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Relationships Between Risk And Criminology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4457 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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‘Explore the relationship between risk and criminology. To what extent, if any, have ideas about risk influenced our concepts and management of crime?’ This essay will explore the relationship between risk and criminology. In doing so, it will examine arguments surrounding a modern day society of risk, to demonstrate a strong intrinsic link between the two. This argument will show the direct link by highlighting how crime prevention approaches seem to control and manage the opportunities for crime. It will shown how arguments and the foundations of risk communication (Beck, 1992: 4; Denney, 2005: 82-103) have helped shape the modern day view of crime management, by presenting examples formulated from a perspective of risk management.

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Early theoretical attempts to crime management, as suggested by Foucault (1977), revolve around the individual where rehabilitation or conformity is obtained from the individual via controls, such as surveillance (Denney, 2005: 114-6). Prisons are particularly relevant, where Foucault progresses theses ideas of attempting to regulate the individual into an accepted behaviour. Foucault (1977: 25) was suggesting that society had developed ‘technologies of power’ which were then used to discipline and punish individuals who strayed from what society felt tolerable.

Furedi (2002: 12) states:

“an enlightened society recognizes that human beings need to take risks and that in so doing, they will sometimes experience an adverse outcome. Risk is part of life and a society that adopts the view that preventing injury is an end in itself will have to ban a variety of creative and challenging activities.”

By offering this definition, Furedi was accepting that we live in a risk society as described by Hardy (2006: 41) as “technical factors outweigh social ones and risk analysis is increasingly developed in relation to technological domain” and therefore demonstrates how technology has been used in society to determine risk within that society. Thus offering evidence of high risk areas utilising insurance models, as endorsed by the Home Office, to construct crime reduction strategies. O’Malley (2009b) also highlights that risk society is an integral part of modern day life and connects risk management techniques to most problems, including criminology.

O’Malley (2003: 449) eludes to the fact that there has been a noticed shift from crime management of individuals where behaviour control was the kingpin, drawing on actuarial and insurance based approaches. Cohen (1985: 82) was the first to highlight the fact that there was a rapid change to crime prevention involving situational crime prevention, which involved mapping out opportunities for crime and reducing the risk of its occurrence. Feeley and Simon (1994: 175) view risk as the use of statistical models of prediction to reduce harm, whilst Rose (2000: 322) claims that risk involves the use of non-statistical models to minimise risk based on models of uncertainty. Criminologists appear to favour a mixture of both since Haggerty (2003: 193-194) points out that crime prevention techniques seem to involve the management of risk with little reference to statistical models but involves encouraging members of the community to keep a watchful eye over their surroundings, i.e. Neighbourhood Watch. Risk is viewed by people in many different ways – for example, victims view risk in terms of the fear of crime – a factor becoming more focused by the Government – and the actual risks that a criminal is prepared to take in order to achieve their goal or reward.

O’Malley (2009a: 2) highlights two reports published in the 80’s: The Floud Report (1982) and the Greenwood Report (Rand Corporation 1982) which brought in a new approach to crime management by recommending that risk considerations should be embedded in to the Criminal Justice System. O’Malley (2009a: 2) writes that recommendations from the Floud Report included implementation of protective sentences which he argued could restructure risk and would not focus on the individual but on the size of the community most at risk from the offender. Likewise, he states that the Greenwood Report argued that the use of statistical models to identify high risk offenders would be an efficient way to allocate longer sentences in order to minimise the risk they present to the community. The resultant was that a few Criminologists (Cohen, 1985; Feely and Simon, 1992; O’Malley, 2003) began to shift from correctional theories to develop predictive models to manage crime. Feeley and Simon (1994) pushed the idea of actuarial justice for decisions on sentencing durations by displacement due to incapacitation, thus managing the offender via the Criminal Justice System. A working example of this is the Prolific Priority Offender (PPO), where an individual is categorised and then receives enhanced attention via the Criminal Justice system, (Home Office, 2008). Generally, this approach has been met with criticism (Rose, 2000: 333) where predictive models may criminalise and incapacitate individuals who may not re-offend. There is also a danger of creating further offenders via the labelling theory (Vold et al, 2002: 210-216; Newman and Marongiu, 1997: 158-9). Both the American three strike rule and fact that within the UK convicted sex offenders must inform the Police of their address in order to be risk managed signalled a move within the Criminal Justice System where risk assessment was a part of the whole process. Baumann (2000: 208-10) identified the use of risk management within the penal system creating two separate groups – the high risk ones who are not given much rehabilitation and the lower risk groups who are viewed with high suspicion regarding their ability to reform and are then excluded from society. Feeley and Simon’s (1994) research goes a long way to corroborate Baumann’s position as it found that predictive models of actuarial justice appeared to target Black and Hispanic working class people in America. Risk management within the Criminal Justice System attempt to minimise the opportunity for criminals to re-offend. As part of risk management, the UK Government has expanded its Protective Services and ensures that agencies work closely together in order to manage specific risk offenders. The probation Service leads DMAPP and CMAPP meetings where an offender on licence can be judged to be a risk to the community and if so may have some draconian powers utilised to restrict and control them.

