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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 Tag: crime

Eli Silverman: Crime Numbers and the NYPD

Nickie Phillips

Nov. 3 at St. Francis College - Eli Silverman / Crime Numbers & the NYPD

Eli Silverman is a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Silverman is author of numerous scholarly articles on policing management, crime rates, and policing performance. He is co-author, with John Eterno, of The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation and author of NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing. Dr. Silverman has served with the US Department of Justice and the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington, DC.

Post-Prison: How has higher education helped change my life?

Nickie Phillips

Guest Contributer: Johnny Perez

The question of how higher education has changed my life is a question of not only cause and effect, but one of light versus darkness. I see ignorance as a state of darkness and education the illuminating light that so often eliminates it. My relationship with higher education has been an example of this battle; however, to truly appreciate the cure one must first understand the disease.

The worse part of living in a state of ignorance is not knowing about it. That was the situation I found myself in for many years, oblivious of the fact that I did not know that I did not know! As a result, I applied criminal solutions to my problems, reacted aggressively when confronted by others, and often gave up on myself when challenged beyond my comfort zone. Eventually, at the tender age of twenty-one, my self-defeating behaviors restricted me to a concrete cell for the following fifteen years.

I would like to say that receiving such an unbearable sentence served as a catalyst for change in my life, but I cannot. Like any pattern of behavior that takes shape over the course of many years, I continued to break the law despite the contradictory evidence against it around me. It’s important to understand that at the time I did not see my behavior in a negative light. This was mainly because I always shifted responsibility of my actions to others. As a result, I felt justified in my actions and that only served to perpetuate my behavior.

It wasn’t until I tried to do the right thing for the wrong reason that I received the right results. I signed up for the prison’s college program with the idea of spinning a positive light on all the negative behavior I was involved in. Instantly, I knew that I was in a different arena, but instead of quitting like my past indicated, the thought of leaving prison early motivated me enough to continue in the program. Before going to college I was not interested in education. School was were the squares and smart white people went to become lawyers and doctors. I never completed the tenth grade and my General Equivalency Diploma was the result of paying someone ten packs of unfiltered Marlboro Reds to pass the exam for me.

In prison, having reading material is the armor that protects you from the second-by-second attack on your soul that constant repetition can sometimes be. College gave me more protection from monotony that I could have ever hoped for. Within the first semester I traveled the world from inside my cell. I travelled alongside Martin Luther King Jr.; cried with Holocaust survivors; argued the philosophy of laissez-faire with Adam Smith, and even visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I also learned the meaning of new words and terms like multi-generational poverty, culture of violence, and synapse. Before college, I thought serendipity was a dancer at a gentlemen’s club, and a dichotomy was a type of surgery.

After some time, the funniest thing happened…I began to pull my pants up! I started to see opportunities where before I only saw challenges; stepping stones where before only obstacles were in sight; and college where before I only saw prison. I guess you can say that my paradigm shifted. The more I learned, the more I realized that I needed to learn more. The more I began to know, the more I came to the conclusion that I did not know anything at all. More importantly I began to see my behavior through the lens of responsible people, and slowly I became uncomfortable with some of the irresponsible behavior that I once felt so at home with. I could no longer use the N-word because I was conscious of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I refused to continue smoking marijuana because I now knew the effects on the brain, and above all else, I felt compelled to break the cycle of ignorance and poverty within my family by being the first to complete a college education!

It has been elleven months now since the sound of steel gates slamming shut has filled my ears every night before I fell asleep. Today, I am a non-attorney mental health advocate at a well-known law firm. I’m responsible for connecting clients, who are reentering society from prison or hospitals, with services like medical treatment, housing, and yes, education. Sometimes, when I visit them prior to their release, they stare down at the handcuffs restricting the movement of their wrists and say, “You have no idea what it is to be in this hell hole.” I usually don’t self-disclose my past to clients, but the hopelessness in their eyes, the frustration painted on their faces, and the smell of their fear motivates me to tell them my story. As I share my past experiences with them I can see their eyes begin to widen with hope, their shoulders raise in confidence, and their smiles shine with joy as they come to realize that I am a living example of the past not dictating the future. An example that nothing is impossible.

So when I’m asked by anyone, how has higher education helped change my life? I can sincerely say that it has changed my life by changing who I am. I could not be a better father, employee, son, volunteer, advocate, or student, if I had not become a better person first. And as a result of higher education changing my life, it has also changed the life of the people who I come I contact with.

