Thoughts from the criminology team

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Congratulations, but no Celebrations

A few weeks ago, Sir Cliff Richard won his high court case against the BBC over the coverage of a police raid on his home, the raid relating to an investigation into historical sex abuse.  I remember watching the coverage on the BBC and thinking at the time that somehow it wasn’t right.  It wasn’t necessarily that his house had been raided that pricked my conscience but the fact that the raid was being filmed for a live audience and sensationalised as the cameras in the overhead helicopter zoomed into various rooms.  A few days later in the sauna at my gym I overheard a conversation that went along the lines of ‘I’m not surprised, I always thought he was odd; paedo just like Rolf Harris’.  And so, the damage is done, let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good gossip and I dare say a narrative that was repeated up and down the country.  But Sir Cliff was never charged nor even arrested, he is innocent.

The case reminded me of something similar in 2003 where another celebrity Matthew Kelly was accused of child sex abuse. He was arrested but never charged, his career effectively took a nose dive and never recovered.  He too is innocent and yet is listed amongst many others on a website called the Creep Sheet.  The name synonymous with being guilty of something unsavoury and sinister, despite a lack of evidence.  The way some of the papers reported that no charges were to be brought, suggested he had ‘got away with it’.

The BBC unsuccessfully sought leave to appeal in the case of Sir Cliff Richard and is considering whether to take the matter to the appeal court.  Their concern is the freedom of the press and the rights of the public, citing public interest.  Commentary regarding the case suggested that the court judgement impacted victims coming forward in historical abuse cases.  Allegations therefore need to be publicised to encourage victims to come forward.  This of course helps the prosecution case as evidence of similar fact can be used or in the view of some, abused (Webster R 2002).  But what of the accused, are they to be thrown to the wolves?

Balancing individual freedoms and the rights of others including the press is an almost impossible task.  The focus within the criminal justice system has shifted and some would say not far enough in favour of victims.  What has been forgotten though, is the accused is innocent until proven guilty and despite whatever despicable crimes they are accused of, this is a maxim that criminal justice has stood by for centuries. Whilst the maxim appears to be generally true in court processes, it does not appear to be so outside of court. Instead there has been a dramatic shift from the general acceptance of the maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to a dangerous precedent, which suggests through the press, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.  It is easy to make allegations, not easy to prove them and even more difficult to disprove them.  And so, a new maxim, ‘guilty by accusation’.  The press cannot complain about their freedoms being curtailed, when they stomp all over everyone else’s.

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The Criminology Toolbox

Abbie

Whilst sitting at my desk at work recently I realised just how much I took away with me in my toolbox from my time studying Criminology. I wanted this blog to be about exactly how this discipline has helped me in my personal and working life and the transferable skills I acquired without even realising I was using them.

In 2011 I came to University an 18 year old with a very closed and one sided mind set and this is something I will openly admit to! A memory that I feel will stick with me forever is from a Crime and Society seminar in the first year with @manosdaskalou. I remember openly saying to him that I felt prisoners should not be allowed to have televisions whilst in prison and that they were there to do their sentence and not watch this week’s Hollyoaks (@manosdaskalou you may remember that sour faced girl sat in front of you, although the sour face is still very much there!). I am sure those of you reading will be cursing BUT my self-righteous opinions did change and the more I attended various lectures and seminars, the more I became open to listening to and respecting the opinions of my peers and became further educated about the impact rehabilitation and second chances have on lives.

In my second year I volunteered for an organisation focusing primarily on helping individuals who had been in the Criminal Justice System with gaining employment and education. As soon as I walked through those doors I saw first-hand the positive impact this organisation had on the lives of those using the service.

I had an opportunity to assist on a healthy living course for individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Some of those attending the course had never taken an exam before or even been in an educational setting and others struggled with reading. I quickly realised the privileged position I was in to be able to even be at University and do things I feel we all take for granted sometimes such as reading. I also provided some advice to a young female who completely freaked out at the idea of taking a multiple choice test. I gave her some tips before that I had acquired from my own experiences. She was so very thankful to me and I will always remember her.

In terms of the other skills I now have in my toolbox, the thought of standing up and presenting in front of my peers at University terrified me, however in doing that I can now confidently stand up in front of my colleagues and bosses to present information and contribute in meetings. I can also provide evidence in court thanks to learning about the criminal process.

Having the opportunity to debate certain issues within the criminological world and society has taught me to have a voice and provide my point in a professional manner whilst listening to others. From the assignments set, to working within a timetable, it has all enabled me to build upon my time management and organisational skills. Working to tight deadlines also does not daunt me especially when I now have work to them daily.

