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#CriminologyBookClub: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. This blog entry is very different from any other we’ve published before, in that it has seven bloggers contributing! There is a very good reason why and that is because @manosdaskalou managed to choose a book that delighted all of us, and believe me, that is a challenge for a group of bibliophiles. Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:

“The second book of book club was a huge success- excellent choice @manosdaskalou! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan was delightful! Whilst fulfilling all the ‘usual stuff’ associated with a crime novel, it also adds a layer of fantasy and wonder which is usually alien to crime fiction. As I raced through the novel, falling in love with characters- Poppy is kick ass, the complete opposite of drippy Carol (The Yellow Room) and safe to say I now want a baby Elephant; I was transformed into another world, something which crime fiction has never done for me before. It brought back feelings of nostalgia and memories of reading David Eddings and Derek Landy in the summer after GCSEs, when life was simpler and full of joy! A wonderful, intriguing and mysterious crime novel with a hint of fantasy, pulling you away to a different place. An enchanting and wonderful read which blends serious social injustices and issues with mystery, suspense and humour- I cannot wait to see what Inspector Chopra and Ganesha get up to next!”

@jesjames50

“The problem with writing a mere paragraph for a blog about a book that I really did enjoy is that I fear I won’t be able to do it justice.  The story, well I’m sure others might tell you what the book is about but, if you want to know, really want to know, read it.  Rarely can I say that I couldn’t wait to finish the book and yet didn’t want it to finish.  The characters come to life, especially the elephant, in a way that makes it seem almost real, but not quite. The story moves on at a fast pace and yet has a steadiness to it. There are surprises along the way and, yet they are almost expected, it was always going to be that way. Within the narrative there is a demonstration of what we know to be good in humans and, yet it encompasses so much of what we know to be bad. How then can I have left the final page, sad that the book was finished, but uplifted by the narrative and almost salivating at the anticipation of reading the next in the series? The plaudits on the cover don’t do it justice, to answer my question, all I can reiterate is that you have to read it to understand.”

@5teveh

“When I first received this book, I was a bit sceptical, as I did not know how an elephant was going to be incorporated into a detective crime novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first book in the series was a delight and a much-needed escape in these uncertain times. This book captured my attention very quickly and whisked me off on a colourful, picturesque adventure to Mumbai, with the amazing inspector Chopra and of course the star of the story, Ganesh the mysterious baby elephant. The book introduces you to an interesting plot. At first you are made to think that the focus of the book will be on Inspector Chopra investigating the murder of a young man. However, you are quickly introduced to the wider issues that sit at the heart of social and economic challenges present in India. Without leaving you glum, the book has a nice balance of crime and mystery, coupled with humour, great food, wonderful scenery and lovable characters. I liked this book as it was unique to any other books that I have read. I am looking forward to continuing the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series.”

@@svr2727

“Vaseem’s novel had me from to get-go. Set in bustling Mumbai this novel has more depth than the usual “whodunit” scenario. This book is a criminologist’s dream, as yes, we all find out who did it in the end, and yes the case is also solved but there are also issues of poverty and corruption to contend with. The story would not be complete without Ganesha the elephant who makes solving the case possible (and survivable). Ganesha goes through a lot in the story. From being depressed and chained up outside an apartment complex, to being mistakenly left to drown during heavy rain and fed chocolate. Despite all of this, Ganesha is often the hero of the hour, so for me the book symbolises the true greatness of animals: We do not deserve them.”   

@haleysread

“I really enjoyed this book. It was great to lose myself in a different country and culture and to meet so many relatable characters there – even (especially?) the chocolate loving elephant! I can’t wait to find out what happens next…”

@melodramaticfool

As well as having the joy of reading The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, we also had the very unexpected pleasure of welcoming the author Vaseem Khan to our book club meeting today. To be able to hear about Vaseem’s motivations for creating the colourful world in which Inspector Chopra and Ganesha work and play was fascinating. The opportunity to ask questions was fantastic and we’d like to say a big thank you to Vaseem for allowing us a peak inside his world of writing. It is now easy to see where Inspector Chopra gets his generosity of spirit from. And now we’ll leave the final word to @manosdaskalou….after all he did choose the book 😉

“What does a gang of criminologists do at lockdown?  We read crime books and talk about them.  On this occasion The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a welcomed distraction from reality.  The book introduces the retired inspector with a very unusual sidekick!  The retired inspector is a very honourable, incorruptible professional whose investigation will bring him in conflict with the criminal underbelly of Mumbai.  The retired inspector is not fazed, and he is determined to carry on regardless.  The investigation takes inspector Chopra around the city; which gives the reader a unique opportunity to get to know a metropolitan megapolis.”             

