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Applied criminology may be thought of as being concerned with the application of the discipline of criminology to ‘real world’ problems of crime and criminal justice. It is both critical and engaged and seeks to find solutions to particular issues of crime and justice, as well as to problematize suggested approaches. This research paper sets out to review and explore attempts to address crime, to deal with offenders, and to respond to victims.
- What Is to Be Done about Crime?
- What Is to Be Done about Offenders?
- What Is to Be Done on Behalf of the Victims of Crime?
- Restorative Justice
- Developments in Victim Policy
This research paper is concerned with surveying the field of applied criminology or criminology in its applied form. Applied criminology may be thought of as being concerned with the ‘real world’ problems of crime and criminal justice and how the research and scholarship within the discipline of criminology can relate to them. It is influenced by both contemporary academic criminology, which seeks to explore and conceptualize crime, its causes, and the responses to it in theoretical terms, and administrative criminology, which has largely become an attempt to “implement pragmatic means of crime opportunity reduction and to manage crime through situational prevention measures” (Muncie, 1998: 4).
Applied criminology seeks to address and compensate for the perceived deficiencies of other criminological approaches. Academic or theoretical criminology is vulnerable to the criticism of being distant from real-world concerns and detached from the public, criminal justice agencies and practitioners. Administrative criminology can sometimes be atheoretical or uncritical, and it suggests that the causes of crime are relatively unimportant or politically impossible to tackle (see Young, 1988). Applied criminology can be viewed as an area of study, which not only seeks to find solutions to particular issues raised by crime and criminal justice, but also to problematize current and suggested approaches.
Applied criminology, as conceptualized by Stout et al. (2008), seeks to draw on both academic criminology and administrative criminology. Canton and Yates (2008: 5) define applied criminology as “a criminology which self-consciously and deliberately explores the insights of criminology for their relevance and application to policy and practice” and which “should have a critical edge, casting a discriminating, analytical gaze over the process of criminalization, crime enforcement, and the criminal justice system” (2008: 6). Criminological research and theoretical knowledge has significant relevance for addressing crime, offending, and victimization, and the collection makes explicit the relationship between governmental agendas and knowledge production.
Criminology, in its applied form, should engage with real world concerns but should not be simply pragmatic or functional. It should have a critical edge, casting a discriminating, analytical gaze over the process of criminalization, crime enforcement, and the criminal justice system. It should seek to expose the relationship between governmental agendas and knowledge production (Canton and Yates, 2008: 6). Although the term ‘applied criminology’ is a familiar one, appearing in the titles of courses, conferences, and research centers, it is not possible to claim that it is, in itself, a distinct area of criminology. It does not claim to offer major premises or unifying theories, which define crime, isolate the causes of offending, and offer a solution to the crime problem (such as critical criminology, peacemaking criminology, and so on). Applied criminology should be thought of as an approach, which not only seeks to find solutions to particular issues raised by crime and criminal justice through established criminological endeavors, but also to problematize current and suggested approaches embraced by governments and criminal justice agencies. It directly takes on the challenge implied in Loader and Sparks’s (2010) conceptualization of criminology as a ‘successful failure’ – a discipline that is successful in attracting the attention of students and academics, but that has a declining influence outside the academy. Applied criminology addresses the practice implications of criminological scholarship.
With this orientation in mind, we use the term to discuss criminology that has a direct connection with the ‘real’ world and thus highlight the role that criminological research has had on shaping criminal justice and its responses to offenders and victims at a policy level. In their characterization of applied criminology, Canton and Yates (2008: 2) identify three principal questions, which they suggest that applied criminology should address:
- What is to be done about offenders?
- What is to be done about crime?
- What is to be done on behalf of the victims of crime?
This research paper uses a version of these questions, in a slightly different order, to outline how criminology is being applied to address each of these questions in turn.
What Is to Be Done about Crime?
