Crm2500 – Criminology in late modernity
Priyesh Bhangoo – M00627199
Discuss one example of crime prevention or control inspired by right realist ideas, and one inspired by left realist ideas. Compare them, considering their strengths and weaknesses.
This essay will focus on the comparison between the strengths and weaknesses of both Right Realist and Left Realists ideas in regards to the control and prevention of crime. Realist Criminology emerged in the early 1980’s, in response to a decline in popularity for Marxist and Interactionist theories, and differed from the two as it took on a more pragmatic approach to crime reduction by working within the constraints of the social system. Rather than occupying themselves with the deeper and structural causes of crime such as poverty, Realist criminology created a newer approach that focused mainly on developing practical solutions in response to crime by working with the government, due to a fear of crime that had become more widespread within the public and was therefore taken into consideration more effectively. Between the 1970’s and 80’s, neoliberal governments were coming to power within both the UK and USA through ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganomics’. These types of governments had favored policies that had consumed less taxation which were intended to spur growth, however, due to the emergence of realist criminology the preservation of crime control and prevention became much stricter as there was an increased use of police, in addition to tougher approaches towards offenders to keep crime rates at an acceptable standard.
Realist Criminology can be split into two types – Left and Right. Although they share an understanding for a stricter approach to offenders and take more of a focus on the practical solutions to crime, they also have noteworthy differences in terms of the reduction and prevention of crime, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Right Realists believe that an individual who commits a crime is solely responsible for his/her actions, and therefore reject the Marxist idea that poverty, or other structural causes of crime such as capitalism, has barely any part to play of an individual’s actions and ultimately argue that a harsher approach on criminals would serve well to reduce crime. Right Realism is known to be associated with Margaret Thatcher whilst being strongly influenced by the political stance known as ‘Thatcherism’, and a right-winged neoliberal government which had come into power in the late 70’s. Right Realism accepts the correlation between low levels of ‘Social Control’ and high levels of ‘Social Disorder’ which can be linked with a rise in crime rates, however, the cause of crime is explained with both the ‘Rational Choice Theory’, the idea that crime is ultimately based upon individual choice in which individuals have chosen to commit a crime, and the Broken Windows Theory, which simply views signs of disorder and lack of concern for other individuals as ‘broken windows’ that need to be addressed to allow society to become more appealing, if left unrepaired it could be inferred as a form of tolerating criminal behavior. In addition to these two theories, Right Realism associates itself with Charles Murray’s ‘Underclass Theory’, an identification of the ‘Underclass’ who contribute to deviant behavior and create criminal values, Murray (1990) uses this theory to describe how members of the underclass contribute towards criminal activities as it was believed that too much lenience was given towards criminals in addition to the extensive treatment of the unemployed which ultimately passed down a culture of ‘Worklessness’ through later generations as a result of the Underclass’s inability to teach their children the correct norms and values associated with a law-abiding citizen, therefore suggesting that the deviant behavior individuals partake in within the present society is a result of previous generations with similar behaviorisms. In accordance with Right Realists, crime is not the result of a social construction, it is believed to be a real issue and fear of crime within society would be considered reasonable (Jones, 2009).
In contrast to Right Realism and its increasing influence in the 70’s onwards, Left Realism, also known as radical criminology, was developed by Criminologists Jock Young, John Lea and Roger Mathews and had emerged in the 1980’s. Originating in Britain, Left Realists were opposed to the right-winged views and had argued instead that social inequality was a main cause in criminal behavior, and in order to reduce crime more interventions within the community were needed, thereby taking a more left-winged approach and similar to that of the British Labor Party. The Left Realism approach to crime dismissed Marxism, and focused mainly on crime within the working class. It was believed that criminology should focus on ‘crime prevention’ socially within the community and amongst working class people by improving the relationship between local communities and law enforcement, rather than focusing on more elaborate crimes. In practicality, it became a policy-based intervention which focused mainly on the reality of crime for victims. Lea & Young refused the idea that public concern for an irrational fear of crime was the product of media sensationalism, and had claimed that the working class, ethnic minorities and the elderly have a realistic fear of crime due to being victims of street crimes. Left Realism also identified three major causes of why groups tend to commit such crimes; Relative Deprivation, in which the working class feel deprived in comparison to the middle class. Marginalization, people tend to feel powerless to change their situations, which then leads to Subcultures, where individuals who experience the weight of these factors form deviant subcultures. Both Lea & Young (1984) proposed ideologies that the causation of crime was due to a mixture of deprivation and individualism present within society, this had ultimately created widespread anti-social behavior, in addition to aggression, within the masses which lead to individuals committing criminal activities.
