Letter: Criminal silence over jail issues

June 8, 2001

Roger Matthews and Jock Young raise a very important issue regarding the silence of academic criminology on the government's criminal justice policies. ("We'll raise you seven prisons", THES , June 1).

They are quite right to highlight the negative impact of evidence-based research on the discipline. This has in turn fuelled an insidious merry-go-round of endless grant applications that are increasingly becoming the norm against which academic worth and work are being judged.

I would, however, disagree with Matthews and Young on two points. First, academic criminology is not dominated by a concern with high theory rather than policy. There are individuals who remain engaged with developing positive criminal justice policies that are based on careful scholarly research and underpinned by ideas of social justice and inclusiveness. For example, those involved in developing policies around deaths in custody.

Second, Matthews and Young argue that they would have expected the pages of the quality press to be awash with complaints about the government's policies. I agree that concerned academics should pursue this strategy, but the impact is arguably negligible.

There is a broader issue, however, about criminology as a discipline and the lack of a collective voice in speaking out against what is happening - for example, around the refusal to renew the chief inspector of prisons' contract, the abolition of trial by jury or the non-appearance of legislation concerning corporate killing.

These and other examples cry out for the representative body in criminology, the British Society of Criminology, to become more proactive in raising issues that are of immense concern and in doing so throw down a challenge to the government's evidence-based research agenda.

Joe Sim
Liverpool John Moores University

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