Archive for the 'Criminology and Criminal Justice' Category

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks': Criminology and Criminal Justice

This is the first in our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’ in which our editors tell you a little bit about themselves and share some of their thoughts on the titles they are most excited about publishing. With our newsletter focus on Criminology this month (sign up here!), Commissioning Editor Victoria Pittman tells us a bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Criminology and Criminal Justice titles and why she can’t complain about the length of the book on her bedside table…

Victoria Pittman

Victoria Pittman, Commissioning Editor

Name: Victoria Pittman
Title: Commissioning Editor

What’s your story? 
I studied English and European Literature at the University of Warwick and my first job in publishing was an Editorial Assistant at Blackwell Publishing (before the Wiley takeover/merger). It was in the Medical Division and my first books were about Cardiology which was both fascinating and alarming. It taught me that academic publishing is about learning from experts rather than thinking you know everything about a subject area. After moving on to work as a Development Editor at Blackwell, I then joined the Law Department at OUP where I worked for five years and was the Commissioning Editor responsible for the Criminal Law list as well as other areas before moving to Policy Press in 2013.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
My role involves commissioning and developing new content across the subject areas I am responsible for and then managing those lists whilst liaising closely with my colleagues in sales, marketing and production. I think editorial and commissioning is the most exciting area of publishing as you get to work closely with authors and be involved right from the conception of a project. I love learning from people who are passionate about their subject area and then working with them to bring their research and knowledge to its intended audience.

What most excites you about your subjects?
I am responsible for our lists in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Sociology and Social Justice and Human Rights. This covers a huge range of topics and so many important issues. I am always particularly excited about the titles which include really unique and interesting research with hard to reach groups or on areas which have been previously neglected. For example our book Domestic violence and sexuality by Catherine Donovan and Marianne Hester offers new research and the first detailed discussion of domestic violence and abuse in same sex relationships.

What key things are happening in Criminology at Policy Press this year?
We have some brilliant titles publishing on the Criminology and Criminal Justice list this year, I really want to list them all! As this is a growing area for us, it is nice to see such a variety of titles and to be working with lots of great authors.

This month we’ve seen a particularly important one released: Children behind bars: Why the abuse of child imprisonment must end by Carolyne Willow exposes the harsh realities of penal child custody. Some of the stories are particularly shocking and it’s important that more people know about the realities faced by children who are locked up in these places.

I’m also looking forward to seeing our new textbook An introduction to critical criminology publish as I think it will be really valuable for students and lecturers in this area. Pamela Ugwudike who teaches this course at Swansea has managed to cover an incredible amount of material in an accessible way, covering topics such as Marxist criminology, crimes of the powerful, and cultural criminology.

Other highlights include Positive youth justice: Children first, offenders second by Kevin Haines and Stephen Case, Intermediaries in the criminal justice system by Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson and Simon Pemberton’s new book in our Studies in Social Harm series, Harmful societies.

There will be lots of others as well, including some new Policy Press Shorts such as Female Serial Killers by Elizabeth Yardley and David Wilson and Privitising probation by John Deering and Martina Feilzer.

What interests you particularly in Criminology and Criminal Justice?
I find the books on reforming and improving the criminal justice system the most interesting but also enjoy reading about advances in solving crime and the investigative side. My Dad is a police detective (technically retired from the police force now but I will always think of him as a policeman!) and he has done a lot of work on forensics which always fascinates me.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – it’s our book group book and I chose it so I can’t complain about how long it is!

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?
If the earth was about to be destroyed and you could only take one book with you to another planet, which one would you take?

 

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy:

Children behind bars: Is it time to close our child prisons? by author Carolyne Willow

What really goes on Inside Crown Court? by Victoria Pittman

Children behind bars: Is it time to close our child prisons?

Haunted by the restraint-related deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood in prisons run by G4S and Serco, Carolyne Willow spent 18 months collecting information about young offender institutions and secure training centres.

Her book ‘Children behind bars: why the abuse of child imprisonment must end’, which details the findings of her research, publishes today. In a guest post for us, Carolyne shares the shock she felt at the bleak and murky world of child prisoner abuse uncovered by her research.

Carolyne Willow

Carolyne Willow

Although I had been close to the issues of child prisoner treatment for getting onto 20 years, I discovered there was still much for me to learn. The transfer of methods, and perpetrators, between different institutional settings was one revelation.