@manosdaskalou

#CriminologyBookClub: The Yellow Room

In times of crisis it is beneficial to occupy yourself with things to do. This helps us to cope with boredom, and to distract us from the bleakness of reality. What better way to help with this than to start a book club? That’s right, whilst some of us were sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, @paulaabowles had sent us all a book that we were to read and discuss in virtual book club meetings. Little did we know that this book club was to be our very own ray of sunshine during such an unprecedented time.

Our first book is The Yellow Room by Mary Robert Rinehart (dubbed the American Agatha Christie by the blurb, which is generous). Set in Maine (USA) during WWII, this is a classic whodunit crime novel. With the wealthy Spencer family finding themselves tangled in a web of evidence that instigates their involvement with a dead woman that is found in the closet of their holiday home. The book is filled with intrigue and the plot thickens with each chapter, with more and more clues being thrown into the mix. Until too much is thrown in, and what is left of the book is quite simply… a mess.

The book consists of 30 chapters, and we think the club is in agreeance that the first 20-24 chapters are pretty great. Rinehart throws a number of spanners in the works, with near misses, burning hillsides, death by frights, illegitimate children and secret marriages. We all had our theories, some boarding on plagiarism (they know who they are!). However as it turns out a few of us were half right, and then so were some of the others. We will not give away any spoilers, but the ending, the answer we were all waiting for was disappointing and quite frankly we are still not 100% sure who did it, and what was actually done. The leading lady of the book Carol Spencer, dubbed drippy Carol by the club, because she is, well… DRIPPY, does nothing but smoke and drink coffee, whilst surrounded by crime and uncertainty. But, alas, when all is righted, she finds herself in the arms of an arrogant moody man, all happily engaged! Possibly a romance (although a bad one) or possible a classic whodunit (a half decent one), who can tell?

Overall the book was a success: it inspired intrigue and discussion! The virtual book club even more so! A bunch of misfits, gathered together (20minutes after the allotted time because one member of the group is late- @manosdaskalou), discussing the book, thinking about the social context, the characters, and how it is received today. It is a fantastic virtual club consisting of familiar suspects: the princess, the athlete, the criminal, the brain, the basket case, the parent and the “carol” (representations may not be literal or accurate). What will the misfits think of the next book? Will they all agree? Will one read ahead and sit silently and sheepishly, without the others knowing? Stay tuned…

@jesjames50 and @haleysread – founding members of the #CriminologyBookClub

Hypocrites or just human?

At a time of a significant religious festival in the Christian calendar and at a time of global anxiety, sacrifice and distress, it seems apt to reflect on where we stand in it all.

Like most, I watch the television, listen to the radio, tap into social media (albeit only on limited occasions), receive emails and listen to family, friends and colleagues.

I am amazed by the sacrifice that some people make to protect or look after others and yet dismayed by the actions and comments of some.  And yet as I ponder on the current situation I realise that it only brings into focus behaviours, actions and comments that were already there.  Perhaps, the circumstances have allowed some to shine or provided more of a focus on those that already do outstanding things, and this is a good thing but human nature as it is, doesn’t really change. Here are a few examples, I’m sure if you reflect on these you will think of more.