As pointed out by O’Malley (2003: 450) situational crime prevention is not concerned with causes of crime and does not encroach on rehabilitation or incarceration of the offender. Instead, it is concerned with how to manage the risk of crime. O’Malley recognises the actuarial characteristics of situational crime prevention is more aligned with neo-conservative, rationalist and the ‘New Right’ whose beliefs are concerned with population management, increased punishment for offenders and displacing the risk to help reduce the fear of crime and enhance societies economic status. Previous theories identified opportunities such as open windows as a high crime risk, situational crime prevention goes further and introduces the concept of the offender having a rational choice (Vold et al, 2002: 203). Cornish and Clarke (2003: 43) allude to ‘prompts’ and suggest that situational cues are what can trigger criminal behaviour. Therefore, whilst situational crime prevention is concerned with risk management, it introduces the concept that the offender chooses to offend for specific reasons. Rational choice (Vold et al, 2002: 203) suggests that the offender weighs up the risks associated with committing the offence against the benefits from successfully completing the actions to see if the crime is worth committing. Therefore, O’Malley (2003) proposes that actuarial justice draws heavily from rational choice theory by doubting the reasons for the offence and constructs the individual as “abstract, universal and rational” (O’Malley, 2003: 451). In the same way that individuals feel they have a right to freedom, rational choice allows such freedoms to do good and therefore when an individual chooses to do harm, then they must be judged accordingly.

Foucault noticed that the Criminal Justice System was created with a notion that there were other factors responsible for crime, thus reducing the opportunity for responsibility (Foucault, 1977: 252). O’Malley (2003: 451) maintains that the criminal abstract, using an arterial justice framework, the issue of responsibility and its place within the Criminal Justice framework is once again prominent and matched by the New Right philosophy of punitive and just deserts sentencing framework. Incapacitation seems to be the main argument used by supporters of situational crime prevention because they feel it removes the offender from the opportunity of committing further crime and indeed the prison population in the UK and America are at an all time high. Race, class, gender are not routinely a considered factor within situational crime prevention and when they are, O’Malley (2003) states:

If bothered with at all, they are taken to be predictive of behaviours, not explanatory of meaningful actions” (O’Malley, 2003: 452).