I hadn’t realised, for example, that the ringleader of the sadistic abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View had honed his techniques whilst working in a young offender institution.

Nor did I know that Frank Beck, the country’s most notorious children’s homes manager, used the ‘rib distraction’ (sharply driving fingers or knuckles into the child’s ribs) technique. Several years after Beck was sentenced to five life sentences plus 24 years for his systematic abuse of children in care, this was one of three brutal restraint techniques approved for use in secure training centres.

horrified

I was horrified by the scale of alleged abuse in Medomsley detention centre in Durham, now reported by 950 former inmates. The account of boys lying at the foot of the stairs so others could jump on their legs and break them, as the only means of leaving the institution and escaping further abuse, is heartbreaking.

Sexual abuse in Downview women’s prison, which also held girls, was also news to me. Civil servants refused to release the report from the prison service’s internal investigation, though they disclosed that action was taken against four prison officers between 2009 and 2013.

Other information I elicited points to children being sexually abused in that prison. Successive parliamentary questions about prison officer sexual abuse have been rebutted on cost grounds. I can only imagine how Louise Casey would have reacted had Rotherham councillors dared use this ‘disproportionate cost’ excuse for lack of data during her recent inspection of the authority’s action on child sexual exploitation.

After months of pursuing information on child prisoner abuse, I was told 62 prison officers working with children in nine state prisons were disciplined for abuse between 2009 and 2013 – six of these for an ‘inappropriate relationship with a prisoner/ex-prisoner’.

“…in the words of the sentencing judge, [William John Payne] was able to sexually assault a child prisoner ‘at every opportunity’”

My information requests to councils and police forces for the first time give a picture of children’s allegations, and the inadequate response of child protection agencies. Even when prison officers have been convicted, as with William John Payne – who, in the words of the sentencing judge, was able to sexually assault a child prisoner ‘at every opportunity’ – child protection follow-up seems non-existent.

The local authority in which that prison is located couldn’t give me rudimentary data on abuse allegations made by children. It did, however, say no serious case reviews were held during the relevant period. Serious case reviews are initiated when a child dies or has been seriously harmed and there are concerns about safeguarding. Payne had been a prison officer for 30 years.

Fear, hunger, deprivation of fresh air and exercise, physical abuse and desperate loneliness are ubiquitous in child prisons. Thirty-three boys have died since 1990. A single government department was responsible for the 19 prisons in which 31 of the children died, and the Youth Justice Board managed contracts with the multinationals running the two secure training centres in which Gareth and Adam died.

routine strip-searching

Prison policy demanded the routine strip-searching of child inmates until last year, with thousands of children forced to suffer the degradation of adults in uniforms inspecting their bodies. Those who refused would be held down and their clothes yanked off, sometimes with ‘safety scissors’.

Stripping children naked was part of the authorised procedure for transferring them to the ‘block’ (segregation). This is one of many penal practices I hope Justice Lowell Goddard will scrupulously investigate during her inquiry into sexual abuse and exploitation from the 1970s onwards, which has prisons and ‘secure’ institutions listed within its remit.

Long before the judge reports, however, our remaining child prisons must close, whatever the financial cost. It’s time for the hamster-wheel of reforms and rebrands to stop. Chris Grayling’s self-indulgent plans for new penal institutions – the ‘secure college’ – should be graciously donated to a museum of Victorian childhood.

Children suffer in prison precisely because they are in prison; that is the truth. New centres of excellence modelled on the best of secure children’s homes, and international evidence, is the only way forward. Clinging onto child prisons in the face of the devastating evidence is far more than covering up abuse. It is perpetuating it.

Related links

Guardian article 11 February 2015 – Carolyne Willow: ‘We closed workhouses, let’s get rid of child prisons’

Children behind bars [FC]Children behind bars: why the abuse of child imprisonment must end publishes today and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Blair: “I’m not to blame for Chilcot delays”

GavinDingwallDMU

GavinDingwall

DMU's Business and Law presentations 2014

Tim Hillier

Authors Gavin Dingwall and Tim Hillier considers the very modern phenomena of apportioning blame in light of the recent news that the Chilcot Inquiry will not be publishing just yet and drawing on examples from their recently published in their book Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process.

