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Moral Panics Form Part Of A Sensitising Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3298 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups contribute just over 16% of the total population of 63.2 million (Office for National Statistics, 2012) citizens in the UK. Bentham (2011) stated that ‘groups registering a sharp rise include the Chinese, whose numbers have increased by 8.6 per cent each year, and black Africans, who have recorded a 214,000 increase in population since 2001. The largest ethnic populations, however, are of Indians, who account for more than 1.4 million people living here, and Pakistanis, who represent a further one million residents.’

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Often, negative connotations are produced towards members of BAME groups, creating notions of ‘moral panics’ and ‘folk devils’ which this essay shall later discuss in more detail. Individuals belonging to particular categories of ‘race’ may feel that they are unfairly treated by the state and in particular by the police, who hold a responsibility to fight crime and protect the public and over the progression of this essay, the understanding of why this may be the case, will become apparent. Arguably, the concept of ‘race’ itself implies racism, as it embodies the notion of hierarches within society, although no person of any ‘race’ should feel inferior to any other.

In relation to this notion, is the Biological Determinist Theory which was stemmed from Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), former member of the Italian Army, ‘known as the ‘father of criminology,’ began to study the cadavers of executed criminals in an effort to determine scientifically how criminals differed from non-criminals. Lombroso was soon convinced that serious and violent offenders had inherited criminal traits.’ (Siegel, 2011: 11). Although his strict version of Biological Determinism is no longer taken as seriously, some criminologists believe that conditions of an individual’s social environment have an influence on human behaviour and Siegel (2011) stated that ‘some criminologists have recently linked crime and biological traits.’ Over time, Lombroso’s theory evolved and more recently points out ‘theories of evolution’ which entails that psychological and intellectual differences have an impact on human behaviour.

On the other hand, a second theoretical consideration; the Cultural Determinist Theory, looks at ‘civilisation as a hierarchy’, emphasising that culture and belief systems underpin dominant ideologies that link race and crime, and not biological traits. Although similar to Lombroso’s theory, the culture and belief system refers to the idea that the conditions of the surroundings in which a person is raised, have an effect on human behaviour and emotions. Culture is defined as a collection of belief systems that are based on values, norms and practices in society. ‘Inherent in this definition is the acknowledgement that individuals become cultural beings only through learned and transmitted beliefs, values, and historical, economic, ecologic, political forces and practices, as well as religious and spiritual traditions.’ (Sun, 2008: 193). Other factors including race also come under this category, however, critical criminology suggests that society should reject the assumptions that theories of racial dominance uphold, which are based on ethnic superiority, intellectual dominance and cultural refinement. In addition, critical criminology also suggests that the history of slavery and immigration should be examined in order to understand the underlying reasons as to why certain groups have been defined as criminal. ‘Most notable is the contention of Eric Williams that ‘slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery’; and that the reason for slavery was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the colour of the labourer, but the cheapness of the labour.’ (Tibbles, 2005: 112). This therefore suggests that racism is a product that was stemmed from immigration and contributes to the ‘criminal’ portrayal towards people of particular races.

Muncie (1996) stated that “Moral panics form part of a sensitising and legitimising process for solidifying moral boundaries, identifying ‘enemies within’, strengthening the powers of state control and enabling law and order to be promoted.” This essay will discuss this quote, with reference to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, by looking at factors such as immigration, moral panics and social control. The essay will then aim to conclude with a clear understanding as to how the statement made by Muncie (1996), can be retrieved with reference to BAME groups.

As the first point of discussion, this essay will look at immigration. ‘Immigration is based on a simple model of the economy. It assumes that the economic gains to “natives”.’ (Cornelius, 2004: 68). Therefore, it is believed that immigration has never been an act of benevolence by the state; rather it has been underpinned by an imperative based on economy, as immigration policies are linked to the requirements of labour. This shows that immigration has been under the control of the state, simply to suit the needs of capital; reason being, immigration provides cheap labour during times of shortage, and has done so since the 1905 Aliens Act, which ‘was introduced by the Conservative government. This set up a revamped system of immigration control and registration and placed responsibility for all matters of immigration and nationality with the Home Secretary, who had the power to deport immigrants considered to be criminals or paupers.’ (Leeuw and Bergstra, 2007: 254). People who are categorised under the ‘alien’ communities, territories and alien cultures are constructed as the ‘enemy within’ due to moral panics that are created around them. Moral panics occur when the media blow a matter out of context, making a situation appear far worse than what it is, thus raising alarm within public societies and creating bad perceptions of the people who are the ‘problem’ which then creates ‘folk devils’. Barker (2010: 30) explained that “Moral panic” and “folk devil” are terms that were first defined by Stanley Cohen (1972) in his seminal work Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. He described the media’s exaggerated and sensationalized coverage of the Mods and Rockers.’

