Cover page

Table of Contents

Cover

Broadening Perspectives on Social Policy

Title page

Copyright page

List of Contributors

Introduction

1 An International Crime Decline: Lessons for Social Welfare Crime Policy?

Introduction

Prisons, Police and Welfare

America, ‘and elsewhere, too’

The Scandinavian Way

Winner Take Nothing

The Shadow Effect

Conclusions

2 Advise, Assist and Befriend: Can Probation Supervision Support Desistance?

Introduction

Probation in Ireland

Methods

Control or Care?

Discussion

Acknowledgements

3 The Relational Context of Desistance: Some Implications and Opportunities for Social Policy

Introduction

Understanding Desistance

Donati’s Relational Theory of Reflexivity

Method

The Role of Extant Social Networks

The Role of Intimate Relationships

The Role of New Social Networks

Discussion

Policy Implications: UK

Conclusion

4 ‘Regulating the Poor’: Observations on the ‘Structural Coupling’ of Welfare, Criminal Justice and the Voluntary Sector in a ‘Big Society’

Introduction

Net Widening, Systems Theory and Structural Coupling

Regulating the Poor: Loss of Steering and the Behaviourist Turn in Welfare Strategy

Conclusion

5 What Prospects Youth Justice? Children in Trouble in the Age of Austerity

The ‘Business’ of Youth Justice: A View from the Estate

Re-imagining Youth Justice?

The ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’: The Marketization and Commodification of Children in Trouble

Conclusion: The ‘Brave New World’ – Youth Justice as Industry

6 Bleak Times for Children? The Anti-social Behaviour Agenda and the Criminalization of Social Policy

Introduction

Youth Justice and the Criminalization of Social Policy

The Anti-social Behaviour Agenda: A Prime Example of the Criminalization of Social Policy Thesis?

Dispersal Powers: A Cautionary Tale?

Enter the Coalition Government

Conclusion

7 Social Citizenship and Social Security Fraud in the UK and Australia

Introduction

What is Social Citizenship?

Models of Citizenship

Welfare States: The UK and Australia

The ‘Rational Economic’ Claimant?

Social Security Fraud Legislation

Criminalizing Fraudsters

Social Citizenship for Fraudsters?

Redefining Social Citizenship

Redefining Fraud

Conclusion

Acknowledgements

Index

Broadening Perspectives on Social Policy

Series Editor: Bent Greve

The object of this series, in this age of re-thinking on social welfare, is to bring fresh points of view and to attract fresh audiences to the mainstream of social policy debate.

The choice of themes is designed to feature issues of major interest and concern, such are already stretching the boundaries of social policy.

This is the sixteenth collection of papers in the series. Previous volumes include:

Title page

List of Contributors

Deirdre Healy is Research Fellow, Institute of Criminology, University College Dublin, Ireland.

Janet Jamieson is Senior Lecturer and Head of Criminology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

Hazel Kemshall is Research Professor, Community and Criminal Justice Division, De Montfort University, UK.

Paul Knepper is Reader in Criminology, Department of Sociological Studies, Sheffield University, UK.

Gráinne McKeever is Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Ulster, UK.

John J. Rodger is Reader in Social Policy and Sociology, University of the West of Scotland, UK.

Beth Weaver is Lecturer, Social Work, University of Strathclyde, UK.

Joe Yates is School Director, School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

Introduction

Hazel Kemshall

This special issue presents a timely focus on crime and social policy, particularly as governmental spending on both crime management and social policy is being significantly reduced in most Western societies as one response to the post-2008 global financial crisis. Despite relatively high spending on welfare since the 1970s, Western societies have been restructuring their ‘welfare architecture’ (Esping-Andersen 2002), creating social investment states (Jessop 2002) populated by active citizens responsible for their own welfare. A consequence has been the retrenchment of welfare and the increased responsibilisation of citizens, including offenders, for their own actions and futures (Kemshall 2002). A further discernible trend has been the increased criminalizing tendency and net widening of social policy (Rodger 2000), with particular policy attention on the regulation of the family and the social control of ‘risky youth’.