The recent non-news story that the findings of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot would not be reported any time soon has produced considerable media murmuring.

There is a certain satisfaction to be had in realising that the establishment of the Iraq Inquiry hadn’t all been just a dream. There is considerable bewilderment that the Inquiry will still be continuing six years after it was established. There is also the interesting side issue of how the Inquiry will compare with the Iraq War cost-wise.

Running through it all however there is a leitmotif: Blame.

Gordon_Brown_Davos_2008_crop

Gordon Brown Photo credit: World Economic Forum

When Gordon Brown announced the establishment of the Inquiry on 15 June 2009 he may have talked about identifying lessons to be learned but the Inquiry was always going to be about apportioning blame. Gordon Brown’s statement on 15 June 2009 gave no indication that he thought the whole Iraq experience had been a success. In the words of 1066 and All That it had been “a bad thing” and therefore it must have been somebody’s fault. The delayed publication of the findings of the Inquiry now raises another layer of blame: who is responsible for the delay.

This focus on blame is not surprising in the modern epoch. The Iraq Inquiry itself is a particularly modern response to events. We still await the establishment of a government inquiry into the Suez invasion of 1956 or into events surrounding the deposing of the elected Iranian prime minister in 1951.

The Franks Committee which inquired into events leading to the Falklands Conflict in 1982 were very keen to establish that they were not seeking to apportion blame. Although the Franks Report had its share of critics we did not see the sometimes frenzied enthusiasm to blame that we see now.

There is a contrast to be made between the reaction to the inner city riots of the early 1980s with the reaction to the urban disturbances in 2011. Whereas with the former there was an acknowledgment that at least some responsibility for the burned out cars rested with the wider society: with all of us; in 2011 the language was much more ‘them’ and ‘us’: we might discuss who precisely is to blame but we are clear it is ‘them’ who are to blame and not ‘us’.

Margaret_Thatcher_1983

Margaret Thatcher, 1983 Photo credit: White House Photographic Office

It is difficult to pinpoint accurately when the turn to blamestorming occurred. It perhaps coincides with Thatcher’s denial of such a thing as society. During an interview with the Prime Minister in September 1987, Douglas Key, after congratulating the Prime Minister on securing a third term in office, suggested that increased prosperity for some had seen an increase in crime, an increase in divorces, an increase in violence and an increase in greed.

He hinted that the Conservative government might have some responsibility for this. Thatcher’s response was robust. She indicated that too many people thought problems of crime, violence were the responsibility of society: “. . .they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!” (Interview for Woman’s Own accessed 22 January 2015).

Certainly through the 1980s and into the 1990s we saw a growth in a desire to allocate blame to certain named individuals and a greater desire for blame. When certain events occur, for example, the death of Baby P or the killing of cartoonists in Paris, it is not sufficient merely to blame those directly responsible. The quantity of blame released is greater than that and it needs to be rapidly assigned or there is the danger that we may all be affected by it. We might all have a responsibility. That doesn’t accord with the spirit of the age. Far better we blamestorm and encourage the blamemongers to identify the scapegoats so the rest of us can sleep easy.

 If you enjoyed this, you might also like….

Should our principles always guide our actions? by Cécile Hatier

Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats [FC]Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process published on 29 January and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

What really goes on Inside Crown Court?

Inside Crown Court by Jessica Jacobson, Gillian Hunter and Amy Kirby was launched at the Royal Courts of Justice last week. Policy Press editor Victoria Pittman shares her experience of attending the event and explains why she feels this is such an important and revealing book.

Victoria Pittman

Victoria Pittman

I am lucky enough to have attended events at the Royal Courts of Justice before but, with the launch of our new book Inside Crown Court last week at this appropriate venue, it is now my new favourite.

It’s hard not to be excited when three lovely authors arrange an interesting and engaging presentation, including contributions from the Lord Chief Justice, Baroness Vivian Stern and Professor Penny Cooper, and then hold it in a court room at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Royal Courts of Justice Credit: N Chadwick

Royal Courts of Justice Credit: N Chadwick

As the Lord Chief Justice pointed out, few courts match the splendour of the one we were sitting in for the first part of the event. (I wish I could include a picture but of course photographs are not allowed – hence the book cover of Inside Crown Court, featuring some wonderful sketches by Christopher Tomlinson rather than an image.)

