C +D Topic 4B

The role of the police and courts in the social construction of crime

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  • Created by: Sasha127
  • Created on: 28-04-15 09:42


Its often assumed especially by the mass media that the OCS are collected in a reliable way and are valid in the picture of crime and criminality that they present. However interpretavist sociologists argue that the OCS are of limited usefulness and in fact are a social constrction- they tell us more about the social groups involved in their collection general public,police,courts,mass media than they tell us about crime and criminals.

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Police steryotypes

Interpretavists argue that official police statistics tell us more about the nature of policing in the U.K than about crime and criminality. In particular they tell us a great deal about how police officers interact with suspects especially those from relitavely powerless social groups. Interpretavists therefor question the validity of the picture of criminality provided by the official criminal statistics suggesting that young working class afro caribeans frequently apear in these statistics as they are profiled and targeted by the police rather than because they are more criminal. This can be illustrated in several ways:

  • Smith + grey and Cicourel- indicate that they operate using steryotypical assumptions or labels about what constitutes 'suspicious' or 'criminal' i.e the decision to stop or arrest someone may be based on if they correspond to a steryotype.
  • Holdway, Bowling and Philips and the Mc pherson report all provide strong evidence that suggests racial profiling by some police officers may be a crucial element governing their decision to stop black people. Stats released in 2010 show that the police stop and search black people and Asians six times and twice more than white people. Studys of canteen culture suggests this sustains racist attitudes amongst some officers. Holdway found some high ranking officers used racist language as a matter of course in the presence of younger officers.
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Police steryotypes 2

  • Bowling and Philips found police officers in london chose to stop young black male drivers on the steryotype "driving whilst black" police officers assumed young black men would be driving upmarket cars because they were either drug dealers or had stolen them.
  • Lea and Young also note a military style police presence in ethnic minority dominated area's which may result in more confrontation between police and young black people which artificially amplifies the criminal stats.
  • Holdway- notes that young people in general and particularaly those from wortking class backgrounds are more likely to fit police steryotypes about criminality than older people or middle class people. These steryotypes are likely to lead to a greater police presence in some urban neibourhoods.
  • Feminist criminologists argue that male officers tend to adopt paternalistic attitudes towards female offenders who are less likeely to be stopped arested and charged i.e females when found commiting criminal offenses are more likely to be cautioned rather than arrested and charged. Pollock- the chivalry factor. Acording to the ministary of justice stats 49% of females recorded as offending received a caution in 2007 whereas only 30% of female offenders received the same. Moreover reaserch indicates that police culture is very masculine (women officers constitute less than 20% of officers) and interactions with groups such as young men or ethnic minorities may be shaped by a need to seem to be tough by other officers i.e a cult of masculinity may exist among officers.
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Not all police officers are racist.

Most sociologists accepts that a minority of police officers are prejudiced against ethnic minoritories. The Mc Pherson report suggested that institutional racism- a form of unwitting predudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial steryotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic groups was a greater problem than individual police officers acting in racist ways. This type of racism isn't deliberate but it is intergrated in organisational policies and ways of dealing with people that are out of date.

However the police are working hard on changing some of the outdated attitudes described above. Nevertheless it's not surprising that the police also share some of the widely help steryotypes in society.

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Police discretion

Its the job of the police to enforce the law however tyhere are so many laws which could be aplied in so many different circomstances that any police officer needs to use their discretion in deciding exactly what laws to aply in what circomstances. Sociologists have been particularaly interested to study discretion and to the the implications for different groups in society. Discretion can also provide evidence to support one or other of the (consensual or conflict) styles of policing we have just dicussed. 

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Police discrecion 3 Reiner

4 internal solidarity and social isolation- We have just noted how police officers spend large amounts of time in the company of their peers isolated from the public. They also rely on eachother in terms of support in times of physical threat and in denial of accusations from the public.

Conservatism-Those who join the police are rarely radical and the job itself emphasises a non political attitude to the job in which police officers must uphold the law and also the very notion of the state and traditional values. Added to the social isolation and the majority recruitment of white males this generates a strong sense of conservative values.