There has been a long history of attempting to link immigrants with crime, taking Black settlers as an example as they were associated with problems relating to housing, social services and crime. They were also seen as being responsible for overcrowding, poverty and inner city problems. In aid of controlling Black immigration, the state intervened in the ‘immigration problem’ by introducing a number of Acts such as the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 which Leslie (1998: 67) shared had claims of ‘racial bias in the operation of the law’ along with the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act which according to Leslie (1998: 67) ‘dealt specifically with East African Asians, who, as British passport holders, had been exempt from previous legislation.’ Another Act which was introduced was the 1971 Immigration Act, and this gave the police the power to strip search and stop individuals of whom they suspected could be illegal immigrants, however with a racist attitude amongst the law, many people of Black and Minority Ethnic groups that were stripped and searched may have felt victimised to racism by the police, especially if they were British passport holders.

During the 1970s and the 1980s a moral panic arose relating to ‘mugging’ which was identified by the police and the press as a particular form of Black street crime. However, the metropolitan police produced statistics which showed that Black people were over represented in theft and robbery, although regardless of these statistics, Black people were looked upon as the folk devil in social terms, due to the moral panic which portrayed Black people as thieves. Blundell and Griffiths (2003: 99) shared that Stuart Hall’s (1978) ‘study of the coverage of black muggers in the 1970s concluded that it had the effect of labelling all young African- Caribbeans as criminals and a potential threat to white people’. The study therefore served the idea of a divide between black and white people of the working class, which would divert attention away from the mismanagement of the capitalist’s and justified the laws and policing that could be used against other people who were looked upon as ‘problem’ groups, and moral panics arise to divert attention from one source onto another.

The 1971 Immigration Act, which followed three years after the 1968 Commonwealth Immigration Acts, aimed to slow down immigration by restricting certain people from obtaining the right to become UK citizens, regardless of whether their families were already in the UK. Bam-Hutchinson (n.d.) stated that ‘One immediate effect of this was that the thousands of Asians who came to settle in the UK after being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972 certainly had no ‘Right to Abode’. Hammer (1985: 125-126) explains how the National Front, far right activists, kept immigration as main political issue, regardless of the fact that immigration was already tight; and also stated that ‘The policy is clearly discriminating: Asians are 50 to 60 times more likely to be refused entry compared with travellers from Canada and Australia.’ This shows that there was a racist attitude towards Asian people as well as Black people, reason-being, it is clear that the issue was not solely based on immigrants entering the country, as travellers from Canada and Australia were not as likely to be refused entry.

Willams (2012) shared that Merseyside police chief constable stated that Irish, Jewish and Black people in Liverpool are associated with ‘mugging, prostitution and drugs.’ This shows that there is an existence of a racist attitude towards Irish, Jewish and Black people. A second racist comment shared by Willams (2012), was made by former commander of the metropolitan police, Kenneth Newman, that ‘In the Jamaicans, you have a people who are constitutionally disorderly…It’s simply in their make-up, they’re constitutionally exposed to be anti-authority.’

In 1978, Thatcher pledged that her party would ‘finally see an end to immigration’ Brah (2006: 37) in bid to win the elections, and as a candidate hoping to rely on public votes, a politician would attempt to win the hearts of the public by telling them what they want to hear as a racist England in the Thatcher years, producing economic marginalisation, structured subordination and the criminalisation of BAME groups.

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More recently, stop and searches focus more on; drug dealers, the ‘gang’ phenomenon, and ‘terrorists’ even though The House of Commons (2007: 194) stated that ‘Arrests arising from stop and search are only a small proportion of total arrests.’ However, Justice (2012) explained further that ‘While there were decreases across the last five years in the overall number of arrests and in arrests of White people, arrests of those in the Black and Asian group increased.’ In recent years, the media has also emphasised on groups of people who fit into these categories, for example, in regards to the ‘gang’ phenomenon, Antrobus’ (2009) Dying to belong report shares that ‘there is an estimate of 50,000 gangs in the UK.’ However, although there is a possibility of a gang problem, the problem may not be as great as the media has portrayed it to be. Bennett and Holloway (2004) state that ‘there is some evidence from national newspapers and government reports that the number of gangs and gang members in the United Kingdom is increasing.’ On the other hand, quite to the contrary of this statement, Castella and McClatchey (2011) confirm that ‘The Home Office has no figures on the number of gangs, or indeed the level of gang-related crime, in Britain. There are official statistics on murder rates and the number of people admitted to hospital with knife wounds, but any gang element does not have to be recorded.’

Therefore, although media related coverage should not be ruled out completely, it would be fair to state that it is not always entirely truthful, as the media appear to have a tendency of blowing a matter out of proportion, which leads to moral panics and the creation of folk devils, all of which assist the capitalists and governing bodies to obtain social control.