IMG_1474

Authors Amy Kirby, Gillian Hunter and Jessica Jacobson

However, what really made this event for me was the content of the book we were there to celebrate and the extracts from the people who were interviewed as part of the research.

‘them and us’

One of key themes of the book is what the authors describe as a ‘them and us’ divide and how ‘the passivity of defendants and marginalisation of victims and witnesses mirror each other and underpin the divide between ‘them’ (the court users) and ‘us’ (the professionals)’.

Amy Kirby read out two quotes to demonstrate this which I found particularly striking and which highlight how the experience of attending court might feel for those involved. The first was from a victim of robbery, who had no previous experience of court. He discussed his experience of cross-examination, and said:

‘I just felt like [the defence counsel] didn’t look happy; he looked miserable: a face of disbelief at what I’m saying. But it’s funny, because every time we were paused for a break that face would just go and he would laugh and talk to my barrister as if they were friends.’

The second extract was from a defendant with several court experiences, the most recent of which was a trial for assault and attempted murder; of which he was found guilty of assault but not guilty of attempted murder. He said:

‘If you’re a defence lawyer … you should always fight, as in, if your client is saying, “I’m not guilty,” you should fight for him like he’s not guilty … [but] they’re pally pally … with the prosecution. I see them coming in and they’re laughing and joking. I’m thinking: What’s this? Like you’re going for some drinks or something.’

Distressing

Another quote which stayed in my mind was one read by Gillian Hunter which draws attention to the sometimes distressing experience of cross examination.

IMG_1471Although the purpose of cross examination is to discredit the evidence and raise doubts about what is being said, this comment from a victim of sexual assault suggests that she had not anticipated just how much personal information would be discussed as part of the case:

‘I wasn’t prepared for being taken back to when I was five and six years old. … They were going for mental health; they were going for me to be unstable, that I was forgetful,… They dig everything up – all your medical records…They brought up all my history at home, my life with my mum and dad, my teenage years, mental health and physical health.

I’ve had my kidney removed, I’ve also had a hysterectomy and breast tissue removed under each arm …and they brought a plain piece of A4 paper with an outline of the female body and marked off where my scars were and they gave it to all the witnesses and to him to say that’s where all my operations were…I didn’t realise they were going to hand a picture like that around the court for everyone to see my bodyline basically, like I’d been dissected.’

Jessica Jacobson summarised the book as describing the court experience to be ‘inherently difficult, stressful and frustrating; sometimes very distressing; and overlaid with all kind of contradictions,’ but also as evidencing ‘an implicit belief in the legitimacy of the court process’.

One of the points which was discussed in the question and answer session after the presentations was the importance of communication and preparing victims and defendants for the court experience.

Although Baroness Stern argued that we have come almost as far as we can in terms of improving the court process (without changing from an adversarial system), the authors suggested that there is still much which can be done to improve the experience for witnesses, victims and defendants.

I was pleased to hear the Lord Chief Justice talk about the value of academic research which clearly has an important part to play and I personally hope that more people choose to undertake this kind of important research into the criminal justice system. I am delighted to be involved in publishing and launching such an engaging and valuable book.

Follow @TPPvictoria on twitter for latest news and views

Inside Crown Court [FC]Copies of Inside Crown Court can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

If you liked this blog, you may also be interested in reading….

What is it really like to be a juror?

What is it really like to be a juror?

Inside Crown Court: Personal experiences and questions of legitimacy by Jessica Jacobson, Gillian Hunter, Amy Kirby publishes today. It provides a vivid description of what it is like to attend court as a victim, a witness or a defendant; the interplay between the different players in the courtroom.

By sheer coincidence, our Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tomlinson, was called up late last year to serve as a juror in a crown court trial. We asked Rebecca to share her insights about the experience of being a juror. 

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

Nothing can prepare you for the moment you first step in the court room. All I could think about was not messing up my affirmation and avoiding eye contact with everyone possible. 

My initial feeling was one of dread. How could I be qualified to judge and possibly condemn someone for the rest of their life? It didn’t seem fair somehow – to the defendants or me – that something that could affect someone’s life forever could be decided by a group of strangers.