Right Realism uses data taken from official crime statistics, for example the British Crime Survey. The analytical data is used to acknowledge the idea that crime is a real issue within society, rather than it being distorted and exaggerated through the mass media. Right Realists focus predominantly on crimes that occur on the streets such as burglary and theft, as these crimes produce more fear amongst the public (Hopkins Burke, 2009) mainly due to the fact that the common victims of these crimes tend to be the average person and not the bourgeoise. A weakness within Right Realism can be highlighted through the under-representation of ‘Victimless’ crimes, such as White-Collar offences. Right realists pay very little attention towards victimless crimes through their use of official statistics when analyzing crime as a concept, this may be due to White-Collar crime being much less noticeable amongst recorded statistics (Dutcher, 2005).
As stated previously, Left Realists share similar ideologies with Right Realism of which they also believe crime to be a real issue within society and must be taken more seriously, however, according to Young (1997) they believe that individuals within more relatively deprived circumstances are affected much more in comparison to the affluent groups of society. In opposition to the right-winged uses of official statistics, much like the British Crime survey, Left Realists do not believe that this type of research can generate a realistic background of Crime as many crimes go unreported to the police. Rather than use official statistics, Left Realists tend to rely upon surveys aimed towards victims of crimes, in which they believe to provide a realistic representation of criminal activities that truly occur (Young & Mathews, 1992). Furthermore, Left Realists propose that the Criminal Justice System should consider and address all aspect involved with a crime: the victim, the offender and the criminal justice system as a whole in addition to the general public, which they believe would respond fully towards the matter of crime. Although all aspects of the Criminal Justice System are acknowledged by Left Realism, a downfall of this theory could suggest that Left Realists can be too reliant upon their use of Victim Surveys, which may also ignore other crimes such as offences which are perpetrated by females or domestic violence as they may not be included within Victim surveys (Jones, 2009). It could be argued that Left Relists minimize the role of the offender, whilst concentrating much more on the victims of a crime (Young, 1996)
In terms of prevention of crime, Right Realists such as Murray (2003), through use of the ‘Underclass Thesis’ which had been highly influential on both governmental and criminal justice policies, proposed the reasoning that harsher sentencing upon criminals would potentially deter the ‘Underclass’ from committing criminal acts by changing their attitudes towards crime itself, this is supported through the ‘Broken Windows’ theory (Wilson & Kelling, 2003) as both theoretical perspectives share the view that there is a lack of social norms with communities. The concept presented the idea that within a community, signs of vandalism such as broken windows, graffitied walls and total disregard towards property creates an image that crime is acceptable within that area. As a result, the theory suggests that this depiction of ‘Broken Windows’ would then work as a magnet of sorts by encouraging individuals to commit criminal activities, which would then create a norm of behavior within society. Robert Hopkins Burke (2009) explains that this offender-centered view had become significant within policy development, which had led to an increase in severity for punishments towards offenders and anti-social behavior within the community. This is, however, a theory which disregards other aspects involved within the Criminal Justice System as the focal point is centered upon offenders only, rather than the various pieces of a puzzle which create a crime.
Left Realists differ from the idea of harsher punishment towards offenders, and instead proposed a theory which ultimately depicts the relations between the victim, offender, law enforcement and the wider community within a ‘Square of Crime’ (Lea, 2010). The relationships between Criminal Justice agencies and the community, in addition to the relationships with the offenders and victims would coincide to determine the efficiency of both control of crime and wider policing. This key argument is used by Left Realists in an attempt to show how crime can be analyzed by use of these four elements within the square, it proposes the idea that police must work closer within communities in need, as crime is a result of poor interactions between the elements of the square. This view is supported by Merton’s Strain Theory (1968) which suggests that a strain is caused due to capitalism, this unethically leads individuals to have a want for materialistic goods such as a higher income, however, if this cannot be accomplished it could consequently push an individual to commit crimes in order to achieve these possessions. As mentioned previously, the ‘Square of Crime’ serves as a contradiction to Right Realist ideology, which pushes the responsibility of a crime solely on the offender, whilst it ignores other elements which could potentially cause a crime.
To summarize, both Left Realism and Right Realism share similarities between their ideologies. The two theoretical perspectives are parallel with each other in terms of pointing their focal point towards visible crimes as opposed to Corporate and White-Collar crimes. In addition to this, both theories believe in the importance of politically responding towards issues that cause street crime, which hold the most public concern. It was clear between the two theories that they both take on a practical approach towards crime, however, they each face their own criticisms. Right and Left Realism predominantly focuses on crimes committed by individuals from deprived backgrounds, in addition to the fact that both also neglect women in their representations of crime. Right Realism is highly influenced by the idea that a criminal makes their own decision to commit crime, where as Left Realism focuses more on the deprivation within communities and the impacts of individualism which lead a person to commit a crime.
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