Mr. Perez will moderate the panel "'In my neighborhood'…First-hand Stories of Police Interactions" at SFC on September 29, 2015.

Johnny Perez is a non-attorney mental health advocate for the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project, a law firm providing pro-bono legal representation to underserved populations affected by social justice issues.

When he is not advocating on behalf of New York’s most vulnerable populations, Mr. Perez works to change the status quo of unjust policies and practices as a member of pro-social groups including the Jails Action Coalition, the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), and the New York Reentry Education Network. Johnny is also a member of the Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee.

Student Post: Youth Crime: Is Imprisonment a Suitable and Effective Solution? 

Nickie Phillips

Issues surrounding youth crime and justice are one of the longest-standing and most highly debated areas within criminology.  There are many arguments surrounding the imprisonment of children and young offenders, particularly in relation to custodial sentences and whether they are appropriate and effective. There is no single, definitive principle of youth justice in the UK, but according to Hall, the philosophies of youth justice are four-fold and include welfare, punishment, rehabilitation and education.  There is much controversy surrounding the punishment of young offenders in particular, and emphasis is placed on different factors according to changes in time and politics.  This is particularly significant in recent years with the ‘punitive shift’.

As a result of this punitive shift since the 1990’s, the UK has seen considerable focus on punitive approaches in managing youth crime driven by an intense desire for stricter punishment and responsibilisation of young offenders.  According to Goldson, however, the imprisonment of children and young offenders is merely a matter of political convenience and the result of incompetent responses to, and failure to manage, youth crime through other methods.  This approach is supported by current government plans to build a super-prison to manage over 300 children and young offenders.  According to the Howard League, however, children’s prisons are volatile and dangerous environments which are ineffective at rehabilitating young offenders and are not suitable environments for young people. It is argued, therefore, that more emphasis should be placed on alternatives and that imprisonment is not an appropriate response to youth crime.

During a recent visit to East Moor Secure Children’s Unit, it appears that the four philosophies underpinning youth justice are attempting to be implemented in practice; but how effective are these philosophies in reducing youth crime?

According to the statistics for East Moor, 70% of young offenders released from the unit re-offend within the first year and many are subsequently returned to the unit.  Much emphasis is placed on education at East Moor and on getting the young people to address their offending behavior. However, if recidivism rates remain this high, it has to be asked how effective the imprisonment of young offenders is, particularly in relation to rehabilitation and how this can be addressed. The cost, (per person/per annum) of detaining a young person in an institute such as East Moor is up to £220,000. As a result, if the risk of a young person leaving the institute and reoffending is so high, arguably, imprisonment is not an effective method of rehabilitation and the money could be better spent on identifying and implementing alternative strategies.

During the visit, it was also highlighted that 90% of young offenders admitted to East Moor come from families with a recent history of offending behavior.  Perhaps, this highlights the ‘welfare’ philosophy of youth crime and therefore more emphasis should be placed on managing the welfare of young people and addressing the external factors which may contribute to them committing crimes and ending up in institutions. If a young person is admitted to East Moor, or a similar institute, then returned to the same environment and circumstances which may have contributed to their initial offending their chances of re-offending remain high.

Another factor for consideration when addressing the welfare of young offenders surrounds the disproportionately high number of children in these units suffering from mental health or conduct disorders which may be a significant contributory factor in offending.  The resources at East Moor are good, with medical and mental health professionals available as required. However, 20% of the young people there have self-harmed and, as a result, it can be argued that locking up young people with such issues is only going to exacerbate the problems, therefore ethical implications surrounding the welfare needs of young offenders need addressing. It may be more appropriate for these issues to be addressed in the community, and incidentally, by concentrating on treating these underlying problems, the risk of repeat offending would reduce as a result.

The punitive shift may explain why recidivism rates for youth crime remain high despite the education and support provided by institutes such as East Moor.  Perhaps, Goldson’s claim that prison is a political convenience - a result of failure to manage youth crime through other means - may offer some insight into what the focus should be in order to change the future of youth justice for the better.  However, the government’s plans to introduce a super-prison for youths would only exacerbate the problem, continuing to focus on punitive approaches, and avoid dealing with the underlying issues surrounding youth crime and justice and finding suitable alternatives.

Questions:

  1. What are your views on the government’s plans to introduce a super-prison for young offenders?
  2. Do you think that punishment is an appropriate way of managing youth crime or should more focus be placed on alternatives?

