Communities and crime

Crime Prevention and Community Safety - Understanding Youth and Crime
February 26, 1999

Understanding Youth and Crime marks the fourth volume in the Open University criminal justice series, which aims to offer accessible texts for undergraduates and postgraduates who are newcomers to criminology. The challenge is to make complex topics clear in a student-friendly manner and it is in this respect that Sheila Brown's book falters at times.

Nonetheless, it is a critical and scholarly summary of the state of research and theorising around "youth and crime". It argues that traditional criminology has been geared to controlling the problem population of (male) youth, and has thereby "shackled" youth to crime.

In seeking to question the core assumptions of this "traditional" criminology, the book usefully incorporates a discussion on gender. But it lacks any consideration of how the "totalising discourse of panic" around youth and crime is also a racialised one: this is bound to limit the reader's understanding of youth and crime.

In the most original chapter of the book ("Punishing youth: victims or villains?"), Brown persuasively argues that young people's involvement in petty crime is "far outweighed by their vulnerability as victims", in the family and in care. In a critical swipe at radical realism, Brown asserts that "youth victimisation is rarely taken seriously", having been overtaken by a punitive obsession and "total panic" about youth crime.

This book provides a useful and challenging overview of the topic for undergraduate students of sociology, criminology, social work and social policy, although the last group may be rather disappointed. The chapter on "Policy and politics" gives a critical but discursive account of youth-justice policies and does not engage with broader issues affecting the lives of young people over the past two decades, most notably social security, employment, training and housing policies.

The Longman criminology series aims to be a stimulating, theoretically informed and accessibly written introduction to the field. Adam Crawford's contribution, Crime Prevention and Community Safety performs the task admirably. Although a seemingly "unsexy" topic, this is a timely book with the Crime and Disorder Bill (1998) forming the centrepiece of new Labour's crime reduction strategy, which is firmly built on the principles, practices and pitfalls that Crawford critically analyses.

The "community safety" approach marks a departure from the situational and technical crime prevention rhetoric of the past: it encompasses the "wider physical and social impact of crime and the anxieties to which it gives rise".

Crawford takes the reader through the theories and local practices associated with community safety strategies in Britain and elsewhere. He clearly indicates the dangers of the "implant hypothesis", which assumes that if crime reduction strategies work in one place, they will work in another.

He also challenges the notion that "more community equals less crime". Low-crime (middle-class suburban) localities rarely display the "intimacy, connectedness and mutual support" associated with the concept of community.

The book enables its reader to engage with challenging contemporary debates around both criminal justice and social policies. For instance, will the multi-agency "partnership approach" embedded in community safety planning deliver real reductions in crime and "empowerment" for local residents? In political terms, why is crime prevention given primacy over poverty prevention? Are we "shackling" social policies and communities to "crime and disorder"?

Dee Cook is professor of social policy, University of Wolverhampton.

Crime Prevention and Community Safety: Politics, Policies and Practices. First Edition

Author - Adam Crawford
ISBN - 0 582 29457 6
Publisher - Longman
Price - £15.99
Pages - 307

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