This is a book by Katherine Beckett, exploring the theories behind crime control, measures and policies. She supports the theory that, crime policies and laws are based on a political creation of rhetoric and use of power and media; to create preconceived causes of crime and calls for crime control. This is a review of the book and the issues it raises chapter by chapter.
The Democracy at Work thesis shows that, the American public is overwhelmed by crime and they have demanded that their government protects them from the criminals. The public has also called for tougher sanctions on crime, calling for longer sentences and even the death penalty.
The thesis stipulates that the new sentences on crime are as a result of public pressure, due to the rising crime rate. The writer suggests that even if the call for tougher penalties is seen as the answer to the problem, those calling for these penalties are not necessarily affected by the rising crime. The victims actually advocate for lesser sentences.
The writer goes to say that, the penal law regarding the death sentence has been shifting ideals; with calls for a move to custodial and reform practices rather than death. The American society would rather have rehabilitation and formal education than advocate for construction of more prisons.
It is important to remember that, cultural and political agents influence the choice of punishment for crimes. The author feels that the Democracy at Work thesis theory, technically suggests that; the rise of crime is due to lack of punitive action and legal control. There are different theories explaining the rise of crime.
Family breakdown, poverty and lack of government control are some of the factors attributed to these theories. Crimes are considered a social evil. However; society has left the role of who decides the punishments to the politicians.
The societal perception also becomes a major player in the allocation of punishment. The claims makers are the proponents of the social solutions and compete for different forums and symbols to gain support their views. The writer calls them social actors. The example given is that of the Bush campaign, using the Houghton case to persuade the voters that they would be strict on crime; once in office. Bush was portrayed as a walk the talk type of leader and he used his office as president to push the agenda for tougher laws.
The notion in America is that the black man commits more crimes than the white man. The claims maker will use image definitions to picture social problems, which have a different context in the political circles. The example given is that of Civil Rights Activists, who were called criminals yet their activities were political.
The second methodology suggests that crime does not arise from social conditions. In this case, poverty is no longer a cause of crime. The writer goes on to suggest that, those laws such as the Three Strikes Law are made part of the institutions of the American system. The society decides to give criminals 3 chances to reform or be locked away permanently if they do not. People look up to politicians for directions, because they influence a lot of decisions; using avenues like the media to drive their agendas.
Secondly their views carry more weight in the eyes of the public and hence they are more credible even when they are wrong. The effectiveness of the issue frame is determined by whether the claims maker gets access to power and the media. The public official has more access to the media than the non-elite claims maker. This is because the media gives more credibility to the official communication.
The claims maker has to use symbols and oratory proclamations that fit certain cultures and experiences of the community. They are not usually constant and they change from time to time depending on the community perception of the issues. The experts opinion on the issues are often not taken seriously, as the claims makes rhetoric resonates with the people; as they provide solutions and rationales for what fits in with what the masses perceive as the reality.
The theories on crime have changed over time. The first one is the theory of Penological Modernism; this theory stipulates that crime is as a result of a cause rather than chosen behavior. Reform becomes the critical factor than punishment. The other evolution is that of political proponents of punishment to deter criminal activities.
Retribution and promotion of safety for all citizens is the next theory. This is developed on the tenets that, crime is propagated by criminals whose behaviour doesn’t reform and that the correctional systems do not help rehabilitate them. The criminal is viewed as a person with the freedom to know right and wrong and is predisposed to commission of crime.
The politicians are under pressure to reduce poverty hinged on this theory to satisfy the fact that, what is needed is social control and not reduction of the equality gap. The Democracy at work Thesis works on the premise that as crimes rises, the law also changes. This is however disputed by the writer. She gives evidence to show that people, who are at higher risk of becoming potential victims of crime; do not necessarily call for tough measures.
The example suggests that, though blacks are more prone to be victims of crime; it is the white population that supports the law. The other evidence tabled is that of the 1993-1994 action against crime, yet the crime rate was falling. The issue of race in shaping public opinion is stereo typed by the white community, who are more concerned about safety and pushing for change. The role of crime control under the constitution was designated to state and local government bodies.
The Reagan administration put the crime agenda on the forefront, by promising to fight street crime. Once the administration was in office, putting the institutions to fight crime in place proved to be difficult task. They instead shifted focus to dealing with drugs. The take on crime was that, humans have an inherent propensity towards crime.
The American public has the view that, crime was due to social economic matters and not the issue of human propensity to commit offenses. The public opinion on the issue of drugs had not arisen prior to Reagan’s campaign on drugs.
The Reagan administration shifted the emphasis to drugs by increasing the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to drugs and increasing its funds. The rhetoric on anti-drugs was geared towards the drug pushers and later to the casual user. Clinton on the other hand had a different approach to the crime issue. The election period saw him push for tougher laws and the death penalty. He sought to have boot camps for young offenders.
He however changed his stand criticizing Reagan and bush for racial connotations to the problem. He was of the opinion that the criminals were victims of inequalities of life. He pushed for more programs to bridge the economic gap. He also supported the push to build more prisons and to increase the number of law enforcement officials. The media plays a critical role in informing the public on issues. This is evidenced by the fact that 90% of all polls rely on the media.
Evidence shows that watching TV shows with violence, persuaded the viewers to vote for punitive measures as they perceived the world as being violent. The Journalists in the 20th century changed facts, reporting from their own point of view. This is what is called objective journalism; the government officials became part of the news and not the source of the news. They were without censure on their veracity.
The issue of crime is emphasized by the conservative ideology that advocates for social understanding that, an individual is not influenced by his environment but makes individual choices. The breakdown of the family structure leading to erosion of authority of the parents is essential to the conservative theory. This forms the foundation for crime uprising. Thus the breakdown of the family leads to immoral behavior.
The state contributes to this by allowing the children to erode authority of the parents. The issue of race is important as research shows that, whites tend to fear crime and view crime as a thing of the blacks. They tend to give more punitive sentences and judgments against the blacks than the whites. The race issue in politics is hinged on the fact the democrats are open to the minorities and they offer them supportive welfare. The white middle class and the rich do not like this and they thus shift to the republican side.
There is need to emphasize the fear of crime. There is need to balance the cause and solution, that is Penal Laws. There is also a need for research and technical support. The Civil Liberties attack means that the crime control policies have to promote civil and constitutional liberties. The last issue is getting the drug traffickers and detaining them before they get to the children. They need to be arrested and given stiffer sentences.
The drug users lead to low productivity, robberies and higher insurance costs. The officials need to allocate more resources to the fight against crime. There is need for an honest commitment. The American public is more inclined to support the conservative approach than the liberal approach. The federalization of crime meant that the local government was given the role of control and crime prevention.
The law and justice lobby mechanisms were strengthened and research on how to improve the law enforcement and judiciary, in terms of delivery was carried out. The penal industrial complex revolves around the fact that, as the judicial system grew so did its beneficiaries call for more laws.
This is because the calls meant more funding for them. They had lobby groups. They lobbied for more funds and improved working conditions. They also supported politicians who were anti crime. The new Penology seeks to move to management of crime rather than eradication and of crime. It also seeks to put in management policies, called Managerial Criminology.
The emphasis is on the use of statistics and probability to assess the risk factors of the criminals. The issue is promotion of efficiency in crime control rather than a look at the social causes of crime and the issues of retribution; if all these are achieved on time, then crime will be reduced significantly in America and across its borders.