Thursday, 31 January 2008

Bangor Socialist Students Fight Student Union 'Governance Review'

Some more reports, and the text of a leaflet from Bangor.

Monday 28th January saw a new chapter in the history of Bangor Student Union.
Iain Dalton (Bangor Socialist Party)
A new constitution was passed which will see the Student Union transformed more in the direction of a commercialised charity rather than a campaigning trade union equivalent for students. This mirrors the changes taking place in NUS at the present time.
The Student Union officials suggested that the new constitution was needed to allow more participation in the student union. Socialist Students in Bangor attempted to mobilise a 'no' vote against the introduction of the new constitution, arguing that the problems within the student union aren't structural but political, it is the lack of mass campaigning action on issues like fees, student debt, course cuts and poor student accomodation that turns students away from engaging with Student Unions.
The consultation period for the new constitution was during students exam periods which as well as reducing the number of students who knew about it also made it difficult to organise a campaign against it because all us Socialist Student members had exams or coursework too.In spite of this we organise a stall and canvassing of some halls of residences. An emergency general meeting was called to pass the motion, where the majority of attendees are from union societies, sports clubs and committees who have to be there or face their accounts been frozen, and despite this the union only just got enough people there for the meeting to go ahead. In addition to their speech in favour of the constitution, the Student Union executive were also allowed to make a twenty minute presentation in favour of the governance review too. In light of these factors, Socialist Students feel delighted that 22 students decided to support our campaign against the constitution (which was three times as many members as we had at the meeting).
Although the new constitution means developing a mass campaign through student union structures is shut off for the present period, we will use our support here to continue to build the campaign to defeat fees which several students have been interested in finding out more about over the last few weeks.

Leaflet Text

For a Democratic Students Union not 'governance'A Further Statement on the Governance Review

There is currently a crisis of student involvement with Student Unions and NUS. Students Have suffered a period of defeats over the last ten or so years. Attacks on the conditions of students have included the end of grants for students, the introduction of tuition fees and then top-up fees. More students are having to work as well as studying and moves towards universities as businesses closing or cutting courses because they are not seen as ‘profitable’.
We agree with the Student Union that change is needed, but we do not think the Governance Review is the change that is needed. Rather we think it will worsen the situation for various reasons which we shall explain below.

Is it Possible to Split Financial and Political Matters?

One of the main changes proposed by the governance review is the separation of the governance of the Students Union into two halves, a financial one (the board) and a political one (the senate). The board is to be made up of trustees, some of whom may not be students. Socialist Students is opposed to any non-students having a vote in the running of the students union. The senate is supposed to be a newer, more dynamic replacement for the executive and council with a range of new committees reporting to it.
There are several reasons to be concerned about these proposals though. Firstly, just because a new structure has been created doesn’t automatically mean that students will step forward to fill up these structures.
Secondly, we would contest the assertion that financial and political matters of the union should be separate, the funding allocated to various areas of union activity is a political decision. What would happen if, for example, the senate decided to campaign on an issue, but the board decided it was financially beyond the means of the student union, would this mean the campaign would be scrapped? Or would a fundraising drive be launched to meet the estimated gap? This is a political decision, but could easily be vetoed by the board on 'apolitical' grounds, or face delays before the next senate to discuss its viability. It's not that difficult to imagine things bouncing between senate and board for up to a year, whilst valuable campaigning time is lost.

Charity or Union?

Entangled in this process is the whole question of the 2006 Charities Act. The only change that the Charities Act forces on Student Unions is to register as a charity in their own right, rather than deriving charitable status from their University. We do not have to change our structure or anything else under the act. Rather the suggestion for students unions to change their structure has come down from the NUS Executive, the new structure being proposed is based on the structure NUS is in the process of adopting. NUS are even running sessions for Student Union officers where they are trying to push this structure.
This structure runs hand in hand with NUS’ education funding strategy which proposes NUS’ campaigning should be based around the failed tactic of lobbying the government, this is the tactic that saw top-up fees be put in place and missed the opportunity for a mass demonstration outside. In reality NUS is moving towards becoming a commercialised charity that attempts to mitigate bad government policy affecting students, rather than a campaigning organisation fighting for improvements in the conditions of students. This is why Socialist Students argues that NUS and Student Unions should be organised like campaigning, democratic trade unions rather than commercialised charities.

Engaging Students

Part and parcel of a democratic, campaigning organisation is the mass involvement of its membership. At present this certainly does not happen with the Students Union. The main reason why General Meetings remain quorate is that standing committees, societies and sports clubs have to send people there to avoid losing funding from the Students Union, and when they’re there they can’t wait to leave. It isn’t that students are apathetic, many do care about many things, but that Student Unions are apathetic towards students. Bangor Students Union currently does not carry out mass campaigns reflecting the needs of students. Such campaigns would be on issues such as fees, course cuts and living conditions and would get a response from students.
The lack of engagement with students can be seen from consultation process. Although the student union has held quite a few consultation meetings, and sent an e-mail to all students this is far from enough. Student Union officers have been working on these proposals for 18 months now, why has it taken until January 2008 to involve ordinary students? Socialist Students argue that a genuine consultation would not have been held during an exam period, and would have been much better advertised with posters around campus and articles in Seren for example as well as involving student union representatives going and explaining these issues to students in halls of residences and by conducting stalls.

For A Democratic, Campaigning Students Union

To engage students a democratic, campaigning union is needed that will fight for the interests of students is needed. This will not happen overnight but steps can be taken by the Student Union to move towards this.
A matter of urgency is the currently non-functioning Camapigns sub-committee of the Students Union, this must be rebuilt with a mandate to build a mass campaign on issues like fees, student debt and the need for free education. As a step towards this Socialist Students have been contacting other campaigning and political students societies about forming a campaigns collective to collaborate with each other on our own campaigns as well as creating the potential to organise campaigns on other issues that affecting students.
Of course, the mass of students should be involved in deciding the campaigning priorities of the students union. This is why Socialist Students is calling on the Students Union to organise a general meeting that is well publicised and built for across campus, that any student or group can make proposals in the form of motions for campaigns to this meeting which are then voted on mandating the student union to run those campaigns.