  • We lament at the inequality in the world, but we do little about it.  Instead, we fight to buy up all the toilet rolls that we can, lest we run out.
  • We complain the government haven’t done enough in the current crisis and then flout the guidelines they gave us on social gatherings and movement or cause others to do so (did you really need that Amazon order?)
  • We complain about our work conditions, but we are content for the company or organisation to continue paying us, often saying they don’t pay us enough
  • We are upset by colleagues who do us a disservice and then denigrate others because of their so-called ineptitude
  • We complain about being bullied but go on to display the same bullying behaviours that we complained about
  • We call people misogynistic but then in the same breath suggest that the world would be better without men or that women do a better job
  • We accuse people of being racist but then use derogatory and stereotypical language to describe those that we accuse
  • We condemn those that we see as privileged and suggest they should give up their wealth and status. And yet we fail to consider our own privilege and are not prepared to give up what we have (see the first comment re inequality)
  • We see the criminal justice system as unfair but would be the first to complain if we were a victim of crime and the offender wasn’t brought to justice. What we see as justice is dependent on the impact the wrongful act has on us
  • We commit crimes, albeit perhaps minor ones or committed crimes when we were younger and didn’t know better, yet we castigate others for being criminal.  Welfare cheats are awful, but tax payments are to be avoided

I could go on, but I think by now you get the general idea. I’ll return to religion if I may, not that I’m religious, but I did start off the blog with an acknowledgement of the timing in line with the Christian calendar: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her”, (John, 8:7).  Maybe we should be a little more honest with ourselves and think about what we say or do before we judge and condemn others.  I do wonder though, are we all hypocrites, or is it part of the pathology of just  being human?

Can there be Justice for Benjamin Arum Izang? An Unfortunate Victim of Forum Shopping

So Jos[1] tweeter community was agog with the scandal of the alleged torture of 31 year old Benjamin Arum Izang by personnel of the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) Military Special Task Force (STF) conducting internal security operations in Plateau State. The family reported that the torture eventually led to Benjamin’s demise because of the fatality of the injury inflicted on him by the military personnel.

The sad event that led to this unfortunate incidence is reported to be an altercation over a fifty-naira egg (approximately 11 cents) between the deceased and a certain Blessing, an egg hawker whose egg was said to be broken by Benjamin. Failure to reach an understanding led Blessing to report the matter to the personnel of the STF, who quickly swung into action, albeit, one that involved the torture of Benjamin.

An investigation by Dickson S. Adama (a media correspondent) revealed that the Media Officer of the STF indicates not been aware of the incident. However, the family and the concerned public are crying for justice as this is not the first of such cases in the State. Rightfully so, scholars and practitioners of peace and conflict consider this incidence as forum shopping,[2] a decision by disputants to choose a security agency to intervene in their dispute, based on the expectation that the outcome will favour them, even if they are the party at fault. Studies[3] including my doctoral research on the military security operations in Plateau State indicates this as a recurring problem when the military conducts security operations in society.[4]

Often, when dispute ensues between two or more parties and both desire to emerge victorious or to exert their position on the other, desperate actions can be taken to ensure victory. One of such actions is the decision to invite a third party such as the military which is often not the suitable institution to handle matters of civilian disputes. In my doctoral research, I detailed the factors that makes the military the most unsuitable agency for this role, key among which is that they are neither trained nor indoctrinated for law enforcement duties. More so, the task and skill of law enforcement and managing civilian disputes which involves painstaking investigation and ascertaining guilt before conviction/serving punishment is the primary role of the police and the criminal justice system, which the military is not a part of. The military trains for war and combat mission, to kill and to obliterate and essentially, their culture and indoctrination is designed along these tenets.

Given this, when the military is involved internally as in the case of Benjamin and Blessing, it engenders numerous challenges. First, with the knowledge that the military dispenses ‘instant justice’ such as punishment before determining guilt, civilians such as Blessing will always seek this option. Tweeps such as @ByAtsen tweeted for instance that ‘same soldiers at the same outpost did this to another who, unlike Benjamin, is still alive nursing his wounds.’ One challenge is that where forum shopping denies justice, it breeds lawlessness and can further evoke public outrage against the military. In turn, this can erode the legitimacy of the security role of the military. Where this occurs, a more worrying challenge is that it can exacerbate rather than ameliorate insecurity, especially where civilians feel compelled to seek alternative protection from coercion from State forces and threats from the armed groups the military was meant to avert.


[1] Jos is the capital city of Plateau State Nigeria. The State was once the most peaceful State in Nigeria (arguable) but is now embroiled in intermittent and protracted violence, between the mostly Christian natives and Hausa/Fulani ‘settlers,’ and series of insurgent style attacks of rural farming communities by marauding herdsmen widely believed to be Fulani herdsmen.

