Friday, June 09, 2006


The Crime Wave: why it happened and why it's in decline

Polly Toynbee in her excellent column this morning, discusses the 'epidemic' of knife crime, pointing out that it has actually stayed about the same over the last decade. Indeed the 'crime wave' which most people feel we are still experiencing, is not happening according to official figures. Which is a problem for governments trying to convince us that their efforts have not been in vain. The British Crime Survey, which is based upon regular surveys of crimes suffered by some 40,000 people, is generally reckoned to be the best index of crime trends. And according to the BCS there has been a 43 per cent reduction in indictable offences since 1995. But it's not just us, in the USA- for most of us the perceived HQ of criminal activity in the western world- there has been a similar decline in serious crime of about a third. Why is this?

Our (probably) foremost criminologist, LSE's Professor Robert Reiner, argues that the increases in crime suffered by western nations in the late 20th century was a consequence of 'tougher capitalist neo-liberalism' replacing welfarism and causing hardship aggravated by the erosion social values suffered in the sixties. This explanation seems believable to this Guardian reader, but why the subsequent decline? Reiner dismisses ‘zero tolerance’ as other cities in the US experienced similar falls to the home of this approach: New York. He also dismisses the ‘enormous expansion of punitiveness, above all the staggering and gross levels of imprisonment’ as a major cause.

Numbers of US citizens in jail are indeed horrendous- a higher percentage than any other country. 2 million are in jail with nearly a half of them drawn from the 12 per cent of the population which is black. More likely an explanation for the downturn, he thinks was the upturn in the economies of these nations which reduced the need for property crime but he has, perhaps disappointingly, to conclude in a forthcoming publication: ‘The crime drop remains something of a mystery, defying any simple account.’

Most things in life defy "any simple account". It's a shame that no one has told tabloid editors or opportunistic politicians this not-really-very-profound or hard-to-understand truth.

I believe that the US penal service is the second largest employer and amongst the biggest 'industries' in the states. One advantage (to them) of locking so many people away is that it keeps their unemployment figures down (to say nothing of getting many Republican politicians many votes)......
Some alternative opinion on the same 'excellent' column....
I can't imagine what it feels like to carry a knife around - just imagine for a moment that you are - let alone use it on another person. The thought alone gives me shivers.
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