• Stop the governance review – keep the current governance structure

• Halt the current consultation – for a full consultation which consists of many well advertised, built for meetings and held outside of exam periods

• Launch a local campaign (and push for a national campaign) against fees and for grants, support the Campaign to Defeat Fees Day of Action on the 21st February (contact us for more info on this)

• Support the formation of a Campaigns Collective to promote the work of campaigning student societies

Contact us at

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

On Alcoholism – A Look at a Trotsky’s Problems of Life

For this piece I shall be commenting on Trotsky’s attitude towards alcohol in his book Problems of Life, most of this will draw on the chapter Vodka, The Church, and The Cinema – page references are from Problems of Everyday Life published by Pathfinder Press

The media has been full of stories about ‘binge drinking’ over the last few years. In particular, Britain is thought of as being the ‘binge’ capital of the world. The health consequences of binge drinking are numerous including things such as liver damage etc. People tend to get to do things they usually regret the following day as well as waking up with hangovers. The question we find ourselves asking is why do people put themselves through this?
Trotsky argues that alcohol is used by working class people to distract themselves from the dreariness and boredom of their lives – he says it is “a small flask containing a whole world of images.” (pg.52)
The Russian Revolution inherited what Trotsy terms “the liquidation of the vodka monopoly”(pg.36). I believe this to mean that the sale of vodka had been prohibited at some point during the Great War (please correct me if I’m wrong). In context of this, I think Trotsky is right to say “the fundamental fact that the abolition of the system by which the country encouraged people to drink is one of the iron assets of the revolution”(pg. 37). That doesn’t mean however that socialists support the prohibition of alcohol altogether. As Trotsky explains the reason why this was useful in the situation in Russia was that other entertainments would be partaken instead of this, which would improve the capabilities of the Russian working class, rather than stupefy them like alcohol does.
For present day Marxists I think we would only support alcohol prohibition in a workers state under conditions similar to those of the Russian Revolution. That means as I have said in general we don’t support it. Rather we would seek to supplant the role of alcohol by other alternative entertainments, but fundamentally by removing the alienation caused by the capitalist system that causes the dreariness and boredom Trotsky speaks of that makes people seek and escape such as alcohol or drugs. Only with these measures can the problem of binge drinking be solved.

Monday, 28 January 2008

On Blogging

Over the last few weeks I've seen a few commentaries on blogging and blog stats that have got me thinking about these in relation to this blog. The most interesting discussion I found was here

I only recently managed to sort myself out with stats stuff, and the results are fairly interesting. As well as getting regular visits from many of the people on my blog roll, I get quite a few sent my way due thanks to A Very Public Sociologist and also from the attacks at us (Socialist Students in Bangor) made on the blog of the some of the local SU officers. I also get quite a few visits from people surfing the internet and searching for bits and pieces on crime and criminology, and recently international visits have increased to the extent i've had visits from every continent with the exception of Latin America.

But this doesn't really help me. One of the main things I'm trying to do with this blog is to develop a marxist analysis of crime, it's what well over half the posts here are about, and the last post (below this one) was of an essay I'd recently written and no-one has commented (although from the stats i can see several people have read it). This is a little frustrating becuase I really do want criticism and comments on this piece as it covers an awful lot of stuff i'd like to talk more about.

The other side of the blog is mostly about local stuff, what's happening at the Student Union in particular recently and I don't really expect all that many comments on this becuase most of my readership isn't in Bangor, and frankly I prefer having the discussions about this face to face on the streets with students where I can explain our ideas more fully.

So how do improve the comments and get more relevant visitors. Some of the suggests from the post on AVPS may indeed be useful. commenting on other blogs, getting links posted on other blogs and commenting regularly on other blogs probably would help get more visitors, and to be honest with me being so busy this is one of the reasons why my visit count dipped as low as 10 a day over this weekend.

But this isn't enough, when I go comment on other people's sites the posts have to be interesting - i'm really not that interested in reading re-posts from other sites or things that I don't care about. I either need to cultivate a more criminology orientated audience or develop posts which will interest a larger section of my readership.

I should also probably post on some stuff people have heard less, some of my top commented posts and were precisely this kind of post.

The other thing I've started doing is writing some posts well before I post them, especially if they are book reviews etc. as this will obviously help when I get to a time when I've been really busy (like over the past week). Anyway, if anyone has more suggests please feel free. As an aside, I wonder if anyone has done any sociological research into blogging and why people do it and their other involvement, I think it would make interesting reading.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Utopia or Reality? Can we create the Perfect Criminal Justice System?

This was an essay I had to submit for my course on the criminal justice system, I post it here because it raises several things I discussed in my post Draft Prinicples of a Marxist Criminology and should be of interest to all readers ps. there's more after the references

