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In 1940, Edwin Sutherland claimed that the discipline of criminology was operating with an inaccurate view of criminal behavior. He argued that criminology focused too much on the offending of working-class people via the causal mechanisms of poverty, psychopathy, and sociopathy. His theory on white-collar crime was an observation that people of high social class commit crimes and have their own forms of offending behavior. Of this behavior, Sutherland noted that it could be more far-reaching and damaging than offenses committed by the working class, while at the same time encountering less scrutiny and condemnation from society. By taking the first steps into the study of crimes of the powerful, Sutherland opened up discussion of a wide range of nonviolent, financially motivated offenses such as corruption of state officials, fraud, and embezzlement. He proposed the theory of differential association as an attempt to provide a more effective explanation of offending behavior inclusive of the offending of the rich and powerful.
During the 20th century, research into white-collar criminals and the professional con artist has revealed broad typologies of offending behavior and patterns of offending. Today, white-collar crime is a broad term that applies to a range of activities and has become shorthand for discussions of crimes that involve deception, abuse of trust, and intelligent criminals.
Media representations have emphasized these characteristics and portrayed white-collar criminals and con artists as offending elites, both in terms of social class and type of offending. Film and television depictions present an elaborate form of criminality based on guile and manipulation of victims. The image of the white-collar criminal, the professional con artist, and their victims in popular culture are equally nuanced and tap into ideas about the moral acceptability of this kind of offending. The influence of popular culture on attitudes toward white-collar crime is of great interest in the study of criminology.
Sentencing is a complex task that involves judicial officers imposing sentences in the first instance and deciding appeals from those judges in certain circumstances. Both trial and appellate courts are usually invested with some discretion as to the nature and quantum of sentence that may be imposed. Appellate jurisdiction varies widely between countries reflecting disparate approaches to discretion, differences in the grounds of appeal, in the deference paid to trial judges and the role of prosecution in the appellate process. While most jurisdictions give defendants the right to appeal against sentence, they differ in the ability of prosecuting authorities to appeal against sentence. In some jurisdictions there is considerable asymmetry between defendants’ and prosecution’s appellate rights.
Historically, defendants’ rights of appeal preceded, and have been more extensive those of the prosecution, and traditionally, the balance has been tilted in favor of defendants. However, in a number of jurisdictions, this imbalance has been questioned. The principal arguments against prosecution appeals have centered on the concept of double jeopardy, which has long applied in substantive criminal procedure. Since the early 1980s the analogy with substantive double jeopardy has been questioned or rejected as has the double jeopardy principle itself. Justifications for the principle such as the anxiety and distress suffered by the defendant, the need for finality, the possibility of double punishment, and the abuse of power have all been re-assessed.
The case for equal or symmetrical rights rests on the basis that the law requires that error, whether in favor of the defendant or the prosecution, should be corrected as a matter of justice. A balanced appellate process can ensure consistency in, and the adequacy of, sentencing standards, provide guidance to sentencing judges, and increase victims’ and public confidence in the criminal justice system.
David W. Jones
The term “psychopath” has come in popular use to be understood as a description of an individual who seems to have a clear and rational understanding of the world around them; they are not deluded or suffering from hallucinations and yet they seem to be able to act with great cruelty or with recklessness towards the safety of others and themselves. The medical and legal professions have been struggling for over 200 hundred years to reach agreement on whether there might be appropriate psychiatric diagnoses that might helpfully describe such individuals. Various terms such as moral insanity, monomania, psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder have been used. The term “psychopath” is the one that has become most firmly fixed in the public imagination. The violence and harm that people with these kinds of problems might do can raise a great deal of public anxiety. This anxiety has often played out and been amplified in various forms of the media. This article traces some of the ways that various forms of popular media have been of crucial importance to shaping our understanding of “psychopathy” and the related diagnoses of moral insanity, monomania, and antisocial personality disorder. From the medical treatises and press reporting of notorious trails, and the explorations of dangerous forms of consciousness in the 19th century, to the way that the mass media, including films, have presented such problems, they have often had a key influence on the legal and medical formulations.