[2] Keebet Von Benda-Beckmann, ‘Forum Shopping and Shopping Forums: Dispute Processing in a Minangkabau Village in West Sumatra’, Journal of Legal Pluralism, 19 (1981), 117–59.

[3] Judith Verweijen, ‘The Ambiguity of Militarization: The Complex Interaction between the Congolese Armed Forces and Civilians in the Kivu Provinces, Eastern DR Congo’ (Utrecht University, 2015).

[4] Sallek Yaks Musa, ‘Military Internal Security Operations in Plateau State, North Central Nigeria: Ameliorating or Exacerbating Insecurity?’ (Stellenbosch University, 2018) <https://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/104931&gt; [accessed 14 March 2019].

20 years of Criminology

It was at the start of a new millennium that people worried about what the so-called millennium will do to our lives.  The fear was that the bug will usher a new dark age where technology will be lost.  Whilst the impending Armageddon never happened, the University College Northampton, as the University of Northampton was called then, was preparing to welcome the first cohort of Criminology students. 

The first cohort of students joined us in September 2000 and since then 20 years of cohorts have joined since.  During these years we have seen the rise of University fees, the expansion of the internet and google search and of course the emergence of social media.  The original award was focused on sociolegal aspects, predominantly the sociology of deviance, whilst in the years since the changes demonstrate the departmental and the disciplinary changes that have happened. 

Early on, as criminology was beginning to find its voice institutionally, the team developed two rules that have since defined the focus of the discipline.  The first is that the subject will be taught in a multi-disciplinary approach, widely inclusive of all the main disciplines involved in the study of crime; so alongside sociology, you will find psychology, law, history, philosophy to name but a few.  The impetus was to present these disciplines on an equal footing and providing opportunity to those joining the course, to discover their own voice in criminology. The second rule was to give the students the opportunity to explore contentious topics and draw their own perspective.  Since the first year of running it, these rules have become the bedrock of UoN Criminology. 

The course since the early years has grown and gone through all those developmental stages, childhood, adolescence and now eventually we have reached adulthood.  During these stages, we managed to forge a distinctiveness of what criminology looks like; introducing for example a research placement to allow the students to explore the theory in practice.  In later years we created courses that reflect Criminology in the 21st Century always relating to the big questions and forever arming learners with the skills to ask the impossible questions.   

Through all these years students join with an interest in studying crime and by the time they leave us, to move onto the next chapter of their lives, they have become hard core criminologists.  This is always something that we consider one of the course’s greatest contribution to the local community. 

In an ordinary day, like any other day in the local court one may see an usher, next to a probation officer, next to a police officer, next to a drugs rehabilitation officer, all of them our graduates making up the local criminal justice system.  A demonstration of the reach and the importance of the university as an institution and the services it provides to the local community.  More recently we developed a module that we teach in prison comprised by university and prison students.  This is a clear sign of the maturity and the journey we have done so far…

As the 21st century entered, twin towers fell, bus and tube trains exploded, consequent wars were made, riots in the capital, the banking crisis, the austerity, bridge attacks, Brexit, extinction rebellion, buildings burning, planes coming down, forest fires and #metoo, and we just barely cover 20 years.  These and many more events keep criminological discourse relevant, increase the profile of the subject and most importantly further the conversation we are having in our society as to where we are heading. 

As I raise my glass to salute the first 20 years of Criminology at the University of Northampton, I am confident that the next 20 years will be even more exciting.  For those who have been with us so far a massive thank you, for those to come we are looking forward to discussing some of the many issues with you.  We are passionate about criminology and we want you to infect you with our passion. 

As they say in prison, the first 20 years are difficult the rest you just glide through…

“Back to the future”: 2019 A Year of Violence?

When I was young, 2020 seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Programmes like Tomorrow’s World held the promise of a future full of leisure, with technology taking the strain in all aspects of human life. Now we’re in 2020 it appears we have plenty of technology, but whether it adds or subtracts from the lived human experience, is still very much up for discussion. Certainly, it is increasingly difficult to separate work from leisure with the liquidity technology brings.