Is there such a thing as a perfect criminal justice system and, moreover, what would such a criminal justice system look like? In this essay we will examine these questions. We shall first discuss what a criminal justice system is, before contemplating what the aim and purpose of a criminal justice system is. We will then discuss if and how these systems may be perfected, before discussing the implications of this on individual branches of the criminal justice system and concluding the essay.
The first question that we are presented with is that of definition, what is a criminal justice system? The Sage Dictionary of Criminology (2001:66) defines Criminal Justice as “The process through which the state responds to behaviour that it deems unacceptable. Criminal justice is delivered through a series of stages: charge, prosecution, trial; sentence; appeal; punishment. These processes and the agencies which carry them out are referred to collectively as the criminal justice system”. Cavadino & Dignan (2002:1) note that the criminal justice system consist of the “police, prosecution authorities and courts” in addition to the penal system “the system that exists to punish and otherwise deal with people that have (usually) been convicted of a criminal offence” (most importantly the prison and probation services).
The entry in the Sage Dictionary of Criminology later states “… crime control, or crime reduction, is obviously the overall aim of criminal justice…” (2001:67). But this answer does not yet solve our question; instead we must ask what would the aim and purpose be of a perfect criminal justice system? Given as we have seen crime control and crime reduction are the aims of a criminal justice system, then a perfect criminal justice system would reduce crime to non-existence. However, such an aim is quite contradictory; if such an aim was achieved there would be no need for a criminal justice system to exist any more as there would be no further criminal offending. Here we have our answer, the perfect criminal justice exists when it has served its purpose, when it is no longer necessary and thus no longer exists.
If we consider Lenin’s (1987) notion with regards to the state as a whole withering away when it is of no further use, then the idea of a criminal justice system ceasing to exist when crime is no longer occurring is very similar. In discussing democracy in the state Lenin (1987:339) says “… the more complete it is the more quickly it will become unnecessary…”, we could similarly say the more complete and effective a criminal justice system is in reducing crime (by lowering recidivism for example), the less need there is for it.
One may ask how relevant it is to be talking about the state in relation to the criminal justice system. As Taaffe et al. (1983:25-6) point out that “In the last analysis – as Marx, Engels and Lenin pointed out - the state consists of armed bodies of men and their material appendages ie. prisons etc.” Are not these the main constituents of the criminal justice system – the police and prisons – alongside the judiciary?
It would also be wrong to consider Lenin’s argument on the withering away of the state without noting that there is another criminological tendency which posits the lack of or severe reduction of a criminal justice system. Abolitionism to some would seem a not too dissimilar approach to the one just outlined above. Indeed, in an article outlining the relationship of abolitionism to crime control, Willem de Haan talks of “popular or socialist forms of penality” (de Haan, 1991:214), and the abolition “of the repressive capitalist system part by part or step by step” (de Haan, 1991:213).
However, abolitionism, according to de Haan, (1991:203) “is based on the moral conviction that social life should not and, in fact, cannot be regulated effectively by criminal law and that, therefore, the role of the criminal justice system should be drastically reduced while other ways of dealing with problematic situations, behaviours and events are being developed and put into practice.” Unlike the Marxism of Lenin, its starting point is not class struggle that necessitates the abolition of capitalist relations of production, but moral conviction instead. Whereas the eventual ‘withering away’ of the state and criminal justice system is only possible in a post-capitalist situation for Lenin, Abolitionists want the criminal justice system gone without any pre-conditions.
This difference then leads on to differences of a more practical nature. As de Haan (1991:207) goes on to state “…the criminal justice system is part of the crime problem rather than its solution… Therefore there is no point in trying to make the criminal justice system more effective or more just.” And later “Instead of the panacea which the criminal justice system pretends to provide for problems of crime control, abolitionism seeks to remedy social problems… Abolitionism assumes that social problems or conflicts are unavoidable as they are inherent to social life…” (de Haan, 1991:211) In contrast, as Taaffe et al. (1983:14) point out “It would be absurd for socialists in present day society to stand aside and declare that we cannot support the police in taking action to prevent crime and arrest criminals.” However, Marxists would agree that social problems need remedying too, and it is to this that we now turn.
As Jock Young (1981) discusses, aetiology, or the causes of crime is a pivotal issue in criminology and in how one deals with crime. This is influential, because as he exposes “If, for instance, we view crime as a voluntary act of the individual, we would tend towards a policy of punishing him or her, whereas, if she/he is seen as acting under the compulsion of individual or social forces, the treatment of the criminal might seem to be inappropriate.” (Young, 1981:252)
Indeed, Lenin (1987:340) suggests that with the removal of “the fundamental social cause of excesses”, which he holds to be “the exploitation of the masses, their want and their poverty”, “excesses will inevitably begin to “wither away”… with their withering away, the state (or in our case the criminal justice system) will also wither away”.
From this passage we can see that Lenin suggests two main causes of crime (or excesses); ‘want and poverty’ (deprivation/relative deprivation) as well as ‘exploitation of the masses’ (alienation). These factors are not new, indeed, Lenin being a Marxist drew these concepts from Marx, who exposed them several times in his works, most accessibly in Wage, Labour and Capital (Marx, 1996).
Marx’s theory of alienation can be summed up nicely in the sentences “… the exercise of labour power, labour is the worker’s own life activity, the manifestation of his own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of subsistence. Thus his life activity is for him only a means to enable him to exist. He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labour as a part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.” (Marx, 1996:25) Sell (2006:28) adds to this by commenting “Instead of making life easier, the increase in automation has reduced ever more jobs to mind-numbing repetition and boredom”.
Marx’s explanation of relative deprivation is similarly summed up well by his words “A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it shrinks from a house to a hut. The little house shows now that its owner has only very slight or no demands to make; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilisation, if the neighbouring palace grows to an equal or even greater extent, the occupant of the relatively small house will feel more and more uncomfortable, dissatisfied and cramped within its four walls.” (Marx, 1996:39) He concludes, “Our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature.” (Marx, 1996:39)
But how does this relate to crime? Sell (2006:30) argues that “The result [of increases in alienation and relative deprivation] has been an increase in street crime and robbery, almost all of it carried out against people who are also living in poverty. There is an increase in drug addiction… The reasons for drug use are wide and varied. Nonetheless, the increase in drug addiction and dependency, both legal and illegal, is primarily the result of a more alienated society.”
She goes on to illustrate this, pointing out “…the experience of the ex-mining villages around the country… the closure of the pits have left previously strong communities suffering the ravages of unemployment, poverty and drug addiction.” (Sell, 2006:30)
Young (1991:154) correctly states that based on this “To reduce crime we must reduce relative deprivation by ensuring meaningful work is provided at fair wages, by providing decent housing in which people are proud to live in, by ensuring that leisure facilities are available on a universal basis…”
However, as Taylor (1981:79) recognises “A welfare state which works on the principle that woman is naturally dependent on man and also currently depends on the expulsion of large numbers of youths into worklessness is not meeting the real needs of women and young people to be self-generating members of the human species.” The problem being that attempting to solve the problem of relative deprivation via a redistributive welfare state doesn’t solve the problem of alienation. It, as Taylor (1981) later notes adds because this is carried out by a layer of professionals which he argues act in lieu of people, rather than under their control.
Engels (1971:32) similarly discusses how “Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests, originally through simple division of labour. But these organs, at whose head is the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society.”
To overcome alienation, it is necessary to overcome the fact that most people have no control over a large portion of their life, whether in the workplace, or outside it. Taylor (1981:101) argues that a “thoroughgoing democratisation” is necessary for these interests to be met. What would this look like you may ask?
Engels (1971:33) commenting on the Paris Commune suggests that “In the first place it filled all posts – administrative, judicial and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers… In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set up…”
As Johnstone (2000) points out there are critics who would suggest that such a manner of operation of society as a whole, and the criminal justice system in particular, could not operate. Johnstone (2000:165) goes on to explain “even if it were concluded that today there is widespread and increasing support for a less tolerant and more punitive penal policy, it would not follow that increased public participation in the making of penal policy would automatically result in a harsher penal system.”
He continues “With regard to penal policy, the suggestion that people should be excluded from its making because they do not have the necessary qualities – such as knowledge, active interest and restraint – is easily countered. Through participation in making penal policy, people will develop these qualities. To the extent that they lack such qualities, this is due precisely to the over-centralization and over-professionalization of governance in general and penal policy making in particular. As decisions about the use of the social power to punish are historically removed from ordinary people and placed in the hands of a small elite, people lose the attributes required to make those decisions well. The only way they can recover these qualities is by having these decisions returned to them.” (Johnstone, 2000:158)
And tying this back in with the ideas developed so far, Lenin (1987:339) comments “…the diffusion of democracy among such an overwhelming majority of the population [means] that the need for a special machine of suppression will begin to disappear”, by special machine Lenin means the state (or for our purposes the criminal justice system). Of course such a thing will not happen overnight, as Lenin (1987:334) notes “there can be no question of defining the exact moment of the future withering away – the more so since it must obviously be a rather lengthy process”. Greater and greater participation can only come with time being freed from other areas; in particular the working day must be gradually shortened to allow for “removing the antithesis between mental and physical labor” (Lenin, 1987:344). Additionally, other institutions outside the criminal justice system would also be used to help in this process, most notably the media and the education system would be inherently useful to help people become more informed about crime and the criminal justice system.
As mentioned above, informed journalism could play a role in this. Wacquant (2007:39) gives us an example of how this may look “A rational public debate on crime would differentiate between offences and rigorously measure their incidence and effects. It would eschew the short-term perspective and emotional cast of daily journalism to make a clear cut differentiation between blips and groundswells, incidental variations from year-to-year and long-term trends. It would not confuse the rising fear of crime, intolerance of crime, or concern over crime with an increase in law-breaking itself.”
However, as Feilzer & Young (2006) demonstrate, such journalism cannot be limited to just one columnist in one newspaper. It must become a standard for newspapers and other media to place crimes in their social context, and to be written in a manner that explains the processes behind the topic being reported on. A basic grasp of the workings of the criminal justice system taught to all school pupils would also assist in this manner.
Now that we have a brief outline of what is necessary to achieve such a state of the criminal justice system, it is perhaps worth looking at what the first steps towards this may be in each of it’s branches. Although the comments here are focussed on the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, the general thrust should be applicable to a greater or lesser extent in other countries too.
Policing is perhaps the most visible part of the criminal justice system. For our purposes it is perhaps useful to look in particular at the disputes in the early 1980’s to do with the accountability of the police. This centred around several issues, from the 1980 Police Authorities (Powers) Bill proposed by Jack Straw MP, the inner city riots of 1980 and 1981 (particularly in Toxteth and Brixton) and conflicts over the role of police authorities, and later the deployment of the police during the 1984-5 miner’s strike (Scraton, 1985).
The link between all these issues was the attempt to subordinate the priorities of local policing to the wishes of the local populace. Kinsey et al. (1986) argue that police are dependent upon the local community for information to help them apprehend offenders and that the pursuance of policy contrary to the wishes of the community (such as operations like Swamp 81 which provoked the 1981 Brixton riots) merely serve to alienate the community further from the police, and thus reducing this flow of information. As they note “People have little incentive to participate in a process over which they have little control” (Kinsey et al., 1986:133) Instead they advocate increasing the powers of police authorities and giving them the responsibility to encourage debate over crime and conducting local crime surveys. This could however be extend to even more local democratic bodies for certain areas or long lasting cases or series of crimes.
Prisons have been said to have been in an almost perpetual state of crisis recently (Cavadino & Dignan, 2003), the most important of which is crisis of resources. This has manifested itself recently with a record prison populations leading to massive overcrowding across the 139 prisons in England and Wales (Dalton, 2007a).
Overcrowding has led to a poor standard of accommodation, which Cavadino and Dignan (2002:189) suggest is ‘a byword for squalor’ with lack of access to adequate toilet facilities, lack of time outside cells and cell sharing. Similary a record 91 self-inflicted deaths in prison was recorded in 1999 (Cullen and Minchin, 2000) and Morgan (2002) notes that about a quarter of all prisons are Victorian buildings, most of these older prisons are local prisons which suffer the most overcrowding. As Dalton (2007b) notes at present the strategy is to release some prisoners early and attempt to build the way out of the problem, creating 9,500 extra places by 2014, but estimates suggest that cells will run out then too.
Fundamentally, a change in policy is necessary here. Cavadino & Dignan (2002) suggest that the judiciary is the ‘crux of the [penal] crisis’ and suggest a list of reforms including empowering bodies to create enforceable guidelines for sentencing to make it more consistent, in addition to other measures to encourage the judiciary to be more lenient. However, why leave the same people running the system if they have been too punitive, and why stick to sentences given out by them if they too are too punitive. As Dalton (2007b) argues, the judiciary should be elected and democratically elected tribunals should review existing sentences.
Overcrowded prisons also don’t help reduce crime either. As government figures show six out of every ten released from prison end up back inside within two years, this cannot be improved by a situation which has seen prisoners being locked up for longer in their cells, rather than tackling some prisoner’s underlying problems such as illiteracy or innumeracy. As Dalton (2007b) points out, a reduction in the prison population would free up resources which could be used towards the rehabilitation of those it is still deemed necessary to detain.
In conclusion, the perfect criminal justice system is both possible and impossible in that on reaching its stated aim it will have fulfilled its purpose and fall into disuse. In the opinion of the author of these words most other approaches tend to keep crime down to manageable levels rather than rid us of it. This solves no-ones problems; people still get victimised, offenders get stigmatised for life and the public foots the millions and billions necessary to make the system work.
This essay has thus taken a distinctly Marxist position, drawing in particular on Lenin’s notion of the withering away of the state. We have discussed what this position would put forward as the reasons for crime and how this influences how the criminal justice system should operate to help alleviate these problems. We have then discussed how to implement these ideas within several branches of the criminal justice system. From this we have shown that perfecting the criminal justice system to the point where it is no longer needed, will take a long time and will generally consist of increasing democratisation. Wider changes in society will also be needed to supplement these processes. Crime breeds inequality, so it seems only apt that achieving real equality is the solution to this problem.