 

Post by Rebecca Baird-Parker

 

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by  sakhorn38

Student Post: Should We Lock Children Up? – A reflection from a trip to East Moor Secure Children’s Centre

Nickie Phillips

There has been debate over recent years about whether or not it is acceptable or effective to give custodial sentences to children and young people under the age of 18. Earlier this month I had the privilege to visit East Moor which is a local Secure Children’s Centre and only one of twelve in the United Kingdom. The visit taught me a lot about children in custody and it was completely not what I had expected.  

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The site at East Moor is unique in Europe due to the fact that it has three custodial centres from past to future all on the same site. There is an old reformatory from the 1800s still present very close to the current centre which was built in the 1970s and refurbished in 1997, although it is not in use anymore but it gives us an insight into the history of custodial centres for young people.  As well as this, they are presently in the process of building a brand new centre for September 2014 which will house both boys and girls and be an improvement on the facilities in use today. One thing that was mentioned that was significantly negative was the presence of pillars throughout some of the communal areas which meant that the children were not always visible to the members of staff, and they said that pillars would not be built into the new facility for this reason.

East Moor is a male only centre and has a school on site that teaches things from Maths to Design Technology and Art. The classes tend to be with two teachers/members of staff and usually two pupils but no more than four at a time. The centre has incident alarms that can be set off by any member of staff by something attached to their belt at any time, and this was set off during our visit – it is certainly an effective alarm sound! This is so that the members of staff can sound this if any incident happens that means that they require assistance or presence of another member of staff. The centre has both a new and old ‘block’ in which the bedrooms are situated, and part of the old block is not in use at all except for one room which is used as a segregation room when needed.

The average length of stay at East Moor in 2013/14 was 107 days for a detention or training order, 42 days for remands, and 353 days for those serving long term sentences. In the past few years there has been a decline in youth custody and this is partially due to judges becoming more comfortable with giving community options to the young offenders, and at East Moor they have seen a decline in the amount of offenders staying there which is why the new centre will have even less bedrooms.

Reasons for locking children up:

  • For their own safety.
  • To prevent crime.
  • As a last resort if no other options have worked when a crime has been committed.
  • Breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
  • Access to education which they may not have outside.
  • To encourage attitudinal change and not behavioural which should prevent reoffending.
  • To give them positive role models and influences which they may not have outside.

Reasons against locking children up:

  • Imprisonment may damage children both emotionally and psychologically.
  • Mental health issues – imprisonment could make these worse.
  • They are held too far away from family home and society.
  • Expensive option.
  • Centres not always a good enough standard according to Ofsted and HMP.
  • Bad to put kids together – may be bad influences on each other.
  • Violence from other children and also possibly staff.
  • Short lengths of sentences are more damaging for the child and not long enough to help.
  • Criminal record could mean they cannot get jobs in the future.
  • Institutionalisation.
  • Suicide rates can be high in custody.

 

There are many alternatives for locking children up in these kind of custodial sentences. These alternatives will be for their own good and the good of their families as well as saving the government a lot of money as places at East Moor can cost between £200k and £220k per person per annum. Some of the alternatives have focus on the families as well as the offender themselves in order to tackle the cause of offending as the family often have an influence on this.  90% of the admissions to East Moor in the past three years have a family history of reoffending and 39% of admissions to custody had been on the child protection register or had experienced harm, abuse or neglect.

Alternatives:

  • Community options.
  • Counselling for both children and their families.
  • Preventative methods e.gg youth centres.
  • Restorative justice.
  • Don’t prosecute them in the first place – is our criminal age of responsibility right?
  • Community penalties e.g. litter picking.
  • Tags – cheaper and less emotionally and psychologically harming.

 

Questions:

  1. What do you think about locking children up?
  2. Do you think that custodial sentences for children and young people are a good or bad thing?
  3. What do you think should happen in the future?

 

Post by Zoe Cox

Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Naypong

Countries with Low Crime Rates: Comparing Vietnam and Japan

Nickie Phillips

By Megan Helwig, Guest Blogger

Vietnam-Japan_jpg

Vietnam and Japan, each with vastly different political regimes, maintain relatively low crime rates. Vietnam, a socialist state, appears to employ methods of fear and intimidation to maintain social control. Japan, a constitutional monarchy/parliamentary democracy utilizes a community-oriented policing system to maintain social order. Both states culturally advocate harmony and social order as their goals. However, both states also seem to take separate approaches as well as possess varying viewpoints of what maintaining societal harmony entails.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian country run by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Vietnam is one of five remaining Communist nations of the world, amongst Laos, Cuba, North Korea and China. Vietnam is comprised of a “massive state security network.” Professor Carl Thayer, of the Australian Defense Forces Academy, estimated that “at least 6.7 million Vietnamese belong to the many security agencies.” This is roughly one out of every six people within the forty-three million working population of Vietnam that works in security. According to the BBC, “Vietnam’s Communist-controlled state security apparatus is comprised not only of the police forces and regular army, but also paramilitaries, rural militia forces and ‘neighborhood guardians.’ All of these different security forces are under the control of either the Ministry of National Defense or the Ministry of Public Security.

