by Aaron Doyle and Dawn Moore (ed). Vancouver, British Columbia: UBC Press, 2011. 336pp. Hardcover. CDN$90.00/US$99.00. ISBN: 9780774818346 Paperback. CDN$34.95/US$37.95. ISBN: 9780774818353.
Reviewed by Caryl Segal, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Texas at Arlington. Email: csegal [at] uta.edu.
Unlike in the United States, criminology is a very popular undergraduate major in Canada. Government job opportunities are limited in both countries because of fiscal constraints and, in some cases, political party affiliation. The Canadian Conservative government is not open to any expertise that does not support the law and order agenda it espouses, which has also served to close the potential employment door for many.
In spite of falling crime rates, and its own research showing that mandatory minimums are counterproductive and cost ineffective, the Canadian Conservative government will not consider revisions from its stated agenda, according to the introductory material in CRITICAL CRIMINOLOGY IN CANADA, edited by Aaron Doyle and Dawn Moore. This has negative impacts upon researchers, especial those in critical criminology.
The various authors contributing to this anthology can be grouped into six areas of expertise that range from the future of “critical criminology” to the role of criminologists in politics and criminal justice policy in Canada. The editors decry the lack of places to publicize their findings, which are often contradictory to governmental policy. They also claim that this results in public ignorance.
When asked to approve bonds to build more prisons or spend money in other criminal justice areas, public voting is rarely based on a study of the facts. The authors note that blogs and wikis are opening areas for a different form of news-making criminology, but whether they are being fully or even partially utilized to publicize critical criminology theory is not mentioned. Major failings of the book include the many statements made without explaining the basis for the statement, and no references are provided for further information. In addition, Doyle and Moore embrace the premise that American criminology has been compromised by its alignment with the criminal justice system; however, little explanation is given as to the basis of this belief or its rationale. Nor do they explain what they actually mean by compromised and how this is a negative.
The editors employ a broad definition of critical criminology that includes an academic study of “crime,” as well as the “social and governmental reactions to it” (p.3). They point out that critical criminology has primarily defined itself in terms of what it is not, in contrast to mainstream criminological theory. Michel Foucault’s strong influence is recognized, along with his belief that criminology was, and to a degree still is, a fundamental tool portraying repression and punishment. Some authors see the [*427] “Foucault effect” as interfering with feminist activist spirit and lacking in a political agenda.
Historically the Canadian civil service and its research branch has tended to serve as moderating influences on Canadian crime policies, unlike the United States where “strong on law and order” is a political necessity, and “if it bleeds, it leads” is attributed to the media, according to works by Barak and others. This results in the American social tendency to individualize crime. In the United States, feminine and African American criminology scholarship has often been marginalized, but not to the degree that French Canadian authors suffer if they do not forsake their native language and publish in English.
The French Canadians must also overcome bias that lessens the value of the Civil justice system, as opposed to the Anglicized common law. “Anglo-Canadian and French Canadian criminologies have developed in different directions and at different paces” (p.31). Critical criminology, the authors explain, needs to decide whether its object of study should be crime or the process of criminalization. The discipline must address its stand on issues such as the restorative justice movement. Thus, one reads about a multitude of areas where critical criminologists are still divided, and this is especially true in academia.
Academics must additionally contend with student evaluations. The students downplay the importance of theory, if not ignore it entirely, by a desire for “practical” training. This is especially difficult for new tenure-track faculty who have just completed years of theoretical study. The authors explain how they use practical examples of the various theories to assist in student retention and understanding of the material. Student attendance increases if there is a perception that practical material will be taught.
Faculty have an added pressure that results from the common recruitment focus on the availability of jobs in the criminal justice field. The authors point out that in reality there are not nearly enough job opportunities for the multitude of graduating students. Many students have been led to believe that the piece of paper which represents a degree or certification is an assured job opener. Additionally students are anticipating higher pay than what they will be offered when they go into the marketplace and seek employment.
Most of the employment openings are actually in private sector security positions with fewer benefits than government jobs provide. Obviously, there is little need for heavy theoretical learning in these jobs; however, critical thinking skills will, or should, prove useful. Critical thinking means thinking for oneself, according to the authors. Critical analysis will also be utilized in security positions, in addition to all areas of criminal justice – corrections, policing, and the courts.
Critical criminology recognizes that there are major gender differences in the experiences of both victims and offenders. An under-studied area of research involves the economic and social problems faced by the families of incarcerated individuals. It is mentioned that Canada allows private family visits, [*428] including conjugal opportunities, unlike most of the prisons in the United States. Conjugal visits are allowed in six American states but in no federal facilities.
The economic impact upon the female partners of incarcerated males is exceptionally severe. Many of these women have never been employed and have few, if any, marketable skills and are thus relegated to low paying entry-level work or domestic jobs with few or any benefits.
Because prisons are located away from urban areas, for the most part, going to visit is not only expensive but very time-consuming. Mention is made of the degrading conditions imposed upon visitors by uncaring guards. Prisoners who wish to talk to a loved one by telephone are required to call collect, which can be quite costly.
Canada’s correctional system allows for private family visiting programs, where the family can spend up to 72 hours in a small cottage or trailer on the prison grounds. Children get the opportunity to bond with the incarcerated parent, and cooking their own meals and eating together simulates a normal family life, if only for a short period of time. But, there is a high price to be paid. Groceries must be purchased from approved grocery stores and delivered by the store directly to the prison, which can be very costly. Needed condiments such as salt must be left behind in the trailer or be thrown away.
The families of the incarcerated are a marginalized population. Foucault has stated that a hallmark of a marginalized population is “the subordination of its well being for the convenience and security of the majority” (p.201). Research opportunities abound for critical criminologists in studies about the collateral effects of incarceration upon family members. The authors discuss the stigma that attaches to these family members, adults and children alike, who have never done anything illegal and yet are looked down upon by virtue of having an incarcerated relative or spouse. “Collateral punishment” is the term used when discussing the women and children related to the incarcerated male.
Incarceration has a profoundly negative effect on the family’s quality of life, and the authors lament that few social services are available to assist these family members. Little thought or consideration is given to the family when “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” can be heard from candidates for office. Neither the public nor the government acknowledges the financial impact upon the families as an area of social responsibility that should be addressed.
Although feminine criminology is out of the mainstream theory in Canada, there is a growing body of research and publication in the field. Female students outnumber males in the discipline, and courses on women and the law have grown proportionately. Feminist thought does not have the same degree of public legitimacy as it has in academia however.
The final chapter of the book discusses the manner in which conservative and liberal criminology approach policing, corrections, and sentencing. Anarcho-abolist theory is related to peacemaking [*429] criminology. The basic idea appears to be that those who practice anarcho-abolist theory are in reality fighting against the prison-industrial complex. The theorists call for alternatives with emphasis on a reduction of profiling and automatic incarceration. The aims come across as more idealistic than realistic at the current time and in the climate of a Canadian conservative federal government.
© Copyright 2011 by the author, Caryl Segal.