Thursday, September 20, 2007

Governing through Crime in the UK?

I'm posting from London where I've been attending the annual conference of the British Society of Criminology. I had the great privilege of giving an opening plenary lecture on the topic of Governing through Crime and raised the question of whether the UK is already following in our path. In his brilliant book (to which my heavy indebtedness will be obvious if you read both books) The Culture of Control, David Garland suggests that both nations have reshaped their politics around the problem of crime and turned punitive for similar reasons rooted in the conditions of late modernity and the exigencies of welfarist governance.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the UK is being shaped by fear of crime. As you walk through London, closed circuit TV cameras are visible on virtually every intersection. The New Labour government, enjoying its 11th year in power, has made no bones about being both "tough on crime" and "tough on the causes of crime." One of their most discussed initiatives involves Anti-Social Behavioral Orders (or ASBOs) which can be issued by courts to require a person to refrain from behavior that is not criminal but makes others afraid of crime (like wearing a hoodie in the shopping mall). If you violate an ASBO, it is a crime.

On the otherhand, British society remains far more open to debate about these policies than is true currently in the US (indeed Tory leader David Cameron last year spoke out against ASBOs for hoodies, which the tabloids dubbed "hug a hoodie". At the very least there are strong forces here that are likely to resist a full embrace of governing through crime as a mode of governance,including:

A constitutional system that gives ruling parties plenty of power to govern in many areas of life without having to compromise with the opposition or with other levels of government

A national agency in charge of criminal justice, the Home Office, which remains far more open to criminological influence (rather than the populist impulse that dominates both national and state criminal justice policy in the US)

A stronger commitment to the idea of government as a tool of social solidarity than exits in the US

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