I think we can all be truthful here and say we did groan a little bit when we were given extra reading to do at home and to critically analyse various pieces of text for the next seminar (heaven forbid!). However, being able to analyse a piece of text is a skill I use every day in my job with Northamptonshire Police especially when building court files and reading the fibs and fairy tales that some of our customers can provide. Criminology taught me to be critical of everything around me, take on board criticism and ask questions. I now ensure I stick my head above the parapet and often put the police officers in their place, as they do need it sometimes!

On the whole, I am thankful for the transferable skills I acquired from studying Criminology despite using them daily and not realising until my desk epiphany! I graduated in 2014 with a toolbox of skills ready for the big wide world and I will cherish them always. Who knows, it may even help me with becoming a parent in November!

 

 

Thoughts from the British Society of Criminology Conference at Birmingham City University

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I attended the BSC conference last week, presenting a paper from my PhD research, doing the usual rounds of seeing familiar faces, meeting some new faces and hoping nobody uttered the words ‘well its more of an observation than a question’. There was one session which particularly inspired me and so is the focus of this blog. The key theme was that as criminologists and educators, we need to review the quality of methods of teaching to keep students engaged, but crucially, not to lose sight of the importance of the content. We must continue to introduce students to more challenging ideas and shift their thinking from accepted wisdom of how to ‘do justice’ and ‘why people commit crime’.

The session attended was on ‘Public Criminology’, which included papers on the experiences of LGBTQ communities in Turkey, with regards to police response to victimisation, another on the use of social media and other forms of broadcast used by academics on criminology programmes, the impact of the 2011 riots on social capital in the UK and the need to re-introduce political issues in teaching criminology. As with many sessions at large conferences, you never quite know what will emerge from the range of papers, and you hope there are some common themes for the panel and delegate to engage with in discussions. This certainly happened here, in what seems to be a diverse range of topics, we generated interesting discussions about how we understand crime and justice, how the public understand this, what responsibilities we have in teaching the next generation and how important it is to retain our critical focus. The paper that really resonated with me was delivered by Marc Jacobs from the University of Portsmouth on ‘The Myopia of Public Criminology and the need for a (re) Politicised Criminology Education’.  Marc was an engaging speaker and made a clear point about the need to continue our focus on the work of activist criminologists, who emerged during the 1970s, asking important questions about class, race and gender issues. He cited scholars such as Jock Young, Stuart Hall, Frances Heidensohn as pioneers in shining a light on the need to understand crime and justice from these diverse perspectives.

This is certainly what I remember from studying criminology as a post-graduate, and they have informed my teaching, especially criminological theories – I have always had a closer personal affinity with sociological perspectives, compared to biological and psychological explanations of crime. It also reminded me of a running theme of complaint from some students – political issues are not as interesting as say, examining the motivations of serial killers, neither are those lectures which link class, race and gender to crime, and which highlight how discrimination in society is reflected in who commits crime, why they do it, and why we respond the way we do. There is no doubt presenting students with the broader social, political and cultural contexts means they need to see the problem of crime as a reflection of these contexts, that is does not happen as a rare event which we can always predict and solve. It happens every day, is not always reported, let alone detected and solved, meaning that many people can experience crime, but may not experience justice.

As tempting as it might be to focus teaching and engage students through examining the motivation for serious crimes to reinforce students’ expectations of criminology being about offender profiling and CSI techniques which solve cases and allow us all to sleep safely, I’m afraid this means neglecting something which will affect their lives when they do look up from the fascinating case files. I am not advocating the exclusion of any knowledge, far from it, but we need to ensure that we continue to inform students about the foundations of our discipline, and that it is the every day events and the lack of access to justice which they also need to know about. They reflect the broader inequalities which feed into the incidences of crime, the discriminatory policies and practice in the CJS, and the acceptance of this by the public. Rawls (1971) presented justice as a ‘stabilising force’, a premise picked up by New Labour in their active citizenship and neighbourhood renewal agenda. There was an attempt to shift justice away from punitive and retributive responses, to make use of approaches which were more effective, more humane and less discriminatory. The probation services and courts were an important focus, using restorative and problem-solving approaches to genuinely implement Tony Blair’s manifesto promise to be tough on the causes of crime. However, he also continued the rhetoric of being tough on crime, and so there was sense of using community sentencing and community justice in a tokenistic way, and not tackling the broader inequalities and problems sufficiently to allow the CJS to have a more transformative and socially meaningful effect on crime (Donoghue, 2014; Ward, 2014). Since then, the punitive responses to crime have returned, accepted by the public, press and politicians, as anything else is simply too difficult a problem to solve, and requires meaningful and sustained investment. This has been a feature of community justice, half hearted attempts to innovate and adopt different approaches, all too easily overtaken by the need for a day in court and a custodial sentence. It shows what happens when the public accept this as justice and the function of the CJS, even though they are not effective, put the public at risk, and mean entrenched biases continue to occur.