A starting point for an account of the application of criminology is to take stock of the context of the understanding of crime. Until the early postwar period, criminology had been dominated by the positivist approach, which viewed the causes of crime as a consequence of one’s circumstances and neoclassicism, which was based on the belief that certain responses would reduce the likelihood of repeat offending. However, during the late 1960s and 1970s, respectively, the discipline underwent two major crises (Young, 1988). The first related to what Young (1988) referred to as the “aetiological crisis.” For the most part, positivism was based on the belief that as social conditions improved, postwar crime would decrease. However, crime did not decline as many had suspected, instead it continued to rise. The second was a crisis of penalty following the publication of a number of police studies in the United States, which questioned the effectiveness of the police and the reformative potential of prisons in dealing with crime. This found expression in the ‘nothing works’ pessimism, discussed in the next section, and, coupled with increasing crime rates, led to questioning of the ability of the state to control crime (Garland, 2001: 62).
Many advanced liberal democracies responded to this perceived limitation by reforming criminal justice institutions and mobilizing nonstate mechanisms in the “fight against crime” (Crawford, 2008). The 1970s and 1980s were characterized by the revival of the ‘just deserts’ model, which focused on the punishment of the offense rather than on the needs of the offender; an increased role for both the victim and the ‘community’ in the administration of justice (rather than professionals only); and the ‘politicization’ of crime control in which ‘public opinion’ became a central issue. The rise of “populist punitiveness” (Bottoms, 1995) or the “law and order” ideology (Cavadino and Dignan, 2002) has often involved politicians talking tough and introducing ever more stringent penal policies in order to secure public support (Young and Matthews, 2003). Garland (2001: 172) succinctly describes this development as:
Criminal justice is now more vulnerable to shifts of public mood and political reaction.The populist current in contemporary crime policy is, to some extent, a political posture or tactic, adopted for short-term electoral advantage.
This, unsurprisingly, has resulted in increased resources being devoted to policing, prosecutions, and prisons (McEvoy, 2007) as advanced liberal governments seek to demonstrate to their publics that they are able to control crime. A widespread fear of crime and the ability of politicians and the media to generate “moral panics” (Cohen, 1972) have made this a popular strategy for those wanting to serve vested interests. However, this has also had the adverse effect of dramatically increasing prison populations and creating a perception of increased criminal incidents, despite a relatively stable decline in crime rates in the decade since the mid-1990s (Cesaroni and Doob, 2003; Young and Matthews, 2003).
Many developed nations have therefore increasingly become aware that an exclusive adherence to a punitive strategy has not produced the desired result in terms of greater satisfaction with criminal justice or an increased sense of security of justice. An increase in caseloads; a perceived lack in the ability of the criminal justice system to deal with crime effectively; and an increase in victim advocacy (Albrecht, 1999; Garland, 2001; Zedner, 2002; McEvoy, 2007) have therefore subsequently resulted in concerted efforts to find new and innovative ways of dealing with offenders and victims.
A highly visible attempt to reformulate the relationship between criminal justice and its public has been located within policing practice. The introduction of community-based policing, problem-oriented policing, and restorative policing during the 1980s and 1990s offered the police an alternative to the reactive, incident-focused style (Paterson and Clamp, 2012). Such initiatives acknowledge the central role of the community in identifying, reporting, and responding to crime, and it is thought that the police are more likely to successfully tackle crime where policing strategies are based within and informed by community members themselves. However, this ideological shift runs contrary to the historic policing mission where independent police professional knowledge directs local developments and it has thus generated a certain level of resistance by police officers. Alongside this, a body of critical literature has developed that questions the extent to which this shift in power and responsibility has, or even can, take place (Hobsbawm, 1995; Bauman, 2001). This literature questions whether placing ‘the community’ at the center of policing policy makes sense, especially during a historical period in which many communities (in their traditional sense) are understood to have disappeared (see Clamp and Paterson, 2011).
