Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Safer Communities, Volume 13, Issue 4
As a direct result of austerity measures, the world of criminal justice is changing rapidly. Government cuts are being felt by the sector and the impact of the majority of these cuts has yet to be realised. Each of the papers in this issue touch upon the impact of cuts in public spending and the potential effects on the criminal justice system for both those working within it and those individuals it deals with. Safer Communities expects and welcomes more papers focusing on the effects of public spending cuts.
In the first of the papers in this issue, Sarah Soppitt and Adele Irving present the findings of a 12-month study into the effectiveness of Triage for reducing recidivism among young offenders, as introduced by one Youth Offending Team (YOT) in the northeast of England. They note that the use of restorative justice approaches within the criminal justice system is not new; but less is known about the impact of RJ measures in reducing recidivism. Soppitt and Irving describe how Triage was developed as a process for the early diversion of young people involved in low-level criminality and identified as having a low risk of re-offending. Varying models of Triage have been developed, all of which seek to build upon the underlying principle of repairing “harm” and reducing reoffending. The decision of whether or not to offer Triage is likely to be made jointly between YOTs and the police. Their research offers an interesting insight, they found that triage is more successful in responding to youth offending than conventional practices. They provide a couple of explanations for this: the restorative nature of Triage and its effectiveness with young people who are unlikely to re-offend in the future, with or without intervention. Soppitt and Irving's research demonstrates that the time is ripe for further use and evaluation of restorative interventions.
Concern over the treatment of children and young people in the criminal justice system is also central to Roger Hopkins-Burke and Sean Creaney's paper. In this paper, they reflect on the “new” approach to tackling anti-social behaviour outlined in the Anti-social Behaviour (ASB), Crime and Policing Act 2014. They use insights from a radical moral communitarianism model to evaluate the strengths, limitations and challenges of the “new” agenda. The 2014 Act attempted to rationalise and streamline ASB sanctions and significantly reduce bureaucracy. As Hopkins-Burke and Creaney note, initially the Coalition government appeared to have moved away from punitive rhetoric and regulation of the behaviour of young people instead using the language of empowering communities to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour in accordance with their low-cost, volunteer-led “Big Society” model of dealing with social problems. The authors propose a radical moral communitarian intervention that addresses the issues associated with young people's involvement in ASB such as family breakdown, educational difficulties, residing in “high-crime” areas while encouraging the young person to accept the appropriate level of responsibility for their actions. They go onto conclude that any measures to deal with issues of anti-social behaviour need to be sensitive to the needs of young people and acknowledge that such individuals are likely to have experiences of poverty, inequality and social disadvantage.
In his second paper in this edition, Sean Creaney provides an opinion piece and re-visits explanations of and perspectives towards the 2011 riots within a social democratic model. As Creaney notes, the social democratic perspective is concerned with addressing structural inequality, poverty and social injustice. Social Democrats argue that the marginalisation and social exclusion felt by many young people within society is largely a result of the policies that emanate from a neo-liberalist political ideology. Social democrats believe it is a lack of focus on young people's social and economic needs and the negation of structural barriers that prevent young people contributing to society. Proponents of a social democratic perspective argue that structural inequality needs to be acknowledged and addressed. If not it is argued young people will continue to feel constrained and/or denied opportunities and their personal, social and emotional development will be affected as a result of this. In his conclusion, Creaney warns of a number of factors, which if not addressed could lead to future riots. These include: high levels of youth unemployment; the denial of young people's appropriate social protection; the social-cultural context; public mistrust of the police service and receding government support in the areas of educational, social and welfare funding.
The final paper of this edition sees Fijwala, Palasinski and Shortland interrogate crime statistics on violence, benefit fraud and sexual offences. They argue that official crime statistics do not often marry with media reporting of crime and consequently public perception. By using data from the Office of National Statistics, they hypothesise that: people on lower incomes would perceive a higher percentage increase in recent violent and sexual crimes; people with a recent record of unemployment and those scoring high on Machiavellianism (personality trait involving manipulation of others for personal advantage) would perceive a higher percentage increase in benefit fraud and those with less formal education would perceive an increase in recent violent and sexual crime. In all, 150 participants completed a survey on “the apparent rise in violent, sexual and benefit fraud crimes”. The survey included questions about their age, gender, number of years spent in formal education, approximate number of days spent unemployed in the last three years and approximate income. It also included the MACH IV scale, which is comprised of the three subscales of: morality, views and tactics. Their findings demonstrate that participants with less formal education and on lower income were more likely to see a rise in violent crime. Participants with lower education and longer history of unemployment were more likely to see a rise in sexual crime. Although the authors hypothesised that a recent record of unemployment in the climate of financial austerity would lead individuals to see a rise in benefit fraud, this hypothesis was not met. The authors conclude that the ways in which the public are informed about crime levels should be improved. Crime levels should be presented in mass data-driven ways rather than sensationally driven. The paper suggests that this might help guide crime prevention strategies and contribute to the actual reduction in crime levels and safer communities.
Hannah Smithson and Tim Bateman