Crime Control as Social Control

In Australian society there are many different strategies used to prevent crime. Some methods of crime control are obvious, such as having laws, police, the court system and media publicity about what crime is and what the punishment is for perpetrating crime. There are also crime prevention methods at a community level that most people would eventually become aware of, such as: Neighbourhood Watch, the use of security guards, ‘dob in a criminal’ television programmes, video surveillance and mandatory notification schemes. Many crime control strategies have a social control background.

Social control is more difficult to define. There are obvious examples of social control such as, the development and recruitment of the nazi party and then there are social mores and norms – unspoken, preferred modes of behaviour. There are three main ways to change behaviour – tell people what they need to know (teaching/training), change the behaviour of people around them and lead by example (coersion) and/or reward the good behaviour. Most people will experience all methods of behaviour control in their lives (Zimbardo). If you change or develop the behaviour of enough people, then you have social control.

In Anglo-Saxon Australia it is generally our families and peers who teach us about right and wrong, as we are growing up. Laws also tell us what is bad, in a fairly basic way but they also tell us, by inference, what is good or preferred behaviour. Social mores inform us about acceptable behaviour and schools are a common place for people to catch on to social norms. In wider society, bad behaviour is punished and sometimes, good behaviour is rewarded. Social control is all-pervasive, often not noticeable and many times disguised as a benefit, such as in schooling. There are many ways to reduce crime that involve social control. I will attempt to describe a few examples here, concentrating on the Anglo-Australian experience.
Crime control and social control start at a young age and have a long history. Without going too far back in time, it is possible to look at the school system in non-indigenous Australia and see how social control and education have been and are still, about crime control. The first non-indigenous school was set up in NSW in 1789, to give an education to child convicts and the children of convicts. It was thought if children attended school they would not only be kept away from the terrible (criminal and immoral) influences of their parents but would also fall into loyalty for authority. Orphanages were set up at about the same time and for the same purpose. Young women were removed from their convict parents (generally unmarried parents) and sent to the orphanage so they could learn social skills and social graces. They would then be less influenced by their parents immoral activities and get an education in religion and industrious pursuits. (Wight) The setting up of the schools and orphanages were deliberate actions to stop young people following their parents into crime and thus are good examples of crime control as social control.

Even before the time of the invasion of Australia, controlling the behaviour of citizens, to limit crime, was part of some societies. Giving people the right to own property can be thought of as a way of limiting crime. If no one owned property then anyone could use the property for whatever reason they saw fit and at any time. If a society documents ownership of property, they are: giving rights to one person (ownership); advertising a form of law and control by implied regulation eg. trespass, theft and environmental vandalism; limiting opportunity for crime (theft/fraud of ownership) and providing a structure to society, land owners and non-land owners. Property ownership has been recorded for hundreds of years. Why invent private property for any other reason, than to limit crime? (Strachan)

Crime prevention is about stopping or changing behaviour before crime occurs. Two common areas of crime prevention are social prevention and reduction of opportunity. Social inclusion is a way of increasing law-abiding behaviour and is an example of social prevention. It is thought that as the majority of people are law-abiding then if you stop people from becoming marginalised, you will keep them in the law-abiding majority. If you change attitudes and behaviour, you can limit opportunity to commit crime, for example, encouraging door-locking, the marking of valuables and removal of drugs, eg in vet surgeries. (Armstrong)

In some schools in south-east Queensland they have instituted an anti-bullying programme called PeaceBuilders. The aim was to reduce crime by reducing anti-social behaviour and reinforcing preferred behaviour, in an area of inter-community tension, unemployment and family breakdown. The success of the programme was measured by a decrease in staff turnover in the schools and a marked decrease in the number of calls for police assistance in the schools. (Attorney General’s Dept 2003) This model of crime prevention is a social development model, there is also a law and order model. It is becoming apparent that a combined approach to crime prevention, using both models, is not only more comprehensive but likely to be more successful. (Attorney General’s Dept)

