Criminology and Social Policy


Paul Knepper

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  • Front Matter
  • Part I: Theories and Concepts

    Part II: Policy Areas

    Part III: Emergent Issues

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    Criminology and Social Policy begins with the premise that what appear to be problems for crime policy are actually problems for social policy and aims to think through the challenges, dilemmas, and obstacles that arise in pursuit of this premise. The title refers to social policy, meaning an area of government intervention directed at improving social welfare. In nearly all occurrences, the term social policy is used in this sense. This book is not about what specialists in social policy have to say about crime and criminal justice. Except for one chapter, it does not offer a critique of crime policies from social policy perspectives. Instead, the focus is on social policy as a response to crime. Why do criminologists believe that social policy presents a better response to crime than criminal justice policy? What do criminologists have to say about major social policy areas – housing, health, education, and so on? Are criminologists right to make crime reduction a goal of social policy?

    These questions suggest the three major parts of the discussion. The chapters in Part I review theories and concepts within criminology relevant to the analysis of social policy. Chapter 1 deals with the extent to which criminologists should seek to integrate themselves in the policymaking process. Chapter 2 reviews four theoretical traditions about the relationship between crime and social policy, or, in the case of the fourth one, why there is no relationship. Chapter 3 pursues insights from social theory about how notions of class, ‘race’, and gender are embedded in popular discussions of poverty and crime. Part II reviews criminological research about major social policy areas. Chapter 4 deals with crime and housing policy, Chapter 5 with crime, health and education. Chapter 6 reviews research concerning unemployment and crime and Chapter 7 discusses family and youth policy. In Chapter 8, the focus is somewhat different. The chapter does not take up a social policy area but instead looks at the social policy implications of crime policies having to do with policing and prisons. Part III explores two larger issues concerning the conceptualisation of crime and social policy. Chapter 9 discusses the phenomenon of ‘criminalisation of social policy’ and Chapter 10 looks at the use of social justice as a guide to policy.

    British criminology has always had a strong welfarist tradition. It is a tradition that advocates the ‘welfare state solution’, the expansion of social policy as the primary response to crime. There has never really been a voice from the right within criminology calling for more police and prisons (Garland and

    Sparks, 2000: 194–5; Boutellier, 2004: 137–8). To challenge arguments for a ‘criminal justice solution’, British criminologists have addressed statements in policy documents advanced by political parties and their think tanks, or imported criminal-justice advocates from American criminology.

    There is a nagging worry in recent years, however, that welfarist criminology may have become obsolete. In the present era, the themes familiar to academic criminology have been supplanted by political and media images advancing risk, safety, anti-social behaviour, surveillance and the like. The welfare state solution has faded in political imagination and criminologists have less influence over the policymaking process than before. The gap between what criminologists know and what policymakers do has widened. At universities, this shift has been experienced, in symbol if not in substance, by the drift of students from social policy to criminology. Modules in criminology and social policy have become popular. The question before criminologists is whether to adopt ‘contemporary idiom’ in an effort to close the gap. To be relevant, criminologists may need to re-invent themselves, to set aside traditional welfare concerns and engage policymakers in terms established by media and politicians. This is, as Garland and Sparks (2000) put it, the ‘challenge of our times’.

    My suggestion is for criminology to re-invent the welfarist theme. To facilitate this, I outline the parameters of ‘criminology and social policy’ as a field of inquiry. The discussions review staple themes and recent scholarship; I bring together material from criminology and social policy journals alongside evocative themes from other disciplines. While the focus is on the British situation, I make strategic use of theories and examples produced in the American and European contexts. My specific task is to inquire about what happens when social policy is applied to crime reduction. By ‘what happens’ I mean something other than ‘what works’. Despite the summaries of research findings in various chapters, the most important questions to be resolved in this area are not empirical claims. Rather, the study of social policy in criminology brings moral considerations, political strategies, and concepts from social theory, as well as social-scientific research, to the policy response to crime. I like the idea of criminology as a reflexive policy science as described by Braithwaite (1993).

    The larger objective here is to argue for re-thinking the question of welfarist criminology. Criminologists have tended to offer social policy as a conclusion rather than a problem statement, as a final destination rather than a point of departure. It is one thing to follow up a critique of some aspect of criminal justice with the suggestion that social policy affords a better response. It is another to interrogate this conclusion, to recognize that genuine dilemmas arise in carrying it out and real harms come about in getting in wrong. The convergence of crime and social policy merits scrutiny. In the present era, the justification for more and more social welfare programmes has been stated in the language of crime reduction. It is appropriate and important to

    ask whether the goals of crime reduction and poverty reduction can be successfully joined within the same institutional framework; how it is that the introduction of crime reduction as a justification for social policy leads to better social policy.

    I set up this debate in the first two chapters and carry it through the policy chapters. Along the way I introduce a number of concepts for understanding the impact of social policies on crime: racialisation of crime, unintended effects of social policies, politicisation of interventions, moral dilemmas in policymaking, and externalities of crime policies. I also offer a number of propositions: that social policies work as crime reduction measures when they are not seen in this way; that delivering social welfare to particular populations because they are thought to be dangerous and threatening is not an appropriate justification; that efforts to blend social work and policing become policing … but I am getting ahead of the story. Criminology and social policy should investigate the possibility that making the welfare state into a solution for crime has diminished its capacity for improving social welfare.

    This book would not have come together in the way it did without advice and support from several people. Colleagues past and present, Clive Norris, Kevin Farnsworth, and Peter Johnstone, commented on chapters in various stages. Caroline Porter at Sage steered the project in more promising directions than I had first proposed. No doubt the final product would have been better if I had followed their advice more often than I have done. I also want to thank Cathryn Knepper for enduring my commentary on virtually every aspect of this book and for helping me to be a better person while writing it than I otherwise would have been.

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