Criminology has also engaged with policing in questioning its very definition of crime and its approach to how offending is measured and recorded thus leading to high-profile and heated debates between police stakeholders and the academic community (Eterno and Silverman, 2012). It has often been the role of criminologists to hold the police to account and to strongly criticize police practice, when required, such as in the two high-profile British examples of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster (Scraton, 2009) and the murder of Stephen Lawrence (Bowling and Phillips, 2002). However, increasingly, across the world, the application of criminology to policing is taking place within police training with university-level preentry police training programs being offered in, among others, the UK, the United States, and Australia. Criminology can then play a dual role of an outsider, researching and commenting on practice, and an engaged insider, contributing to the development of the profession.
What Is to Be Done about Offenders?
Criminological research has informed debates in criminal justice with regard to the difficult question of what should be done with offenders. Criminological research has been applied in determining what approach should be taken in effectively rehabilitating offenders, but this issue has not always been simple or straightforward.
Discussions of the effectiveness of interventions with offenders conventionally start with the notorious meta-analysis of 231 cases (Lipton et al., 1975) and the conclusion from that analysis, most often associated with Robert Martinson, which almost nothing works with offenders. This research was often mischaracterized and was used for political purposes, by both left and right (Miller, 1989), but it provided an impetus for the lengthy and ongoing work of establishing what is effective in working with offenders. Martinson himself later retracted his ‘nothing works’ conclusion and accepted that some things work in some circumstances (Martinson, 1979). Applied criminology has been concerned with determining what is effective in working with offenders. However, there are also arguments that simply asking ‘what interventions are effective?’ is misdirected and reductive; it is also important to take account of offenders’ rights and of the narratives that offenders themselves relate about their desistance from offending.
Over the last decades, the question of ‘what works’ or what is sometimes known as ‘effective practice’ has dominated the application of criminology to work with offenders. Mackenzie (2000) summarized the extent of knowledge by identifying that some of the approaches that worked included:
- Rehabilitation programs with particular characteristics
- Incapacitating offenders who commit crime at high rates
- Some prison-based therapeutic programs
- Programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy approach
- Nonprison-based sex offender treatment programs
- Vocational education programs in prison or in other residential settings
- Multicomponent correctional industry programs
- Community employment programs
Mackenzie also identified approaches that had been consistently shown not to work in reducing reoffending. These included specific deterrence programs, interventions based solely on control or surveillance, and boot camps and other wilderness programs. Counseling approaches that were vague and unstructured also had no discernible effect on recidivism rates. This vein of research continues with increasingly detailed knowledge being produced regarding what is effective in working with offenders. In the UK, the Probation Studies Unit of the Centre for Criminological Research at the University of Oxford had the stated goal of carrying out research into the effectiveness of various interventions, and they emphasized the need for well-designed studies to evaluate accredited programs (Roberts, 2004). In Australia, the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) is the official source of crime statistics for the state but also evaluates initiatives designed to reduce crime and reoffending (BOCSAR, 2013).
The focus of criminological attention on, largely quantitative, studies to determine the effectiveness of particular interventions on changing offender behavior has been subject to challenge and criticism within criminology. Feeley and Simon (1992) identified a new penology with a focus on actuarial and efficient and effective processes that could lower our expectations of the system and become detached from traditional concerns of rehabilitation or punishment. Garland (2001: 19) went further in describing the “all pervasive managerialism” that affected all aspects of criminal justice and led to a social way of reasoning being replaced by an economic way of reasoning. Cohen’s (1985) concerns were that an applied criminology could be merely technicist and that measures introduced ostensibly to help and support an offender could simply become another mechanism of control. If applied criminology is to be more than merely technicist or administrative, then it must address these concerns and there are a number of ways that this has been done. Applied criminology is also concerned with the rights of offenders and with their own self-narratives regarding how they desist from offending, and in supporting them to do this.
