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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Category: Research

‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ and the Voluntary Sector

David Patton

This year will see the new Government strategy on the rehabilitation of offenders being put into place. This strategy designed to reduce the amount of re-offending committed by people coming out of prison was due to have started 1 April but has now been put back to 1 June 2014.  

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Most of the discussion about ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ - or ‘TR’ as it is often known – has been about the end of the probation service as we have known it these last 100 years. Private companies have been asked to bid for some 70% of the work once done by probation, leaving just 30% for the smaller ‘public’ probation service that will be left. The successful bidders from the private sector will be subject to a new system of ‘payment by results’.

The pace of the change has been rapid. Too rapid some would say. Probation officers have been striking in a show of resistance. Many of them still do not know who they will be working for in June. (see http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/05/probation-officers-strike-protest-privatisation).

The official line from the Secretary of State for Justice is that we have to change.

‘Reoffending rates have barely changed in a decade, and with the rate of reoffending at almost 60 per cent for those prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months, that depressing merry- go-round is all too real. These are the people that leave prison with £46 and very little else ... I do not believe that we can continue to just do more of the same’

Apart from the private sector coming in Grayling also wants to see more work with offenders given to the voluntary sector. The result will be a mixed market of public, private and voluntary sector agencies which he hopes will re-energise work in this field.

The voluntary sector is seen as a source of creativity freed from bureaucratic shackles. They can be innovative and experimental. The sector is already doing a great deal of work with offenders and under the new TR regime they may well link up as partners with the new private companies coming in. A useful website on developments is that of ‘Clinks’ an organisation supporting all forms of voluntary work within the criminal justice system (see http://www.clinks.org/; see also http://www.justvolunteer.org.uk/).

What can volunteers do in the field of prisoner rehabilitation?

Volunteers can offer mentoring to people leaving prison. The ‘Centre for Social Justice’ has recently published a paper on ‘mentoring’ people such people, to help them put their lives back together rather than drifting into a life of further criminality. A copy of Meaningful Mentoring can be downloaded from http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/publications/meaningful-mentoring .

Volunteers wanting to work with people leaving prison with convictions for sex offences can offer their services to ‘Circles UK’. These are organised groups of volunteers in all parts of the country who form a circle of friends for the person concerned to help them resettle in the community. Their slogan is ‘No More Victims’. Each circle has a paid coordinator and there are communication links to the probation service and the police (see http://www.circles-uk.org.uk/).

Questions:

  1. Is there a role for volunteers in the criminal justice system?
  2. Or should we leave it to the professionals?
  3. How do you think a mix of the volunteers, private sector and public sector will work out?

By Professor Terry Thomas.  View his staff profile here

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net artist David Castillo Dominici

Research: A Road Less Travelled

David Patton

I think we would all agree that there is something very intriguing about Gypsies and Travellers, whether this be from seeing camps come and go in our neighbourhoods or through programmes such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. With the media presenting such strong stereotypes and negative opinions, often based on deep-grained resentment, it seems like an impossible task to bring our communities together and live peacefully but this is exactly what Dr Anne Foley wants to work towards with her research here at our University. Carrie Braithwaite met up with her to find out more.  

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“I grew up around Gypsies and Travellers in Cardiff and there was always a ‘them versus us’ feel. They never engaged with us apart from one that became friends with my Nan. When I was at university, studying rave culture and new age travellers, there was a campaign in the Sun – ‘Stamp on a camp’ – and it all seemed very different to what I knew growing up. Around that time, I volunteered on a Gypsies and Travellers project in Cardiff and began to see the problems they faced with policing and victimisation and my interest grew from there.”

Policing is one of the biggest issues facing Gypsies and Travellers and Anne has found that there is a real culture embedded in our society which allows Gypsies to be subject to name calling, to the point of being openly racist, and constant victimisation: “I did some in-depth interviews and surveys and found that Gypsies and Travellers are being victimised in some way on an almost daily basis – for example low level things like being followed around a shop to worse situations like being banned from pubs and restaurants all add up to a feeling of social exclusion and being more and more marginalised through no choice of their own. However the police are not engaging with them as victims.”

Which led Anne to discover the informal justice systems used by Gypsies amongst themselves to deal with conflicts in their own communities; ranging from bare knuckle fighting to formal court systems. “I researched these for my PhD and found that the way that Gypsy and Traveller communities resolve conflicts is to shame someone, or a family, over time and then gradually bring them back into the fold. With outsiders of course, they cannot use their system but equally the police don’t deal with it.”