Situational crime prevention brings the victim back to the centre of crime management and criminal justice techniques, placing public safety at the forefront. Although situational crime draws from rational choice theory to explain the behaviour of the offender, it does the same for the victim. This model is about the victim also taking a lead role and being part of the crime prevention model by being aware of any vulnerabilities they are exposing by the surroundings or their actions. This thinking, as proposed by Cohen and Felson (1979) are the foundations of ‘Routine Activity Theory’. They claim that criminology concentrated on the offender and paid little attention to the criminal act itself. They increased the argument that lifestyle changes, such as employment, leisure and education influenced the occurrence of crimes and that individuals needed to evaluate these risks and make rational decisions, thus making them less likely to be targets. Cohen and Felson (1979: 593-7) concentrated on the location where the crime actually occurred and the surrounding conditions that contributed to making the crime viable. Routine activity theory articulates that a crime can only happen when one or more criminals are motivated and the individuals see an opportunity to commit the crime. The associated argument that managing risk is part of routine activity theory further supports the fact that the criminal must be able to observe few preventative barriers that would make the commission of the crime unsuccessful. From these arguments, Cohen and Felson (1979: 588) highlighted that changes in the way property and valuables are dealt with would have an impact upon the opportunity for crime. The impact of risk analysis, according to Cohen and Felson (1979: 588) is significant, as the risk of crime can be reduced by implementing preventative measures which make the commission of the crime unattractive to the criminal. Smith, Clarke and Pease (2002: 75) highlight research that shows crime prevention initiatives often have anticipatory benefits. These benefits broadly surround change, but are ultimately connected to communication a risk to the potential offender.

These principle ideas on managing risk have had a tremendous influence on how crime is policed. Interestingly, Felson (1987) extended his application of routine activity theory to include white collar crime and organised crime. With the development of situational crime prevention Felson (1987) hoped to prevent crimes that were caused by changes in routine activity. Situational crime prevention sees the offender calculating the risks associated with committing the crime, for example, the likelihood that they will not be apprehended. By causing this, the consequences are a reduction in crime by reducing the opportunities. Therefore the risk considerations for both the victim and offender are significant in crime prevention strategies such as improved street lighting (Farrington and Welsh, 2006: 209-224) and the installation and use of closed circuit television (CCTV) (Welsh and Farrington, 2006: 193-208), together with more police patrols (Poyserm, 2004). Policing is increasingly using situational crime prevention strategies and techniques through risk assessment to study crime patterns and implement intervention. As part of the analysis, police use crime data together with environmental and social factors in vulnerable areas to identify who are likely targets and for what reasons. By utilising these techniques they are able to develop bespoke crime reduction strategies for that specific problem. Hamilton-Smith and Kent (2005: 423-5) explain have situational crime prevention techniques have been tailored to target dwelling burglary. They recognise and acknowledge that there have been many models developed to help achieve the reductions and management, but specifically highlight a recognised model by Cornish and Clarke, which is called the ’25 techniques’ (Hamilton-Smith and Kent, 2005: 423; Cornish and Clarke, 2003: 42).

Jones (2005: 471) utilises the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) to give a suitable definition of surveillance, which appears quite appropriate:

“Watch or guard kept over a person, etc., especially over a person, a prisoner; or the like often, spying, supervision; […] supervision for the purpose of control, superintendence. […] of devices, vessels, etc., used in military or police surveillance.”

Modern crime fighting techniques have positively developed from new forms of surveillance, starting with the prison which was the focus of Foucault’s (1977) gaze and saw authorities monitoring the behaviour of prisoners in a structured manner. Braithwaite (2000: 224) took inspiration from Foucault’s (1991) reference to the term “governmentality” and suggested that the state had developed many technological models to manage the risk of deviant behaviour and ensure order is kept to that considered acceptable by general society. These technologies concentrate on the management of risk to control crime and maintain social order. These methods are usually directed at crime control in order to affect social order. The management of some technologies are governed by legislation such as Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, (OPSI, 2000), yet they can still be abused, which can taint public perception (Big Brother Watch, 2009).

Rose (2000) progresses the theory of modulation where the behaviour of social members is controlled by various agencies. Rose believes that this is also a form of risk management aimed at reducing deviance. Rose states:

“Control society is one of constant and never ending modulation where the modulation occurs within the flows and transactions between the forces and capacities of the human subject and the practices in which he or she participates.” (Rose, 2000: 325)

The view of Rose supports that of Deleuze (1995: 3-7) who states we live in “societies of control”. Basically, both commentators hypothesis that prison is no longer the sole place where deviance and risk are controlled, but where the use of digital technology are an important part of the risk assessment toolbox in order to monitor behavior and reduce crime through analyzing risky situations.