A simple focus on the effectiveness of programs in addressing offending behavior can lead to crime being considered as a natural disorder, analogous to illness, and can leave crucial questions unexamined. For example, a simple focus on the effectiveness of interventions can ignore the fact that crime, and thus offending behavior, is social constructed. It can also neglect questions of the differential representation of particular groups in the criminal justice system and the link of that representation to questions of social justice. Viewing rehabilitation as a right, regardless of the effectiveness of particular interventions, can help address this problem. Rehabilitative and therapeutic services as well as educational and employment support can be provided without a need to calculate their effectiveness (Rotman, 1986). Carlen (2013) has gone further, arguing that a focus on rehabilitation is a distraction from the injustices in society and in the criminal justice system. She argues that we need an inclusive social justice that reduces inequality and promotes citizenship.
The increasing attention given to what is now known as desistance research and its focus on hearing from offenders regarding how they have moved away from offending has allowed criminological research and insights to become applied to work with offenders. Desistance research has early roots in the United States, particularly in the longitudinal life course studies analyzed by Sampson and Laub (1993), which investigated how individuals became involved in offending and later came to cease offending behavior. They found that significant life events, such as getting married or finding employment, were correlated with desisting from offending. More recently, primarily in the UK, research and scholarship (see, for example, Maruna, 2001; Farrall and Calverley, 2006; McNeill, 2006) has built on and developed this research to create a desistance paradigm. The desistance paradigm emphasizes the involvement of the offender in his own progress toward desistance and the need to work through partnership, collaboration, negotiation, and an emphasis on strengths. Desistance is an active process, involving the building of social capital and the support of criminal justice practitioners; it is not simply a program that can be imposed on an individual to change their thinking. Crucially, what makes desistance research work in applied criminology is its explicit drawing of links to practice and its desire to provide a framework for both practitioners and policy makers (see McNeill, 2006; Farrall and Calverley, 2006).
A further approach to the application of criminology that avoids the simply technicist use of programmed interventions and that considers wider social justice and relational issues is restorative justice. Restorative justice will be discussed in the next section, within the context of how criminology can be applied to respond to victims of crime.
What Is to Be Done on Behalf of the Victims of Crime?
Criminology, and specifically the subdiscipline of victimology, has had a particular influence in the increased importance given to the needs of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. By the end of the 1970s, “many diverse forces had converged to draw attention to the neglected role and importance of the victim in the justice system” (Strang, 2001: 72). These forces, from within and outside criminology, included (1) the rise of the feminist movement, which highlighted important issues around particular ‘hidden’ crimes including rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and child abuse; (2) efforts to establish children’s rights, which increased acknowledgment that children were particularly vulnerable to victimization; (3) the introduction of victimization surveys, which showed that crime was unreported and grossly underestimated, thus highlighting the difficulties and distrust of the justice system felt by many crime victims; (4) the rise of victim compensation initiated; and finally (5) the introduction of legal and social reforms aimed at protecting and helping crime victims (see Goodey, 2004; Spalek, 2006 for a more detailed overview).
As these developments in the victim movement progressed during the 1980s, the rise of consumerism resulted in agencies being directed to care about the lay people using their “services” (Mawby and Walklate, 1994: 81; Simmonds, 2009). Until then, responding to victims involved providing degrees of compensation for physical injury, including medical services and income maintenance or cash benefits, but ignored those needs that arose as a result of mental or emotional harm (Webster, 1994). Initiatives were subsequently devised to provide a service to victim ‘consumers,’ victim advocacy groups enjoyed a more significant status, and ‘service delivery’ targets were used to monitor whether or not the structural and systematic problems encountered by victims were being addressed.
While the ‘victim movement’ and rise of consumerism have certainly marked an important change within criminal justice, the extent to which this can be said to have improved the plight of victims is still subject to considerable debate. The work of two critical scholars may be drawn on here to illustrate the point further. Nils Christie, a Norwegian criminologist, has substantially shaped how we think about who victims are and how they are treated by the criminal justice system. In 1977, Christie suggested that victims had their ‘conflict’ stolen by the criminal justice system, and in 1986 he argued that not all individuals are able to acquire legitimate victim status – the less ‘ideal’ a victim was the less ‘justice’ they received from the criminal justice process.