A considerable body of research on societal response to white-collar and corporate crime has evidenced a hardening of public attitudes, including increased perceived seriousness of upper-class criminality and punitiveness toward its perpetrators. These findings suggest that, over time, the public has gained a better understanding of white-collar crime and its deleterious social impact. However, none of the opinion surveys included a direct measure of public knowledge. As a result, it is difficult to determine to which extent U.S. citizens are objectively informed about crimes of the powerful. In fact, only a few studies have focused exclusively on the intersection between knowledge about white-collar crime and sentiment toward it. These scholarly efforts have concluded that the American people continue to underestimate the actual financial and physical consequences of white-collar crime, which may be the result of selective reporting by the mass media and biased research foci by scholars. By choosing to focus on traditional criminal law violations, such as homicide and theft, and relegating white-collar offenses to the rank of victimless crimes, journalists and criminologists have contributed to the construction and propagation of myths about upper-world criminality. In turn, continuous adherence to these myths might lead to polarized opinions about which type of penal policy to adopt against white-collar crime.
Michael T. Light and Jason P. Robey
Amid global trends of increasingly mobile populations, scholars have debated whether national citizenship status remains relevant for international migrants. Some argue that international courts have practically eliminated the differences between citizens and noncitizens through equal protection under the law, while others maintain that national membership remains an essential form of stratification in modern societies. Recent trends in immigration enforcement seem to emphasize the continuing salience of citizenship, as criminal sanctions have become increasingly commonplace in border control. With the increasing importation of criminal justice strategies into migration policy, Western societies have witnessed dramatic increases in the number of noncitizens adjudicated and punished in recent decades, a trend that has gained considerable steam in the United States under the Trump administration. For example, between the president’s inauguration (January 20, 2018) and the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2018), the number of immigration arrests increased by 42% over the same time period in 2016. Yet despite these debates and trends, the role of citizenship status has received only limited consideration within the field of criminology. In the same vein, the role of punishment has been underappreciated in the field of citizenship studies. Against this backdrop, theoretical insights from the sociology of punishment are connected with three central aspects of citizenship: (1) state sovereignty, (2) cultural understanding, and (3) group membership. Drawing these parallels to theoretical and methodological traditions within criminology will set new research paths for future scholars to understand criminology in the context of a globalizing world increasingly characterized by international migration.
Alessandro De Giorgi
The political economy of punishment is a critical approach within the sociology of punishment that hypothesizes the existence of a structural relationship between transformations of the economy and changes in the penal field. Inspired by a neo-Marxist framework, this materialist critique of punishment explores—from both a historical and a contemporary perspective—the connections between the reorganization of a society’s system of production and the emergence, persistence, or decline of specific penal practices. Thus, materialist criminologists have investigated the parallel historical emergence of factories as the main sites of capitalist production and of prisons as the main institutions of punishment in modern societies. Scholars in the field have also explored the correlations between incarceration rates and socioeconomic indicators, such as unemployment rates, poverty levels, welfare regimes, and labor markets. This materialist framework has been criticized in mainstream criminological literature for its alleged economic determinism. In particular, critiques have focused on the theory’s tendency to overlook the cultural significance of punishment and the politico-institutional dimensions of penality, as well as on its exclusive emphasis on the instrumental side of penal practices as opposed to their symbolic dimensions. In response to these critiques, some recent works have tried to integrate the old political economy of punishment with epistemological tools from different disciplinary fields in order to overcome some of the limitations of the materialist approach. This broadening of the structural paradigm in criminology could point toward the envisioning of a “cultural political economy of punishment.” Particularly in its more recent iterations, the materialist critique of punishment provides a powerful lens for investigating current transformations in the penal field, such as the advent of mass incarceration and the ongoing prison crisis in the United States.
Yuliya Zabyelina and Roman Ivashkiv
Pussy Riot was a feminist punk-rock group based in Moscow, Russian Federation. It was founded by a group of several young women in the summer of 2011, following the announcement that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would run for a third presidential term. Wearing colorful clothes and balaclavas, band members conducted several unsanctioned public performances, which were recorded, edited, and later distributed as music videos on the Internet. Committed to socio-political change in Russia, Pussy Riot protested against the authoritarian political regime and church-state confluence in Russia and advocated for feminism, LGBT and civil rights, and political liberties.
