Recent years have seen an increase in the number of academic journals on issues surrounding crime, criminal justice, forms of penal control and punishment. This means that individual academics - or more usually librarians, who have the difficult responsibility of using scarce financial allocations to best effect - are faced with hard choices when it comes to deciding which journals to subscribe to. The first question to be asked about any incoming journal in this field is whether it brings a new perspective.
The first quarterly issue of Criminal Justice: The International Journal of Policy and Practice appeared in early 2001. In their introductory editorial, George Mair and Tim Newburn suggest that over the past 20 years or so crime and its causes have become increasingly central to public discourse, especially among politicians, spurred on by popular concerns. The debate has covered fear of crime, concern for victims of crime, worries about levels of drug and alcohol abuse and the need for appropriate levels of punishment. In some countries, governments have responded by enacting increasingly punitive legislation, which has resulted in a significant rise in prison populations. In addition, governments have involved some academics more closely in advising on crime and crime control. Criminal justice issues regularly form a major part in the annual legislative agenda of a number of countries, including the UK.
Nevertheless, criminal justice has not been recognised as a topic of social policy in the way that housing, employment, welfare and education have. Yet the editors argue that the issues that criminal justice covers cannot be dealt with seriously in isolation from general social policy. They say that there is a need for a new academic forum that will consider the links between policy and practice in criminal justice matters and that will analyse the influence that research can have on the development of both of these. Their new journal sets out to provide that forum.
Although only in its second volume, the articles in the journal are already sufficiently different from those appearing in rival publications. The first issue includes contributions dealing with the use of research in analysing gun-control legislation in the US; the extent to which policy on helping victims of crime is driven by research evidence or by ideology; and the effects on court processes of the drive by the UK government to modernise public services.
One challenge in editing an international journal is to ensure that the writing is not limited to issues of interest in one country, usually the US or the UK. Given the inevitable concentration of academic work in English in these two countries, the tendency is understandable. However, interesting work is under way in other countries, especially concerning the relationship between criminal justice policy and practice, and the journal has started to attract articles from authors, and on topics, outside the UK and US. A special issue providing international comparisons on issues such as crime policy, the police, women and risk, and how policies "travel" from one country to another, shows that the editors intend that the journal will be genuinely international. One hopes that they will attract articles from non-Anglophone jurisdictions.
It is too early to judge whether the journal will address itself to the wider issues of social policy that influence criminal justice. But there has already been limited coverage of minorities and the influence of the media. Again, one hopes that the other crucial issues referred to in the opening editorial will be included in future.
It would be good if the editors' aspiration to secure articles from policy-makers as well as researchers was realised. At the very least, let us hope that the journal will be read by those who advise the policy-makers, as well as by researchers and students.
Andrew Coyle is director, International Centre for Prison Studies, King's College London.
Criminal Justice: The International Journal of Policy and Practice
Editor - George Mair and Tim Newburn
ISBN - ISSN 1466 8025
Publisher - Sage, four times a year
Price - Institutions £246.00 Individuals £38.00 (includes electronic version)