Japan’s police system has actually instituted measures to guarantee police neutrality for their police forces. These measures are carried out through the National Police Agency (NPA). According to INTERPOL, “The NPA is headed by a Commissioner General who, with the approval of the Prime Minister, is appointed by the National Public Safety Commission (NPSC), a state body which holds the rank of Ministry of State, guarantees the neutrality of the police, and administers the NPA.” The NPA oversees the Prefectural Police which is the law enforcement provider within Japan. The NPA is an apolitical body void of direct governmental executive control. The press is also able to freely monitor and express any criticisms of the system without fear of punishment.

It’s quite evident that Vietnam’s low crime rate is mostly due to the extreme amount of social control and censorship imposed by the government. These factors bring to the surface many human rights issues for a plethora of reasons. Political opposition is prohibited, and the administration of justice can be arbitrary and harsh. The idea that the revolution must be protected is what justifies the arrest of individuals choosing to speak out against its government or the state’s beliefs and practices. The state utilizes various modes of surveillance in order to keep an eye out for any incident of disobedience which enables quick, arguably unjust, enforcement of the law. From an objective perspective, this system could be arguably quite effective. However, the future stability of this social control method is somewhat questionable. A government that uses fear and intimidation to maintain social order will continually be potentially on the brink of mass public protest and revolt. In contrast, Japan’s system resembles a completely different form of social control and policing with a more community-oriented approach. According to Pakes, one of the most successful displays of community policing is in Japan. Japan’s community police are called koban. The Japanese policing structure enables the police forces to develop a more personal relationship with the community and ultimately helps erase the social gap typically found between police and civilians. The koban structure also combines policing with general assistance. Some of these general assistance interactions include: surveying, advising on addresses, lending out umbrellas, lost and found services, community activities, production and distribution of newsletters, self-defense classes, and sports. Overall, Japan’s form of community policing aligns with the culture’s emphasis on the importance of harmony.

(Photo: www.wordpress.tokyotimes.org)

Statistically, both Vietnam and Japan are effective at keeping their crime rates relatively low in comparison to the global crime statistics. Perhaps the question of analysis shouldn’t be which state’s police force has the most effectiveness in relation to their low-crime rates. Instead, maybe the focus should be on the means under which these low crime rates are established. Vietnam uses a method of tight governmental influence and social control and censorship to ensure obedience. Japan, in contrast, uses a more community-oriented approach to develop trust and solid relationships with its citizens while also providing for the basic needs of the community. Many would argue that for a state to be successful, it needs to provide the basic needs and services required by its people. This can also be said for communities as well as states. The koban policing system example within Japan seems to go above and beyond in relation to providing communities with services that address the citizen’s everyday needs. Another aspect to ponder is how secure each of the systems are in the long run? It seems quite evident that Japan possesses a significantly more stable system of policing and citizen respect than Vietnam system possesses.  Japan historically had a similar politically-heavy state-controlled system and successfully transitioned to what they are now. One size doesn’t typically fit all. However, Japan’s modern system could, at least in theory, maybe one day be a solution to Vietnam’s shaky and somewhat paranoid system.

Megan Helwig graduated from Lock Haven University with a B.A. in Political Science/Pre-Law. Currently, she is in the International Crime and Justice Masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In addition to knowing English and some Spanish, she is currently pursuing an advanced comprehension of Arabic (Classical and Egyptian Colloquial). Megan is ultimately pursuing a career in counter-terrorism. 

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

Nickie Phillips

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

What Introductory Criminal Justice Students Need to Know About the Media and Crime

Nickie Phillips

social-media-myths-and-your-sales-300x198

At the start of a new semester, criminal justice professors face the daunting task of demystifying media myths

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast Correspondent

The media, through various means, has become the primary source of news and entertainment for many Americans. Each day the media reaches millions of viewers, listeners and readers throughout the world and provides a rapid broadcast of knowledge and information. Although the ability to have “the world at our fingertips” is beneficial, the inaccuracies and rash portrayals of current events can lead to inadvertent consequences.

