Archive for the 'Criminology and Criminal Justice' Category

Books for Prisoners: Protecting the ‘perks and privileges’ of reading

In July the Howard League called on people to send books directly to justice secretary Chris Grayling, asking that he forward them onto prisoners. Their Books for Prisoners campaign aims to overturn a ruling by the Ministry of Justice that controversially banned the sending of books to prisoners, classifying them as ‘perks and privileges’.

Policy Press asked our author Peter Wallis to share his views on the ban and why he believes the access to books by prisoners needs to be reframed as necessary and essential.

Author Peter Wallis

Author Peter Wallis ‘shocked and saddened’ by book ban

‘If you randomly select 100 people aged 15-18 in custody, 55 will not have had access to full time education prior to custody, and 28 will have had no education at all.’ Peter Wallis, Understanding Restorative Justice

I was shocked and saddened by the news that Ministry of Justice rules may prevent prisoners from receiving books from outside. I started thinking of the lifeline that the written word can provide for those locked away from society.

I thought of Stories Connect, where prisoners discuss books and literature in prisons such as HMP Channings Wood, where one inmate said: “Stories Connect didn’t just change my life, it saved it”. I thought of the psychotherapist Murray Cox who introduced Shakespeare into Broadmoor, which now has regular performances from the RSC. I thought of the work of the Prison Phoenix Trust, which encourages prisoners to consider their time in their cells as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Hundreds of books are sent each year to prisoners to introduce them to the practices of meditation and yoga.


On a more personal note, I thought of my grandfather, who served three and a half years in solitary confinement at HMP Ipswich and in Wormwood Scrubs as a conscientious objector in the First World War. He spent his time in his cell learning German in the hope of contributing to attempts towards reconciliation with the enemy when the war was over, moving his family to Berlin soon after the war ended.

“It seems desperately short-sighted to stop books being sent to prisoners.”

I believe that during his time in prison my grandfather was rationed to 6 books, and was also limited in the amount of paper he could use for correspondence, often sending his letters to his mother in miniscule writing on toilet paper.

It seems desperately short-sighted to stop books being sent to prisoners, many of whom have had little or no previous educational opportunities.

Guardian journalist Erwin James received all of his education inside prison. Surely the government wants to boost any opportunity to enable our most marginalised and poorly educated citizens to feel connected and part of society. How much better by encouraging reading rather than endless gym sessions, TV or computer games?

Understanding restorative justice: How empathy can close the gap created by crime by Peter Wallis is published by Policy Press and available at a discounted rate from our website.  Policy Press will be sending a copy of Peter’s book to Chris Grayling, requesting he pass it onto prisoners as part of the Howard League’s Books for Prisoners campaign.

A missed opportunity: Why the Law Commission got it wrong on hate crime

Jon Garland, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Jon GaJG picrland and Neil Chakraborti are co-editors of Responding to hate crime: The case for connecting policy and research, published by Policy Press last month.


Recently the Law Commission published the results of its year-long investigation into the efficacy and scope of hate crime laws. The consultation, a reference from the Ministry of Justice, had the specific remit of examining the ‘aggravated’ offences and incitement to hatred legislation in order to see if these should be extended to include groups that were not previously protected.

That the Law Commission was asked to undertake this review at all was a reflection of the increased social significance of hate crime and also (and relatedly, of course) the heightened importance of hate crime legislation. Supporters of this legislation argue that it has a specific, symbolic importance in that it reflects society’s condemnation of the victimisation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. However, one of the issues examined in this process was the inequality that exists in the provision for different victim groups within the mish-mash of hate crime legislation. The criminal justice system currently recognises just a handful of different identity communities as hate crime victim groups – the so-called ‘five strands’ of race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity – about which the police are required to collect hate crime statistics. Surprisingly, though, some of these ‘five strands’ receive more protection from the law than others. For example, the aggravated offences provision within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 currently covers race and faith groups, but not those relating to disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, in the case of the incitement to hatred legislation, race, faith and sexual orientation groups are included, but not disability or gender identity.

So how has this rather odd situation come about? Well, the explanation is, in some ways, quite simple: there is no single all-encompassing ‘Hate Crime Act’ that covers different types of offences and all identity groups, but instead there exists a number of different pieces of legislation that have been drawn up over time which have, gradually, included one group after another in a rather piecemeal fashion. This has resulted in the disparities of provision that the Law Commission was asked to investigate.

Under a degree of expectation, the Law Commission therefore published the findings from its extensive investigations at the end of May. The Commission concluded, perhaps rather disappointingly, that a further, Government-sponsored review into a wider set of questions surrounding the aggravated provisions was necessary. It also, rather frustratingly for some disability campaigning groups such as the Disability Hate Crime Network, declined to recommend that the incitement legislation be broadened to include the strands of gender identity and disability. The Commission’s reasoning for this was that it had not been persuaded of the ‘practical need to do so’, that prosecutions might in any case be rare and that new incitement legislation might ‘inhibit discussion of disability and transgender issues’.