Cavadino, M. & Dignan, J. (2002) The Penal System, 3rd ed. London: SAGE
Cullen, C. & Minchin, M. (2000) The Prison Population in 1999, Home Office Research Findings No. 118, London: Home Office
de Haan, W. (1991) ‘Abolitionism and Crime Control: A Contradiction in Terms’ In: Stenson, K. & Cowell, D. eds. (1991) The Politics of Crime Control, London: SAGE
Dalton, I. (2007a) ‘Reid’s prison disaster’, The Socialist, 1st-7th February pg.5
Dalton, I. (2007b) ‘Overcrowded prisons, overworked staff’, The Socialist, 13th-19th September pg.4
Engels, F. (1971) ‘Introduction to the Civil War in France’ In: Marx, K. & Engels, F. On the Paris Commune, Moscow: Progress Publishers
Feilzer, M. & Young, R. (2006) ‘Crime Scene Oxford’: The impact of a factual newspaper column on readers of a local newspaper – Final Report to the Nuffield Foundation, Oxford: Centre for Criminology
Johnstone, G. (2000) ‘Penal Policy Making: Elitist, Populist or Participatory?’, Punishment & Society, 2(2): pp.161-180
Kinsey, R., Lea, J. & Young, J. (1986) Losing the Fight Against Crime, Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Lea, J. & Young, J. (1996) ‘Relative Deprivation’ In: Muncie, J., McLaughlin, E. & Langan, M. eds. Criminological Perspectives: A Readers, London: SAGE
Lenin, V. I. (1987) ‘The State and Revolution’, In: Christman, H. M. eds. Essential Works of Lenin: “What is to be done?” and Other Writings, Mineola: Dover
Marx, K. (1996) ‘Wage Labour and Capital’ In: Marx, K. Wage Labour and Capital & Wages, Price and Profit, London: Bookmarks
McLaughlin, E. & Muncie, J. eds. (2001) The Sage Dictionary of Criminology, London: SAGE
Morgan, R. (2002) ‘Imprisonment’ In: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R.. Eds. The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP
Scraton, P. (1985) The State of the Police, London: Pluto Press
Sell, H. (2006) Socialism in the 21st Century, 2nd ed. London: Socialist Publications
Taaffe, P., Grant, E. & Walsh, L. (1983) The State… A Warning to the Labour Movement, London: Militant
Taylor, I. (1981) Law and Order: Arguments for Socialism, London: Macmillan
Wacquant, L. (2007) ‘How to Escape the Law and Order Trap’, Criminal Justice Matters, 70 pp.39-40
Young, J. (1981) ‘Thinking seriously about crime: some models of criminology’ In: Fitzgerald, M., McLennan, G. & Pawson, J. eds. Crime & Society: Readings in History and Theory, London: Routledge
Young, J. (1991) ‘Left Realism and the Priorities of Crime Control’ In: Stenson, K. & Cowell, D. eds. (1991) The Politics of Crime Control, London: SAGE

Upcoming Posts

As you have seen i've posted on some of the things touched on in this post before (ie left realist criminology, media and crime, and crime and alienation) expect over the next few weeks/months/whenever i get around to it:-

A review of the State of the Police with some commentary on the 'left idealist' branch of critical criminology
A post on relative deprivation as a 'cause' of crime
A post on the criminal justice system and the paris commune
A post on The State and Revolution and the criminal justice system
A review of The State: A warning to the Labour Movement
A post on political economy and crime
A review(s) of Cavadino & Dignan's arguements about the penal system

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Review - The Prison and the Factory (1981) by Dario Melossi and Massimo Pavarini

this is the version translated by Glynis Cousin and published by Macmillan

This book is a useful study in the development of the forms of punishment under capitalism. For marxist criminologists, how punishment and other methods of crime control cam into existence and developed is an important question, particularly given as marxists would theorise that the forms of the criminal justice system depend on the stages of economic development to an extent.
Others have studied the development of prisons as punishment too, and Melossi and Pavarini draw on both Rusche and Kircheimer as well as on Foucault in their analysis.

