Right realism advocates ‘small’ government and considers the phenomenon of crime from the perspective of political conservatism. Right realism assumes it takes a more realistic view of the causes of crime and deviance. Right realists believe crime and deviance are a real social problem that requires practical solutions. It is said that right realism perpetuates moral panics as a means of swaying the public to agree with their views. For example, the media claims that elderly people are scared to be attacked when venturing out, when in actuality crimes against OAP’s are minimal. (0.3 against men 75+ and 0.2 against women aged the same).
Right realists believe that official statistics often underreport crime. But right realists believe they are able to paint a more realistic picture of crime and deviance in the UK. Right realists believe that crime is a growing social problem and is largely committed by lower working class male juveniles, often black, in inner city areas.
Right realists believe that there are six causes of crime:
The breakdown in moral fabric of society; a growing underclass in the UK; a breakdown in social order; opportunity for crime and that some people commit crime as a deliberate and rational choice. As more crime is committed, society itself deteriorates and this in turn leads to more crime.
Marsland in 1988 stated that crime and deviancy is linked to the breakdown in the moral fabric of society. Schools and religion have become less effective agencies of social control and that the moral glue of society, which gave it its authority, has gone. Marsland believes that this has led to a decline in morality and as a consequence, crime has increased. Durkheim advocated that institutions such as the family make society and that without them, society breaks down. Over the years, the respect for people’s positions has changed and deference within society no longer has the impact it used to. Some argue that this is because society is more liberated, while Marxists argue it is the result of the working class being more enslaved.
In 1990, Murray wrote about how the growing social underclass fuels criminal activity. They are poorly controlled as they lack male role models and authoritative figures in their lives. They live in a culture of dependency that exists due to over generous welfare state. A dependence on benefits has eroded a work ethic.
Research by Wilson (1975) claimed that crime is linked to a breakdown in social order in some communities. Disorder in certain neighbourhoods has bred more crime and deviance as sense of community civility is lost and informal social control along with it. Wilson believes that architecture affects the way people in a particular area behave. If they are an underclass and permanently surrounded by damaged and run-down buildings, they see it as an excuse to commit crime because the property is already damaged. This underclass also develops the belief that they are by themselves as no one in authority cares about them.
Research by Cornish and Clarke in 1986 found that crime is linked to the situations in which deviants find themselves. Individuals engage in crime when opportunities present themselves and where there seems to be little risk involved. Usually, there is a lack of social control when such situations present themselves. This may explain why so many participated in the August 2011 riots in certain English cities. Cornish and Clarke believe that crime is seen as ‘attractive’ by some mostly because of a “lenient” criminal justice system which offers “soft” social control. The belief that community sentences are not ‘proper’ sentences for those caught committing criminal offences fuels others to do the same and for prior offenders to repeat what they have done before.
Cornish and Clarke believe that criminals make rational decisions when deciding when to commit a crime or not. They cite burglars as a classic example. Cornish and Clarke believe that the majority of burglars go through a very rational process that includes the following questions: which house offers the best target? Do the neighbours watch out for each other? How hard will it be to gain entrance? What sorts of goods are inside? How will I get out in a hurry? What chance of success do I have? Cornish and Clarke believe that some will be put into an opportunistic situation when they will have to make a snap decision. However, they believe that most criminals are rational and only decide on a course of action after going through a rational process.
Wilson and Herrnstein believe that it will take a real transformation of society to bring down crime rates. However, they do not think that such a transformation will lead to a decline in the freedoms expected by everyone in society. They put their faith in ‘three strikes and you’re out’ and a zero tolerance of all crimes.
Wilson and Herrnstein see family and education as laying a vital part in the attack on criminal behaviour that they believe plagues society. Traditional family values are vital they argue and that includes children being brought up in a traditional family setting. They believe that schools should continue to hammer home to pupils the importance of citizenship. Wilson and Herrnstein believe that improvements in both these areas will start to have a major impact on crime figures. However, they will not succeed by themselves. They also want to see a major reform in sentencing as they believe that far too many sentences are too lenient and all but encourage crime as they do not act as a deterrent.
Wilson and Herrnstein believe that street crime undermines communities and they see good communities as the best prevention of crime. Thus Wilson and Herrnstein believe that the government focusing on security in areas will prevent street crime. This can be achieved by: preventing the breakdown of communities; Police must have a high profile then more crimes will be reported. Police must clamp down on first signs of undesirable behaviour, for example prostitution. However, undesirable behaviour will most likely always be hidden as perpetrators of these crimes will always find ways of getting away from the police. Wilson and Herrnstein argue that once law and order has broken down, it cannot be regained. Therefore putting police in run-down crime areas is a waste of resources. They also believe that putting in more security may not necessarily reduce crime, it will just encourage criminals to think of others ways around committing it.
Right realists encourage the use of CCTV, Neighbourhood Watch Schemes, security companies, walled Communities and citizenship education.
Right realists believe in greater social control in the effort to crack down on crime and deviant behaviour. Travis Hirschi, (later developed by Ivan Nye) argued that there are 3 types of control: direct – punishment is threatened for wrongful behaviour and compliance is rewarded by authority figures, e.g. parents, school teachers; indirect - a youth refrains from crime because their act might cause pain/disappointment to people whom they have close relationships and internal - a person’s conscience or sense of guilt prevents them from carrying out a crime.
Some aspects of right realist thinking have been influential, i.e. ‘zero tolerance’ policing is influential by the idea that it is effective to clamp down on the first sign that an area is deteriorating. The idea of zero tolerance is that by proceeding against minor offences, the police will discourage the people in a locality from moving on to more serious crimes. However, those who criticise zero tolerance policing argue that with its introduction, the police would concentrate their attention on minor offenders, and sometimes on people who have not broken the law at all, but are merely rude. Thus more serious offenders would be given less police attention, and therefore would be more likely to get away with their offences.
Critics of right realism claim that it under-emphasises the causes of crime- and that it is reacting to the phenomenon of crime and seeking to prevent it without a large enough body of empirical evidence as to whether patterns of crime are related to age, gender or ethnicity. They do not provide any research into metrics of success or failure for proactive policing and education as a system for imparting values. Theories such as the Social Control Theory, presuppose that most people are not involved in crime.
Informal control measures, such as CCTV and Neighbourhood Watch seem to displace crime rather than discourage it. Since everyone is a potential criminal, should our behaviour should be constantly watched and monitored at all times? If so, who should do the watching and monitoring? What use would they put the potential information they gather?
Furthermore, it has been argued, that Right Realists are not interested in corporate crime, white-collar crime, political crime, or state crime. Right realists focus on young males and street crime, but are they really the most dangerous and harmful to society? Or should corporate crime and domestic crime be given more prevalence?
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex