Rethinking the politics of crime
Nov 19, 2010
It is fair to say that many American criminal justice officials live in fear of finding themselves in a similar position to Crispin Blunt: out on an island, on the wrong side of the “tough on crime” debate. This understandable fear has broad consequences for the field of criminal justice. Among other things, it creates a risk-averse environment where both policymakers and practitioners are reluctant to challenge the status quo and test new ideas.
This is a problem that Aubrey Fox and I examine in our new book Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure (2010: Urban Institute Press). The central argument of the book is that criminal justice officials should adopt a lesson from the field of science, embracing the trial-and-error process and talking more honestly about how difficult it is to change the behavior of offenders and reduce chronic offending in crime-plagued urban neighborhoods.
In an effort to encourage greater reflection within the field of criminal justice, Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform tells the stories of several criminal justice programs that have experienced both success and failure, including drug courts, Operation Ceasefire and D.A.R.E. The trials and tribulations of these programs offer a host of important lessons, highlighting the challenges of inter-agency collaboration, the difficulties of managing leadership transitions and the gap that often exists between criminal justice researchers and practitioners.
Of all the obstacles that bedevil criminal justice reformers, none is more complex than mastering the politics of crime, particularly when the media gets involved.
In the US, there are countless examples of cities and states passing “get tough” legislation quickly on the heels of horrific local tragedies that attracted frenzied media coverage.