Why has risk minimization come to dominate the criminological agenda and how does it implicate with crime control policies?

Risk minimization was considered to be a stepping stone to dominate the criminological agenda as the criminal justice system now is drifting from post – crime to the pre – crime era. There had been changes in the areas of criminal justice particularly, rehabilitation. as it provided an inspiration for development in self-control strategies against offending and ameliorated the levels for public security and safety. Rehabilitation now concentrates more on strategies to protect the public by hampering spaces that encourages crime and criminal activities, imposing restrictions on offenders’ whereabouts than concentrating on their welfare and needs, such as the provision of guidance and psychological support (Straw 1998 cited in Garland 2001: 176).

Garland (2001: 186) argued that prior to the 1970s, there were no programmes of policing, no substantive interests in crime events and no theory of social and economic routines that generated criminal opportunities and criminogenic situations. Jock Young  who could agree with Durkheim, highlights that crime is seen as a social fact and is part of everyday life and highlighted that Garland outlined the rises of discipline during late modernity such as penal – segregation and preventative partnership which appears to be obvious when the states makes a gesture of law and order persuading the public into believing the state has control over crime (Jock Young 2003: 230). Tim Owen who reviewed David Garland’s book, The Culture of Crime Control, illustrated there are powerful arguments about the rise of  the “schizophrenic” crime control complex and emphasised the decades of crime policies following the Second World War, which was known as the ‘Golden Age’ of penal – welfarism. This period consisted of two important ideas of crime control. The first concentrates on social cohesion that could reduce the rates of crime and the second feels that the state should take accountability for the offenders’ welfare (Owen 2007: 3).

Information Technology played a vital part on crime control and risk management, particularly the uses of CCTV and offender databases. Michel Focault, a French Philosopher who is renowned to criminologists for his book Discipline and Punish published in 1975. The Foucauldian body included works on asylum, the hospital and the regulations of sexuality and punishment (Valier 2003: 149). She (Valier) also highlighted that his (Foucault) work rejected the narratives of the humanitarian development, as it was seen as the negative side of the Enlightenment. Foucault highlighed the notion of genealogy, a study of families and its history. For him, genealogy is about the criminology of us, where history is used to help us understand ourselves and others and what issue was taken for granted and investigates whether there is a historical cause of re- offending (Poster 1984 cited in Valier 2003: 151). It agrees with Garland who suggests that staff in the criminal justice system uses their personal strategies of self-control, which can be applied onto dealing with offenders, such as counselling and alternative interventions such as anger management and therapies involve creative arts (Garland 2001:189).

Valier moves onto discuss that Foucault’s work highlights the link of knowledge and power and cannot be separated as he states:

“There is no knowledge without the exercise of power and there is no power without knowledge” (2003: 152).

His book Disicipline and Punish, experiments with the two concepts and used the example on the changes in the mode of punishment. The era of the French Revolution had one basic form of punishment which circled around a public display of corporal and capital punishment, which illustrates the exploitation of knowledge and power (Valier 2003: 153). The panoptical society is argued to play an influence on risk minimization. This notion was inspired by Jeremy Bentham who is renowned for his philosophy of pain – pleasure. The panopticon was applied in prisons where inmates were monitored for their behaviour and actions during incarceration. Although Foucault was not apprehended with Bentham’s supposed intentions, he was more alarmed with the political technology considered by the Panopticon (Valier 2003: 158). He also believes the panoptical option is considered to be strict by providing a severe form social regulation and control. Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon may contribute to CCTV and computerised databases. George Orwell’s Novel Nineteen Eighty – Four  strongly seized the imagination of the post-war vital awareness with its vision of a total surveillance society and this was also predicted in James’s Rule book Private Lives and Public Surveillance which he provided the benefits of total surveillance:

“The system would work to enforce observance with a uniform set of norms governing every aspect of everyone’s behaviour. Every action of every client would be analysed, recorded, evaluated both at the moment of occurrence and forever afterwards. The system would bring the whole fund of its information to bear on every decision it made about everyone. Any sign of disobedience – present or anticipated – would result in corrective action” (Rule 1973: 37 cited in Valier 2003: 161).