Crime in the news

Crime is portrayed in the media on a daily basis, whether it is in the newspapers, on television, via video or written blogs, among other means. As criminologist Ray Surette explains, news regarding crime may be general, referring to broad trends and issues, or specific, in reference to a particular crime incident. The media has one objective, to sell stories. Therefore, it chooses which crimes, victims and court cases merit attention, often choosing to expose the most sensational, emotional, and significant crime stories. Unfortunately, the media does not always broadcast information in an objective or accurate manner, which can lead to unintended consequences.

How the media portrays crime

The media increases crime salience through agenda setting, priming and framing the “best-selling” stories. The public is exposed to certain crime issues and then primed to believe that those issues warrant more political attention. The media chooses which social problems merit greater attention and relies on the government and experts to interpret and contextualize these problems to the public. As viewers, we rely on the government and experts to frame the news for us and determine the criteria by which we judge public policies or crime related issues. Lastly, the media encourages its audience to arrive at certain conclusions by promoting a particular treatment recommendation or moral evaluation to the problem. It often focuses blame on a particular individual or larger social or political institution, which ultimately affects punitiveness and future policy preferences.

Representations of the police in the media are often overdramatized and romanticized. Research has shown that police are often presented favorably in television and movies; as fictional television dramas show the majority of cases solved and criminal suspects successfully apprehended. Unfortunately, crime presented as entertainment distorts viewers understanding of criminal investigations. Subsequently, the public develops unrealistic expectations regarding the investigation process, police use of force and forensic evidence. Such portrayal reinforces traditional law enforcement tactics including increased police presence, harsh penalties and increasing police power.

The effect on viewers

It has been argued that heavy television viewers have an altered perception of the “real world”, shaped by the media. Therefore, these viewers feel a greater threat from crime and believe that crime is more prevalent than statistics indicate. Violent crime is disproportionately broadcast and portrayed as more violent, random and dangerous than in the “real world”. Subsequently, viewers internalize these crime stories and develop a “scary” image of reality. Unfortunately, this threatening perception of society initiates fear, mistrust, and alienation, causing viewers to support more “quick-fix” solutions against crime.

Leading to punitive policies

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Misinformation dispersed by the media heightens public sensitivity to the crime problem, reinforcing public sense of immediate and inescapable danger. Subsequently, fear and anxiety develop as the public pressures politicians for a “quick-fix” and extreme solution to the crime problem. These “quick-fix” solutions focus on short-term crime relief, resulting in more punitive rather than preventative polices and encourage more policing, arrests and longer sentences.

The media coverage of minorities and crime demonstrates the disproportionate portrayal of minorities shown in menacing contexts. Blacks are more likely than whites to be shown in mug shots, in physical custody of the police and victimizing strangers and members of different races. Media representations of minorities result in exaggerations of crime statistics including the number of blacks arrested for crimes and the likelihood that the public will be victimized by minorities. This ultimately attributes the crime problem to blacks as a group. This false depiction of minority criminals leads to public fear and mistrust of minorities, allowing for the expansion of punitive policies based on race.

This culpability was demonstrated by the media’s coverage of the “War on Drugs”. The media exposed an imminent and threatening national crisis and recommended the use of power and mobilization of massive resources to curb the threat and vanquish the “enemy”. Images and stereotypes of the “enemy”, exposed by the media, included young, inner-city, minority males in gangs terrorizing communities and innocent citizens while conducting illegal drug deals and committing various crimes. Subsequently, the public became fearful and began to alienate themselves from the community, while pressuring politicians for an immediate “quick-fix” solution. Consequently, the police crackdown on street-level drug dealers and harsher sentences resulted in additional arrests and longer prison sentences. However, the underlying conditions leading to the drug problem remained unidentified and unaffected. In addition, the punitive “quick-fix” solution lead to unintended consequences, including angry and hardened attitudes towards offenders, increased costs of the criminal justice system and intensified racial tensions, resulting from targeting minorities. Concerns about constitutional and civil rights waned, citing more immediate concerns for public safety. Respect for the law eroded, as the public encouraged more aggressive policing strategies, exposing citizens to expanded discretion of law enforcement and infringements of their Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

danielle

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast contributor, teaches Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Danielle earned her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2011 from John Jay College where she was awarded the Claude Hawley Medal and Graduate Scholarship. She currently lives in New York City.