenon, youth homelessness is at an all-time high and is now caught up in tensions between persisting premodern fears of disease and contamination associated with wanderers and travelers, modern systems of welfare regulation and discipline, and postmodern potentials regarding creative identities and risk (Carlen, 1996: 6). In many ways this conflation of tensions explains why the sight of the homeless on the streets stirs up ambivalent feelings, which (generally) range from pity and guilt to threat and irritation. [5] As we have argued, the dismantling of the welfare state is one troubling tendency in la te-modern societies. An associated tendency is the criminalization of poverty. In 1994, John Major, then prime minister, launched an attack on "offensive beggars," claiming that "there is no justification for [begging] these days" and calling for a more uncompromising application of the law. [6] The following year, Jack Straw, then opposition party spokesperson on criminal justice, echoed these sentiments and urged that the streets be cleared of the "aggressive begging of winos, addicts, and squeegee merchants" (Muncie, 1999: 229).

In contrast to these authoritarian responses to homelessness, Carlen's (1996: 1) call for a "political criminology" is one we would endorse and wish to take further. The key issue here is the denial of citizenship rights to those excluded from participation in, or receipt of, the benefits of contemporary consumer society. As Carlen (1996: 124) observes:

Young homeless people are a threat to society not because of their minor lawbreaking activities, but because the economic, ideological, and political conditions of their existence are indicative of the widening gap between the moral pretensions of liberal democratic societies and the shabby life chances on offer to the children of the already poor.

To take this idea of a "political criminology" further, we agree with Carlen's emphasis upon engagement with citizenship rights and moral indifference, but would express this in a set of propositions for a "public criminology." This aim reflects a shift from narrower concerns with the politics of modernity and the critique of the state, to incorporation of these within a late-modern project of advocacy on behalf of "the public," against trends of exclusion and injustice, and for human rights and social justice.

As Young (1999) has argued, the contemporary nature of inequality engenders "both chronic deprivation amongst the poor which gives rise to crime and a precarious anxiety amongst those better off, which breeds intolerance and punitiveness toward the law breaker" (Ibid.: 8). Although Young is clearly correct in pointing to the significance of intolerance and its debilitating effects on social justice and citizenship, we would observe that moral indifference is an equally troubling facet of contemporary societies. This point has been recognized by Richard Sennett (1998:146) in his observations on the consequences of the new capitalism:

The system radiates indifference. It does so in terms of the outcomes of human striving, as in winner-take-all markets, where there is little connection between risk and reward. It radiates indifference in the organization of absence of trust, where there is no reason to be needed. And it does so in the reengineering of institutions in which people are treated as disposable. Such practices obviously and brutally diminish the sense of mattering as a person, of being necessary to others.

The notion of moral indifference was a central part of Bauman's (1989) explanation of the Holocaust and he argues that this indifference was produced by processes of authorization, routinization, and the dehumanization of the victims, in which bureaucratization played an essential role in the social production of moral indifference. Naturally, we would not compare present-day social exclusion to the horrors of the Holocaust. However, we would argue that the present-day criminalization of poverty is based on similar vocabularies of indifference or techniques of neutralization of responsibility and obligation to those that supported more totalitarian "solutions" to dealing with disposable sections of the public. Reflecting the late-modern standard of qualification for inclusion in society as being active and legitimate participation in consumerism, those who do not fulfill the criteria (because of poverty or their recourse to illegitimate means) are the unwanted -- to be disposed of (warehoused or dumped), dis persed, or perhaps "recycled" (rehabilitated) as legitimate citizens, all in ways analogous to society's treatment of its other "waste products." Quite simply, projects of managing poverty are no longer based on political and policy appeals to the public in the name of care and assistance, but are rooted in the discourses of ambivalence and condemnation. Similarly, the penal doctrine of incapacitation is devoid of any moral commitment to restoring the offender to citizenship: it is a strategy of containment and a discourse of denunciation. We would argue that a public criminology must engage with both moral indifference and intolerance, and the ways in which these are socially produced in market economies. The emerging human rights agenda and the need to revitalize and refine arguments for social justice arrive at a time of necessity, but also of opportunity.

Conclusion: Toward a Public Criminology

For Carlen (1996: 147), a "political criminology" would:

take seriously the contemporary asymmetries of citizenship which have helped spawn so many new, different, and dissenting lifestyles and moralities [and] then from [this] poststructuralist diversity...piece together a new social ethics -- a new ethics of citizenship for anew century.

This standpoint transcends the narrow boundaries of traditional criminology and finds roots for a new perspective and political and practical action in broader arenas of public policy concern -- homelessness, health, service provision, etc. -- while recognizing the importance of dissenting lifestyles and new expressions of citizenship. Nonetheless, this position is tied to late-20th-century strands of radical, feminist, and realist criminologies. Carlen' s work here (and elsewhere) is therefore an important synthesis of influential perspectives from the left in criminology. However, following from the themes and discussion above, we argue for taking a political criminology a step further, by retaining the achievement of Carlen's synthesis of theoretical positions and political critique, but articulating it in a way that takes it "back to the people." In other words, to reconceptualize a political criminology as a "public criminology." Here we can only outline what such a public criminology might look like. W hereas Carlen identifies the importance of citizenship, our proposal locates it as just one element of our concerns with social justice and human rights. A public criminology places these at the heart of theoretical and applied interventions that seek to make a difference and bring about change. It explicitly breaks boundaries and makes positive connections with other arenas of social action -- agendas for improving services for people and communities, local and national political debates that shape policy and social provision, and, crucially, with the means by which the "ordinary public," so often disillusioned and disempowered, can make claims for social justice and their human rights.