Pound (1942: 18) suggests that ‘The major agencies of social control are morals, religion, and law.’ The law, as well as other agencies of social control, along with the media associate crime with particular groups of people. Black people are often associated with muggings, as we have found that they were in the 1970s and 1980s, and people of Pakistani origin are associated with crimes such as terrorism, which has been a very popular media based topic. Jacobson (2012: 184) stated that ‘Among the British Islamists convicted of terrorism, those of Pakistani descent stand out disproportionately in the conviction numbers.’ In the attempt to find the reason as to why certain people are linked with particular types of crime, research allows the understanding that Britain has experienced economic crisis’ on numerous occasions and Box (1983) believed that it was due to the occurrence of these economic crisis’ that ‘has affected the way governments and the judiciary have ‘criminalised’ subordinate groups.’ Again, persuading the belief that moral panics are produced to portray people as the folk devils in order to shift attention onto the subjects of the moral panics, so that social control can be obtained to suit the hierarchies.

Authoritarian policies entail the concept of winning popular consent by creating negative reputations amongst individuals through the use of portraying stereotypical images, which as previously discussed, creates moral panics and folk devils that are transmitted to the public through these ideologies. The institutional response of the state relies on winning the ‘hearts and minds’ by establishing this ideological appeal to popular consent, and political, economic and ideological forces work in conformity to facilitate the criminalisation process on BAME groups. This shows that the state hold power and abuse the power to their benefit. Freeth(2007: 43) shared how ‘Natiello (2001) describes the concept of `authoritarian power’ or `power-over’, in which `the practice of power is often grounded in the belief that power is a coercive force that we exercise over the earth and over one another.’ Under the reality of authoritarianism, law and order is tough on crime, it stands for the Third Way ‘enabling state’ that believes in individualised duties and responsibilities. It’s objectives’ target hostile climates, moral panics, fear, demonization, stigmatization, marginalisation and criminalisation.’ (Williams, 2012).

From the 1970s, political parties from the left and right have regarded themselves as the party of law and order as well as for the need to uphold a ‘tough on crime’ approach. The Third Way was a political ideology presented by New Labour, of which rejected the belief that the big state had the power to solve problems that occurred in society, believed in an enabling state which emphasized the duties and responsibilities that a citizen should have in the United Kingdom.

However, looking at statistical data (Williams, 2012) based on the proportion of individuals at different stages of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) process by ethnic group compared to the general population in England and Wales, every category shows there are a substantial amount of White people in every stage of the CJS process, in comparison to those individuals belonging to BAME groups. The data showed that, the population of England and Wales who were aged 10 or over in 2009, 88.6% of a total of 48,417,349 people were of White ethnicities; that 67.2% of a total number of 1,141,839 people who were stopped and searched in 2009/10 were White, that 79.6% of a total number of 1,386,030 people who were arrested in 2009/10 were White, that 83.1% of a total number of 230,109 people who were cautioned in 2010 were white and that 81.8% of a total number of 161,687 court order supervisions were given to people of White ethnicities. As for the prison population in 2010, 72.0% of a total number of 85,002 people were of White ethnicities, and although it included foreign nationals, this data shows that there is a much higher percentage of White people at every stage of the CJS process, in comparison to BAME groups, which provides evidence that BAME groups are over represented in the CJS.

When hostile climates are created through the use of moral panics, fears are created against targeted groups and individuals, usually of BAME groups. These fears are mobilised and the groups that are targeted are demonised and are therefore looked upon as the folk devils through the negative portrayals that are produced by the media. They are also stigmatised and marginalised, which results in punitive authoritarian responses, which are responses that intend to punish. Ultimately, this then leads to criminalisation. As criminals, individuals may be looked upon as deviant by other members of society. Larson and Garrett (1996: 205) explain that Howard Becker’s (1963) labelling theory suggests that the deviant title becomes the controlling one, although this is relevant, ‘In this frame, one studies deviancy not to isolate the unique character and motives of so-called deviants, but to gain an understanding of the agents of social control and what motivates them.’

Having discussed immigration, moral panics and social control, as well as studying statistical data based on the various stages of the Criminal Justice System process, it is evident that an element or racism exists by those who uphold power and control. Findings have shown that in the past, factors such as immigration were abused to suit the power of the hierarchies in order to obtain the votes of the public during elections, referring to Thatcher’s pledge to put an end to immigration if she was elected. More people of White ethnic origin are shown to be stopped and searched on a larger percentage than people of BAME groups, which is a huge stepping stone from the era of the 1971 Immigration Act, which gave the police the power to stop and search people that they suspected could have been illegal immigrants during times where racism was far more apparent. However, it does not eliminate the fact that the media misrepresent people of BAME groups, which emphasises and supports Muncie’s (1996) statement that “Moral panics form part of a sensitising and legitimising process for solidifying moral boundaries, identifying ‘enemies within’, strengthening the powers of state control and enabling law and order to be promoted.”


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