This verdict means that disabled and transgender communities still find themselves ‘out in the cold’ regarding the incitement laws. It also means that some groups appear to be accorded a more ‘privileged’ position than others within the five strands, which is an unfortunate outcome of the Commission’s work. Although the justification provided by the Commission for declining to make this recommendation  has some logic, it does seem a shame that it failed take the opportunity, in the words of the Disability Hate Crime Network, to extend the law’s coverage to ‘capture a unique, specific and grave type of wrong’.





Police and Fatal Shootings

Maurice Punch

Maurice Punch

by Maurice Punch, author of Shoot to Kill

A fatal shooting is the ultimate in police use of power. Hence it is vital to achieve clarity and transparency on the reasons for it to ensure trust on the police use of firearms. After the massacre at Hungerford (1987) British policing became semi-armed: and the standard approach was geared to restraint, firing single rounds and aiming for the body mass – to stop and not to kill. That changed dramatically at Stockwell in 2005 when Met officers shot dead Jean-Charles de Menezes at point-blank range with several hollow-point bullets to the head. This can only be fatal and was indisputably “shooting to kill”. It raised a host of issues but the police and the Home Office went silent and have managed to avoid a fundamental debate. What should have been explored was:

- the law, national policy, operational guidelines, tactics, weapons and ammunition;
– the operational chain of risk assessment, briefing, encounters, post-incident evaluation and accountability;
– and the aftermath of a fatal shooting regarding support for family and friends, informing stakeholders and the media and cooperating with investigations.

If this had been brought unambiguously into the public domain after Stockwell it would have proved valuable in the current controversy surrounding the Mark Duggan shooting. We now need to know what has been determining the Met`s firearm`s policy and tactics. CO19, for instance, has become highly professional and skilled. To what extent is this a “militarization” of policing – written about extensively in the US – and has it altered the ground rules? Could it be that the Home Secretary`s priority on cutting crime, the Mayor`s emphasis on swift results and the Commissioners “total policing” have pressured officers and hardened tactics?

This is particularly relevant when the police get it wrong with irreversible consequences. Some of the most serious disturbances in the US have been when police have shot dead young black men who were unarmed. This also forms the key issue in the shooting of Duggan: was he unarmed at the moment he was shot? Thanks to the restraint of the Duggan family following the inquest verdict – and the proactive Met approach – there has been none of the mass violence that occurred in 2011. But this case raises two important factors:

Firstly, there are the objective elements about the context, risk assessment, equipment, briefing (was it recorded?) and the actual encounter. These are important in assessing the nature of the assignment, the appropriateness of the “hard-stop” tactic and whether alternatives were considered.

Secondly, there is the subjective experience of the officers. The evidence on firearms use is that there is always a degree of visual and aural distortion. In seemingly life-threatening situations any implement, a piece of a hoover in one case, viewed as a weapon – or a sudden gesture can lead to an officer firing, with the defence of a reasonable fear of fatal danger. The officer may even become convinced that there was a weapon when none was present. Officers do misperceive the threat in the split-seconds of a shooting and this will continue to happen however hard they train.

The conflict in assessing liability then comes from this tension between the objective factors and the subjective experience of the officer. Inquests and juries having seen and heard the evidence are burdened with assessing the validity of the latter – and a head-camera can`t look inside an officer`s mind – and tend to side with the officer`s account, to the disbelief of relatives and friends of the victim and the media.

Politicians and the police have kept the profound and unresolved implications of Stockwell out of the public arena. If they had taken the opportunity to inform the public fully on police use of firearms it might have defused the controversy and turbulence around the disputed shooting of Duggan.

Maurice Punch, 11-01-14, Amstelveen, The Netherlands.

How do values, ethics, morals and ‘sides’ function in the criminal justice system?

Marian Duggan

Marian Duggan

by Marian Duggan, co-author of Values in criminology and community justice, which published in September.

The UK criminal justice system is rapidly changing in light of the ongoing neoliberal turn, advancing towards a focus on expansion, results and privatisation. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore, that criminology as a discipline remains as popular as ever with students and scholars, practitioners and policy makers. These shifts and their wider social impact prompted us to ponder upon contemporary ‘values’ in criminological research, theory, policy and practice.

Taking Howard Becker’s 1967 article ‘Whose Side Are We On?’ as a starting point, we set out to investigate how values, ethics, morals and ‘sides’ function in and around the criminal justice system. Two and a half years later these earlier ponderings resulted in the publication of Values in criminology and community justice.

In the book we analyse a range of issues, often evidencing the multiple and, at times, contradictory discourses concerning victims and offenders, punishment and protection, rights and responsibilities. We cover traditional ground such as values and ‘sides’ when working with offenders, victims, the police or wider communities, and also address issues pertaining to prisons, the changing probation service and desistance.

