Crime prevention and control
What makes people conform?
Situational crime prevention
Ron Clarke describes situational crime prevention as ‘ a pre-emptive
approach that relies, not on improving societies or its institutions, but
simply on reducing opportunities for crime’.
He sees three features of measures aimed at crime prevention:
They are directed at specific crimes.
They involve managing or altering the immediate environment of the
They aim at increasing the effort and risks of committing a crime.
For example ‘target hardening’ = improving household security and
increasing surveillance via CCTV cameras, security guards.
Underlying Ron Clarke’s approach is a ‘rational’ theory of crime.
This is the view that criminals act rationally, weighing up the costs of
committing a crime before deciding whether to commit it.
Clarke argues that most theories offer no realistic solutions to crime (subcultural theory, functionalism, Marxism etc).
He says that we should focus on the immediate crime situation since this is
where the chance of prevention is greatest. Most crime is opportunistic, so
we need to reduce the opportunities.
Marcus Felson Give an example of crime situational crime prevention
The Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City was poorly designed
and provided opportunity for deviant conduct. Luggage theft, drug dealing
etc. Re-shaping the physical environment greatly reduced such activity. For
example, large sinks in which the homeless were bathing were replaced by
small hand basins.
What prevention measures do you take personally, are taken in your
home do you see in college?
A criticism of situational crime prevention measures is that they do not
reduce crime; they simply displace it.
Chaiken found that a crackdown on subway robberies in New York merely
displaced them to the streets above.
Displacement takes several forms:
Spatial – moving elsewhere to commit the crime
Temporal – committing it at a different time
Target – choose a different victim
Tactical – using a different method
Functional – committing a different type of crime
The most striking example of the success of situational measures is not
about crime, but about suicide.
In the 60’s half of all suicides in Britain were the result of gassing. At the
time the gas supply came from the highly toxic. From the 60’s onwards coal
gas was gradually replaced by less toxic natural gas and by 1997 suicides by
gassing had fallen to near zero. Also overall suicides had also declined.
There didn’t appear to be any displacement.
Situational crime prevention seems to work, but there is also
evidence of displacement.
It tend to focus on opportunistic, petty street crime and ignores white
collar and state crime.
It assumes criminals make rational calculations. This is not always
the case, especially with murder.
Environmental crime prevention
This approach is based on James Q Wilson and George Kelling’s article
They use the term Broken Windows to stand for all the various signs of
disorder and lack of concern for others that are found in some
neighbourhoods: noise, graffiti vandalism etc.
They believe that leaving broken windows etc unrepaired gives out the
signal the no one cares.
In such areas there is an absence of both formal and informal control.
Without action the situation deteriorates and the area can tip into a spiral of
Zero tolerance policing
They suggest that any broken window/graffiti should be sorted out
immediately and also that police should adopt a zero tolerance approach
which means they should come down hard on even the slightest signs of
Great successes have been claimed for zero tolerance policing. There was a
50% decrease in murder in New York when Zero tolerance policing was
However it is not clear how far zero tolerance was the cause of the
NYPD benefitted from 7,000 extra policemen
There was a general decline in crime at the time, even in cities that
didn’t use zero tolerance policies
While deaths from murder declined, attempted murder remained
high. Improved medical facilities might be the reason for this.
One measure that can be seen as reducing crime is punishment. There are
two main justifications that have been offered for it: reduction and
One justification for punishing offenders is that it prevents future crime.
This can be done through:
Deterrence – punishing the individual discourages them from
offending in the future.
Rehabilitation – this is the idea that punishment can be used to
reform or change offenders so that they no longer offend
Incapacitation – this is the use of punishment to remove the
offender’s capacity to offend again (execution, chemical castration
Sociological perspectives on punishment
Durkheim: a functionalist perspective
Functionalists such as Durkheim argue that the function of punishment is to
uphold social solidarity and reinforce shared values.
Two types of justice
While punishment functions to uphold social solidarity, it does so differently
in different types of society. Durkheim identifies two types of justice,
corresponding to two types of society.
Retributive justice – (revenge)
Restitutive justice – (restore things to how they where before the
Marxism: capitalism and punishment
For Marxists the function of punishment is to maintain the existing social
In the 18th century punishments such as hanging, and transportation to the
colonies for theft and poaching were part of the ‘rule of terror’ by the
aristocracy over the poor.
Foucault: birth of the prison
Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish opens with a striking contrast
between two different forms of punishment, which he sees as examples of
sovereign power and disciplinary power.
Sovereign power was typical of the period before the 19th century, when the
monarch had power over people and their bodies. Inflicting punishment on
the body was the means of asserting control. Punishment was a spectacle
such as public execution.
Disciplinary power becomes dominant from the 19th century. In this form
of control, a new system of discipline seeks to govern not just the body but
also the mind or ‘soul’. It does so through surveillance.
Foucault demonstrates his point with the panopticon prison which was
designed so that the prisoners could be observed by the guards at all times.
Because they might be watched the prisoners behaved themselves.
Foucault argues that the panopticon was was one of a range of institutions
that began to subject individuals to disciplinary power through selfsurveillance. Other institutions include mental asylums, work houses,
factories and schools.
The shift from physical punishment to imprisonment is less clear than
He exaggerates the extent of control that the state has over
In liberal democracies that do not have the death penalty, imprisonment is
considered the most severe form of punishment. However it has not proved
an effective method of rehabilitation. – about two thirds of prisoners commit
further crimes on release.
Since the 1980s the prison population has swollen is size. A consequence of
this has been overcrowding.
Britain imprisons a higher proportion of people than almost any other
country in Europe. For example in England and Wales 139 out of every
100,000 people are in prison. This compares with France 99, Germany 91
Ireland 86 and Sweden 64, However, the world leaders are the USA with
750 in prison per 100,000 of the population.
The prison population is mainly male ( 95%), young and poorly educated.
Black and ethnic minorities are over represented.
Alternatives to prison
In the past, a major goal in dealing with young offenders was diverting them
away from the criminal justice system to avoid the risk of a self-fulfilling
prophecy turning them into serious criminals. The focus was on welfare and
treatment such as community service.
In recent years there has been a growth in the range of community based
controls, such as curfews and electronic tagging.
Far from diverting young people from the criminal justice system,
community controls may divert them into it. Some think that police use
ASBOS as a way of fast-tracking young offenders into prison.
What is meant by ‘zero tolerance policing’?
What does Foucault mean by ‘disciplinary power’?