Later, Robert Elias (1993) contended that victims are often manipulated by governments to achieve punitive aims. This reality can leave the victim feeling bewildered in which justice is equated with severe sentencing as opposed to tangible outcomes for their suffering or losses. Elias (1990) went so far as to say that the victim movement in the United States could no longer be classified as a social movement at all, so completely had it been corrupted by right-wing political forces. However, this cooption can take other forms as well. Spalek (2006), for example, draws attention to how Victim Support in England and Wales has increasingly been seen as an adjunct to the formal justice system because of its success in securing a place at the center of government policy, casting other victims’ groups such as rape crisis centers to the margins.
To further illustrate some of these practices, two important developments will now be reviewed: restorative justice, and the legal provisions, which cover the treatment of victims and victim participation within the criminal justice system.
Although the recent origins of restorative justice are widely contested (Clamp, 2014), most agree that the inherent failings of criminal justice created an impetus for alternative models to be devised. The emergence of restorative justice around the same time as the apparent ‘demise’ of the rehabilitative ideal (or the etiological and penal crises) is perhaps unsurprising as it mirrors objections to state monopoly; questions the role of the professional; and seeks to ‘rebalance’ responses to crime so that the views of the victim, the offender, and the wider community are taken into consideration. As such, it departs from current trends of ‘punitive populism’ and ‘crime control’ outlined in the previous sections in preferring humanitarian notions of restoration and reintegration.
Perhaps, the most significant theorist in this area is John Braithwaite who put forward the idea of reintegrative shaming, whereby the actions of the offender are denounced, but not the offender (Braithwaite, 1989). During the process, the offender is encouraged to acknowledge wrongdoing and make amends for his or her actions by responding to the harm caused to the victim, “thus demonstrating that he or she remains part of the law-abiding community and recognizes its norms of acceptable behavior” (Roche, 2003: 29). Reintegration not only places a requirement on the offender, but also on his/her family and other agencies in supporting the offender to overcome the underlying causes of the offending, which may stem from a variety of practical, emotional, and/or psychological need. This work, from Braithwaite and others, is one of the strongest recent examples of criminological insights being applied in practice.
Experimentation with processes that provide both victims and offenders with an active role in the resolution of their offences can be traced back to victim and offender reconciliation programs that originated in Kitchener, Ontario in the late 1970s (Zehr, 1990; Galaway and Hudson, 1996). Until recently, restorative justice has, for the most part, operated on the margins of the criminal justice system offering no real challenge to the dominant law and order ideology that prevails in many Western societies (Garland, 2001). It was not until the 1980s that the increased status of both the ‘victim’ and the ‘community’ contributed to a reconsideration of the role of the state in the resolution of offences (Van Ness, 1996; Albrecht, 1999; Zauberman, 2000; Zedner, 2002). At this point, the restorative justice experiment extended to the reform of youth justice systems on the basis of restorative justice processes and principles such as in New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa (see Clamp, 2008; O’Mahony et al., 2012), experimentation by the police (see Bazemore and Griffiths, 2003; Moore and Forsythe, 1995; Paterson and Clamp, 2012), and various communities (see Clamp and Paterson, 2011).
Adversarial approaches in criminal justice are often perceived as a zero-sum game between victims and offenders; thus restorative processes are increasingly vulnerable to cooption by the system. Restorative justice is susceptible to degenerating into a shaming ceremony in which wrongdoers are not reintegrated, but stigmatized and humiliated and where victims are used as pawns to bring about change in the offender (McCold, 2002). Restorative justice can also have a tendency to endorse similar stereotypical notions of victimhood as the traditional criminal justice system (Walklate, 2005; Young, 2002). It is an alternative to formal justice, yet relies on established legal definitions of victims and victimization (Pavlich, 2005).