Pussy Riot’s most famous song, “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away,” a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour held on February 21, 2012, provoked a scandal. Following the performance, a criminal case was opened against three Pussy Riot members, leading to arrests without bail of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich. Supporters of Pussy Riot believed the court proceedings and the verdict discredited the Russian judicial system, as the three women were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” While Samutsevich won her appeal, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina served 21 months of their 24-month sentence before they were granted amnesty. This case has become a landmark event in Russian politics, causing a domestic and international controversy over the issues of justice, feminism, and separation of church and state.
Kayla M. Hoskins
Re-entry following incarceration is a complex issue in the contemporary United States. Mass incarceration and tough on crime policies have contributed to a system that disproportionately punishes and incarcerates people of color. For the correctional system, these racial and ethnic disparities translate to issues related to “successful” re-entry following incarceration. Traditionally, re-entry success has been considered to be desistance from crime. However, ideas about re-entry success have developed to include broader concepts of successful reintegration into society. Prominent scholarship surrounding criminal justice policies, procedures, and processes has recognized and made strides in addressing facilitators and barriers to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals, and has uncovered obstacles uniquely faced by minorities. Specifically, researchers have identified these race-related correctional concerns in areas such as probation and parole experiences, familial ties, resource access, employment and educational opportunities, community disadvantage, civic disenfranchisement, and health. Recent scholarship has provided a wealth of considerations for addressing these convoluted re-entry issues. Withal, research indicates that a shift toward more evidence-based policies and interventions shows the most promise for improving re-entry outcomes for minorities, and the need for more equitable policies and practices involving incarcerated and re-entering persons. Assisting re-entering individuals with accessing vital resources (e.g., health care, housing, government assistance), equipping them with necessary skills to live stable and independent lives (e.g., prison-based services, educational assistance, professional training, employment opportunities), promoting healthy connections with their families and communities, and restoring their civic power are all steps that evidence suggests improve re-entry success and reintegration. Continued research on these areas and race is essential to understanding the dimensions of disparate re-entry experiences and creating an even road to successful reintegration after incarceration.
Much has been written about mass incarceration and how it has fallen especially hard on people of color. Given their representation in the U.S. population, for example, black and Hispanic males are far more likely than their white counterparts to be sent to jail or prison. Such disproportionality may be due to the greater involvement of blacks and Hispanics in serious street crime, especially violent crime, which would result in differential incarceration. It also could be due to discretionary decisions by criminal justice officials during arrest, charging, conviction—and, key to the focus of this article, sentencing—which might produce disparity, to the disadvantage of black and Hispanic men. Various theories seek to explain racial and ethnic sentencing disparity by focusing on characteristics of individuals and criminal cases, features of court organization and decision-making, and social contexts surrounding courts.
Literally hundreds of studies in the past 40 years and beyond have focused on sentencing decisions in local courts and unwarranted racial/ethnic punishment disparity, defined as racial/ethnic differences that persist after accounting for legally prescribed and perhaps case-processing influences. Some reviews of this large and mature body of literature have shown that young, black, and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic male defendants tend to receive more severe sentences than other defendants. In addition, reviews have noted how the sentencing role of race/ethnicity is often conditional on gender and other factors, and that racial/ethnic disparity in sentencing varies in connection with characteristics of courts and their surrounding social contexts. Future research on race, ethnicity, and sentencing should address disparity in relation to earlier (e.g., charging and conviction) and later (e.g., parole, probation, or parole revocation) stages of criminal justice decisions, as well as how the social characteristics of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys affect disparity. Research studies should continue to examine how specific punishment policies (e.g., mandatory minimums, risk assessments, and sentencing guideline provisions and departures) may be the sources of racial and ethnic disparity.