Once the feeling of dread had subsided however, I felt bound to my role and determined to do the best job I could do. I diligently took notes every day, even when things were happening so slowly it was hard to keep my eyes open. As a natural daydreamer I often had to fight the urge to drift off and think about my plans for the weekend or what I was going to have for dinner that night.

Harrowing

It wasn’t all dull though. Seeing both the prosecution and defence lawyers manipulate and explain the ‘facts’ was fascinating; when objections arose it was exciting. It was also, a lot of the time, quite harrowing and, all of the time, very sad.

As the weeks passed I became accustomed to listening to the awful details but the thoughts of what I had heard that day never quite left me once I got home. The hardest and most tiring thing about the whole process was not being able to talk about it once I left the courtroom. There is no other situation in most people’s daily lives where they are bound by law not to talk about what has happened to them that day. It’s such a strange feeling that becomes so ingrained into your thinking that even writing this now feels wrong in some way.

“…the thoughts of what I had heard that day never quite left me once I got home”

What I read in Jacobson’s book about the role of the juror being completely contradictory was my experience exactly. Every day we were asked to look at only the facts of the case, not to speculate and strictly not to let our emotions rule us in any way. Yet in the very next breath we would be bombarded with emotive language describing the victim or the defendant and asking us to imagine how we would feel if we or someone we loved were in the same situation.

As the weeks (and months…) passed my fellow jurors and I became gradually more hardened and emotionally detached and even found ourselves laughing and joking whilst waiting to go into court. I wouldn’t say that we forgot about the seriousness of the allegations but there was definitely a more relaxed feeling among us.

That is, of course, until it was time for us to retire and give our verdicts. During our 3 months together we had not always seen eye-to-eye and had, reluctantly, been drawn into arguments and debates that we should have all risen above. In the deliberating room, it was no different. As the days went by with still no decisions made, our tempers were frayed and our patience worn out.

However, that is the best thing about having 12 random strangers come together to make this type of decision. When we ran out of things to say and thought we were getting nowhere, someone who hadn’t spoken all day would mention something we’d all missed and everything started to become clear.

It took us 8 days in total to reach our verdict and, in the end, I was mostly happy with our decisions. As I sit here at my desk writing this post I can’t help but smile while reminiscing. If there’s one thing I can definitely say, it is that it was 3 months of my life I will never forget!

If you’d like to, you can also follow Rebecca on twitter @TPPrebecca

Inside Crown Court [FC]Inside Crown Court: Personal experiences and questions of legitimacy by Jessica Jacobson, Gillian Hunter, Amy Kirby publishes today. A launch event for the book is being held this evening at the Royal Courts of Justice.

 

The complexity of convergence: criminal justice, mental health and risk

The World Mental Health Day earlier this month aimed to create awareness and mobilise efforts to support the mental health of individuals.  Editors of A companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk, Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley, which publishes today, have a particular interest in the point of ideological, legislative , practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice.

In their blog post academics and Policy Press authors Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley begin to outline some of the intertwining issues surrounding criminal justice and mental health.

PT, SM, KCNational and international awareness days are just one example of the myriad of activities aimed at promoting mental health agendas. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, those tasked with the mandate of support, educating about, and treating mental health issues are cross-disciplinary and multi-agency. One area, among many, of discussion and debate on the improvement of mental wellbeing and the support of mental health issues is in the criminal justice context.

Those in contact with the criminal justice system who experience poor mental health may be considered as exceptionally vulnerable. A system whose remit is to respond to a variety of crises – be that of a criminal or personal/social nature – is a system of complexity with a range of demands placed upon it.

Precarious system

Moreover, it is a precarious system whereby the expectations placed upon it are diverse, with innumerable competing aims. Allegations that aspects of the criminal justice process fail to support the needs of those with mental vulnerabilities are frequently expressed, and so too are those concerns that the system itself is implicit in creating and exacerbating mental health issues.

So then, the mobilisation of policies and services to address mental health in a criminal justice context have evolved, but at the same time has come under scrutiny. Indeed for some, the boundaries between healthcare and criminal justice have become blurred, and not always with positive outcomes.

This critical approach to the intersections of criminal justice and mental health legislation, policy and practice have grown gradually and have illuminated upon the ideological, legislative, practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice (see for example, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2010).