A few different systems of justice exist and even when someone has been to prison they will still need to be punished within the community as well. The purpose of the punishments is to maintain the community as Anne explains: “They have their own court system, called a ‘creese’, where elders of the community hold a court and both parties put their case forward. It is very formal: a time is booked, people are invited to attend and a decision is made which may be a fine, for example. The money is given to the elders and then passed on to the victim. There was one case where the family took the money, shook hands and then burned the money. This meant that they had moved on and didn’t need the money. It allowed the offending family to keep face and reintegrate into the community.”

Others use a fighting system: “If one family has wronged another then they’ll each pick a man of a similar age and ability and a bare knuckle fight will take place until the last man is standing. Money is paid in by the families and the winning family takes the money. In one case, people came from all over the country. The men stripped to their waists as they always do. There was a referee. The man representing the offending family took the first punch and deliberately fell to the floor. This was their way of saying sorry and it allows everyone to move on and maintain their identities.”

I ask Anne, how can we start to break down these barriers of ‘them versus us’ and integrate Gypsies and Travellers into our communities? She believes that the key is to avoid reactive communication – for example, not just going in to a camp when a crime has taken place but going in regularly and establishing a relationship. “Other good examples of practice have been where the police have stopped and listened and made the community feel like they can go to them if there is a problem.”

Establishing more legal sites would also reduce the number of illegal camps. “Gypsies and Travellers don’t WANT to camp illegally and if there were more legal sites then perhaps they wouldn’t just see the police as their evictors. York is trying to establish more legal sites but is facing public hostility. Where I grew up there was a camp but it was well-established so there were no problems. It’s only where there is fear that there are problems. Without fear, the boundaries can break down, we can get to know each other, children integrate into schools and people realise that they are not alien and lawless. They have different codes and don’t want to live in houses but they are the same as us.”

The bad reputation of Gypsies and Travellers is not helped by the media. Anne says: “Some things in the media horrify me. The racist terminologies like ‘gypo’ and ‘pikey’ are seen as funny and programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, although they’ve produced a curiosity, are so far from reality that they’ve just created even more open stereotypes. It makes me really angry! These programmes mock the people they feature and don’t say anything about the exclusion and victimisation they face. In Celebrity Big Brother however, although people were at first hostile towards Paddy Doherty (who appeared on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding), they warmed to him which shows that the more we get to know groups of people, the less likely we are to stick to stereotypes.”

Each council has now done a ‘Gypsy needs accommodation’ assessment and it has highlighted that there are not enough legal sites, meaning that they will continue to keep being moved on by police. Other options include buying your own land to create your own site, as in the case of Dale Farm, but most communities are refused planning permission. Councils are therefore now obliged to provide accommodation for Travellers so there is potential for positive change. However, Anne is not convinced: “The problem is so deeply embedded into society, and across Europe, that it will take a long time to break down.”

 

By Dr Anne Foley.  View her staff profile here

Research: Diary of a Sex Work Researcher in India - Week 1

David Patton

Dr Sarah Kingston (a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and a sex worker researcher) recently visited India and did some voluntary work in the slums and shared her own research findings at conferences in India.  Read some snippets of her time in India below. Day 1 – 28th December 2013

We arrived in Mumbai after a long journey. Mumbai is an interesting city. I was overwhelmed by the extent and levels of poverty visible on the streets, with thousands of people living in shanty huts, tents, and on the road or pavement. Streets and streets were filled with people living in this way, in some areas with whole communities of shanty huts, commonly known as the slums. At the same time you would often see evidence of wealth in the cars driven through the city.

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The amount of pollution was also extensive, with almost every street littered with rubbish of all kinds, and the smog went on for miles and miles as we drove out of Mumbai. The sky was not visible at all. This led me to wonder whether there was widespread concern for the environment and the possible impact of this pollution. I was also surprised by the lack of organisation and order on the roads, there appeared to be no visible road layout or rules, it seemed to be “everyman for himself” as people drove all over the road. The only sense of road rules I observed was the cars beeping their horns to notify other drivers of their presence. The final overwhelming issue that came to my attention, was the density of the population. I have never experienced such a densely populated city, which made me question the ability of sustainment, and also helped me to understand the levels of poverty (how can a city/country economically support the population?), and pollution (the numbers of cars and amount of rubbish, which was often burning, explained the extent of the fog). It was also clear that the city has a lot of history, culture and vibrancy. There were numerous numerous shops and stalls on every street, and many many people everywhere! The city seemed never to stop. I thoroughly enjoyed watching people go about their daily lives.