Developments in Victim Policy
International instruments have had considerable influence on the treatment and position of victims within the criminal justice process and the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985) is the most influential of these. The Declaration is not legally binding but can be used as a ‘benchmark’ to measure domestic policy progress (Van Dijk, 1989: 12), and its principles have become staples of policy discussion. These include access to justice, provision of information, fair treatment, and assistance in both formal and/or informal procedures. This has provided the impetus for a worldwide trend of designing and implementing victim rights charters, serving as official acknowledgment that victims have been marginalized and adversely treated by criminal justice agencies leading to secondary victimization (Spalek, 2006). The introduction of charters is a positive step for victims, but the use of the phrase ‘victims’ rights’ can unduly raise expectations that victims are being empowered in some significant way (Fenwick, 1995).
Victims’ rights legislation can communicate the services that victims can expect to receive from agencies of the criminal justice system (Spalek, 2006; Wolhuter et al., 2009) thus encouraging victims to think of themselves as individual consumers (Bennett, 2007). Such an approach reduces the potential for significant systemic change to occur so when victims are unhappy with the service that they receive, they are only entitled to make complaints – there is no mechanism through which they can enforce their rights. Changes in policy and practice that have been implemented across agencies of the criminal justice system under the guise of development of a ‘victim perspective’ or ‘victim rights’ have not necessarily led to significant improvements for victims (Spalek, 2006).
Promoting victims’ rights might lead to giving victims a more active role in the criminal justice system such as by participating in prosecution or sentencing decisions. Many countries have now introduced victim impact statements, allowing victims to explain the impact of the crime on them. Proponents of this approach argue that victim involvement can increase prosecution efficiency, improve sentencing effectiveness, and increase victim satisfaction (McLeod, 1986; Kelly, 1987; Erez, 1990). However, critics are wary of the use of victim impact statements to legitimize a punitive stance against offenders (Ashworth, 1998) and have highlighted that the process can create unachievable expectations among crime victims regarding their influence over sentencing decisions (Fattah, 1986).
In a similar way as discussed previously with regard to offenders, applied criminology has been able to claim an influence over changes in approaches to victims in the criminal justice system in the recent decades, while also maintaining a critical stance over the meaning and consequences of some of these changes.
Applied criminology is a term now in widespread use in program titles, conference programs, and names of research centers, and the terminology sits alongside the applied iteration of other disciplines such as applied sociology or applied forensic science. The use of the term ‘applied criminology,’ however, has neither been accompanied by concerted attempts to define the term, nor are there leading scholars who prominently declare themselves as applied criminologists. It is perhaps due to the nature of the criminological discipline that the boundaries around applied criminology are so unclear; in a sense all criminology is practical and applied, just as all criminology is reflective and theoretical.
This research paper has outlined how criminology has been applied to the problem of what to do about crime, to work with offenders, and to responding to the needs of victims. Punitive strategies remain popular with politicians and the public, but they have little impact on crime rates. Police practice is held to account both by criminological scholars and researchers and increasingly by contributions from criminology to police training. Research insights inform the nature of the work carried out with offenders and contribute both to the nature of the interventions and, more recently, to the way objectives are set and notions of success are framed. Work with victims is more prominent and better funded than it was a few decades ago. However, victims’ emotions have been translated into individual need using the discourses of consumerism and active citizenship so, although they are acknowledged, victims’ needs are framed and used according to the bureaucratic and political goals that prevail.
Criminologists are concerned about how their work is received by wider society and the weight given to their research findings and insights. Two recent attempts to conceptualize this relationship between criminology and the public provide assistance in determining the nature of applied criminology. Braithwaite (2011: 137) asks criminology scholars to be ‘sparkers,’ stimulating debate and providing ideas for the players in policy and practice. Loader and Sparks (2010: 124) suggest that the role of the criminologist in policy formation is that of the democratic underlaborer, promoting a better political and policy understanding of crime and the response to it. McNeill (2011) observed that such a role could also be played by criminology in relation to practice and, that, perhaps, is the place of applied criminology – to spark ideas and inform the practice of those who work within criminal justice, particularly in direct work with offenders and victims.
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