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, there appeared to be less commitment to personal responsibility and measures of bringing communities together were a popular way of problem-solving. Giving people ownership of a situation, to encourage success, was the phrase of the day. (Rendell) A law and order model of crime prevention, that also has some social development aspects, is the method of community-based programmes where citizens report each other. Crime Stoppers (Victoria) was set up in 1987. Primed every week via a television programme, citizens doing their moral duty would watch and listen then interrupt their daily lives by making a telephone call to Crime Stoppers. They were encouraged with rewards and success stories. Giving community members ownership of a situation by telling them their help is invaluable; is saving tax-payer dollars and is lessening the number of criminals on the streets, has worked for many years. However, the success of the programme is difficult to measure. (Challinger)

As the level of community involvement increases in crime prevention strategies, regulations have been put in place to garner the continued co-operation of the public. If a person knows they have been a victim of white-collar crime (crime committed by professionals and corporations) they are required to report it or face a conviction and possible gaol sentence. It is an offence to ‘fail to report a serious offence’. (Graycar & Grabosky) Whilst every effort is made to encourage people to report crime, forcing them to do so by threatening gaol sentences, is a blatant example of social control.

The federal government is at the top of the crime prevention strata and not all federal methods of crime control are totally obvious. In Australia it is virtually impossible to receive government benefits without using a bank account. If you have a bank account the banks are required to notify the government (tax office) of excessive or unusual transactions. It then becomes more difficult for people to fraudulently claim government benefits and cheat on their taxes. When you start a new job you are required to complete a tax declaration form. Where you work etc is kept an eye on – all in the name of crime control. These methods of surveillance require the co-operation of bankers and government workers. People in other professions such as teachers and doctors, are also used by the govt as informants in mandatory notification schemes – used to combat/prevent child abuse. (Grabosky) Ostensibly for crime control, surveillance is a form of social control and govt policing.

Heroin users are not just criminals but they can also be part of crime prevention schemes. Get users of heroine on Methadone to reduce crime. The question is asked in Hall (1996), should more people be on Methadone treatment as a way of reducing crime amongst heroin users? It is illegal to possess heroin, it is illegal to sell heroin but there are govt programmes that acknowledge people sell, have and use heroin on a daily basis. These Methadone (an orally administered opioid) treatment programmes are offered to clients as a way for them to escape going to gaol. The drug-related crimes they might be committing, involve other un-suspecting victims as the drug takers steal, break and enter. These govt initiatives supply Methadone to heroin addicts, to allow them to get off heroin and thus not engage in non-heroin crime. This form of crime prevention swaps one lot of unpreferred drug taking, with taking of preferred drugs, in an effort to reduce crime. Hall (1996) also states that pushing heroin users into treatment is now becoming a form of social control as opposed to an alternative to a prison sentence.

Social control is thought necessary only because of free-will. As we all have free-will we are potentially dangerous and unpredictable. It is better if we are directed toward commonality of purpose. Schools are helping to turn out responsible citizens by a whole set of regulations, building arrangements and relentless surveillance. (Tait) After our school years, government surveillance, Neighbourhood Watch, police and the court system, are all there to help keep citizens to a commonality of purpose and lessen the chances of becoming involved in crime. If we belong to and are well-connected to a supportive community, it is unlikely we will be involved in crime. We will not deviate if we are supported. (Lawson) Some communities have a long history of supporting each other and not all communities think social control as crime control is a bad thing.

Community justice is an integral part of indigenous governance and Australian aboriginal communities find it difficult to cope with the dichotomy of criminal law/justice and community caring that is part of Anglo Australia. Whilst social manipulation might be thought of as unwanted in white Australia, some indigenous communities would prefer to actively engage in social management to control crime. To some aboriginal communities in Australia there is no separation between community and law. Social control and crime control are the same thing and are embraced in some indigenous communities. (Jonas)(McGuinness)

As the interest in victims as victims – rather than participants in the process of justice – decreases, community involvement in crime prevention will increase as more people are determined to be activists and victorious in changing their lives. (Chappell & Wilson) Social control will continue as more community members assert their need for crime prevention strategies they can be a part of, as a way to allay fear of crime. As the sense of control over the home environment widens to include broader expanses of the local area and local community, opportunities for social control programmes as part of crime control strategies, will increase(Goldsmith et al).

[My thanks to local indigenous Australians for their assistance in understanding crime and justice issues from an indigenous perspective and also for permission to include comments and notes on the subject, in this work]


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