They start with asking why imprisonment is the dominant form of penalty under capitalism. pretty much every punishment under modern capitalism is either imprisonment, or non-compliance is backed up by it (which is the case for probation, home detention curfews, fines, community sentences etc.) The only major exception being the death penalty, but even this requires imprisonment to hold people on death row.

They also point out thatunder feudal regimes prisons were only used to hold debtors and not as punishments themselves which in those times, Foucault points out in Discipline and Punish, were corporal rather than carceral. This they link to life, physical condition and money being of more value to a person, than "human labour measured in time" (pg3)

Another theme running through this work is the influence of religion. The authors note the existence of a distinction between 'good poor' and 'bad poor'. Both were out of work, but the 'bad poor' were wicked because they'd been forced to resort to crime and had to be forced to work, whereas the 'good poor' hadn't and should be given assistance.

The work then goes on to argue that the development of prisons and workhouses were places "for the teaching the discipline of production" (pg 21) and thus are closely realted to the formation fo the proletariat from the landless, workless ex-peasant masses created by the enclosure of pastures. Indeed, they also speculate that the intensity of repression depended on the availability of labour during the period.

The development of the prison in Italy is then discussed, considering the specific economic development of that country. There is one question that they tunr to that deserves special mention, social banditry. This occurs becuase of the explusion of peasants from the land, some trun to banditry to survive. The authors view it as a form of class rebellion, and to them some sort of proto-revolutionary action. However, whilst I recognise the class nature of the banditry, their actions were incredibly destructive, either robbery or destruction of property, and thus it is a backwards looking, reactionary course of action. For me, it's like rioting, whilst we understand that social conditions have caused it, such acts will get the oppressed carrying them out nowhere.

Similarly, the development of prison in the early USA is examined. One of the interesting things that the authors note is the introduction of the 'Philadelphia model' of prisons (which was based on the strict isolation and observation of prisoners - like Bentham's panopticon) happened at a time when prison labour was uneconomical. When this changed due to a shortage of labour, gradually the 'Auburn model' was adopted which saw inmates working communally during the day.

The final chapter of the book is a sort of conclusion to the book. In it they state their central thesis - that when there is high unemployment prison takes on a destructive punitiveness, but when unemployment is low it takes on a re-educative, rehabilitative form, partially to lower wages. Personally, I think this simplifies things too much and certainly makes little sense when applied to Britain and other neo-liberal countries over the last 20 years or so. Furthermore I'd question what they mean by discipline - I could see prison having a physically controlling/coercive effect but they seem to mean some sort of mental effect to produce 'disciplined proletarians' or un-thinking slaves. the prisoners rights movements that developed around the 1960's and 1970's show this as being inaccurate. Moreover if prison is supposed to be this wonderful invention for creating 'disciplined proletarians' how come recidivism is so high (above 60%). Melossi and Pavarini's theory is an interesting one, but it's full of holes.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Prisons: Lumbering Into Further Crisis

In December, the government’s latest review of prisons was published. Chaired by Lord Carter, one of the reviews main features is a call for three ‘Titan’ jails holding 2,500 prisoners each as part of a massive prison building programme.
The prison building programme comes as a response to the projected rise in the prison population to about 96,000 in 2014. The system is at present full to the point of bursting with most prisons being overcrowded and the ‘temporary’ measure of using police cells to hold prisoners under Operation Safeguard still in effect over a year later.
Earlier this year Jack Straw had declared that he wouldn’t build his way out of the current prisons crisis, but alongside the ‘Titans’ are plans to convert army camps and even a prison ship. However, this won’t solve the crisis, all previous major prison building programmes have done is create extra-capacity that is soon filled creating a new prison crisis further down the line.
According to the Prisons Minister, David Hanson in a recent Society Guardian interview (12/12/07), this prison building programme is different, many older prisons are ‘not fit for purpose’ and need to be decommissioned and replaced. It is undoubtedly true that many prisons have poor facilities, particularly some of the older Victorian prisons, but one of the main reasons that they haven’t been decommissioned before now is because the government are trying to cram as many people into the current system as possible, in some places cells built for one prisoner are now accommodating two or even three.

Titans – Giant Warehouses of People

The three proposed Titans were originally announced to cost £1.2bn, but this turned out to be just extra funding on top of the already announced £1.5bn prison building programme that the government had already committed to. It is unknown what these behemoths will cost in the end, but it will similarly be in the £billions. Already Carter has argued that there should be an extra titan built in London too.
The main reasons for building such large prisons is that there will be economies of scale savings, as well as being able to get planning permission more easily due to the recent passed legislation on this issue that allows major developments to bypass local democracy. Carter also argues that such massive prisons will allow prisoners to be held closer to home, but surely this would be provided better by smaller, more local prisons? A further blow to the proposals came from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, who testified before the Commons justice committee that all the evidence shows that smaller prisons do better than larger ones (ie less overcrowded etc.) and also pointed out that in France building titans had been halted after the population of the first one, built in Paris in 1992 to hold 2,800, had swollen to 3,600. Big prisons mean a larger prison population and prison overcrowding are here to stay. It should also be of no surprise to socialists that the titans are likely to be PFI projects, yet more £billions into the coffers of big business.

Mental Health

As pointed out by Prison Officers Association General Secretary, Brian Caton, at Socialism 2007, mental health problems is a serious issue in prisons. More 70% of prisoners (both male and female) suffer from two or more mental health disorders and around 5,000 prisoners suffer from severe and enduring mental illness. As Caton commented in an interview in the Socialist (issue 461) “So many people who have mental health difficulties… will find themselves in the criminal justice system. There is nowhere else for them to go.”
As the Socialist has reported, cuts in NHS services are being carried out up and down the country, mental health services being one of the most effected area; the recent victimisation of Karen Reissman for speaking out against mental health cuts merely highlights this. Even before this latest round of cuts, mental health services were under-funded and under-resourced. An end to health cuts is desperately needed, because as Caton also stated in the interview “Until we tackle the mental health difficulties and underlying problems of crime in our society, we will not move anywhere.”

