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Introduction

Hil, Richard & Tait, Gordon (2004) Introduction. In Hil, Richard & Tait, Gordon (Eds.) Hard Lessons Reflections on Governance and Crime Control in Late Modernity. Ashgate, Aldershot, UK.

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Abstract

The title of this book, Hard Lesson: Reflections on Crime control in Late Modernity, contains a number of clues about its general theoretical direction. It is a book concerned, fist and foremost, with the vagaries of crime control in western neo-liberal and English speaking countries. More specifically, Hard Lessons draws attention to a number of examples in which discrete populations – those who have in one way or another offended against the criminal law - have become the subjects of various forms of stare intervention, regulation and control. We are concerned most of all with the ways in which recent criminal justice policies and practices have resulted in what are variously described as unintended consequences, unforeseen outcomes, unanticipated results, counter-productive effects or negative side effects. At their simplest, such terms refer to the apparent gulf between intention and outcome; they often form the basis for considerable amount of policy reappraisal, soul searching and even nihilistic despair among the mamandirns of crime control. Unintended consequences can, of course, be both positive and negative. Occasionally, crime control measures may result in beneficial outcomes, such as the use of DNA to acquit wrongly convicted prisoners. Generally, however, unforeseen effects tend to be negative and even entirely counterproductive, and/or directly opposite to what were originally intended. All this, of course, presupposes some sort of rational, well meaning and transparent policy making process so beloved by liberal social policy theorists. Yet, as Judith Bessant points out in her chapter, this view of policy formulation tends to obscure the often covert, regulatory and downright malevolent intentions contained in many government policies and practices. Indeed, history is replete with examples of governments seeking to mask their real aims from a prying public eye. Denials and various sorts of ‘techniques of neutralisation’ serve to cloak the real or ‘underlying’ aims of the powerful (Cohen 2000). The latest crop of ‘spin doctors’ and ‘official spokespersons’ has ensured that the process of governmental obfuscation, distortion and concealment remains deeply embedded in neo-liberal forms of governance. There is little new or surprising in this; nor should we be shocked when things ‘go wrong’ in the domain of crime control since many unintended consequences are, more often than not, quite predictable. Prison riots, high rates of recidivism and breaches of supervision orders, expansion rather than contraction of control systems, laws that create the opposite of what was intended – all these are normative features of western crime control. Indeed, without the deep fault lines running between policy and outcome it would be hard to imagine what many policy makers, administrators and practitioners would do: their day to day work practices and (and incomes) are directly dependent upon emergent ‘service delivery’ problems. Despite recurrent howls of official anguish and occasional despondency it is apparent that those involved in the propping up the apparatus of crime control have a vested interest in ensuring that polices and practices remain in an enduring state of review and reform.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 28829
Item Type: Book Chapter
Keywords: Crime Control, Modernity, Unintended consequences, Governance
ISBN: 0754622169
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > CRIMINOLOGY (160200)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Past > Schools > School of Cultural & Language Studies in Education
Deposited On: 26 Nov 2009 09:23
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2010 01:46

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