Race and ethnicity represent a pivotal issue in almost any conversation regarding gang members. These two concepts have been invariably linked in both research and the larger social world. Images of this connection invade our social milieu and appear frequently in movies, television, news, and music. However, academic research also contributes to this perception. Much of the early work, as well as a significant portion of the qualitative work on gangs, perpetuates the continued examination of racial and ethnic homogeneous gangs, with a focus on African American and Hispanic groups. This work ignores increasing problems among other racial and ethnic groups, such as Asians and Native Americans, within the literature. More recently, however, the intricacies of this relationship are becoming clearer, including the growing involvement of White individuals and the fact that gangs are increasingly multiracial. Furthermore, with the development of the Eurogang project in the late 1990s, research regarding these groups in Europe, as well as in other countries across the world, has become more plentiful, further expanding our knowledge regarding gangs and the role of race and ethnicity, as well as immigration and migration.
As the relationship between race and ethnicity and gang membership takes on more meaning, numerous explanations have been developed to account for this connection. Much of the research, both past and present, centers on the association between race and ethnicity and the impacts of social disorganization, discrimination, immigration, and cumulative disadvantage. Community and environmental factors play a crucial role in explaining why gangs thrive in communities often occupied by racial and ethnic minorities. Relatedly, external threats, specifically violence from other groups, can provide the impetus for gang development in neighborhoods marked by disorder; thus, other explanations center on violence and the role that gangs play in mitigating this threat while serving as a protective factor for the youth in the community. The risk factor approach, gaining more prominence in gang literature, investigates individual risk for gang membership, as well as the cumulative effects of risk factors. These various frameworks assist in beginning to understand the underlying factors contributing to gang membership.
With regard to policy recommendations, investigating “race and ethnicity specific” risk factors as well how these risk factors might impact programming remain key. In order to fully comprehend the development of gangs, a number of gang researchers have called for the need to understand the different historical experiences of racial and ethnic groups within the United States. For example, the histories of Hispanic and African American groups impact their experiences and thus may result in different pathways to gang membership. And yet, in many respects, these groups are still treated as single entities, ignoring their distinct histories. In fact, there remains a paucity of information regarding cross-group comparisons that examine actual differences between racial and ethnic groups. Without a closer examination of the relationship between race, ethnicity, and gang membership, effective gang policies and practices will remain out of reach.
The unofficial War on Terror that began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States expanded a wide range of formal social controls as well as more informal methods of punitive control that were disproportionately directed toward Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and those who were perceived to be. Although terrorism had been racialized long before 9/11, this event galvanized American support for sweeping new policies and practices that specifically targeted racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those who were immigrants. New agencies and prisons were created, individual rights and civil liberties were restricted, and acts of hate and discrimination against those who were racially, ethnically, and religiously stereotyped as potential terrorists increased. Although research shows that most domestic terrorism is not perpetrated by Muslims, Arabs, or those originating from the Middle East, the racialized stereotype of terrorists had a major impact on how the War on Terror was executed and how its implementation affected members of certain minority groups in the United States.
Marisa Omori and Oshea Johnson
There have been two major approaches to studying racial and ethnic inequality in punishment: The first approach comes from the sociology of punishment and social inequality literatures, and considers how the carceral state, including criminal justice institutions, create racial inequality through policies and practices broadly, or how racialized narratives are embedded in these policies and practices. This includes how scholarship has been drawn from institutional racism and other race literatures and integrated these ideas into how punishment policies and practices are racialized, as well as how the criminal justice system is both a consequence of and a contributor to increasing racial inequality. In particular, the social inequality literature has also been concerned with the rise of mass incarceration and its consequences for racial inequality in individuals, families, and communities.
The second approach is drawn from the criminology literature on courts and sentencing, and generally focuses on the magnitude and location of racial disparities for individuals being processed in the criminal justice system, with a particular attention to sentencing outcomes. There are several complementary frameworks that have been used to frame racial inequalities in punishment outcomes; most of them focus on individual-level decisions and decision-makers, with some considerations of organizational-level factors. Most often, this literature also quantitatively tests racial disparities of court processing and court case outcomes, with a particular focus on sentencing of convicted defendants, including whether a defendant was sentenced to prison or not (the “in/out” decision), and the length of prison sentence. The two perspectives can inform each other; the sociology of punishment focuses on policies and practices that drive racial inequality, and the courts and sentencing literature focuses on the consequences of these factors in case processing outcomes.