Attacks on prisoners and prison workers

The Guardian (6/12/07) reported that one of the recommendations of the Carter report was “the urgent modernisation of the prison service workforce”. This undoubtedly means cuts and a further stretching of already overstretched staff. Prison Officers have already taken their first national strike in 2007 on pay, but one of the main issues strikers raised was that of conditions. These are set to worsen as the Guardian also reported (13/12/07) that the government is planning to keep inmates locked up for an extra half a day a week, which means cancelling classes and workshops on Friday afternoons and means that prisoners will be spending 23 hours a day in cells from Friday afternoons to Monday mornings. All to extract around £60m in efficiency savings, when the government was giving strike breakers during the POA national strike bonuses of £500 each. These policies show that any talk of trying to do something serious to tackle crime is just spin, and as always the burden of crime and offending will be left upon the working class

For a Socialist Policy to Tackle Crime

Clearly prisons are understaffed at present, any more prisons will simply increase this and result in prisoners being locked up for even longer than these current proposals. Socialists stand against locking even more people up unnecessarily, and oppose the building of ‘titans’ and increasing the prison population. We also stand for the replacement of older prisons so prisoners and staff can facilities fitting for the 21st century. But the main way to do this is not building out of the crisis, but renationalising privatised prisons and vastly reducing the current overcrowded population. Such a stand would also reduce understaffing at the same time as well as freeing up resources for better mental health services for those convicted of crime whether inside or outside prison.
But this isn’t the main solution to the problem of crime. For socialists, the root cause of crime is the alienation, deprivation and other effects of an oppressive capitalist society. Only a programme to tackle these by giving well-paid jobs and training for all with housing and other essentials, such as a quality public health service, will alleviate these ills of society. It is a socialist transformation of society will allow us to attack these real roots of crime.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Nigeria, the struggle goes on

Here's a piece i've written for our su paper on the solidarity campaign with nigeria students, btw. if you click the link at the bottom theres a new piece up by some nigerian comrades who were also active at the student union in Nigeria in the past

Over the last few months, Bangor University Socialist Students society have been campaigned in defence of three arrested student union leaders in Nigeria; Akinola Saburi, Olatunde Dairo & Taiwo Hassan Soweto. Their crime? To stand up for the rights of students.
The saga began around this time last year when the three participated at various times in student agitation for a week long period free of lectures before exams. Revision time for exams is something that most people would find uncontroversial, but not the authorities at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
Instead they decided to ignore the students demands and shut down campus twice for several months claiming concern for a breakdown in law and order as well as standing their own slate of stooges for the student union elections, which were overwhelmingly defeated by genuine activists.
It is at this point that the university authorities tried this latest ploy. In August Akinola Saburi, the president of the student union at OAU, was arrested without being charged. Some months later, whilst campaigning for his release, the other two students were arrested. They were later charged with ludicrous offences such as the attempted murder of a former University Vice-Chancellor in 2004.
The students spent months applying for bail and after much prevarication by the courts were granted it, but with conditions which are impossible for them to meet including large sums of money. They were forced to spend Christmas and the New Year languishing in their cells.
Is their situation that different from our own? Last year the university implemented cuts to the Ocean Sciences department that are still affecting students now without any real consultation. True, none of our students have been arrested on made-up charges, but then there was no mass campaign involving thousands of students at a time like there has been in Nigeria.
Students around the world should support each others campaigns for better living and studying conditions. We are still appealing for protest letters to be sent and as well as asking for donations towards the defence campaign for these student leaders. For details see www.socialistnigeria.ord/students

To find out more and how you can get involved in the campaign, contact us at

Monday, 14 January 2008

Socialist Students Statement on Student Union Reform

Reform, What Reform?

Currently, Bangor University Students Union is in the process of conducting a consultation period on a review of the Student Union’s Constitution. This is being done, we are told, because we haven’t had a thorough revision for a while and because of changes to charity law. We are also told that it is necessary to make it easier for ordinary students to get things done. Socialist Students supports the idea of involving more students in the activities of the Students Union, and recognise the need to revise constitutions to enable this as well as revisions caused by legal changes.
However, such important decisions deserve an ample amount of time whereby as many students as possible can input into the process. Furthermore, we should have full proposals for any consultation and the right to put forward amendments or alternatives to be voted on by a full general meeting. We do not believe the current consultation exercise (during an exam period) meets this criteria.

Lessons of NUS Reform

At the present time the National Union of Students (NUS) is undergoing its own governance review. Similarly to Bangor, the review is being rushed through by NUS. Last month, an emergency conference was held to pass the changes before ratification at NUS national conference later this year. Its proponents argue that it will be more accessible to students and will be able to campaign better, but amongst its proposals includes the option for student unions to drop elections to NUS conference, as well as creating a new board to govern NUS including unelected persons who could veto any campaigns (due to ‘lack of funds’ etc.). Many students do not even know about this (although a pro-reform report was published in the last issue of Seren), and even less actually had any input into the process, particularly as most of the consultation for this was carried out during the summer, so much for involving more students!

For A Campaigning, Democratic Student Union

In a circular posted to the intranet, three ways are suggested of how students can use the union. Two of them are “starting a campaign” and “tackling a problem with your accommodation or course”. We agree that the way the student union is currently operating means it hasn’t been able to do either of these successfully, however, the failure is not to be found in the unions structures, rather in the political leadership of the students union.
As we have commented before in relation to the cuts in ocean sciences, students looked to the union for a campaigning leadership to oppose cuts and did not receive this. The effects of these cuts are still being felt (again see the last issue of Seren), and the question of how a more effective campaign could have been organised needs to be addressed.
This will be further compounded by the suggestion to enshrine ‘core campaigns’, a way of deciding a priori what issues will be most important to students during years ahead, decisions that should be made by the democratic bodies of the union.
The organisation of a campaigns collective, to promote activities of the various campaigning societies within the Students Union, as well as organising campaigning on issues that affect students, we think would be a massive step towards a Student Union that can campaign effectively on issues affecting students, as well as a means by which the student unions own campaigns committee could be rejuvenated. Of course, the mass of students should be involved in deciding the campaigning priorities of the students union. This is why Socialist Students is calling on the Students Union to organise a general meeting that is well publicised and built for across campus, that any student or group can make proposals in the form of motions for campaigns to this meeting with are then voted on mandating the student union to run those campaigns.

Stop the current review! For any consultation to feature a series of well publicised, built for meetings around all structures of the student union and allow a period when proposals can be made from any student or group. For all proposals to be democratically discussed and voted on at a general meeting
For a general meeting to be organised which is well publicised and built for across campus, that any student or group can make proposals in the form of motions for campaigns to this meeting with are then voted on mandating the student union to run those campaigns.
No attacks on democratic structures of the Students Union
For a campaigning fighting democratic students union that campaigns against fees, cuts and privatisation and for free publicly funded education as well as on other issues affecting students.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Police ballot for industrial rights

Article from the Socialist 515

GORDON BROWN is trying to enforce below-inflation pay rises on public-sector workers, from the civil service to local government workers, teachers and nurses. Now the police are being forced into considering action. The Police Federation, representing rank and file police officers, has called on the Home Secretary to resign and is at loggerheads with the Metropolitan Police over a protest demonstration on 23 January.

Iain Dalton
The police were awarded a 2.5% pay rise by an independent tribunal from 1 September. But the government decided to implement it for the 140,000 police in England and Wales only from 1 December, saving £30 million.