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Day 2 - 29th December

We travelled to Ahmednagar in the morning; it was a long 6 hour drive. On the journey we saw people urinating by the roadside. We also began seeing feral cows, goats, dogs and cats throughout towns and villages. They seemed to be an accepted part of daily lives, as cars merely drove round them. We arrived in Ahmednagar in the evening and took time to have a quick look round the nearby buildings. Nilsa and I visited the nursery, the children were having dinner. They greeted us huge smiles and a great deal of warmth. I was surprised how happy these children were and how welcoming of strangers. I was also surprised by the facilities of our rooms and the hospitality provided by the project. We ate dinner in the new food hall at around 8pm. I had expected that during the visit that we would not eat much during our stay, because of the levels of poverty, however I was surprised by the amount of food. The food was spicy, all vegetarian, but extremely tasty.  We attempted to have an early night, however none of us managed to get a good night’s sleep, with dogs barking, car and train horns, people arguing and others snoring. Disrupted sleep continued throughout our stay, and many of the team felt tired on many occasions.

Day 4-31st Dec 2013

New Years Eve - Today was the first day that we worked with children and young people. I led on sports with Grace and Darren. The children were such good fun, well mannered, respectful and I was amazed that they tidied up and packed away any toys that they used. I played hopscotch with them, giving biscuits as prizes the for child who scored the highest by throwing the “coin”. In the afternoon we got the children to decorate their own masks for NYE. The children were so enthusiastic and creative, and again I was surprised at how considerate and helpful they were with other children.  The NYE party was manic, the children loved to dance and the project´s children put on performances which we brilliant. We all danced with the children and were taught some traditional Indian dance moves.

Day 5 – 1st Jan 2014

The morning began with a talk from Milind about the project. He informed us how the project began from the work of Giresh, when at the age of 20 he saw a naked woman on the road side and no one was helping her. Later that day, he discovered that the woman was a prostitute and that her pimps were punishing her, stripped her naked, put chillies in her vagina and threw her by the roadside. It was this incident which inspired him. He began taking home the children of sex workers with the support of his family. Through charity support he bought the land of Snelalaya and 20 years later we were visiting the project. Milind told us a bit about the people they worked with, many of the children are the children of sex workers who are unable to support them. The project also supports babies from Sex Workers and put some of them up for adoption. 20-30% of sex workers that they work with are from the slums, others are unwed mothers who have been disowned by their families and who find themselves homeless, with no income and as a result they often find themselves working in brothels to support themselves. Millind claimed that only 10% of sex workers do so freely for economic gain and are un-coerced, those considered higher class sex workers. The cost of sex equates to £10, with sex workers generally selling to up to 25 men per day. He also said that they women were often controlled by pimps, who hated the project because it would often empower sex workers to take control of their money. The project also had outreach offices in most red-light areas, providing access to services for sex workers, both male and female. Later in the day we went on a tour of the whole grounds of the project and met many of the children in their dormitories. I was shocked to see that the children had hardly any possessions and lived in dorms of up to 40 young people. They greeted us as ever with big smiles and happy faces as they showed us their rooms and facilities. The rooms were generally overcrowded and the facilities basic. I don’t recall seeing any clothes or event storage for clothes, the project and the children are clearly in need of support.

In the evening we went to the theatre to watch children from another branch of the project perform. The disabled children and adults performed music and dance routines, which were very good. After the show we went for a meal at a local nearby restaurant with Milind. The food was gorgeous authentic quisine, but the toilets were rather unpleasant! with only a hole in the floor and excrement from other people littering the floor tiles. At our table, Miliind asked a group of men on the next table to move, as he overheard them making comments about us, and how they were going to take pictures. I asked him why they wanted to take pictures and he replied because of our skin colour. I guess with us being in a rural area, seeing people who looked so different was intriguing for local Indians.