In this special issue, Rodgers analyses the relationship between crime and social policy in the context of a post-industrial world and within a climate of severe global economic challenge. He argues that the role of the welfare state has become increasingly contradictory as the boundaries between its social control and social support functions blur, resulting in states ‘governing through crime’ (Simon 2007). Rodger demonstrates that the criminalization of social policy can be observed in a range of policy fields including housing, family policy, community development and, crucially, youth policy. Social policies are designed less for their social justice aims and more for their social control and criminal justice objectives. Net widening of the criminal justice gaze can be observed as poor households and poor children are targeted for surveillance and punitive control. Rodger examines both recent and emerging policy strategies, including those emerging under the UK coalition government. His analysis casts new light on the emerging policy relationships between the welfare system, the criminal justice system and civil society with application to a range of Western societies.

Jamieson and Yates in their articles draw on detailed empirical studies to focus on the increasing criminalization of youth, particularly ‘troubled youth’. Jamieson for example argues that the ‘anti-social behaviour’ (ASB) agenda resonates with the state’s broader agenda of responsibilisation and the inculcation of duties and obligations into the ‘law abiding citizen’. However, data from an in-depth study of the application of ASB powers demonstrates the perverse outcomes of such extensions of the criminalization net, including increased exclusion and marginalization of ‘troubled youth’. Whilst focused on England and Wales, her overall conclusion that increased policy attention to security in the age of austerity is likely to increase the criminalization of children has resonance across all the Western countries struggling with disaffected and unemployed youth. Yates adopts a broader view, with a firm focus on current policies in the age of austerity and the likely impact on youth in marginalized and deprived communities. His focus is on the impact of retrenchment, but also interestingly the increased focus in social and crime policy on payment by results. He examines the potential for payment by results to increase marginalization and criminality because challenging ‘cases’ are literally sidelined, and implementation attention is only given to ‘cases’ considered to be a good bet for success and hence payment. He critically examines the ‘marketization’ of youth justice provision, and expresses deep concerns about the emerging trade in youth troubles – an agenda that is likely to spread across the Anglophone countries.

More recent criminological research, and to a lesser extent policy, has returned to the social causes of crime, with renewed interest in what has been broadly termed ‘social rehabilitation’ (Robinson and Crow 2009). In brief, this approach focuses on the social context of offending and rehabilitation, and draws attention to the social opportunities that create routes to desistance and rehabilitation for offenders. This social context is complex, comprising a number of factors that may both precipitate offending and conversely create and support resilience to offending – for example housing/accommodation, employment, education, training, drug treatment – those factors most associated with effective ‘resettlement’. Their importance to desistance has been recognized in England and Wales in the Home Office policy construct of ‘resettlement pathways’ (Home Office 2004) and the HMI Prison and Probation report Through the Prison Gate (HMIP and P 2001). However, this social context also comprises more subtle relational components, such as family life, partners, ‘embeddedness’ in community life, and the achievement and maintenance of a non-offending personal and social identity (Maruna 2001). Policy responses have also been limited in their ambition and scope, narrowly focusing on resettlement issues, with little attention to broader structural issues around social exclusion. This has been exemplified in both UK and USA policy developments and practice responses (see Robinson and Crow 2009 for a full discussion).

In this issue, Healy for example argues that an important step on the journey towards desistance involves the reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities. In order to desist fully, individuals must gain access to new social resources, overcome existing problems and ‘knife off’ their criminal pasts. However, many ex-offenders continue to experience high levels of social marginalization and low levels of life success at least when measured using conventional indicators. Appropriate social policies can encourage desistance and improve the life chances of ex-offenders, for example by increasing their social and human capital or addressing obstacles to change. Interestingly, Healy’s study is located within the Irish Probation Service, a criminal justice service largely untouched by the new penology and current trends of responsibilisation. Within a still largely welfare-oriented service, Healy’s prospective study of desistance examines the extent to which probation policy and practice support the desistance process, set within the broader context of Irish austerity measures post the 2008 financial collapse.