Since the 1970s the police have been awarded pay increases by an index, which takes into account their lack of a right to strike. This year however, as part of their drive against public-sector pay increases, the government decided they wished to come out of this and impose a settlement.

The index was given to the police after discontent in the police force in the 1970s. A series of pay disputes, no doubt influenced by working-class struggles at the time, led to calls then for genuine trade union organisation and the right to strike.

To silence their demands they were given an immediate 10% pay increase, with a review into police pay after this. When the Tory government was returned in 1979, it announced the new generous pay index, no doubt partly to buy the support of police officers for the assault on trade unions during the 1980s.

Now the Police Federation is to ballot its members on whether it should lobby for full industrial rights. The Federation is also attempting to organise a demonstration in London, although archaic legislation may be used to block this from taking place - which would leave us with the odd sight of the Metropolitan Police banning police from demonstrating.

Socialists support police officers' right to a proper trade union and the right to strike. We should work towards bringing the ranks of the police closer to the labour movement, whilst also calling for local democratic control of the police and opposing their repressive use.

PS - I was wondering about whether anyone else would be interested in setting up a joint blog about the left & crime?

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Crime In Revolutionary Russia

– A Critical Review of Crime, Police and Mob Justice in Petrograd During the Russian Revolutions of 1917 by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa
(This piece is taken from Wade, R. ed. (2004) Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches, Routledge: New York pg 46-71)

I recently read this piece, given it’s the only piece I’ve ever really come across to discuss crime during the Russia Revolution. Before I begin talking about it’s content there are some points I wish to make about how this piece is written.

Firstly, the writer seems to me to clearly be a bourgoise academic and the whole thrust of his piece is about what the Provisional Government did wrong to lose control of crime between February and October. Thus his essay is mostly about how the October revolution could have been be prevented. Second, the writer is clearly not a criminologist. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made assumptions like, for example, that the police massively reduce crime.

Third are the sources the writer used. There are two main ones, one of which is what he terms ‘the boulevard papers’, which from his description seems to be today’s tabloids – which to me is like looking at The Sun or The Daily Mail and expecting to get an accurate picture of crime in Britain! (or for my readers in the US substitute this for Fox News and you get the picture) The other is the diary of the ex-head of the tsarist secret police. At times he does concede that these may be biased slightly, but for most of the piece he takes these sources at face value.

So what does this writer say? His main thesis is that after the February revolution crime soared and the Provisional Government handicapped the criminal justice system so that they couldn’t do anything about it. This in turn led to the development of mob justice in parts of Petrograd as well as strengthening the workers militias and Red Guards role in resolving disputes and contributed to societal breakdown that led to the October revolution.

The evidence the author presents to suggest crime rates soared does seem fairly plausible, although we have to be cautious about it for two reasons. Firstly, the figures the writer presents seem to show an increase in crime (likely to be precipitated by food shortages etc.), although he fails to note that an increase in crimes reported might just mean that people are reporting crimes more often rather than there being more crime. Given the huge social changes occurring people may have felt more confident that something might be done if they reported crime to the newly created militias than the old tsarist police. I would speculate that both reporting and actual crime were increasing together though.

Secondly, the papers he uses as sources would no doubt report such things as expropriations as thefts or robberies. No doubt there would be, as the author suggests, some who may use this as an excuse to rob people, but then the lack of redistribution of wealth in Russia was one of the failings of the Provisional Government (who due to representing the interests of capitalists weren’t exactly going to expropriate themselves).

He then goes on to argue how the criminal justice system was handicapped by the Provisional Government (particularly Kerensky). Firstly the writer criticises the policies towards prisons, were the government replaced the tsarist prison guards and wardens, and then released or reduced the sentences of a large number of prisoners, which they say led to the release of large numbers of criminals on to the streets. Whilst I agree that security at prisons was pathetic, it is hardly suprising given the conditions in Russia at that time which necessitated crap pay and conditions for all workers. Secondly he criticises the replacement of the old tsarist courts with a multi-class temporary court (which featured a magistrate, a workers representative and a peasant representative) and also the ineffectiveness of the militia in preventing crime which the writer puts down to lack of training as police officers, which later the Ministry of Justice attempted to face by instituting a Criminal Militia made up of former members of the tsarist police’s Criminal Division.

The whole thrust of the writers argument is that the destruction of the tsarist criminal justice system was unnecessary and made it ineffective. However, I would argue that it did not go far enough. The attempts at class compromise throughout it, such as the multi-class temporary courts and city militias, moreover there was a lack of democracy too in some of these bodies that were controlled directly by the Ministry of Justice. Indeed, due to deteriorating working conditions and pay, amongst other things city militia units sought affiliation to the Petrograd Soviet! The more democratic workers militia organised and controlled by the Soviets was much more effective, particularly in working class areas.

The writer then goes on to describe the acts of mob justice that occur in Petrograd, many of them horrific with lynchings for just petty offences. In the main it was the middle classes and lumpenproletariat that took part in such acts. I agree with the author that the Provisional Government failed these people, but I’d argue that it was always going to due to its class conciliation. The working class organisations should have orientated themselves to draw in the support of these layers (at least at a passive level) behind them. The writer also discusses some attempts at crime prevention in terms of making housing more secure from occupiers organising a watch and pass system to get in (lower classes) to some residents hiring ex-soldiers to guard their premises (upper classes). Unbelievably, the Petrograd City Administration spent more time arming these private guards than their own militia – possibly I would suggest because the feared they would lose control of the militia (as they did) to the soviets.

Finally the writer discusses who were the in the main the victims of crime. Using the papers as sources he reports that it was the middle classes and lower class outside the organised proletariat. However, he notes that as these papers were orientated towards those classes they were bound to report these more. Moreover, I would add these papers were probably anti-revolutionary and in particular anti-working class and their reporting would also be biased because of that.

In conclusion, this is a useful piece because of the content it discusses, but quite biased and it needs to be used very carefully.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

A Look at Criminal Justice in Venezuela

This piece is the third in the Crime and Venezuela series and is based mostly on the World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems produced for the US Department of Justice. Now the version that I’m looking at now is an updated one compiled in 2002. I anyone remembers I looked at the original version briefly in the first posting in this series. To read either entry go to Anyway, the main difference between the two pieces is in the fact that the previous piece is pre-Chavez whereas the latter is post-Chavez.

The piece begins with a brief overview of Venezuela existence and the fact that, as a Spanish colony, it’s penal code is based on the mainland European civil law basis and the inquisitorial system. Until very recently, as the piece says

“Until 1999, criminal procedure was inquisitorial, formalist, and written (Venezuela, 1962). On July 1, 1999, a Criminal Procedure Code took effect which represented nothing short of a paradigm shift for the Venezuelan criminal justice system (Venezuela, 1998b). The inquisitorial system was replaced by an adversarial system, characteristic of common law countries, based on oral proceedings, the right to trial by jury, the possibility of pre-trial diversion, and a modest role for plea bargaining (Pérez, 1998). The Criminal Procedure Code also placed heavy restrictions on the detention of crime suspects by the police and on the use of preventive detention measures while adjudication proceeds.”