As is traditional for this time of year, the mind turns to reflection on the year gone by. This year is no different, after all it, like many others, has been packed with both good and bad experiences. Personally, 2019 was challenging in a number of different arenas, my patience, temerity and resilience have been tested in many novel ways. Events have caused me to reflect upon my own values and philosophies and my moral and ethical compass has been and continues to be tested. I don’t intend to go into lots of detail here, but it feels to me as if violence is increasingly impinging on all aspects of life. The first few days of 2020 suggests this perception is likely to continue with Trump’s decision to assassinate ‘Iran’s top general and second most powerful official, Qassem Suleimani’.

In December, 2019 we saw yet another general election. Whatever your particular persuasion, it is difficult to view British politics as anything other than increasingly personalised and aggressive. Individuals such as David Lammy MP, Diane Abbott MP, Caroline Dinenage MP, as well as campaigners such as Gina Miller and Greta Thunberg are regularly attacked on twitter and through other media. However,  it is not all one sided, as Drillminster showed us in 2018 with his artistic triumph Political Drillin. It is clear that these verbal attacks are beginning to become part and parcel of political life. Such behaviour is dangerous, on many levels, political discourse is a necessity in a mature democracy and shutting up discordant voices cannot lead to unity in the UK.

In November, we were shocked and horrified by the terrorist attack at Fishmonger’s Hall. This attack on colleagues involved in prison education, raised questions around individual and collective decisions to engage with criminology with convicted criminals. Nevertheless, despite such horrific violence, the principles and practice of prison higher education remain undaunted and potentially, strengthened.

October, saw the publication of Grenfell Phase 1. This document identifies some of the issues central to the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017. Whether this and later publications can ever really make sense of such complexity, offer the victims and survivors comfort and go some way to ensuring justice for all those involved, remains to be seen. Those who have studied CRI3003 Violence with me are likely to be cynical but it is early days.

For much of September, the focus was on the prorogation of parliament and the subsequent court case. As with December, there were many complaints about the violence of language used both inside and outside parliament. Particularly, notable was the attack on MP Jess Phillips’ constituency office and arguments around the inflammatory language used by PM Boris Johnson.

In August, the media published video footage of Prince Andrew with his friend, the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. This story rumbles to the end of the year, with more allegations made toward the prince, culminating in an infamous interview which threatens to continue unabated.

July saw the end of a trial into modern slavery, leading to prison sentences for 8 of those involved. The judge concluded that slavery was still thriving in the UK, often ‘hiding in plain sight’. What support is available to those subjected to this violence, is not clear, but prison sentences are unlikely to make any material benefit to their lives.

In June, shocking footage emerged of MP Mark Field forcibly removing a female protester. Strikingly his colleague, MP Johnny Mercer tweeted  ‘if you think this is “serious violence” you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities’. After some years teaching around violence, I have no idea what Mr Mercer feels qualifies as violence, but putting your hands on another’s throat would seem to a reasonable starting point.

May saw attention drawn to the media, with the racism of Danny Baker and inherent cruelty of the Jeremy Kyle Show. Arguments which followed suggest that, for many, neither were not seen as problematic and could be dismissed as so-called “entertainment”.

April saw the collapse of the first trial of David Duckenfield, police commander at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Although put on trial again, later in the year, he was found not guilty on the 28 November, 2019. The chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret Aspinall perhaps spoke for everyone involved when she asked ‘When 96 people – they say 95, we say 96 – are unlawfully killed and yet not one person is accountable. The question I’d like to ask all of you and people within the system is: who put 96 people in their graves? Who is accountable?’ After 30 years, it seems justice is still a long way away for the victims, survivors and their families.

After years of growth in life expectancy, in March the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries published data suggested that this was no longer the case in the UK. Although they offered no conclusions as to why this was the case, evidence indicating that the ideology of austerity costs lives, cannot be discounted.

In February, the Office for National Statistics announced homicidal knife crime was at the highest level for over 70 years.  Despite harsher sentences for those carrying knifes, evidence from the College of Policing indicates that such penalties exacerbate rather than improve the situation.