This is complemented by Weaver’s in-depth study of desistance with a focus on the relational context of desistance and the key role of social supports in promoting a crime-free life. Weaver focuses on those social policies likely to facilitate or hinder desistance, and considers how social and penal policy could assist in ‘generating, developing and sustaining the kinds of social capital and reflexive, relational networks relevant to desistance’.

In a comparative study of social security fraud provisions in the UK and Australia, McKeever examines how social security fraud illustrates the crime/ social policy nexus by focusing on the erosion of citizenship for those convicted of social security fraud. Her argument is placed within a broader contention that the current delineation of social citizenship within an exclusive market-based model is problematic, and that the notion of citizenship requires reconstruction if it is to realize its full potential for inclusivity. At present, those convicted of fraud are presented as citizens who deserve to forfeit their right to citizenship, and this permeates to all claimants, challenging not only the right to claim, but rights to citizenship of all who come to rely on state social security systems. Given the rising numbers likely to fall into the welfare net as the global financial crisis takes hold, this is a serious social policy as well as a crime issue.

Finally, Knepper’s important article raises a fundamental question. What should governments do next given that crime rates have declined in Europe and North America over the last two decades? Interestingly, Knepper examines a range of potential reasons for international crime reduction, and poses the important question as to whether intended policies have the necessary intended impacts, and whether social and crime policies have measurable impacts on crime causation and crime reduction. That they may not is a challenging but important contention, as is the possibility that impacts may be unintended and unplanned. Knepper also contrasts the drop in crime rates to the almost constant government preoccupation with ‘high crime politics’, resulting in a perverse focus on ‘combating crime’ even as crime rates fall. This is perhaps the most critical point. Crime is political, and crime policies are often highly politicized. In the new age of austerity, it will be interesting to see whether ‘high crime politics’ continues, or whether austerity presents an opportunity to re-evaluate policy responses to crime. As cutbacks bite, the policy choices may become quite stark between policies of inclusion, rehabilitation and desistance; or policies of exclusion, marginalization and control.

References

Esping-Andersen, G. (2002), A Child-Centred Social Investment Strategy. In G. Esping-Andersen et al. (eds), Why We Need a New Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prison and Probation (HMIP and P) (2001), Through the Prison Gate: A Joint Thematic Review by HM Inspectorates of Prison and Probation, London: HMI Prison and Probation, http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmipris/prison-gate-rps.pdf (accessed 13 December 2011).

Home Office (2004), National Reducing Reoffending Action Plan, London: Home Office, http://www.lifechangeuk.com/_webedit/uploaded-files/downloads/political/reducing-reoffending-delivery.pdf (accessed 13 December 2011).

Jessop, B. (2002), The Future of the Capitalist State, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kemshall, H. (2002), Effective practice in probation: an example of ‘advanced liberal responsibilisation?’ The Howard Journal, 41, 1: 41–58.

Maruna, S. (2001), Making Good: How Ex-convicts Reform and Rebuild their Lives, Washington, DC: American Psychological Society.

Robinson, G. and Crow, I. (2009), Offender Rehabilitation: Theory, Research and Practice, London: Sage.

Rodger, J. (2000), From a Welfare State to a Welfare Society: The Changing Context of Social Policy in a Postmodern Era, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Simon, J. (2007), Governing through Crime: how the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

1

An International Crime Decline: Lessons for Social Welfare Crime Policy?

Paul Knepper

Introduction

Contrary to all expectations, crime has declined in recent decades. Exactly when and where the decline began varies somewhat, depending on whether one is looking at victimization surveys or police statistics, but in general the figures tell a similar story. In the last decade of the 20th century, crime rates began to fall, at first in the USA, then in Europe. Crime rates dropped in Canada, similar to the USA, and in Australia, more in keeping with the timing of the European declines. Victimization data for 15 countries participating in the International Crime Victimization Survey from 1989 indicate that crime rates peaked in the 1990s. Since then crime has decreased, particularly property crime. The ‘near universal fall’ in crime, Jan van Dijk, John van Kesteren and Paul Smit (2007: 16) explain, poses a clear theoretical challenge. ‘In most countries, crime levels in 2004 are back at the level of the late 1980s’.