Masculinity- The majority of police officers are male and drawn from the working class. The culture of police officers very much reflects traditional working class values of heavy drinking, physical prowess and hetrosexuality. Racial steryotyping is also heavily emphasised and linked with assuming the role of a police officer.

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Police discrecion: the structural aproach

The thrid theory is derived from marxist theory and stresses that the very definiton of the law is biased in favour of the powerful groups in society and against the working class. Therefor any upholding of the law involves upholding these values of a capetalist society. Police officers define crime in terms of street crimes and burglary as opposed to white collar corporate crime and their repression of the working class derives from their role as agents of control of a capitalist society. Their internal values simply refelct the job they have been given to do. Therefor any discretion is shaped by the dominant values and forces in society.

Evidence for this veiw can be found in Tarling's study which showed that over 65% of police resources are devoted to the uniformed patrolling of public spaces- particularaly poorer neibourhoodsand central city areas. The result is that as morgan found out, about 55% of prisoners in police custardy were unemployed and the rest 30% were manual working class jobs. Most detainees were young 60% under  25 and 87% male. Finally over 12% were afro carribbean despite the fact afro caribbeans make up only 3% of the population.

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The reaserch is out of date police training today aims to make new officers much more aware of the issues stated above. Theres also been more efforts to encourage a wider range of people to join the police force e.g those from minority ethnic backgrounds however this has met with limited sucess.

Left realists- police need to spend more time in pooorer areas as they have the highest levels of victimisation but need to show senstivity when dealing with minority groups and see them selves as a part of the community not an "occupying force"

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The courts

Theres evidence that judges and juries also engage in steryotyping. MC offenders and women are much more likely to be found not guilty by juries and even when they are they are often treated more leniantly by an upper class male dominated judicary.

Hood- observation of criminal courts found that even when a black youth was up for the same offence as a white youth they were 17% more likely to get a prison sentance. The criminal stats may therefor tell us more about judicial attitudes than crime and criminality.

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The courts - Women and the courts

despite commiting less crime overall the number of women who receive prison sentances has always been high compared to the numbers prosecuted, with about 34% of women receiving jail sentances for their first time offence compared to 10% of men. This seems to suggest that women are sentanced more harshly than men.

Hedderman and hough- showed that when women with similar backgrounds were charged with similar crimes to men they received a much more leniant sentance. He also found yhat women are more likely to receive shorter sentances than men. This had been described as a process of "chivalry" which meant the male dominated legal system treats women differently seeking to explain away their offending as males find it difficult to beleive a woman can be "bad" they are mearly lead astray.

Farrington and Morris- argue that magistrates and judges distinguish between types of women and certain "types" are more likely to receive harsher sentances than men whilst others receive more leniant sentances. So when sentancing judges are likely to take into account issues of family responsibility, maritial staus and "moral background" so unmarried women without a stable relationship and family ties may receive harsher sentancing- doubly deviant non traditional femininity and the law.

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The courts- women and the courts 2

Walklate- beleives that its the female victim rather than the male subject who ends up on trial in **** cases. Women have to establish their respectability if their evidence is to be beleived.

Dobash and Dobash- found police officers were very unlikely to make an arrest in cases of domestic violence however this reaserch is dates and there is evidence to suggest  that the police take domestic violence much more seriously now than in the past

Heindensohn- argues that the justice sysyem is influenced by attitudes to gender in society as a whole. Women are treated more harshly than men when they deviate from traditional female roles. Sexually promicuous girls are more likely to be taken into care than similar boys. On the other hand courts may be reluctant to imprison motyhers with young children.

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Theres been attempts to get a wider representation of different groups into the legal system and to become magistrates. Howevwer the legal proffesion does remain largely white and middle class. Juries do however reflect wider society but receive no training in awareness of predudice and discrimination issues. Pressure from feminists has made judges more aware of gender issues in cases of domestic violence and sexual assalt although there remain few succesfull **** prosecutions.

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