The new year began with squabbling about Brexit and the expected impact on Northern Ireland. On the 20 January 2019 a bomb detonates in Londonderry, fortunately with no injuries. For those of us old enough to remember “The Troubles”, footage of the incident brings back many horrific memories. Nevertheless, discussions around Northern Ireland and Brexit continue throughout 2019 and into 2020, with little regard for the violence which has ensued in the past.

Many events have happened in 2019, as with every other year and what stays in the mind is an individual matter. I feel that my world has become more violent, or maybe I have just become more attuned to the violence around me. I make no apology for my adherence to pacifist ideology, but this perspective has been and no doubt, will continue to be challenged. I must consider whether there comes a time when ideology, values, philosophy, temerity and resilience, are little more than good old-fashioned stubbornness. Until that point of no return comes, I will stand my ground and for every violent action that occurs, I will try my best to work toward a better world, once in which equality, peace and social justice reign supreme.

Friday the 13th

Odd thing superstition, it makes reasonable and seemingly rational people think and behave in the most irrational and inexplicable manner. Always we notice these behaviours and thoughts in other people, but so many of us carry in the back of our minds equally irrational ideas and beliefs. We hear of football club managers who always wear the same clothes at a game, athletes that engage in the same pre-game routine and of course, politicians who act in certain ways during their election campaign. For the rest of us there are ladders in the street, black cats, that we may avoid or there are dates in the calendar that we take notice. Friday the 13th is one of those Anglo-Saxon dates that people take notice of.

I am sure that some of my historian friends will be able to give a good account of the origin of the unfortunate date, but I can only go with the “official tradition” of Jesus, the 13th student, (Judas) and his subsequent arrest on the Friday before the Crucifixion. The day, somehow, became one of those that we notice, even when we are not superstitious. There is even a psychologically recognised fear of the date Triskaidekaphobia; which in Greek means the fear of 13! Of course social fears are blended with wider social anxieties, whether that is the fear of the unknown or the realisation that in life, there are things that we have little control of.

In the days leading up to this Friday the 13th we engaged with political discussions about what direction the country shall take. The health service, the justice system, the state’s responsibility, all the way to welfare and the state of the union, were all eclipsed by one topic that has dominated discourses, that of the execution of leave from the European Union commonly known as Brexit. Ironically the “exit” preface was used before for Greece (Grexit), and Italy (Italexit) but seems that Brexit has won the battle of the modern lexicon. The previous “exits” where used as a cautionary tale for the countries being forced out of the union, whilst Brexit is about leaving the Union.

Having considered all the issues, this one issue became the impetus for people to give politicians a mandate. Complete this issue before and above all the rest. It is an issue likened to a divorce, given a texture, (soft/hard) and has even been seen as the reason for generational conflicts. Therefore the expectation is clear now . Leave the European Union, and then let’s see what we can do next. The message is fairly clear and the expectation is palpable. Beliefs and hopes of the people narrowed down to one political move that shall terminate membership to the European Union. Of course there are subsequent questions and issues that this act of national defiance may come with. As for the state of the Union, that may have to be the next thing we discuss. This follow up conversation may not be as welcome, but it is definitely interesting. If joining the EU back in 1975, warranted a discussion, then the 1536 Act of Union may become the next topic for conversation. As for healthcare, justice, education and welfare, we may have to wait a little bit more longer. Whether this will mark Friday 13th December 2019 as a date of fortune or misfortune, that is yet to be decided, but that is the same for every day of the week.

Just for your records and for the Triskaidekaphobians out there, the next Friday the 13 is in March 2020 followed by the one in November 2020. Just saying…

You can’t tell me what to do….

It seems that much criminological discussion centres on motivation. This ranges from focusing on the motivation to commit crime, the motivation to report victimisation, the motivation to work within the criminal justice system, all the way though to the motivation for punishment. In each of these circumstances, much is taken for granted, assumed and reacted to as if there were a consensus. 

However, how much do we really know about motivation? To be sure, there are plenty of criminological theories focusing on individual explanations for criminality and deviance, particularly around psychopathy, personality and biology. Others, such as Classical theory assume that we are all the same, rational creatures motivated by the same factors. But take a moment and consider what motivates you? Are those factors positive or negative?

