Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Lying About Crime

This week the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London published a paper entitled Critical Thinking About Uses of Research by Tim Hope and Reece Walters. This piece draws on that paper. One thing I haven’t mentioned in my report is the call by in the paper by Reece Walters to boycott Home Office Research

One of the things that the New Labour government has hyped up in criminal justice has been that it will try and used evidence based research to guide it’s policies. After heavy doses of new right ‘prison works’ style-measures, the idea was to use measures that actually do something to reduce or prevent crime. Yet, here they have distorted facts just as they have done in many other realms.

68 per cent of the Home Office research budget is directed towards studying crime and criminal justice. That’s £46.6million! During this period, the then Home Secretary, John Reid organised a pause of publication of research findings and then subsequently declared the department not fit for purpose and split it into two.
In Walters’ piece he discusses how the government has talked about ‘listening’ to academic research on issues but describes several occasions when senior researchers at the RDS (the Research Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office) spoke to conferences about government policy and ignored any critical comments made on this policy.
Walter’s also discusses the problems with the Home Office’s research agenda. It is very limited, as Walters says, ‘Any credible independent research that is likely to shed a negative or critical light on the policies and practices of government will not be procured, funded, published or even debated by the Home Office.’(pg.14) This is even more worrying as the RDS commissions the majority of criminological research in this country and is the single largest employer of criminologists.
The subjects investigated are limited – indeed given its place as biggest commissioner of research it sets the trend for the limited horizons that official criminology has. Human rights violations, corporate crime, miscarriages of justice are not investigated at all. Walters also notes that the RDS tends to employ psychology, economics and physics graduates rather than sociological and criminological graduates. This serves to reinforce the skewed nature of Home Office research that, as Walters alleges, serves merely to support existing government policy.
Walters also discusses a piece of research he was commissioned as part of a team to do for the Scottish Executive. When their report was used by the Executive only to highlight the most positive features, they published a critical journal article which led to a backlash at them with funding cuts and pressure put upon the institution to take disciplinary action against them.

The second piece is a more technical piece about Home Office use of peer-review methods. Hope first explains what peer-review is and then discusses the closed nature of Home Office peer-reviews, which ultimately screens their methods of selecting what research they will publish. Hope discusses how research pieces that did not agree with the policy direction of the Home Office, even though peer reviews found them to be good pieces of work, were subsequently not published.
Both authors conclude that repression of critical research is a bad thing. I heartily agree – well written and argued criticism is to welcomed as it helps us to refine our ideas and understanding of events. But politics and knowledge cannot be separated. As the authors show a particular type of politics breeds its own false knowledge about the world. Walters argues for counter-hegemonic research, but there is still the question of where the funding comes from this research. I think funding for research of that kind will be to some extent dependent on the correlation of political forces in society. The neo-liberal ideology needs to be held to account politically, and for this purpose critical research will need to feed into a political alternative.


Highlander said...

Does the fact that the Government suppresses research it 'doesn't want to hear' whilst lauding research which supports it's policies come as a surprise? Appalling though it is, it does very much tie in with their concept of government by target or statistic. The general populace are then fed the statistics as a measure of success with no insight into the skewed nature of the background research.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

It doesn't suprise me at all, it goes with the general trend of this government to do just this. What is interesting is the academic semi-revolt against it - Walters is a bit of a radical (I think) so i'd expect it but Hope is a former Home Office researcher who doesn't seem that radical at all. I'll try and keep posted on this though.