The response in Britain has been underwhelming. According to the British Crime Survey, between 1995 and 2010, overall crime fell by 50 per cent. This downward trend can also be seen in police-recorded crime. In 2009/10, BCS crime fell by 9 per cent and police-recorded crime fell by 8 per cent compared to the previous year (Flatley et al. 2010: 2). These figures are even more interesting given expectations during the recent recession that property crime should have increased. Yet few politicians, journalists and criminologists have made much of it. If anything, falling crime rates in Britain have been met with ‘a somewhat surprising state of denial’ (Mooney and Young 2006: 398). After more than seven years of good reports, journalist Peter Hitchens declared that criminal behaviour was simply not diminishing and if the British Crime Survey said it was this only meant the survey was not a reliable measure. ‘Certainly, the repeated claims of the current government that crime is falling are risible’ (Hitchens 2003: 11).

This article has to do with the consequences of downward crime trends. There is an ongoing debate about the causes, and while there is an emerging consensus that something extraordinary has taken place, many questions remain. Studies continue to appear, with new sources of data about what is declining and where, and with new explanations about what might be behind such goings-on. Of course the consequences of an international decline in crime are tied to the causes, so my discussion will necessarily involve theories about why crime has decreased. But the overall aim is to think about what declining crime rates might mean and, given the theme of this special issue, to raise some points about the relationship between crime reduction and social welfare.

Prisons, Police and Welfare

Declining rates of crime have attracted a great deal of interest in the USA where leading criminologists of the 1980s had predicted increases in crime (DiIulio, 1995).1 By the middle 1990s, when downward trends began to appear, the Guggenheim Foundation commissioned a series of projects to discover what was behind this unexpected turn of events. The Crime Drop in America, edited by Alfred Blumstein and Joel Wallman (2000), assembled a list of likely reasons for falling crime rates. Their analyses began with a look at prisons and police.

Beginning in 1973 or so, the USA began its experiment in ‘mass imprisonment’. Rates of imprisonment climbed year by year, reaching a level nearly four times higher by 2000. When in the 1990s crime rates began to fall, some observers were ready to claim success. Whether because of deterrence or incapacitation, imprisoning a large volume of lawbreakers had depressed crime rates. But this claim, as Blumstein and Wallman (2006: 128) point out, ignores the fact that the rise in crime during the 1980s ocurred within a period of increasing reliance on incarceration. While they acknowledge that unprecedented levels of imprisonment had some effect, crime rates fell owing to a combination of factors, including changes in gun laws, illicit drug markets, economics and demographics, and cannot be taken as evidence that mass imprisonment experiment worked.

Furthermore, imprisonment as a crime reduction strategy comes with ‘externalities’. In economics, externality refers to costs of an economic activity paid by persons other than those engaged in the activity. In crime policy, externality describes the situation when measures undertaken to fight crime create unforeseen (but foreseeable) demands on social welfare, that are in effect met by welfare budgets rather than criminal justice budgets (Knepper 2007: 21). Clear (2007) argues that mass incarceration reduces crime, but only in the short-run and at high financial and social costs. Over the long-term, imprisonment contributes to chronically high levels of crime within distressed communities from which prisoners are drawn disproportionately. Policymakers need to understand the trade-offs between intended and unintended impacts.

