From inner-city Britain to Baltimore's mean streets

Black scholar's journey takes him to the home of The Wire to study 'desistance'. John Morgan writes

May 20, 2010

As fans of cult US television series The Wire will know, Baltimore is a city with problems.

The series focused unflinchingly on racial divisions, corruption, gang- and drug-related violence and the effects of social deprivation on every level of society.

Now a British lecturer is travelling to Maryland to study solutions to crime in the city as part of his PhD.

Martin Glynn, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, is beginning a thesis that will consider the testimonies of black male offenders who have turned away from crime.

Mr Glynn joined the academy late in life - he is beginning his PhD in his fifties after gaining a master's degree, despite missing out on undergraduate study.

He has won a Winston Churchill International Travel Fellowship, allowing him to travel to Baltimore on the East Coast of the US for two months. He will spend time at both the Johns Hopkins University and the Urban Leadership Institute.

He said Baltimore was a draw for two reasons: the strong research in his subject area conducted by Johns Hopkins, and the fact that the city is the setting for The Wire, whose characters include teenagers drawn into dealing drugs, the police officers whose job it is to deal with them, and the city politicians who set the agenda on crime.

Mr Glynn said: "The Wire is put forward as one of the best examples of cultural criminology, where we see the collusion of the state in generating aspects of crime.

"I wanted to go to the community where it is filmed, because there are a lot of very good programmes that have a resonance with what I'm investigating."

Mr Glynn argued that his thesis will explore an area traditionally ignored by criminology.

"I'm developing what is called a critical race theory of 'desistance' (the process of ceasing and desisting from offending) for black British men," he explained.

Criminology "is not very good at discussing race", and desistance is an even greater blind spot for the discipline, he added.

Mr Glynn, who described himself as coming from an "inner-city" background in Nottingham, said that at first he was wary about becoming an academic.

"To leave that behind to go into this middle-class, white male environment created what's referred to as 'double-consciousness'," he said. "When I first started, academics were white people who came to interview you after a riot."

But he added that his views had been challenged at Birmingham City and that he had found "love and support" there.

Mr Glynn said his research on desistance would be of use in areas such as the education system, where black boys are more likely to be suspended or excluded from school than their white counterparts.

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