Foucault’s notion of disciplinary power was  considered to be the outcome of numerous arguments about an inspecting glaze in the panoptical society across a range of texts that argues that we are now shifting into a post – disciplinary period of control where power does not reside in a foreign gaze (Valier 2003: 163). Valier stated that Foucault was criticised for concentrating on how work is applied on self experiences rather than using technology to degrade criminals such as, the name and shaming” technique (Valier 2003: 163). She (Valier) also mentioned that the governments’ view of power is only applied on an active subject, such as the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletarians and reactions and public attitudes towards monitoring (Valier 2003: 163). Tim Owen had highlighted problems regarding Garland’s Foucauldian analysis in particular his (Garland) dependency on Foucault’s  knowledge and power link. Best and Kellner (1991 cited in Owen 2007: 8) argues that Garland’s book needs to consider some social agents which seize and hold more power than others.

Power (1994 cited in Garland 2001: 190) argues that criminal justice agencies have been drawn into an audit society and information to the public management are shared among each body. He (Power)  illustrates that the neo-liberal programmes often achieve control by relying on audits (1996, 1997; 2003a cited in Levi 2008: 585). He (Power) also argued that as soon as they are limited to financial institutions, audits have been expanded to a wide number of fields, including universities, hospitals and government agencies (Power 1996 cited in Levi 2008: 585). The study of audit was argued to attract widespread attention in scholarships on institutions and are mostly research at present, but has not linked this attention to communities in criminal justice (Levi 2008: 585). However, criminological research conducted by Adam Crawford who demonstrates that the turn to new managerial into auditability has promoted this very turn to community in which short-term programmes can be readily more evaluated (Crawford 1999a cited in Levi 2008: 585). Kevin Stenson (2005; Stenson and Edwards 2003 cited in Levi 2008: 585) argued that this audibility could reproduce class – based inequalities in local contexts.

The Florida Department of Corrections display an example of an audit society by distributing  personal details that are released into society which in contrast, the thoughts of policies that deal with rehabilitation of offenders made it illegal to disclose any  information about ex offenders’ whereabouts (LHO 1997 cited in Garland 2001: 180). Megan’s Law is another example, named after Megan Kanka, a seven-year old girl who was raped and murdered by her neighbour Jesse Timmendequas, a convicted sex offender in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. The murder and criminal history of Mr Timmendequas sparked outrage and consequently, Megan’s Law was launched, where parents and members of the community to obtain access for information of any child molester living in their neighbourhoods. Megan’s Law had categorised sex offenders determined by their chances of re-offending if they integrate into society. Stage One contains those who are at low risk  and prosecutors alert this stage to law enforcement agencies. Stage Two are those who presumed to be at moderate risk  and prosecutors will notify eligible community organizations, such as youth clubs, day care centres and schools etc. Stage Three are those who are at high risk and be subjected to full – blown community notification (Levi 2008: 588). Levi also noted that over 11,000 registrants were added monthly with the New Jersey State Police, with approximately 60 per cent have been placed in Stages Two and Three.

However, Megan’s Law also have been applied on law – abiding citizens, particularly the rules of conduct where in order for members of community to receive information of sex offenders living in their neighbourhood, they are obliged to sign a contract pledging not to violate the codes of conduct by disclosing any information to any members outside the community and information should be shared appropriately (Shapiro 1987 cited in Levi 2008: 593). In the case of notifications to local schools when school principals are notified, a state liaison provides them a ‘School Personnel Rules of Conduct’ and ‘Information Reference Sheet for School Principals’ and reassessed on how notice should be stored and limits on its communication among staff members. Once principals sign the School Principal Receipt Form, they are obliged to follow the rules within the code of conduct and forms are kept by the prosecutor’s office. Levi highlighted that Megan’s Law was criticised for lacking in penalties against those who selfishly disclose any information of sex offenders to members who are outside the community or class organisations (Paul P. V Farmer 2000; 227 F. 3d 98 cited in Levi 2008: 597).

The sex offender’s register acts as a deterrent by stigmatizing convicted sex offenders and serves as a warning tool to those who contemplate of offending and symbolizes retribution. This seems to concur with Dave Garland who applies the criminology of the self on offenders where they are seen as monstrous psychopaths who shed no remorse or empathy (Garland 2001: 184). John Major  argues that the criminology of self encourages the public to be alert and prepare to defend themselves against these “monsters”(1993 cited in Garland 2001: 184). Even though the sex offender’s register acts as a powerful deterrent, it can  damage the offender’s self –esteem and in consequence, encourages re-offending in away to reinstate in incarceration. Megan’s Law considers to symbolize state power and the division of labour between the state and the community,which predicts that communities are at risk of being plagued with fear and doubts about safety (Ericson 2007a; Simon 2000 cited in Levi 2008: 599).