Policing has also been promoted as the cause. Police forces across the USA implemented reforms in the 1990s, many under the umbrella of the ‘broken windows’ theory. Order-maintenance, zero tolerance and community policing approaches sought to diminish crime by community engagement and attention to minor infractions. The success of Commissioner Bratton’s initiatives in New York City inspired similar projects in Britain and other parts of America. There is evidence to support particular initiatives and positive evaluations of particular strategies, so the issue is not, as far as Blumstein and Wallman (2006: 136) are concerned, whether policing strategies have been effective. Rather, the issue is the extent to which these strategies were implemented within the period of decline and whether the decline can be fairly attributed to policing. The causal links between policing initiatives and declining crime rates are difficult to document because of the ubiquity of the fall in crime: crime rates fell in cities that changed policing styles and but also fell in cities that did not.

Blumstein (2006) points out that the American crime decline of the 1990s ‘largely came to an end by 2000’. The years between 2000 and 2005 saw some significant change in rates for violent offences. He warns that ‘there could well be a new crime rise in the future’ owing primarily to the difficulty of young people in finding adequate employment in an increasingly complex economy. He explains that ‘there have been sizable reductions in the level of social services provided as state and local budgets have been tightened, largely as a result of major reductions in funding for those services by the federal government’. This has resulted in ‘small police forces, less job training, less funding for welfare services, and the reductions in many of the other social services provided locally’ (Blumstein 2006: 32). Yet whether he is right to worry is open to question, because it is not so clear that welfare provision had much to do with the decline. The same reasons for doubting explanations for the crime decline based on prisons and police apply to social welfare. There is research pointing to a connection between welfare spending and reduction in some forms of crime, particularly burglary rates. However, total welfare spending per person increased from the middle of the 1960s through the end of the 1970s, and this was not a period of falling crime rates. Rather, welfare spending increased coincident with a massive crime wave (LaFree 1999: 157).2

It is hard to see how welfare state largesse contributed to falling crime rates as largesse was not a word social policy analysts used to describe changes to welfare provision in the 1990s. The Democratic Party organized its campaign manifesto around candidate Bill Clinton’s promise to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Essentially, this meant shifting recipients of means-tested benefits (primarily single mothers collecting Aid to Families with Dependent Children) into paid work. Following his victory in elections of 1992, President Clinton moved ahead with his welfare reform proposal, and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act became law in 1996. Arguably more drastic than reforms of the Reagan and Bush years, this legislation aimed to reduce federal expenditures by ending any legally enforceable right of individuals to collect social assistance, defining time-based benefit limits and further shifting programme responsibilities to state governments (Bashevkin 2000: 25).

The ‘most obvious connection’, as Gary LaFree (1999: 156) puts it, has do with ‘welfare’s presumed ability to ameliorate economic stress and thereby reduce the motivation of potential offenders’. Looking at the situation in the 1990s, the obvious becomes ‘problemmatic’. LaFree (1998a, 1998b) theorizes that the surge of crime during the 1960s occurred as a result of increasing cynicism about political institutions, souring economic conditions and weakening family ties. Stabilization of the legitimacy of political, economic and family institutions, and investments in criminal justice, education and welfare eventually brought down crime rates. Ideally, LaFree explains, he would be able to produce findings showing that economic well-being and welfare spending increased during the 1990s. But while the economic situation did reveal signs of improvement, changes in welfare laws would appear to ‘contradict the argument that the 1990s’ downturn in crime in the U.S. is related in part to higher levels of welfare spending’ (LaFree 1998b: 1362). Moving outside the USA does not make it much easier. The leading welfare states did not follow a uniform sequence of changes that make it possible to centre the explanation for an international crime decline around welfare-state expansion. Social policy discussion has taken place around globalization and, specifically, whether expansion of unregulated markets and ascendency of neo-liberal ideals has brought about a retrenchment of social welfare provision (Swank 2005).3

On the other hand, the decline may be deeper than property crime or even crime in general. According to various statistical sources, there have been improvements across an increasing array of social problems. In the USA, there have been fewer cases of child maltreatment. Not only have people been committing fewer burglaries and murders, but also perpetrating less sexual abuse. Youth are better behaved. Fewer teenagers are running away from home. Fewer teenagers are committing suicide. Fewer teenagers are using illicit drugs (Finkelhor and Jones 2006). Across Canada and the USA, car accidents have decreased. Workplace injuries are down. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is in decline. Figures for young people leaving school early are down, as are figures for those who have tried cigarettes, engaged in episodic alcohol consumption and engaged in drink-and-driving (Mishra and Lalumière 2009).