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Melossi (2000: 296-7) argues that the representation of the criminal is not static and therefore surveillance methods and crime control have to change to reflect this contextual dynamism. It is for this reason that continuous risk assessments of hot spots, vulnerable areas and criminal behavior is touted by supporters of situational crime prevention as necessary in order to maintain public order, protection of the public and to control the fear of crime.

A relatively new concept in policing is the introduction of hotspots which are used to enhance the service and reduction of crime in a cost effective manner. Hotspots (Braga, 2006: 179-190) are usually busy urban areas, low level crime but high frequency or a pocket of heavy crime occurrence. Risk management is not without its issues and when things go wrong they can have a significant impact on the public’s confidence with agencies designed to prevent such failings (BBC News, 2008; BBC News, 2010). The Police service is reacting and learning from these and similar failings and by using risk management techniques has brought a new term in to their daily assessment process, this being People Susceptible to Harm (PSH). Sherman and Weisburd (1995: 634) feel that strategic work around hotspots is more successful than general beat patrolling. They suggest that the police often do not have enough resources to adequately offer sufficient patrols, therefore by concentrating on hotspots, this will give the police a greater chance of observing the hotspot areas and increase the risks for the criminal, thus reducing their likelihood of committing a crime. This argument was supported by their research in Kansas, United States, where they analyzed the influence of police presence in hotspot areas. They found that the increase in patrols in hotspot areas reduced crime which was attributed to criminal’s apprehension of being caught.

Risk has also contributed to the development of community policing within the UK. The success of community policing is based on the ethos that individuals who belong to a community are more likely to be attentive to reducing crime opportunities in their area. It also encourages the community to work with the police to improve crime prevention and their environment, such as lack of good street lighting, overgrown shrubs in alleyways and Neighborhood Watch Schemes. Skogan (2006: 29-31) proposes that community policing incorporates three factors that help police manage the risk of crime: community involvement, problem solving and decentralization. By depending upon the public to provide information to help the police in order for them to reduce the risk of crime, it is clear that modern policing shows how important managing the risk of crime is. Community Forums, where the community members are invited to help set policing priorities and together with other agencies, help tackle crime is now well embedded in to all areas of the UK (Communities 2010). The application of the “broken windows theory” within policing has influenced crime management. According to the “broken windows” theory, consistent public disorder within a community that goes unchecked will lead to more and more serious crime and a downward spiral of urban decay (Kelling and Coles, 1996: 20). Drawing from situational crime prevention, the UK police encourage the community members to report litter, damage, graffiti and broken windows since it is thought that if they are left unchecked this would contribute to the deterioration of society and contribute to crime.

The increased use of CCTV is further evidence of risk management influencing crime prevention. The use of CCTV may deter crime due to the increased risk the criminal will be aware of (Brown, 1995: 1-2). This point is extended by Edwards and Tilley (1994: 12) who demonstrate that the use of CCTV reduces crime due to its ability to provide evidence to help convict the offender. Not only does it act as a crime deterrent, but it also acts as a sign for potential victims who are then more aware of the need for them to take preventative steps to reduce potential opportunities for crime. An example of CCTV being used as a risk management tool to reduce crime is in publicity and visibility of the cameras, such as in many public car parks and trains. Such use of CCTV has significantly assisted in the reduction of theft and robberies on the transport system (Laycock and Tilley, 1995: 535).

Hayden, Williamson and Webber (2007: 298-304) demonstrated how Nottinghamshire police used risk assessment methods to identify youth offending and correlated post codes to highlight areas of high anti-social behaviour among young people in specific locations for targeting. They show how police in the UK employ the use of geodemographic classifications, alongside statistical and operational data gathered from the police crime reports, and analyze the data using GIS system. There has been a significant increase in the use of GIS in many parts of the UK to map crime and use spatial analysis to identify ‘hotspots’ for many kinds of crime and therefore inform policing measures to counter these occurrences.