Risk minimization is considered to revolve around community and therapeutic interventions, such as anger management and drug counselling. Pat O’ Malley drew attention to drug harm minimization which were developed as a form of resistance, created by the governments in New Zealand and Australia in defence against the War on Drugs campaign  in the USA (O’Malley 2008: 457). These policies assume that drug addiction considered to be a possible threat to themselves and public safety by the possibility of contracting HIV through shared needles and exposure to vulnerable people in vulnerable “hot spots”. It does not only apply to illegal drugs but on tobacco, alcohol and prescribed drugs (O’Malley 2008: 458). He (O’Malley) also recommends that drug users should take responsibility for minimising their risk of drug harm by attending drug rehabilitation centres, receive advice practicing safe drug administration and usage and take advantage accessing methadone to help them reduce their drug cravings (2008: 458). Dave Garland (1996 cited in O’Malley 2008: 459) can agree with classicist thinkers by arguing that drug users are chose to be drug addicts or drug than their social, psychological and environmental influences.

Risk minimization appears to be optimistic and realistic in dealing with crime, especially changes in rehabilitation as it concentrates on public safety and hampering spaces in areas which breeds criminality than attempt to make offenders into law-abiding citizens. However, the uses of CCTV and distribution of databases particularly and sex offenders register seem to deliver plagues of moral panic and paranoia in the public sphere, which could result in vigilantism. Foucault should be praised for his analysis on the panopticon and contribution on risk minimization by applying the link of  knowledge and power. The implications of crime control policies aim to protect the public, enhance public security and ensure communities are involved and take responsibility for their personal safety and safety of public spaces.

Best, S and Kellner, D (1981) Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. London: Macmillan

Crawford, A (1999a) The Local Governance of Crime: Appeals to Community and Partnerships, New York: Oxford University Press.

Ericson,R (2007a) Crime in an Insecure World. Cambridge, Polity

Garland, D (1996) ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State’, British Journal of Criminology 36: 445 – 71

(2008) The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Levi, R (2008) Auditable Community: The Moral Order of Megan’s Law, British Journal of Criminology vol 48 pp 583 – 603

Major, J (Prime Minister) The Sunday Times,  21 February 1993

Home Office, The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 : A Consultation Paper  (London Home Office 1999)

O’Malley, P (2008) Experiments in risk and criminal justice, Theoretical Criminology, 12/4 : pp451 – 469

[1]Orwell,G (1949/1990) Nineteen Eighty – Four. London Penguin

Owen, T (2007) Culture of Control: Through a Post – Foucauldian Lens, Internet Journal of Criminology

[1]Poster, M (1984) Foucault, Marxism and History: Mode of Production Versus Mode of Information. Cambridge Polity.

Power, M, (1994) The Audit Explosion, London, Demos

-(1996) , Making Things Auditable’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21: 289 – 315

-(1997), The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification. New York: Oxford University Press

-(2003a) ‘Evaluating the Audit Explosion’, Law and Policy, 25: 185 – 202

Simon, J (2000), ‘Megan’s Law: Crime and Democracy in Late Modern America’, Law and Social Inquiry, 25: 1111 – 50

Shapiro, S (1987), ‘The Social Control of Impersonal Trust’, American Journal of Sociology, 93: 623 – 58

Straw, J (1998) ‘Crime and Old Labour’s Punishment’, The Times 8 April 1998

Stenson, K and Edwards, A (2003), ‘ Crime Control and Local Governance: The Struggle for Sovereignty in Advanced Liberal Polities’, Contemporary Politics, 9: 203 – 18

Stenson, K (2005) ‘Sovereign, Biopolitics and Community Safety in Britain’, Theoretical Criminology, 9: 265 – 87.

Rules, J.B (1973) Private Lives and Public Surveillance: Social Control in Computer Age. New York: Schochen Books.

Valier, C (2003) Theories of Crime and Punishment, Harlow, Longman Press, Ch8

Young, J (2003) Searching for a New Criminology of Everday Life: A Review of ‘The Culture of Control’, by David Garland (New York: Oxford University Press 2001), British Journal of Criminology, 43,1 pp228 – 243.


Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Writings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s