A public criminology would be "transparent," "applied" in orientation, evidence-based, and committed to empowerment and practical (not idealistic) change, as well as to social justice and human rights. We recognize that although transparency, whether in the political process, social action, or research and development initiatives, is always desirable, it is not always easy to achieve. Nonetheless, it remains a key goal in terms of public accountability. Our meaning of "applied" work does not mean abandoning theory, for theory will always inform political activity and debate, social action, and research and development projects. It means pursuing work that is applied to publicly relevant issues informed by theory and debate.

The idea of the "evidence-base" arises from movements within health and social care services to ensure that public money is spent effectively on interventions that work. This means reviewing evidence as part of a critical exercise regarding good and bad evidence (e.g., The Bell Curve [Herrnstein and Murray, 1994] is not based on good evidence). Since the political and policy successes of the Right, and regrettably also of Labour and Democrat governments, have so frequently been based on rhetoric and the dismissal (or at best, "convenient interpretation") of evidence (e.g., about "what works" in penal and policing policy), this principle of holding onto and emphasizing evidence that contradicts policy is important. Furthermore, the populism of punitive and exclusionary social policy is largely legitimized by the distorted version of evidence (or its suppression or denial) presented to the public by government and sympathetic media. Popularization of critical evidence about the realities of imprisonment, polic ing, racism, poverty, and the denial of justice is a key goal for a public criminology (and in this respect is similar to the idea of Newsmaking Criminology [see Barak, 1988]).

Empowerment, which is at the heart of a public criminology, means working for the ordinary public rather than for narrow political interests, and emphasizing social justice and human rights. An empowerment-orientated public criminology prioritizes the interests of the public person/s (individuals/communities) over interest groups that disempower people and cause and create conditions resulting in crime or other social injuries and hazards to health or the environment (South, 2000; 1998).

As a method of working toward these ends, a "practice-orientation" means that something practical should come of the research and debate that intellectuals and/or development-orientated activists engage in. Practical outcomes should be benign and promote and improve the quality of life and well-being, holistically understood.

Finally, in providing an inspirational and aspirational agenda for a public criminology appropriate to late modernity, we should not dismiss or forget past examples. Revisiting the work of C. Wright Mills is suggestive here, reminding us of Mills' passion for making good use of "the sociological imagination" and his advocacy of paying attention to empirical evidence while developing critical theory. Following Mills (1970), a public criminology should be committed to engagement with "public issues and private troubles."

The aims of undoing social wrongs and promoting social rights in the public and private spheres are not new. However, in the context of the Western trends and tensions discussed above, they seem to be in need of renewed impetus. This essay has explored why this is so, and our proposal for a public criminology is about taking information and evidence, power and action, "back to the people."

The authors all work in the Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, C04 3SQ, ENGLAND. DR. EAMONN CARRABINE is a Lecturer in Sociology at the Department, where his teaching and research interests lie in the fields of criminology and cultural studies. He is author of the forthcoming book, Power, Discourse, and Resistance: A Genealogy of the Strangeways Prison Riot. DR. MAGGY LEE teaches in the areas of criminology, gender studies, and drug issues. Recent works include Youth, Crime, and Police Work (1998) and "Drugs and Policing in Europe: From Low Streets to High Places" (with N. Dorn), in Drugs: Cultures, Controls, and Everyday Life (N. South, ed., 1999). PROFESSOR NIGEL SOUTH ( is a member of the Human Rights Centre and Director of the Health and Social Services Institute at the university. Recent books include co-editing with R. Weiss, Comparing Prison Systems (1998) and with P. Beirne, For a Green Criminology (1998), a special issue of Theoretical Criminology (Vol.2, No., 2), and Drugs: Cultures, Controls, and Everyday Life (N. South, ed., 1999).


(1.) This article focuses on England, Scotland, and Wales (Britain). The particular history and experience of Northern Ireland are beyond our scope here, although we do refer to examples of human rights violations there.

(2.) For instance, "community policing" partnerships have emerged that "see themselves as revolutionary adaptations to new social conditions, and as breaking out of the straitjacket of the past" (O'Malley, 1999: 183).

(3.) The European Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1950 partly as a response to the serious human rights violations Europe had witnessed before and during World War II. The idea was that the Convention would be a statement of the fundamental principles of liberty accepted by the countries of Western Europe, and would prevent future violations of human rights. The U.K. was one of its first signatories.

(4.) South and Weiss (1998), for example, point out that for those who are incarcerated, Japan's penal regime can be harsh.

(5.) Expression of the latter is caught in the comments of the Conservative government's Minister for Housing, Sir George Young, in 1992, when he described the homeless as "the sort of people one stepped over on the way out of the opera" (Jones, 1997: 99).

(6.) Begging is an offense under the 1824 Vagrancy Act and sleeping rough is punishable by a [pound]200 fine.


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Author:Carrabine, Eamonn; Lee, Maggy; South, Nigel
Publication:Social Justice
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Date:Jun 22, 2000
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