Hard as it may be to accept, it appears that something has gone right during the past couple of decades. The possible ‘convergence’ of improvements across social welfare indicators could benefit from further research. ‘Something really positive is going on in the social environment … ’ Finkelhor and Jones (2006: 707) admonish. ‘If something is working, it is incumbent on us to find out what, and to try to do more of it or expand its impact in some way’.

America, ‘and elsewhere, too’

Much of discussion of downward crime trends has been driven by the situation in the USA.4 The tendency to make statements based on the USA, and Britain, and then include the phrase ‘and elsewhere, too’, has been flagged by European criminologists as a mistake because what happens in English-speaking countries does not necessarily happen everywhere else (Tonry 2004: 1187). Having started this article with reference to the USA may mean that I share this same criminological tendency, which is worrying because the difference between a national crime decline and an international crime decline matters a great deal, especially when it comes to policy responses.

In the USA, the decline in crime has been sudden and wide-scale. During the last decade of the 20th century, rates fell for both property crimes and violent crimes; across the cities, suburbs and countryside; and for all demographic groups – young and old, Black and White, wealthy and poor (Ellen and O’Regan 2009). Rape, robbery, homicide, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft dropped by 40 per cent compared to 1991.In 2000, homicide rates reached their lowest point since the 1960s. And although rates have levelled off since then, both property crime and violent crime remain remarkably low. ‘Today, there is less crime in America and fewer victims than there were thirty years ago’ (Barker 2010: 490). But the decline has not been limited to the USA. An international trend began to take shape with the publication of International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS) data in 2000. This collection of national surveys revealed differences in certain offence categories across countries, but the trend was downward. ‘The broad picture is striking’, van Kesteren, Mayhew and Nieuwbeerta (2001: 97) observed, ‘Both ICVS and police figures suggest that overall levels of crime seem to have peaked in many countries in the early 1990s, and have fallen since then’.

Some doubt the wave effect is real. Or, to be more precise, whether falling crime rates should be understood as a cross-Atlantic phenomenon. Martin Killias points out a tendency in European criminology to regard what happens on the Continent as a replication of the USA, subject to a time lag of a few years. According to this logic, ‘crime “must” drop now also in Europe, since it started to do so in the United States more than a decade ago’ (Killias 2010: 5). Aebi and Linde (2010) insist that while crime overall declined in the USA, there is a major difference compared to Europe. Based on their systematic review of police statistics and victimization surveys, they conclude that there has been ‘no general crime drop’ in Europe. There has been a decline in property offences that began in the mid-1990s, but violent offences, and drug offences, have increased during the last two decades. For Aebi and Linde, the European experience illustrates the limits of American explanations (see, further, Killias and Aebi 2000; Aebi and Linde 2012 forthcoming).

Other recent evidence supports the view of a cross-Atlantic trend. Rosenfeld and Messner (2009) see the declines across the USA and Europe as a windfall of economic expansion. American and European rates declined in tandem because both reflected the same cause: an upturn in the economy. They found evidence to support the theory that improved economic conditions linked to the decline of crime in the USA also contributed to the decline of burglary in Europe. The economic expansion of the 1990s was not confined to the USA; economic expansions and contractions tend to affect both North America and the EU. Collective perceptions of economic changes, reflected in consumer confidence, are associated with burglary rates. The world’s developed nations share basic structural features – their economies linked, their consumers share similar outlooks – so we ought to expect comparable trends in crime (see, also, Reiner 2007).

