At this very moment in time, there is not much agreement over what the role of criminology should be in society. Therefore, in this academic article, an attempt will be made at portraying what the author considers to be a more appropriate picture of the role of criminological research in government policymaking based on multi-disciplinarity, multi-professionality and multi-institutionality.
For the purpose of this analysis, I will employ the notion of public criminology as the type of criminology which ‘takes as part of its defining mission a more vigorous, systematic and effective intervention in the world of social policy and social action’. The reason why public criminology seems to be the perfect fit for the conduction of a proper discussion on the relationship between criminological theory and government policy is that it attempts to give meaning and context to social facts, moving beyond ‘administrative criminology’ or ‘policy criminology’ which is considered to be practiced in an optimal fashion when it uses experimental evidence that leads to easily proven benefits.
The Influential Role of Theory in Politics
With the advent of all the changes occurring in the 21st century, there is a need for a stronger bond between criminological research and government policymaking. There have been scholars advocating for an insulation of crime and punishment institutions from the political arena, together with other leading criminologists which have concluded about the criminological industry that it is politically and socially irrelevant and does not have much to add to the big debates on crime and justice However, most criminologists recognize the benefits of getting involved one way or another in the process of governmental policymaking. As a case in point, Kitcher (2001) tried to answer the question of what collective good is criminology enquiry aiming to promote and came up with a long and, perhaps, inexhaustive list of added benefits, namely reduction in crime, improved efficacy of criminal justice institutions, heightened public security, the protection of the rule of law, individual liberty and human rights and responding to crime in a reasoned manner while dispelling myths.
Multi-disciplinary Criminological Research
Treatments of multi-disciplinarity in the development of criminology throughout history do not exist in the academia. Nor has any other branch of knowledge (i.e. psychiatry, psychology, law, sociology, forensics, medicine, anthropology) been able to claim criminology as its own. For this reason, it is important to bring to the forefront the problematiques of multi-disciplinarity regarding the production of criminological research and of multi-professionality concerning the government policymaking.
At one side of the spectrum, criminology has accustomed itself so far to operating in arenas, which have already been inhabited by other disciplines, while being delineated as constantly ‘raiding’ these disciplines. Nonetheless, not possessing enough ‘autonomy’ and being more outward looking has been looked at as a strength. Thus, it can be argued that it is crucial for the strength in relevance of criminological research in governmental policy for it to be multi-disciplinary, as opposed to morphing into a single discipline. In the unfortunate event of the latter, criminology would risk an increase in insularity from key debates in the political science and on the political scene. Since many scholars agree with the fact that criminology does not engage in the distribution of a shared conceptual language or a basic theoretical tradition, methodological and theoretical pluralism are not only preferred, but should be endorsed and promoted by criminologists in the governmental policy sphere. This can be achieved through the engagement of economists, sociologists, developmental psychologists and operations researchers, among others, in the creation of professional criminological knowledge.
Multi-professional Government Policymaking
On the one hand, the side of policymaking and the “circumstances of politics” are exceedingly relevant and need to display certain ‘multi-professional’ traits in order for criminological research to be easily put into practice. The issue of who is on the receiving end of all of this criminological research has been initially brought up together with Harold Laswell’s concept of the ‘science of democracy’ in which he draws attention to the necessity of establishing specific audiences for criminological research .Hoppe (2005) attempts to answer this dilemma by framing ‘the policy analyst’s operational task as focusing the attention of all those involved in policymaking so as to bring about their maximum rationality’ . In the category of ‘all those involved’, we should be able to include politicians, police, penal professionals, international political agencies, private security companies, pressure groups, non-governmental organisations, social research companies, consultancy firms, media organisations and the public opinion (i.e. crime victims) which should all both sponsors and recipients of criminological research. Therefore, academics should not be so hung up on engaging externally solely for the purpose of informing public policy, considering the possibilities offered by commissioned research from the part of NGOs and businesses or the prospects brought about by consultancy work. As a whole, these newly-forged networks should provide a great source of multi-professional engagement in the production, mediation and usage of criminological research. In terms of production and usage of criminological research, it might prove valuable to keep in mind that government policymaking should encompass a wide operation of ‘practical rationality’ in which all concerned voices are able to come to ‘reasonable decisions’ Moreover, their participation in the formulation of the criminological policy discourse could provide ‘reality checks’ which help prevent scholarly insulation found in other social sciences apart from criminology.