More nascent areas of study such as ‘green criminology’ are also covered alongside new and fresh approaches to existing areas, for example how feminism, racism and identity impact on criminological theorising. Critiques of neoliberalism and its impacts are also present with issues such as the ‘big society’, economics of justice, desistance and contract research being tackled by contributions from experienced and eminent scholars in the fields of criminal and community justice.

The timeliness of this publication is not only evident in light of the changing nature of the criminal justice system, but also links to the theme of the 2013 British Society of Criminology conference, where the discipline was quite literally ‘put on trial’ and charged with failing to deliver. Criminology’s strengths and limitations were laid bare in the compelling prosecution and defence statements which ensued, but (thankfully!) in the end Criminology was acquitted of all charges.

However, during the trial, what became evident was the broadness and malleability this area of scholarship affords researchers seeking to improve, enhance or enrich the lives of others. No one discipline – Criminology included – will ever have all the answers to questions concerning how to address offending, victimisation, deviancy and harm. Nonetheless, the thoughtful arguments put forth in the Values book clearly illustrate the importance of continually querying responses to crime, criminality and criminalisation in light of developments in social, political, legal and moral values.

A launch is being organised at Hallam View, Sheffield Hallam’s premier conference suite, on Wednesday 11th December 2013, 5–8pm. Please contact Elena Portaluri on 0114 225 6280 or for further details.

Values in criminology and community justice is available with 20% discount from

Dr Richard Stone on the launch of his book Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

The launch was held at the House of Commons in Committee Room 14, the Gladstone Room. The event was sponsored by Sadiq Khan (Labour), Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and Tom Brake Liberal-Democrat), thus demonstrating cross-party support for the ant-racist agenda set by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.


The text was edited by the playwright Stephen Sharkey. The reading was directed Melissa Dunne and was performed by three professional actors: Tom Golding, Kelechi Okafor and Robert Macpherson (pictured).

There was prolonged applause.  I did a brief question and answer session and several people spoke.

Leroy Logan, retiring Chief Superintendent, spoke of his experience of years as a black Metropolitan Police officer

Doreen Lawrence then spoke movingly about her feelings 20 years on from the brutal racist murder of the eldest of her three children.

She also told us of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust for young people in its fine building in Bermondsey. It was a pleasure to see her face light up when talking about this positive outcome from the disaster 20 years ago.

I then encouraged people to give financial help to replace three central Governmental grants to the Stephen Lawrence Centre, none of which has been renewed this year.

Alison Shaw, Director of the Policy Press, encouraged people to read the book and the audience needed little persuading.

Not surprisingly the best outcome of the event was the networking which took off from the minute the business was over.

I ended the evening with a call for a united anti-racism movement. It was a memorable event and the first of  I hope many more.

Richard Stone April 2013

Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Personal Reflections is available at

Developments in the drug debate

Legalising drugs coverby Philip Bean

The drugs debate has started up again. This time the questions raised are more than those surrounding cannabis, but of decriminalisation of all controlled drugs. It has also attracted those in the highest political positions, including the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister himself. Driving the debate is a familiar theme: that the war on drugs has failed and we need a new approach. The answer it is said is to decriminalise, i.e. no longer make it an offence to possess controlled drugs where possession is for personal use. This, it is argued, has a number of advantages; it will save police time, reduce the number of offenders and thereby the costs of court appearances, and reduce the impact of crime, especially organised crime.

This is not a new argument. The Home Affairs Select Committee considered it in 2002 and said that, whilst it accepted that to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use might appear to remove some obstacles, it would add others, not least that it would send the wrong message to the majority of young people who did not use drugs. (paras 67-70)¹. The Committee was also concerned about the possible recruitment of new users. For example, it said it might give suppliers an incentive to seek to expand the users market. It would also engage enforcement agencies in a murky area, for how can you distinguish between user and supplier, particularly small scale social suppliers? The Committee also said it might also diminish respect for the law, as it would embrace or offer a fundamental inconsistency: that is it is permissible to use drugs, but not permissible to supply them – few, it seems, suggest that supplying drugs should be decriminalised.

There are some commentators who say ‘The War on Drugs’ no longer exists, nor has it for a number of years. Capitulation, they say, occurred long ago; what is in vogue nowadays is decriminalisation by the backdoor. That is to say, law enforcement agencies and the Courts take a “softly, softly” approach to possession of illegal drugs, even for heroin and cocaine, and particularly ecstasy, where many are given a caution and few go to prison. In this they are partially correct: well over half of all drug offenders are cautioned (slightly fewer for possession of crack cocaine and heroin i.e. about 40%), and only about 9% of all drug offenders are sent to prison, almost always for supply, with only about 4% of all drug offenders going to prison for possession.