This all emphasises the need to remember the foundations of our discipline as a critical examination of criminal justice and of society. In my own department, we have the debates about where we place theory as part of these foundations. These discussions occur in the context of how to engage students and maintain our focus on this, and it remains an important part of higher education to review practice, content and adapt to broader changes. Moving to a new campus means we have to re-think these issues in the context of the delivery of teaching, and I am all for innovations in teaching to engage students, making use of new technologies, but I firmly believe we need to retain our focus on the content which will challenge students. This is the point of higher education, to advance knowledge, to raise students’ expectations of their own potential and ask them to rethink what they know. The focus on ‘public criminology’ has justified using different forms of broadcast, from TV, tabloid press and social networking to disseminate knowledge and, hopefully, better inform the public, as a counter measure to biased reporting.  I don’t think it is desirable to TV producers to replace ‘I am a Killer’ on the Crime and Investigation network with ‘Adventures of a Problem-Solving Court’ or ‘Restorative Justice: The Facts’. Writing for the tabloid press seems to me an act of futility, as they have editorial control, they can easily misrepresent findings, and are not really interested in anything which shifts the notion of justice as needing to have a deterrent effect and to be a retributive act. Perhaps social networking can overcome this bias, but in an age of claims of fake news and echo chambers, this surely also has a limited affect. So, our focus must remain on our students, to those who will work within the CJS, social policy departments as practitioners, researchers and future academics. They need to continue to raise the debates about crime and justice which affect the marginalised, which highlight prejudice, discrimination and which ensure we continue to ask questions about these thorny, difficult and controversial issues. That, I think, is the responsibility we need to grasp, and it should form a core function of learning about criminology and criminal justice at University.

 

Susie Atherton

Senior Lecturer in Criminology

This entry was re-blogged by the British Society of Criminology blog on 17 July 2018

References

DONOGHUE, J. (2014) Transforming Criminal Justice? Problem-solving and court specialisation. London: Routledge.

RAWLS, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

WARD, J. (2014) Are problem-solving courts the way forward for justice? London: Howard League for Penal Reform.

 

The Power of Education

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela)

My name is Stephanie, and I was a Criminology (with Education Studies) student at Northampton from 2012-2015. After graduating, I proceeded with my masters in International Criminal Law and Security at Northampton still. I graduated with my Masters in February 2018. This blog post is a dedication to how one lecture and one seminar, from 2 different modules at different points in my university ignited a fire in me, which is still in me today.

Education opens our minds to new things; we see things differently and can use it as a force to make the world a better place and we can better understand the world around us. It can empower us to make change, teach and impart our knowledge to others.

During the 1st year of my undergrad, in a lecture in Crime and Society focussing on sexual crime, my heart sank. I thought back to when I was 13 years old, I was sexually assaulted at school. I didn’t realise it at that time, until that session on sexual crime.

I reminisced of the horrible occasion, telling the boy who assaulted me to stop and pushed his hands away. Despite any efforts to stop him, he still invaded my personal space and touched me without my consent, leaving deep emotional scars, my body feeling utterly violated, physically sick and was uncomfortable in my own skin (of which hung with me for a number of years after).

In the session on sexual crime, anger and distress bubbled in my stomach, as I tried to ignore the memories that were resurfacing. It was not until my final year in a Crime and Punishment seminar, where a role play of a rape victim reporting to the police demonstrated in class was done that  a fire of inspiration was ignited. A fierce passion burned inside me, and I deeply felt that I had to do something.

This was inspiration behind my petition on making it compulsory to teach consent in schools: https://www.change.org/p/rt-hon-justine-greening-mp-to-make-it-compulsory-to-teach-consent-within-secondary-school-pshe-sex-education-classes

That seminar left me feeling a mixture of things; firstly, I was (and still am) appalled by the rape myths that are riddled in our society and justice system, and the lack of compassion shown to rape victims. I felt angry and somewhat distressed, because of my own experience of sexual assault.

It most importantly, started a fire of wanting to make change to better inform people in society of these rape myths, and to understand consent. To all who have read this, please sign, share and encourage others to do the same for this petition.