It is hard to avoid methodological nationalism – the problem Killias has in mind – particularly when regarding the USA as the prime meridian. Methodological nationalism involves equating social boundaries with state boundaries, with viewing society and history through a nation-state lens. It can be described as an outlook that structures the choice of problems to be studied, and the means of studying them, such as statistical indicators, which are national in scope (Franko Aas 2007: 176–7). In the search for causes, criminologists have become aware of the mistake in assuming the USA represents a smaller version of the world, and there is even more at stake in Americanizing the policy implications.

Marcotte and Markowitz (2011), for example, point to the impact of psychiatric drugs on control of mental illness as an explanation for the decline of violent crime in the USA. For a number of reasons, mental illness may contribute to criminal behaviour. A sense of hopelessness and lack of future orientation may cause persons with depression to discount future consequences and stray into criminal activities. In the USA, there was no change in the prevalence of mental illness in the 1990s. But there was a change in the proportion of those with mental illness receiving treatment, following government approval of a series of new types of anti-depressants introduced in the 1980s. In addition, the popularity of stimulants for attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) took off in the early 1990s. This was spurred by a change in public policy. The US Supreme Court in 1990 added ADHD to the list of diseases that enabled children from low-income families to qualify for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programme. Further, Medicaid was expanded for low-income children, which allowed for increased rates of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Marcotte and Markowitz found evidence of increased prescriptions for drugs to treat mental illness being associated with decreases in violent crime, but not for property crimes.

They go on to suggest that the correlation between psychiatric drugs and crime rates holds up across the international context (Marcotte and Markowitz 2011: 36–7). They compare the per cent change in reported crime across a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, alongside sales of the most widely used psychiatric medication, selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRI). A simple correlation suggests that countries with the largest decline in crime rates in the 1990s were associated with the largest growth in SSRI sales. Japan, which had virtually no growth in SSRI sales in the 1990s, had a marked increase in reported crime. Canada, with falling crime rates similar to the American pattern, was among the world’s leaders in growth and treatment with new psychiatric medication. They conclude that psychiatric drugs and criminal behaviour is an ‘important area for additional research for the purposes of informing public policy’ (Marcotte and Markowitz 2011: 52).

Informing public policy? International public policy? Having started with an explanation for what was understood as an American situation, they then project these relationships onto an international screen. While they are by no means the only researchers to proceed along such lines, the idea that their research could inform an international policy response is somewhat worrisome, because there does not seem to be a way of moving to a policy argument for medicalization as a means of crime prevention without compounding the error of assuming ‘elsewhere’ to be sufficiently like America. Assumptions that drugs would be made available under conditions approximating a democratic society, administered by medical professionals in appropriate settings, to persons who are in a position to make choices about their treatment, and so on, cannot be sustained when extended over an international landscape.

The Scandinavian Way

Jan van Dijk has the advantage of starting with an international pattern. Based on the contributions to the ICVS, he is able to offer an explanation on an appropriate scale. He suggests that falling victimization rates occurred in the 1990s owing to ‘responsive securitisation’. Public concern about rising property crime rates led to self-protection measures, including installation of home burglar alarms. Higher levels of protection do not affect burglars’ decisions provided there remains a supply of vulnerable houses. But as collective levels of self-protection rise, there will be a point at which offenders will be discouraged from criminal activity. ICVS results reveal increases in levels of self-protection and, particularly, use of burglar alarms by households in affluent parts of the world (van Dijk 2008: 130).

Tseloni, Mailley, Farrell and Tilley (2010) contribute further support in their analyses of ICVS information. They confirm the reality of the ‘international crime trend’ revealed in 2000: the steady increase in crime, which had occurred for most of the 20th century, began to decline. The downward trend first appeared at the end of the 1980s for burglary and car theft, although the most dramatic downturns, which took place for burglary and theft from the person, began in 1995. Assaults began to decline at the end of the 1990s. The pattern suggests that the set of factors that triggered the crime drop first had an impact on burglary and car theft, and only later began to influence assaults. The explanation for the international crime decline, they point out, would necessarily need to be something that took place ‘universally, such as built-in car security’ (Tseloni et al. 2010: 389).5

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