Sarah R. Bostrom and Melinda Tasca
The re-entry experiences of women are an important area of inquiry given the continued rise in female imprisonment. Since most inmates will be released, reintegration is a chief policy concern. Like men, re-entering women tend to be disproportionately of color, poor, undereducated, and parents of minor children. What sets women apart from men, however, is the accumulation and frequency of the adversities they encounter. To be sure, co-occurring histories of trauma, mental health, and substance abuse—commonly referred to as the “triple threat”—along with physical health concerns and poverty, distinctly shape female re-entry. Women with children face additional burdens due to their status as mothers. In particular, women’s responsibilities for children before incarceration, contact with children during confinement, and expected parental roles after release are quite different than those of fathers. Pressures to assume mothering roles and challenges with parent-child reunification can further complicate re-entry. Women require social support to successfully transition from prison to home. Social support helps women meet competing demands related to housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and community supervision. This assistance typically comes from informal networks that are invaluable to re-entry success. At the same time, women’s relationships are often highly complicated and can be sources of stress. While prosocial relationships are protective, unhealthy ties can contribute to re-entry failure. With respect to formal social support, gender-responsive interventions that target the unique stressors of formerly incarcerated women offer the most promise for effecting post-release change. Yet, such programs are not widely available or accessible to this population. Finally, it is important to take stock of primary sources used in the study of female re-entry to identify ways to advance research and policy in this area.
Crime reality television is a significant origin story in understanding reality entertainment. In the 1980s, crime reality television captured the public’s imagination with cold cases, ongoing criminal investigations, surveillance feeds, and live appeals to the public for information to catch criminals. Early crime reality television borrowed from other factual genres, including news reportage, crime and observational documentary, and crime drama; this mixing of different generic elements helped to create representations of crime that were a combination of dramatized spectacles, surveillance footage, and public appeals. What united this mix of factual and dramatic styles was the sense of liveness; the live address to the public and the caught-in-the-act camerawork contributed to an experience of watching as immediate and real. This feeling of liveness, a central component of television itself, meant that crime reality television was popular entertainment that also connected to the real world, inviting audiences and publics to engage with crime in their local neighborhood, in society, and in public debates about law and order. This was citizen crime television that had commercial and public appeal.
At some point in the origin story of reality television, crime was overshadowed by the global development of this entertainment genre. In early studies, books such as Entertaining Crime (Fishman & Cavender, 1998) or Tabloid Television (Langer, 1998) examined the influx of infotainment and sensational news reportage primarily on television in Europe, Australia, and America. These books were about reality television and addressed the first crime wave in the genre. Studies of the 2000s books, such as Reality TV (Hill, 2005) or Staging the Real (Kilborn, 2003), examined docusoaps and competitive reality and talent shows, addressing the second and third waves in the genre. More recently, companions to reality television (Ouellette, 2014) contain research on global reality television formats, as well as scripted reality or business reality, and analyze issues concerning politics, race, class, production, celebrities, branding, and lifestyles. Crime is conspicuous by its relative absence from these discussions: what happened to crime reality television? Today, true crime is flourishing in commercial zones, for example, on branded digital television channels like CBS Reality or the international surveillance format Hunted, and subscription video on demand true crime Making a Murderer. Many of these popular series tap into that feeling of liveness that was so crucial to early crime reality television, particularly the connection between representing crime, law and order, and the real world. This makes crime reality television a rich site of analysis as an intergeneric space where there are tensions surrounding the staging of real crime for entertainment, and its connection to traditional values of authority and duty, representations of ethnicity, gender and social class, and broader moral, legal and political issues.