Let’s take the prison for example. According to some politicians, the media and other commentators, incarceration can punish and rehabilitate, frighten people out of crime whilst also empowering them to move away from crime. It offers an opportunity to desist from drug taking, whilst simultaneously enabling prisoners to develop a drug habit. Prison can offer a haven from social problems on the outside, whilst also creating a dangerous environment on the inside and these are just a few of the many pronouncements on the prison. Although oppositional, these differing narratives all indicate the prison as a place of change; transformation, the only difference is whether this is positive or negative, in essence does prison make people better or worse?

Considering much of the blog’s readership is focused on education, it might be useful to apply the prison experience to our own personal motivations. Would it be helpful to have someone constantly telling you what to do? Escorting you to and from the toilet, the classroom, the workplace? Controlling your every move? Deciding when and what you eat? Determining if you can access a shower, the library, the gym and so on? Passing judgement on who can visit you and when they can come? Would these “motivational” factors inspire you to study more? What if you were locked in a very small room (think student accommodation) for hour upon end, would your essays be any better?

For me personally, all of the above, would not motivate; they might frighten or even terrify me. They would allow me to feel resentful, bitter, alienated, perhaps even aggressive. Maybe I would become depressed, self-harm, or turn to drugs for consolation. Maybe, I could retreat into studying as release from an oppressive regime, but is that motivation? or escapism? or even institutionalisation?

I wonder, surely there must be far better, less harmful ways of tapping into motivation? By looking at our own experiences and considering what has motivated us in a positive way previously, we can begin to consider how we might motivate ourselves and others. Some of the motivational factors I can identify from my own life include, people who are prepared to listen to my ideas (good and bad) without interrupting, to guide (but not tell, never tell!) me to finding solutions to problems and to treat me with dignity and respect. Other examples, include introducing me to important literature, but not batting an eyelid when I excitedly tell them all about the content. Being there for me as a fellow human regardless of status (perceived or otherwise), when everything is a challenge, and I just want to vent and celebrating all successes (however tiny). These are just a few, personal reflections, but what they have in common, is the focus on another human who matters to you, who is cheering you on from the side-lines and is able to empathise and encourage. The other commonality, of course, is that these factors are not entrenched within the prison or the wider criminal justice system.[1]

Have a think for yourself and see if you can find anything currently within the prison or CJS that would motivate you! If it doesn’t, you need to question what it is the prison is actually trying to achieve.


[1] This does not preclude individual positive interpersonal relationships within the prison or CJS, but it is not a primary function of either.

How literature failed me as a black student

My name is Francine Bitalo, I am 21 years old and a Criminology undergraduate at the University of Northampton. Coming from a black African background I have always had a strong interest in the Criminal Justice System and its treatment towards different groups in society.

My dissertation was based on the impact of police practices such as stop and search on young black men and their families. Whilst statistics present the alarming racial disproportionately which exist in many areas in the criminal justice system, it fails to portray the long-lasting effects it has had on Black families. For example, the daily harassment and differential treatment subjected to young Black men has forced black families to reinvent themselves to conform to institutional racism. Coming from a Black family myself and having male family member, the findings in my dissertation quickly became personal to me, as I could constantly relate them to the structuring of my own family. For example, the fact that it would take my father longer to find a job due to institutional racism, making my mother the breadwinner, or when my mother is preparing my brothers for police harassment and discrimination, but not me and sisters.

While conducting my research I was quick to learn that what literature may describe as a phenomenon, for many of us is a reality. If I am honest the writing stage of my dissertation was difficult for me because it was a passionate topic. I experienced a lot of self-doubt regarding my positionality for example, being a Black woman and facing my own forms of discrimination and now having to talk about the experiences of young Black men. I think my dissertation tutor would agree with me on this as I remember emailing her after I submitted my work expressing how I felt like I didn’t effectively capture the effects and the voices of the young Black men I interviewed, despite that being my main goal. I mean who would blame me, as a student, if I am honest I felt like literature really let me down for instance, when writing my literature review I found that literature neglected the subject of racism solely from the perspectives of young Black men, despite statistics showing them to being the largest group to experience institutional racism. At this point I had to laugh at the criminal justice system and its propositions to improving police relations as well as re offending.