Yet, however appealing the decriminalisation argument may appear, certain questions remain unanswered, the most difficult being: would it apply to juveniles? Would children under 16 be allowed to possess heroin or cocaine? If not, we shall have a curious form of prohibition applying to a certain age group, and strangely at odds with the restricted use of tobacco and alcohol applied to juveniles nowadays. As for the other claims, it might not save much police time, for it is doubtful if the police target a drug, more likely a drug user, where the aim is mainly to disrupt supply. It would certainly reduce Court appearances but this could also be achieved by additional use of cautions. How about the claim that it would take out of the criminal justice system an otherwise law-abiding group of drug users? This is, however, one of the least appealing features of the current debate. Why are drug laws given special attention? We do not say the Theft Act criminalizes an otherwise law-abiding group of burglars or shoplifters.

Finally, would it reduce the impact of organised crime, a claim made by many critics? Clearly not, if juveniles were prohibited from use. And anyway, the claim is not to legalise all drugs, i.e. allow them to be purchased freely and without controls, but to refrain from prosecuting those who have small amounts for personal use. As long as there are controls, there will be efforts to circumnavigate them.

What this, or any debate about decriminalisation, should do is concentrate more on sentencing practices and the variations in use of cautions and other non-custodial sentences throughout England and Wales, where evidence for such variations is powerful. It should also concentrate on questions about the justification for banning the use of certain substances, where we continue to pile on banning orders for new drugs at an alarming rate, with little or no consideration for, or evidence of, their harmfulness. Increase the use of cautions for possession, by all means, but look too at other matters which are more urgent.
1.    The Government`s Drug Policy is it Working? (The Governments reply to the Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee Session 2001-2002.) HC 318 Cm5573

Professor Philip Bean is Emeritus Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Loughborough and the author of Legalising Drugs; Debates and Dilemmas published by The Policy Press 2010.

The problem of adolescent-to-parent abuse

by Amanda Holt, author of Adolescent-to-parent abuse, publishing today

Adolescent-to-parent abuse coverThe ‘problem’ of teenagers is rarely off the news agenda. However, the focus of any problem behaviour is nearly always located outside the family home: on the streets, in the classroom, online. In such discussions, parents are frequently constructed as the root cause of the problem and the family home is rarely considered to be a site where adolescent problem behaviour towards parents is a concern.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear to practitioners who work with children and families that the problem of adolescents’ abusive behaviour towards parents is a very real one. Such abuse takes place mainly inside the family home, and it can take shape through physical, emotional and/or economic forms of abusive behaviour. Examples found in my own research include physical violence (and threats to cause physical harm), intimidation and undermining of the parent, and theft and damage to a parent’s property and possessions. Like other forms of family abuse (e.g. child abuse, interpersonal violence, elder abuse), adolescent-to-parent abuse can emerge very subtly and parents often feel a sense of disbelief, guilt and shame at what is happening. Such feelings may be particularly potent in cases of adolescent-to-parent abuse because many people are unaware that such abuse exists, making it hard for parents to talk about their experiences and for others to hear. Parents may also feel particularly silenced because we live in a culture where parents are routinely blamed for the problem behaviour of their children – often formally and publically through the use of criminal justice measures. And with few support services set up to deal with this form of family abuse, and with public policy failing to acknowledge it, it is unsurprising that this form of family abuse is so hidden.

This matters. As a human rights issue, no-one should be living in fear or, or under threat of, physical or emotional harm. As a health issue, the effects on families can be devastating, with long-lasting physical and emotional symptoms which can affect the life chances for parents and their children. As a criminal justice issue, there is evidence that adolescent-to-parent abuse can be part of a wider cycle of family abuse, and intervention here may stop subsequent abusive behaviours.

Fortunately, more people are now talking about it. Both in the UK and internationally, support agencies are developing intervention programmes to help them respond to the problem, although growth is slow because of limited resources and a failure in public policy to co-ordinate and fund a coherent response at national level. Alongside this has been an increase in research on this issue and we are learning more about which families are particularly at risk, how families respond, and how we might best conceptualise this problem at the psychological, social and cultural levels. Adolescent-to-parent abuse: current understandings in research, policy and practice therefore provides a timely overview of the current state of play in terms of what we know about parent abuse through research findings, how we are responding to it in the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, and what we are doing about it through established support programmes and resources. While this book is grounded in the UK political and cultural landscape, it draws on international research, policy and practices to highlight both similarities and differences, and identifies what we can learn from them and how we can go forward in tackling adolescent-to-parent abuse.

Dr. Amanda Holt is Senior Lecturer in Criminological Psychology at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth. She has published widely in the fields of parenting, youth justice and families and employs a multi-disciplinary approach to her research and analysis.

Adolescent-to-parent abuse is now available to buy from The Policy Press website with 20% discount.

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