James M. Binnall and Maryanne Alderson
Reentry is the process of ending a period of incarceration, leaving jail or prison, and returning to society. Not to be confused with reintegration or recidivism, reentry is not a measure of success or failure. Instead, reentry is a journey, and no two reentries are analogous. The reentry process is individualized and highly dependent on a number of factors including a reentering individual’s sentence structure, incarceration experience, and postrelease resources. Depending on these factors, a reentering individual may find his or her return to the free world a relatively smooth transition or a task riddled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To navigate such obstacles, most reentering individuals need assistance. Traditionally, reentry assistance was provided by the state, through correctional programming in prison or by parole authorities tasked with monitoring a reentering individual postrelease. In recent years, nonprofit and faith-based organizations have increasingly been a part of innovative reentry initiatives. There has also been a recent expansion of Internet-based reentry resources, such as reentry.net and exoffenders.net, which allow those experiencing reentry to obtain reentry resources online.
Reentry initiatives typically take two forms: deficit-based and strengths-based. Deficit-based reentry models use actuarial assessments to identify a reentering individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. In theory, deficit-based models then address those risks and needs through measured, tailored responses. Critics of deficit-based models argue that by focusing only on risks and needs, such approaches overlook reentering individuals’ talents and skills. Acknowledging these criticisms, many reentry initiatives have shifted away from the traditional deficits-centered model of reentry and toward a strengths-based approach. Rather than focusing on the risks and needs of a reentering individual, strengths-based approaches highlight the attributes of reentering individuals and draw on the experiences of former offenders who have successfully navigated their own reentry and best understand the pitfalls of the process. Recent, albeit limited empirical and experiential evidence supports the strength-based approach to reentry, suggesting that the concerns and insights of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system make the transition from incarceration to freedom a smoother one.
Criminal justice and its institutions are key objects of popular culture and attract extensive media attention. The portrayal of the justice system, its rules, professions, and institutions has been invigorated with the invention of new media technology. The authorities’ reaction to wrong doing has proven not less exciting to the audience than the criminal acts themselves. French sociologist Emile Durkheim emphasized that every member of society has an interest in social cohesion and wishes to see perpetrators appropriately punished. The media plays to this basic inclination. From the reactions of the justice system to crime people take clues not only for its effectiveness but the public also wants to see its basic values represented in the work of officials and their decisions. Therefore, aspects of procedural and distributive justice are picked up by popular imagination and exploited to the full by media producers. Beyond recognition that media depictions of criminal justice will follow media conventions and will therefore be distorted in systematic ways, it has to be acknowledged that those representations and the expectations they formed have become a major force in society. Political repercussions and influences on how crime is dealt with are a consequence.
Public sex is a term used to describe various forms of sexual practice that take place in public, including cruising, cottaging (sex in public toilets), and dogging. Public sex has a long history and wide geography, especially for sexual minorities excluded from pursuing their sex lives in private, domestic spaces. Social science research has long studied public sex environments (PSEs) and analyzed the sexual cultures therein, providing a rich set of representations that continue to provide important insights today. Public sex is often legally and morally contentious, subject to regulation, rendered illicit and illegal (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of same-sex activities). Legal and policing practices therefore produce another important mode of representation, while undercover police activities utilizing surveillance techniques have depicted public sex in order to regulate it. Legal and moral regulation is frequently connected to news media coverage, and there is a rich archive of press representations of public sex that plays a significant role in constructing public sex acts as problematic. Fictionalized representations in literature, cinema, and television provide a further resource of representations, while the widespread availability of digital video technologies has also facilitated user-generated content production, notably in online pornography. The production, distribution, and consumption of representations of sex online sometimes breaches the private/public divide, as representations intended solely for private use enter the online public sphere—the cases of celebrity sex tapes, revenge porn, and sexting provide different contexts for turning private sex into public sex. Smartphones have added location awareness and mobility to practices of mediated public sex, changing its cultural practices, uses, and meanings. Film and video recording is also a central feature of surveillance techniques which have long been used to police public sex and which are increasingly omnipresent in public space. Representations as diverse as online porn, art installations, and pop videos have addressed this issue in distinctive ways.
Much of the existing research on video games seems to stall over the issue of whether or not violence in games is as innocent as is alleged. Scientists are still divided as to whether or not there is a causal link between the behavior of young people and violence in video gaming. Much less discussion is devoted to how cultural and political engagement finds new channels in video games to confront dominant opinions and perceptions in society. However, a more recent body of scientific work considers how the image spaces of video games facilitate new forms of resistance and how this opens up possibilities of social change in our daily lives. In this research, the culture of video gaming is used as a tool for a deeper understanding of resistance in our society. In this context, application of theories about “contagion without contact” can add some new thoughts to the way the virtual world of video games offers possibilities for a politics of resistance in real life. From a historical point of view, the work of the 19th-century French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, one of the first theorists on contagion, can be used to understand more deeply this on-going process by which everyday life recreates itself in its own image, and vice versa. Rather than measuring the amount of violence present in video games (“content analysis”) or identifying causal linkages between media representations of violent imagery and behavior, and subsequent human behavior (“media effect research”), it becomes evident that players of games are not passive recipients, but active interpreters of the reality that arises in and is processed by popular culture.
Risk is a pervasive feature of contemporary life, and has become a key feature of penal policy, systems of punishment, and criminal justice services across a number of the Anglophone jurisdictions. Risk as an approach to calculating the probability of “danger” or “hazard” has its roots in the mercantile trade of the 16th century, growing in significance over the intervening centuries until it pervades both the social and economic spheres of everyday life. Actuarialism, that is the method of statistically calculating and aggregating risk data, has similar roots, steeped in the probability calculations of the insurance industry with 20th-century extension into the arenas of social welfare and penality. Within criminal justice one of the first risk assessment tools was the parole predictor designed by Burgess in 1928. Since then we have seen a burgeoning of risk assessment tools and actuarial risk practices across the penal realm, although the extent to which penality is totally risk based is disputed. Claims for a New Penology centered on risk have been much debated, and empirical evidence would tend toward more cautious claims for such a significant paradigm shift.
Prevention and responsibilization are often seen as core themes within risk-focused penality. Risk assessment is used not only to assess and predict future offending of current criminals, but also to enable early identification of future criminals, “high crime” areas, and those in need of early interventions. The ethics, accuracy, and moral justification for such preventive strategies have been extensively debated, with concerns expressed about negative and discriminatory profiling; net-widening; over targeting of minority groups especially for selective incarceration; and more recently criticisms of risk-based pre-emption or “pre-crime” targeting, particularly of ethnic minorities. Responsibilization refers to the techniques of actuarial practices used to make persons responsible for their own risk management, and for their own risk decisions throughout the life course. In respect of offenders this is best expressed through corrective programs focused on “right thinking” and re-moralizing offenders toward more desirable social ends. Those offenders who are “ripe for re-moralization” and who present a level of risk that can be managed within the community can avoid custody or extended sentencing. Those who are not, and who present the highest levels of risk, are justifiably selected for risk-based custodial sentences. Such decision-making not only requires high levels of predictive accuracy, but is also fraught with severe ethical challenges and moral choices, not least about the desired balance between risks, rights, and freedoms.
Tim Brennan, William Dieterich, and William Oliver
From rudimentary conceptions of risk in the late 18th century, risk assessment slowly evolved toward a more multifaceted conceptualization of risk and progressed to more sophisticated methods to calibrate offender risk levels. This story largely involves the struggles in criminology and applied agencies to achieve a successful “science-to-practice” advancement in risk technologies to support criminal justice decision making. This has involved scientific measurement issues such as reliability, predictive validity, construct validity, and ways to assess the accuracy of predictions and to effectively implement risk assessment methods. The urgent call for higher predictive accuracy from criminal justice policymakers has constantly motivated such change. Over time, the concept of risk has fragmented as diverse agencies, including pretrial release, probation, courts, and jails, have sought to assess specific risk outcomes that are critical for their policy goals. Most agencies are engaged in both risk assessment and risk reduction, with the latter requiring a deeper assessment of explanatory factors. Currently, risk assessment in criminal justice faces several turbulent challenges. The explosive trends in information technology regarding data access, computer memories, and processing speed are combining with new predictive analytic methods that may challenge the currently dominant techniques of risk assessment. A final challenge is that there is, as yet, insufficient standardization of risk assessment methods; nor are there any common language or definitions for offender risk categories. Thus, recent proposals for standardization are examined.