With that being said the information I did come across I couldn’t help but sense the notion of white privilege lingering in the perspective of some scholars. I understand this is a strong claim to make however I say this because not only did literature provide little of the work of Black scholars regarding the topic, yet it was evident that most white scholars did not see the issue with stop and search and its discriminate use. Arguments for this were discussed in my dissertation for example, some argued that the process of racial socialisation in Black households were ineffective to police relations and the functioning of their services, which creates the notion that the Black community should submit to discrimination and harassment in favour of procedures and compliance during police encounter. Some tried to justify the disproportionality in stop and search by claiming that young Black men should be harassed because they tend to be out more especially in certain urban areas or the disproportionate targeting of Black minors is due to parental criminality. I felt there was a lack of accountability from white scholar thus, little understanding in the issue of race which is natural because their experiences do not allow them to understand. Yet this led me to ask questions such as why shouldn’t Black mothers have the right to prepare their sons for police discrimination, does it matter what time and area should a person of colour be around for them to be targeted at?

After completing my dissertation and getting a First Class I felt extremely proud of myself, the fact that I did not shy away from the research topic despite it being limited in literature. As a result, it was satisfying to know that I was able to articulate the experiences of others to a First Class standard. I hope this can encourage others to trust in their abilities and put aside any doubts especially when choosing a research topic. As a student writing a dissertation or even an assignment, I believe we should explore the unexplored, open the unopened and always be willing to discover and learn. Do not be afraid of researching something that is limited or has never been done. Lastly as my dissertation was extremely passionate to me I have decided to turn it into a personal project and continue researching the topic

Teaching Criminology….Cui Bono?

Following several conversations with students and reflecting on another year of studying it got me thinking, what is or can be the quintessentially criminological issue that we can impart onto them?  It is always interesting to hear from others how your ideas are transferred into their notes, phrases and general understanding.  I think that there are a few things that are becoming clear early on, like the usual amazement of those outside the discipline who hear one studying criminology; a reverence as if the person reading the subject is on a par with those committing the deed.  There is a natural curiosity to crime in all walks of life and those seen closer to the topic, attract part of that curiosity.      

There are however some more profound issues relating to criminology that are neither clear nor so straightforward.  The discipline is an amalgamation of thoughts and theories making it incredibly difficult to pinpoint a generic appreciation for the discipline.  Some of us like the social discourses relating to social injustice, a matter traditionally closer to sociology or social work, while others ponder the conceptual dynamics of human behaviour, mostly addressed in philosophical debates, then there are those who find the individual characteristics and personality socio-dynamic dimensions intriguing.  These distinct impressions will not only inform our understanding but will also provide each of us with a perspective, a way of understanding criminology at a granular level.    

In criminological discourses, informed by law, I used to pose the old Latin question: Cui bono (who benefits)?  A question posed by the old legal experts to trace liability and responsibility of the act committed.  Obviously in their view crime is a choice committed freely by a deviant mind.  But then I was never a legal expert, so my take on the old question was rather subversive.  The question of who benefits can potentially lay the question of responsibility wide open, if it is to be looked from a social harm perspective.  The original question was incredibly precise to identify a person for the benefit of a trial.  That’s the old criminal evidence track.    

Taking this question outside the forensic setting and suddenly this becomes quite a loaded query that can unpack different responses.  Cui bono? Why are we talking about drug abuse as a crime and not about tax avoidance?  Why is the first regarded a crime, whilst the second is simply frowned upon?  Cui bono? When we criminalise the movement of people whose undocumented by we have very little information for those who have procured numerous properties in the country?  If our objection is on transparency of movement then there is clearly a difference of how this is addressed.  Cui bono?  When we identify violence at interpersonal level and we have the mechanisms to suppress it, but we can engage in state violence against another state without applying the same mechanisms?  If our objection is the use of violence, this is something that needs to be addressed regardless of the situation, but it is not.  Ironically some of the state violence, may contribute to the movement of people, may contribute to the exploitation of population and to the use of substances of those who returned home broken from a violence they embraced.      

Our criminology is merely informed from our perspective and it is my perspective that led me to those thoughts.  I am very sure that another colleague would have been making a series of different connections when asked “Cui Bono?”

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