Since democracy is at the heart of governmental policymaking in the 21st century, the ‘professional’ knowledge needs to be supplemented by knowledge from a broad spectrum of sources such as science, the media, party preferences and opinion polls in order for a proportionate and representative policy response to be formulated. In this sense, one can argue that governmental policymaking is not as much of a science, as it is a craft, not as much of an ‘art of the optimum’ as it is an ‘art of the possible’. As discussed above, it is impossible to escape politics if criminologists want to be included in the crime policy discussion since ‘the only legitimate way for anybody’s views about principle or policy to be put into practice is through the dirty and messy business of politics’.
Multi-institutional Collective Decision-Making
This is best represented by Loader and Sparks’ concept of the ‘democratic under-labourer’. This idea contains an ‘institutional-critical dimension’ responsible for facilitating the interaction process between criminology, criminal justice institutions, the government, the media and the civil society organisations. This comes in the shape of an effort to try and ‘explain how criminological claims are likely to fare when translated into ‘communication formats’ of other social organisations and thereby shed light on the obstacles that stand in the way of a more informed politics of crime’
When translating criminological research into policy, decisions should be taken collectively, bearing in mind the prevalence of ‘self-interest, ignorance or prejudice’ of different stakeholders in the policymaking arena which might impede the process of reaching an agreement between policymaking parties. Conversely, these various know-hows different policymakers bring to the table also imply different lenses around crime controversies which, as opposed to gridlock, could set forth alternative manners of ‘thinking and responding to crime’. Using Wegner’s concept of ‘boundary’ as both the border between two ‘communities of practice’ and a way to ‘develop ways of maintaining connections with the rest of the world’ and applying this concept in relation to criminology as put into use by Jones (2012), specific practical ways of forming interlinks between disciplines, professions and institutions surface. Jones (2012) proposes that some of these could encompass ‘industry work placements, academic exchange, visiting scholar programmes[…]conferences, workshops, work programmes, seminar series, secondments, or consultancy work’ . Taking it a step further, he goes on to suggest that even social activities, communal newsletters, email distribution lists or office and site visits could potentially aid in the process of connecting various practices. Furthermore, by exploiting the notion of ‘boundary work’ as employed by Henry and Mackenzie (2011), it becomes clear how boundaries between criminologists and non-criminologists lead to a ‘failure of academics to make research comprehensible to external audiences’
One of the best mechanisms employed for the inclusion of more stakeholders in the translation of criminological knowledge into policymaking is interactive governance. This method helps facilitate ‘relational interaction’ between state and non-state contributors to the dissemination of criminological work through, for instance, ‘reflexive monitoring and dynamic social learning’ since in the dynamic age of globalisation people tend to trust in the ‘reflexive monitoring of action’ to guide us. The benefits of connecting with particular governmental, academic, civil society groups, and even corporate actors, can aid in the creation of alternative justice policy proposals (i.e. remaking of criminal justice institutions).To go a step even further, the creation of a ‘market in crime control’ populated with ‘consultants’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ selling their expertise to criminal justice and law enforcement agencies is something to strive for and not fear because of potential loss of academic integrity . While these proposals might not be implemented in the next couple of years, they will certainly create more space for an active presence of criminologists in contemporary controversies.Nevertheless, collective decision making should be exercised with caution considering the dangerous prospect of deadlock due to potential ‘burdens of judgement’ such as troubles deciding upon what can be deemed as relevant evidence or competing values of policymakers as a result of various life experiences
All things considered, criminology can truly play an influential role in informing public policy as long as it learns how to engage with other disciplines. However, nothing will bring great results if the government policymaking machine does not do its part in inviting multiple professions to the decision table. These two actors (i.e. criminology and government) should learn how to work in a multi-institutional fashion commissioning a variety of stakeholders for the policy consultation process. Bearing in mind the “catastrophic trajectory of contemporary policies”, this short essay served as a platform to envisage a multi-disciplinary criminology, a multi-professional government policymaking and a multi-institutional engagement in order to successfully respond to the trials of living in the era of globalisation. Thus, the main inference that we draw from this paper is that the relationship between criminological research and government policy should, in its turn, occupy a multi-disciplinary arena. It should fearlessly and unapologetically acknowledge that it contains a ‘subject matter but no unique methodological commitment or paradigmatic theoretical framework, fact which can only move the debate forward in order to design the ideal type of criminological engagement with government policymaking.