Crime, common sense, and the view from inside

Crime is one of those areas ruled by ignorance. Despite decades of research and millions of words written, the political and media hysteria over crime has ensured that irrationality governs public policy.

Even in criminal reform groups there can be inconsistencies. This area of crime is forgivable or at least comprehensible, that one is not. It is almost as if aetiology, causation, is reserved for favoured actions. Left behind are the evil ones who act without cause. Pure criminals, pure evil.

But of course in an age where we are experiencing a crisis of political rationality (which is not to say things were that much better before) such incoherence is to be expected. For all the talk of non-binary thinking, the criminal binary is maintained in black and white, at least in some areas.

And so it is unsurprising that the “lock ‘em up” brigade so easily dominates public consciousness.

Who should talk about crime?

Our initial idea for Injustice, which was inspired in part by the prison riots of 2016-17, was to have only prisoners speak, in the tradition of Third Cinema. The intention was to give a clear voice to those denied one. However, the “common sense” response to the riots was “lock ‘em up more”. As if there were evidence a dead horse arose after the 100th flogging.

What people don’t seem to have realised is that someone has to do the locking up. Someone has to work in the prisons. It is sad that “common sense” doesn’t seem to factor in basic principles of reality – each action has a reaction. Brutalised prisoners will become brutal, like a beaten dog, they will bite back. And it is prison officers who are too often the targets of such reactions.

And so, we decided it necessary to turn to those who work in and run the prisons. Contrary to expectations we’ve found, at least among the ones we’ve spoken to, they are not part of the lock ‘em up brigade, because, working on the front line, they see it doesn’t work.

Indeed, not only does the common sense position put officers at risk, but, as so many of our interviewees remind us, prisoners come out one day. They go back into communities. They might live next door to you so consider this question: What would you prefer in your community? A person who comes out more brutal with even less hope? Or a hopeful citizen who can make a useful contribution to that community? If it’s the latter, we really need to rethink how we treat crime and criminals.

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