The increased effort to manipulate environmental factors which could cause crime and to encourage safer communities is directly linked to the police’s use of risk management. Community crime prevention is a major part of social justice and community cohesion in the UK. The implementation of community prevention initiatives, such as Safer Cities, Safer Communities, Sure Start programmes are examples of how risk considerations have influenced crime prevention in the UK (Home Office, 2004). While they do not wholly employ a risk model, by rejecting socio-economic circumstances of offenders, they rely on risk management principles to identify areas which need policing and individuals who are at risk to commit crimes.

Ekblom and Tilley (2000: 377) highlight that the police concentrate on the origin of the offence and distribute resources accordingly to make committing an offence more complex for the offender, which is another example of how risk management has influenced crime reduction. Crime prevention technologies, such as electronic tags (Denney, 2005: 128; McDougall et al, 2006: 123-4) and how police have increased their technology to monitor receivers, demonstrates the modern day crime prevention strategies in identifying and managing various risks of crime to occur. Installing and maintaining adequate street lighting is a technique used to enhance the belief by the offender that they are more likely to be observed and apprehended. Painter and Farrington (1999: 80-83) conducted research in to street lighting as a method of crime prevention which reported some success. Their case study of street lighting improvements in Stoke-on-Trent found that crime was reduced in areas which had lighting upgrades. The theory of using street lighting to control the commission of crime is based on the theory that the offender will form the opinion that there will be a reduced reward and increased risk of being caught. A knock on effect is reducing the fear of crime within the community which has the effect of improving community cohesion (Painter and Farrington, 1999: 82). Likewise, the introduction of electronic entry/exit systems to hotspot areas such as estate buildings and problematic car parks increases the public’s awareness and encourages them to burglar proof their dwellings and park their cars in garages as often as they can is evidence of risk management influencing crime control policy. The basic philosophy being that of reducing the appeal of potential targets to potential offenders.

More recently, particularly after 9/11, risk management led crime prevention measures have contributed to intelligence led policing and how the crime authorities are able to prevent and respond to terrorism (Birkland, 2004: 186-89). The speed in which the London bombers were apprehended demonstrates the successful use of intelligence led policing (Denny, 2005: 136-138). Risk management strategies were effective in intercepting terrorist activities, especially via the use of CCTV. This is an example demonstrating that risk analysis of situational circumstances open to terrorists for crime have assisted policing in this area. Intelligence led policing is informed by problem oriented policing which seeks to analyze crime patterns to minimize the motivation of likely offenders and also to analyze and assess the police response to crimes committed and their effectiveness. In this manner, the policing of crime is constantly being improved in response to changing environmental and motivational factors for crime (McGarrell et al, 2007: 143).

Despite this, critics such as Hobsbawn (1994: 53) point out that increased risk assessments aimed to prevent situational crime has not reduced the crime rate. The UK is currently seeing its highest rate of prison population and this is expected to continue to increase further. One explanation for this increase in the recorded and detection of crimes is the rate of technological advancements, especially in relation to surveillance and intense policing. Hobsbawn (1994: 570) deliberates that modern day society is now in the “crisis decades”, whereby disorganization has reached “unthinkable excesses”. Melossi (2000: 314) contends that what we see today is the state increasing its control and risk technologies to temper the seemingly fractured and disorderly “watched” masses, while the imprisoned population increase and crime continues.

It is clearly evident that there is now an intrinsic link between risk and criminology as the use of actuarial risk analysis methodologies is now an essential crime management tool within policing. Risk analysis in criminology is entrenched in the belief that man has a rational choice and the freedom to decide to do what is right or wrong. While risk methods have not being fully employed to secure incarcerations, measures such as Megan’s law in the United States – the three strikes law, and the necessity for convicted sex offenders to report their addresses to police indicate that risk is being used to prevent crime. Furthermore, the prevalence of technologies such as CCTV, tagging, GIS to determine crime hot spots and increased street lighting initiatives demonstrate how actuarial models of risk are being employed effectively within criminology on a daily basis. Likewise situational crime prevention models are also being used on a daily basis to evaluate the risks of crime and reduce their opportunities.


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