“A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas”

Convergence continues to take place in many criminal justice and penal systems. It is complex to observe, sophisticated in form and influenced by a range of imperatives, agendas and discourses. The overlapping areas of criminal justice, mental healthcare and risk require a critical and balanced understanding, and along the way, require observers to ask the question “who benefits?”

Multiagency approaches and cross-discipline developments in the area of mental healthcare, risk management and criminal justice are becoming increasing normalised in the organising principles of those subject to sanctions and interventions.

The benefits of increased convergence are well documented, not least in the developing agendas to support mental health issues in areas such as court diversion and prisons. But at the same time, understanding the complexities of convergent practices provides a potential to be alerted to unintended consequences and less-than-positive outcomes.

A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas, not least when thinking about the support and treatment of those subject to its controls.

The delivery of therapeutic interventions within an environment of sanctions is ideologically contradictory to say the least, and so the challenges facing those tasked with the planning and delivery of interventions are increasingly becoming more acute.

A companion to criminal justice mental health & riskA companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk by Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley is available at the discounted price of £22.39 (RRP £27.99) from Policy Press website, here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Personal brand ‘essential’ to gangland survival

Academic and Policy Press author Simon Harding’s award winning book The Street Casino is based on findings from his extensive ethnographic study of local residents, professionals and gang members in south London.

Harding’s research provides a fresh perspective and new insights on the gang world. He believes more time should be spent understanding, rather than condemning, the street gang system if we are serious about helping the young people trapped in it. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

 

SimonHarding2NEW FINDINGS show that street gang leaders actively work to build a ‘brand’ for themselves as an essential part of gang culture.

Author and senior criminology lecturer Dr Simon Harding has been researching street gangs for some years. He has found that on the street developing a person’s brand is as essential as it is in mainstream consumerist society.

Harding explains that an individual’s brand is effectively ‘capital’ on the street; capital that can be traded, exchanged, increased and reduced. Brand protection is one reason why street violence erupts and escalates so rapidly.

Harding says: “If I ‘dis’ you, I take some of your ‘street capital’. You have to act pretty quickly in order to regain it. You might do that by knifing me, in which case you have now regained and multiplied your street capital.”

It doesn’t end there, though. “If the person is knifed in front of other people the value of that action is perceived to have increased. The wider group of people then also knife the person as their way of getting a piece of the capital.”

‘Creativity and intelligence’

Harding’s ethnographic study has focused specifically on a deprived area of Lambeth, South London, SW9. He interviewed people from the area, including young people involved in street gangs.

He says: “What I found was an enormous amount of creativity and intelligence – these young people just want to get on with their lives. They are in gangs but they view it as something they have to get involved in even though they don’t really want to be. We owe the young people involved a moral and social responsibility to understand their world.”

Harding is very clear on one point that he feels needs to be addressed first and foremost: the wellspring of gangs is poverty.

“People enter gangs because there is no plausible alternative available to them. The old ways of moving from adolescence into adulthood have evaporated.”

“the gang has a strong gravitational pull”

There are few opportunities for the young people Harding talked to – something which he says is made worse in a multiply deprived area that has been effectively ‘written off’ by both local and national government.

As local services retreat, youth facilities and clubs close. If jobs exist they are sub-minimum wage and dead-end. Harding says: “These people are constantly battling the poverty trap, the gang has a strong gravitational pull.”

At this point, literally the only ‘game in town’ is the gang.

Harding says: “This is where my metaphor of the ‘Street Casino’ comes in – life is a casino for these people. They think they are going to win and win big, but the reality is very different.”

As with a real casino, there are many diversions along the way to keep people playing. They win a little, get some girls, have some entertainment.

Harding found that young people believe in the ‘game’ as their way out. They get addicted, the game becomes compulsive and people get stuck in this world. “The gang becomes the only game in town – but more than that, it becomes the only game they know how to play.”

In light of his findings Harding believes that young people need better support from local services, who in turn should work more effectively with a deeper understanding of the gang domain to provide a safer, alternative future to the Street Casino.

Copies of The Street Casino are available to purchase, with a special discount from the Policy Press website.
The Street Casino has just been awarded The Frederick Milton Thrasher award for Superior Gang Research. The award was established by the journal of Gang Research in 1992 to honour and recognise outstanding scholarship, leadership and service contributions by individuals and programs in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

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