On another note, you are also more than welcome to follow my personal blog here at: https://wordpress.com/stats/day/flowervioletblog.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Emotions and reason in criminal justice – or facts vs conspiracy?

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I was watching a You Tube clip from Channel Four news (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUYPGNvsHXk) about the Tommy Robinson contempt of court case. It provided an explanation of the law, the justice system, and why the case is not as claimed, an example of the repression of free speech, but simply, the processes of justice working as they should. It is a clear and dispassionate account explaining that Tommy Robinson has not been ‘disappeared’ but has simply been jailed for contempt of court, to which he pleaded guilty. Tommy Robinson currently presents himself as an independent reporter – well not currently, he is serving his sentence, but you know what I mean. Prior to this he was leader of the English Defence League and a reporter for ‘Rebel Media’, a Canadian far right online political commentary media site, described as a ‘global platform for anti-Muslim ideology’.

He then re-invented himself to his most recent role of independent reporter, which for him became a mission to report on cases of serious sexual assaults committed by Asian men, whether the court had placed reporting restrictions on the case or not. This was seemingly for him, a way to ensure a conviction, to influence juries about defendants and secure justice for victims. The incident which led to his imprisonment occurred when he posted a Facebook live commentary on a case, which had reporting restrictions. He was arrested for breach of the peace, it transpired that his activities also meant he was in contempt of court, which given he was already on a suspended sentence, led to his jail sentence of 13 months. The outrage focused on the fact that Robinson was arrested and jailed within one day, there were claims he had no legal representation and that this was a repression of free speech. The Channel 4 news report points out the facts. Contempt of court has to be dealt with quickly, as it threatens to derail trials, at great cost to the taxpayer and those seeking a fair trial and for justice to be done. As well as pleading guilty, Robinson knew, as a reporter, he should follow the laws on reporting restrictions. The report emphasises the consequences of derailing the trials, and therefore that his intentions to secure justice are misguided.

This case and this report highlights one of the great challenges for our justice system, that the laws and processes in place to support victims, uphold rights of defendants and witnesses and secure justice are frequently misrepresented and misunderstood. The explanations of the law in the report are clear, concise and easy to grasp, but as I said earlier they are dispassionate, and many would argue, so they should be. The problem is, those who present opposition to these facts, claiming fake news, alternative facts, repression of free speech and political correctness gone mad are not dispassionate. They tap into emotions of fear, a sense of injustice, hate and then offer solutions which promise to alleviate these fears and make the world a better place. For those who are afraid, who feel their lives could be better, this will get their attention, more so than someone presenting facts, laws, and objective reviews of events.

A recent conference at De Montfort University, the Emotions and Criminal Justice conference, tackled this theme as to how the CJS needs to acknowledge the emotional impact of crime and justice, beyond the immediate victims and their family, to the wider public who read about cases. Professor Robert Canton in his presentation ‘Mending what has been torn: Reflections on emotions related to punishment and reconciliation’, outlined the need to understand the type of thinking which occurs when we hear about crime, and what people would consider to be an effective response. He stated ‘the separation of emotion and reason is a bad start…lets talk about emotions as well as reason.’ He cited feelings of anger and disgust against those who have wronged us, and it is these very feelings which Tommy Robinson taps into from his roving reporting on serious sexual assault cases. What is also interesting about this case is the emotions of Robinson’s supporters, that they disregard facts, or don’t know them in the first place, and instead go straight to the position of a sense of injustice, an unfair system and repression of free speech. On the one hand, the presentation of the facts in the report can easily be defined as reason, and the cries of injustice and repression from Robinson’s supporters across the globe, as emotion. But to those expressing this, they are perfectly within their rights, they are upholding this precious commodity of free speech, they are reasoned, right and need to be heard. The dispassionate fact checkers are almost spoiling their fun, tackling their misguided emotional response with reason, established laws and pointing out the flaws in their argument. In amongst all this thinking, I realised one other thing. The supporters of Tommy Robinson, via twitter, gained a lot of traction and attention about their ‘plight’, the report I found was something I came across and chose to watch as I follow Channel Four news, and, crucially, I wanted to know more about the facts of the case. So many people would not seek out such facts, and are all too comfortable to ignore the issue, have their prejudices and conspiracies confirmed and hang on to those initial emotional responses as the facts and explanations of the case. Before we all get too despondent, perhaps the signs are there, of recognising these views as part of our society, to grasp the significance of emotions in all of this, and just maybe, to ensure future generations don’t fall into the same traps.

 

 

 

 

 

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