Day 6 – 2nd January 2014

Today I travelled to the University of Pune to present a paper at the International Conference on Diversity, Margins and Dialogue: Local, National & Transnational Cultures. When I arrived I was surprised that Pune was much cleaner than Mumbai. The university was on large grounds, surrounded by lovely gardens. The university buildings were somewhat dated, but it did have the basic teaching facilities; computers, projectors, seats with attached desks, WIFI in teaching rooms.

My paper was presented alongside a researcher, Anjali Pathak. Her research had focused on a particular tribe, which was an illegal colony on Indian land, and some of its women would sell sex. The expectation was that women would be married and sell sex to support their families. Young girls were brought up to understand that this would be their role within the family unit. It was a fascinating paper and made me reflect upon how the socio-cultural context can often inform how, when, where and why sex work takes place. I was also intrigued to discover, that despite the author suggesting that it constituted violence against women, which feeds into radical feminist arguments that women can never truly engage in prostitution by choice, that the vast majority of the women had complete control over their income and finances. We could argue on the one hand that these women´s choices were not their own, in that they were often subtly coerced by their families or that they felt that they had to undertake such work. Notions of choice in this context seem somewhat blurred by these socio-cultural constraints/context. Yet on the other, we all are in some way constrained by our own circumstances and backgrounds. Whether we are born into a wealthy or poor family, where we live and the people we liaise with can also shape or constrain our lives. How can any of us say that they choices we make are fully “our own”?  Also, often their husbands also worked, but the level of income from prostitution often exceeded that of their husbands. Many people make employment decisions based on economics, so why is there often a mis-understanding of the choices some women make when they sell sex for money? As I suggested in my paper, sex, as with many other issues, is seen as having a specific value in society and there are often expectations on how, when, where and who with it should be practised. How do those who practice sex for these “appropriate” reasons really know that this decision is fully their own, when we live in a society that shapes our notions of sex and sexuality?

Day 7 – 3rd January 2014

Today was the second day of the conference and I spoke with a number of academic staff from Indian universities about prostitution in India. They told me about how some caste are expected to be prostitutes and that their families bring up their daughters with the explicit expectation they will sell sex to support their families. Again, I was intrigued by the contrasting experiences of some Indian women, both within India and internationally. The acceptance and expectation of the family, whilst at the same time experiencing stigma externally I imagine would be a difficult to manage. In the UK, sex workers often try to hide and conceal their sex working activities from their families because of the stigma afforded to prostitution. Sex workers often fear of the repercussions and have in some instances been subject to violence from family members who believe their family has been dishonoured in some way. Although in the UK families of sex workers may be financially supported by the profits of selling sex, unlike in parts of India the knowledge and encouragement of family members is absent for most.

After spending the day at the conference, I travelled back to the project in the late afternoon. As ever the journey was interesting, with cars driving all over the very bumpy and uneven roads. I was surprised to see roadwork being undertaken on very busy main arterial routes with no signage to indicate that people were in the road working ahead. Seeing oxen pulling carts and trailers often reminded me of how Britain’s agricultural past would have been very similar, whereas today we rely heavily on machinery and vehicles. I often felt empathy towards the animals that in some instances looked emaciated and worked in extreme heats. Although at the time of my visit it was winter in India, the summer I was informed was often unbearable and I wondered how the animals coped with such temperature rises.

 

By Dr Sarah Kingston.  View her staff profile here

Leading Criminologists commissioned to look at relationships between poverty and crime for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

David Patton

Professor Colin Webster and Dr Sarah Kingston from the Criminology Group and the new Centre for Applied Social Research at Leeds Met have reviewed evidence about the benefits of reducing crime by reducing poverty.

 

wealth & poverty

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as looking at the links how poverty and crime influence one another they have been asked by JRF to explore what contributions policies to prevent and reduce crime might make to their anti-poverty programme. The review is one of a comprehensive series of reviews, consultations and workshops to gather ideas and evidence; and commission analysis, research and modelling. The programme aims to reduce poverty across the four nations of the UK, creating costed, evidence-based anti-poverty strategies by 2016 that it is hoped will have a positive impact on the people affected.

In gathering knowledge and evidence about the interaction of poverty and crime,Prof Webster and Dr Kingston make explicit the direct and indirect influences and causes of this relationship, which have often remained implicit and unclear in much criminological research and crime policy, denying us access to the triggers and mechanisms that account for the ways poverty and crime are linked.

 

Image courtesy of freedigital photos.net - Stuart Miles