Questions of crime

October 17, 1997

SEAN McConville (THES, October 10) raises some interesting questions about the nature of funding for criminological research but he over-simplifies the issues.

First, the article fails to deal with the fact that criminological research is hierarchically organised so that even if more funding was made available it is likely that the money would go to the same groups and institutions that have received the bulk of research funds over the past four decades. The layers of gatekeeping which operate particularly in relation to critical criminological research make it unlikely that any increased funding would be spread around evenly. Before arguing for more funding therefore perhaps criminologists should be asking where the funding has gone over the years, what has been achieved by those who have been in receipt of funds and how will increased funding contribute to a greater understanding of crime, including those of the powerful as well as those of the powerless.

Second, the article implied that there is a correlation between large research grants and the conduct of research. Undoubtedly receiving a research grant can help. However, this is not always the case. Indeed, it could be argued that some of the most important and influential pieces of criminological research and writing in these 40 years have been produced without official funding or large research grants. Criminologists can carry out scholarly and analytical research which does not have to rely on official sponsorship and thus bypass what can often seem to be a never-ending series of barriers in relation to the conduct of research and the publication of any results.

Finally, the article was overly pessimistic about what has been achieved through criminological research. Recent research concerning programmes for violent men incarcerated in Grendon Underwood or participating on courses run by the probation service has indicated that these have had some success in challenging and changing the sexist attitudes of the men involved.

The key question is why are the results of these projects not used to underpin social policy developments? The answer lies in the fact that it is often only those research results which are compatible with the prevailing political and state-sponsored orthodoxy which are given credibility.

Results that challenge official perceptions are less likely to be incorporated because they hold up a mirror to the criminal justice system and reflect that system's failure over the past 50 years to offer any serious solutions to the problem of crime.

Criminologists should therefore also be asking questions about the funding of the criminal justice system which allows police forces to glory in their latest high-tech purchases while rape crisis centres and hostels for abused women struggle to remain open because of cuts in their funding.

Joe Sim.

Professor of criminology. Liverpool John Moores University

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