To my knowledge, the last paragraph mentions things that were particularly problematic in Venezuela, however

“These radical changes in criminal procedure met with considerable opposition from some groups, notably the police and some elected officials who argued that the Code was "soft" on criminals (Poleo, 2000). As a result, the Criminal Procedure Code has been partially modified, for example, by decreasing restrictions on preventive detention (Venezuela, 2000b), and further changes are proposed (Casas, 2001).”

Later on the effect of these changes are mentioned again, showing how preventative detention has been reduced but not to the extent that was hoped for,

“As of May 28, 2001, there were 7,274 accused in preventive detention, equivalent to 44% of the country's prison population (MIJ/DGCRR, 2001). This proportion is considerably lower than under the previous Criminal Procedure Code, when up to 75% of prisoners were in preventive detention (Human Rights Watch, 1997). For example, as of March 3, 1999, there were 14,153 accused in preventive detention (MIJ/DGCRR, 2001). Thus the new Criminal Procedure Code appears to have had an appreciable effect on the use of preventive detention. The latter, however, has still not attained the exceptional status that the Code's framers were hoping for. Information for the period September-December 2000 indicates that of 1,280 new cases then being processed by the courts, 483 (38%) involved preventive detention (TSJ/OPDI, 2001).”

Of official crime records (from the PTJ, the Judicial Police – about 20-30% of reported crime is not included as it is reported to other agencies including local police forces) the piece says that “Property crime has consistently accounted for the greater share of reported crimes (70% in 2000) rather than offenses against the person (22%).” This is similar to most other countries, where the majority of crimes are property offences.

The age of criminal responsibility in Venezuela is fairly low (12), however, there are distinctions made between children, adolescents and adults. Children (those under 12) are considered free from blame and responsibility, whereas adolescents (between 12 and 17) are free from blame, but are held responsible for their actions. If children are found guilty of a criminal act, they are subject to some sort of protective measure, whereas penalties can be more severe for an adolescent including probation or detention, although the latter is limited and length depends upon age and this occurs in separate facilities to Venezuela’s overcrowded adult prison system.

Fear of crime is very high too. A survey in Caracas from 1996 found that 70% of respondents felt ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’, and another survey in 2000 found that crime was second in terms of the countries most serious problems (after unemployment). This has led to a huge increase in private security firms, gated communities and other protective measures for the rich in Venezuela (poorer people have also taken some measures such as padlocks on doors). Another thing that has happened has been ‘lynchings’ of presumed criminals in poor areas.

The report also mentioned the restructuring of the judiciary and the state of venezuela’s prisons, which I’ll take up in a later postings.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Bangor meeting on fascism

Hi all, this is another report from Bangor from before xmas (we were busy then!). Anyway, I should hopefully have another article on Crime and Venezuela up in the next few days.

In Bangor on December 15th, Socialist Students organised a public meeting to discuss the rise of the British National Party(BNP) in recent years and in particular the origins of this movement.

Report by a Bangor student

The discussion moved from the absence of a party that represents working people towards a stimulating discussion of Socialist ideas, their relation to other political ideologies and classical Marxist concepts still relevant today. A public discussion, which could well have been marred by lack of participation owing to many students having gone home for Xmas was redeemed with constructive input from members and non members alike. We plan to hold more of these public meetings, with a view to widening prospective participants by focusing on issues that affect local people in and around Gwynedd. It is hoped that these future meetings will yield as fruitful discussion as this one from people both in the university and outside it.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Rejecting the ‘All Police Officers Are Reactionary’ Theory

I think there is a tendency amongst those on the left to view the police and other bodies of the state as one reactionary mass. This however is a crude point of view. It neither takes into account the different strata in these organisations nor explains in any way why they are or become one reactionary mass.

It is impossible to deny that the police organised as they are at present are no real friends of the workers and socialist movements. There are countless documentations of police brutality towards working class people, protesters and strikers. Such behaviour is reactionary there is no doubt, but just because a group carries out reactionary behaviour does not mean they are reactionary through and through. Nor does it mean that all members of such a group are reactionary. Such broad generalisations are not the method of Marxists, rather they are those of the like of the capitalist media whose broad brush will take incidents and whip them up into moral panics. (Such as associating all blacks with ‘mugging’ etc.)

One of the main suggestions of why the police act thus is said to be due to their ‘canteen culture’. This idea suggests that those who join the police are integrated through their fellow officers into a pre-existing police subculture which is racist, anti-working class etc. Whilst I do not doubt that being around a group that consistently holds these attitudes will no doubt have an impact upon a person, with either some of these ideas being accepted or repulsed, I would hold that the activities police officers play a large role in shaping this too. If most of your interactions with a group of people are arresting them for vandalism or another crime, then that will impact on how you view that group (this could be an ethnic group or people from a particular area for example). The question I would put to this idea though is when is someone integrated into this subculture? Obviously such a process would take time before it embedded itself into the officers consciousness, how long would that be?

Another suggestion, that would answer the previous question too, is that those who join the police have an authoritarian personality. Such a personality pre-disposes them to want to be able to control others and hold racist and supremacist viewpoints. It is contended that the selection process favours these types of people, and naturally they fit perfectly into the canteen culture and do not really need integrating. However, we are left again with the question of where does this authoritarian personality come from? Are people born with it or what? I actually think this idea is fairly stupid, as I’ve pointed out in reality it doesn’t really explain anything as we don’t know why they hold these views, plus having met people who were joining the police at the end of my previous course I feel I’m in a good position to say that they certainly didn’t have authoritarian personalities. Which is not to say that racists etc. don’t join the police, just that all who join the police aren’t racists.

A Marxist analysis of the police would first point to the position of the police in capitalist society. The police are one of the ‘armed bodies of men’ that make up the coercive apparatus of capitalist society. Like all of the ‘armed bodies of men’, they are in the most part recruited from amongst the working class, thus one could assume that they would at time of recruitment have a similar outlook to other working class people.

The tops of state agencies however, are not composed similarly. They are drawn from the ruling layers of society, or those lower layers who have come to see life their way, in the case of senior appointments, this is done by the Home Secretary. It is those in the upper echelons who decide how and where the police are deployed, what their priorities are, control information within the force etc. Going back to our original question of what makes the police engage in the behaviours already described, although an individual officer has some degree of choice over what they do, they are put in a given situation by their superiors, they are briefed about a situation by their superiors, their objectives are assigned by their superiors and so forth.

I am not attempting to justify such behaviour, rather I am attempting to explain in general why such actions occur. I would suggest it is similar to troops carrying out atrocities in wars.

Is there anything we can do about this? I would suggest there is. In the UK at present the police are in dispute with the government over pay. There is discussion about having the right to trade unions and strike action. This is reminiscent of the 1970’s where the police were in dispute over pay again. Their consciousness touched by the other disputes of those time, they strove for trade union rights. Whilst opposing the repressive use of force, Marxists should support these demands and work to bring rank and file police into the orbit of the labour movement. In revolutionary upswings the police have refused to repress the working class (ie. France 1968) or have even gone on strike (Britain 1919), it is towards this and the ‘suspension in mid-air’ of the capitalist states coercive apparatus Marxists should work towards.