Left Realism Was A Policy Criminology Essay

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Left Realism was a policy oriented intervention which focused on the reality of crime for the working class victim and the necessity to elaborate a socialist substitute to conservative emphases on 'law and order'. Left Realists did not deny that ruling elites often try to criminalise forms of protest but noted that such attempts necessarily assume that the public, and particularly the poor, has a negative view of crime.

Left realism particularly explains the origins of juvenile delinquency amongst black males, in particular, as three fold: subculture; relative deprivation and marginalisation. Lea and Young claim that the sub-culture of young blacks is different from that of their parents and grandparents and originates more from the expectations and aspirations of British society. It is accurately this similarity which leads to crime. Lea and Young argue that it is because of the acceptance of British society's material goals that young blacks, for instance, feel deprived.

According to Lea and Young, delinquent youth feel a sense of relative deprivation due to the gap between their high expectations and the reality of what they can actually obtain, given the alternatives of unemployment, training schemes or low wage employment (once bluntly described by Stuart Hall as 'white man's shit work') which are frequently the only realistic choices on offer. They argue that working class youth accept on the whole the dominant values of society, but their behaviour is modified by the circumstances in which they are found; often at the bottom of the heap. Thus, they develop strategies to allow them to solve their problems, and this can lead to deviant and criminal behaviour.

The claimed strength of their approach is its ability to explain why some young people appear more prone to juvenile delinquency than others, reflecting their level of marginalisation from the society.

Marginalisation is the process by which groups find themselves on the edge of society, both economically and politically. Young points out that black and white youth in the inner city and sink estates are unsuccessful in the education system resulting in the blocked opportunities mentioned above. Moreover, they often feel marginalised by the actions of the institutions of the State such as schools, police among others. Black male youth subject to repeated stop and searches can be the trigger for cultural and economic marginalisation to be transferred into crime.

Left realism identifies a number of problems with modern policing such as a low clear-up rate which does not discourage criminals. Furthermore, in areas with a considerable black population the community's cooperation and confidence in the police is low causing the police to resort to 'military policing' which alienates the community even further. Left realists argue that the public should have more say in shaping police policy, and the police themselves should spend as much time as possible investigating crime.

One of the left realism's most significant contributions to criminology is the square of crime. Expanding on "The basic triangle of relations which is the proper subject-matter of criminology is- the offender, the state and the victim" (Young, 1986), Young added the public to this to create the 4 corners of the square, with the offender and the victim as the actors and the state and civil society as the reactors. In this framework, crime is viewed as the interaction between the four key variables as mentioned above and to control crime from a realist perspective involves intervention at each part of the square of crime. Here, the state means the criminal justice agencies and the state as political system; society does not only involve micro-levels of family and community structure but also the civil society as a set of legally, culturally and economically defined relations. As for the offender, it may be an individual, corporation, political group or other organisation and this may also apply to the victim. According to Young, any changes in one of these factors will influence the rate of crime

The flow of information between the police and the community is very important and this leads to a more interaction among the participants. The actual victims of crime, the criminal offenders and the forms of communication between them were an important part of the picture. But the wider community would only give information to police about crime if it legitimised the status of the victims concerned and criminalised the offenders. Offenders had particular relations not only with their direct victims but with the whole community. Powerful offenders with the capacity to inflict revenge can provoke reluctance on the part of both the direct victim and the community to give information to the police. Some types of victims, such as those facing domestic violence- may be unable to claim victim status in the eyes of the community and find themselves blamed by the latter for 'causing trouble' while the offender is practically decriminalized. Left Realism tried to show the importance of these interactions in terms of a 'square of crime' or the 'social relations of crime control'.

The most important aspect, especially for Left Realism, was the practical orientation of the 'social relations of crime control' approach as a framework for specifying the types of interventions in poor and deprived urban areas necessary for the construction of a system of crime control meeting community needs. It is this level of intervention which most directly embodies the democratic imperative. Left Realism was clear that police (and similar agencies) must be part of the community and orientated to its needs and crime priorities rather than imposing externally dictated, central government targets. In terms of the politics of community-building there was a necessity to avoid local activists being co-opted into collaboration with, and becoming spokespeople for, centralised political or administrative structures insensitive to community defined needs while imposing their own targets and agendas and concepts of governance. Community-building involves, finally, maximising resolution of conflicts through interactions, connections and compromise between community groups. The orientation must be towards incorporating those sections such as victims without a voice - women, minorities and marginalised youth normally excluded from community life and increasingly labelled in terms of risk, criminality and gang membership. If the above paragraph sounds rather dated then this is testimony to how far things have moved in the opposite direction to that advocated by Left Realism 25 years ago. There are of course suggestions that Left Realism has been absorbed into dominant paradigms in criminology with a resulting loss of identity and "is now little more than the name taken by mainstream criminology when it appears in radical circles."

Young and Lea (1986) set out 3 main policies of Left Realism namely: Demarginalisation, Pre-emptive Deterrence and the minimal use of prison. As it can be seen, left realist criminologists are critical of perspectives which see longer sentences and more prisons as the solution to crime. For demarginalisation, left realists would argue for alternatives to prison. They would advocate measures such as community service orders, victim restitution schemes and widespread release from prison which would stop severance of the moral bond with the community. The institutions that are involved in controlling crime and criminals must epitomize justice. Concerning pre-emptive deterrence, "Environmental and public precautions against crime are always dismissed by left idealists and reformers as not relating to the heart of the matter. They are distractions from the real concerns... On the contrary, the organisation of communities in an attempt to pre-empt crime is of the utmost importance". Finally, they favoured the minimal use of prisons and argue that prisons should only be used in those circumstances where there is extreme danger to the community. Life inside should be as free and as 'normal' as possible

Conclusion-criticsThe strength of left realism clearly lies in the breadth of its analysis as illustrated in their concept of the 'square of crime' that looks at crime from the standpoint of offenders, victims, role of the state and informal controls. It not only attempts to explain juvenile offenders but the likelihood and type of victims too. However, critics argue that explaining crime in terms of subculture, relative deprivation and marginalisation fails to explain the causes of crime in terms of offender's motives. Many people who are marginalised and suffering relative deprivation do not turn to crime. Although left realism claim to take all crimes equally seriously, Marxists would criticise them for being too soft on corporate and white-collar crime.