imprisonment

Deporting people is not the answer to the problem of crime, nor has it ever been.

Unknown1

Clearly we need to have the full details of those individuals who have today been deported from the UK to Jamaica. However, the Home Office was forced to remove well over half of those they wished to deport after last minute appeals that they had not had their cases properly represented by lawyers. Which begs the questions of what have these people done and is it ever right to deport someone from the place they call ‘home’?

Earlier this week a Home office spokesperson said:

‘We make no apology for trying to protect the public from serious, violent and persistent foreign national offenders.’

Sajid Javid has argued that all of those being deported were ‘Jamaican nationals who have been convicted of criminal offences and served prison sentences of 12 months or more’.

Opponents of the deportation have suggested that at the very least these people have not all been given the opportunity to contest their deportation in the courts. Detention Action– a charity which works with those held in immigration detention centres  – claimed that poor communication at the centres in which the detainees had been held meant they couldn’t access legal support.

The High Court upheld this injunction in at least 30 of the 50 cases of those scheduled to be flown out of Britain this morning.

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said:

‘Yesterday we gathered shocking and damning evidence that those scheduled on tomorrow’s deportation flight to Jamaica have been denied access to justice. Home Office efforts to issue new SIM cards have been flawed and patchy and people facing a life-changing removal from the UK are effectively being held incommunicado. These removals must be halted until access to lawyers has been restored’.

Speaking on BBC News this morning Sankey remarked that those being deported were being punished a second time for crimes they had already served prison sentences for. Mnay were brought to the UK as children or young adults, many had suffered abuse and grooming whilst here, and in many cases their crimes were minor and drug related. Even in the case of those committing the serious violent offences that Home Secretary Patel and Chancellor Javid were intent on highlighting, did so after living here for several decades.

Her point was that these people – whatever they have done – are, effectively if not legally, British citizens. Their offending is our problem, not Jamaica’s.

convicts_at_botany_bay_commons

We have a history of deporting people our own citizens in this country. From at least the 17thcentury we shipped unwanted criminals to the colonies on America’s eastern seaboard – to Maryland and Virginia for example. Revolutionary war in 1776 brought the system of indentured forced migration to a close and it was far from effective Unknownanyway, as convicts found it fairly straightforward to escape and return to England.

It was much harder for them to escape from the next penal colony however. In 1787 the First Fleet sailed for New South Wales, landing in Botany Bay and establishing a penal settlement was to last until the 1860s. Australia was an unforgiving continent from which escape was almost impossible.

Whilst modern historians have reconsidered the convict experience in the last few decades, and argued that some of those sent ‘down under’ had a better set of life chances than those left behind in the slums of London, Birmingham and Manchester, it was still a double sentence.

Most of those transported (deported in effect) to Australia were guilty of fairly minor property crimes and yet they had been imprisoned in Britain, often in unsanitary and bleak conditions, before being packed onto a ship and transported thousands of miles to endure harsh conditions in a new colony. Set to work in chain gangs, on farms as bonded labourers and servants, whilst they might work their way out of bondage it was very difficult for any of them to return ‘home’.

Britain abandoned transportation in the 1860s, preferring instead to lock up most of our criminals in model prisons like Pentonville. Notions of reform and rehabilitations often ran a poor second to those of protecting the public and punishment but at least on release those convicted could return to the communities they knew and understood.

Britain is a nation of immigrants; first and second and third (and so on) migrants from all over the world. Those from the Caribbean (whether Windrush or not) come as part of what was our empire and dominions. To uproot those that have made their home here (however badly they have lived their lives since they arrived) seems to be piling further punishment on top of that imposed by a judge at trial.

To me it smacks of cruelty and an abrogation of responsibility for people whose crimes were committed here, not in Jamaica or anywhere else, and as a result of the environment they grew up in, not the one they were removed from as children or teenagers.

UnknownI rather suspect that Mr Javid and Ms Patel (left) are more interested in appearing ‘tough on crime’ than they are in dealing with the problem of ‘crime’.

There is nothing new in this: it is very easy to talk tough and impress the readers of the Daily Mail and the Conservative Party conference but it will do nothing to keep the people of Britain ‘safe’ in the long run.

Drew Gray, Historian of crime and punishment

 

 

What about the victims, why are they so rarely included in the history of crime?

newgat5

I have been researching and teaching the history of crime and punishment for well over a decade now and the field now covers considerable ground. There are excellent studies of the criminal justice systems of the past, from the medieval to the modern age, ranging across a wide geographical area from Britain and its empire, to Continental Europe, Africa and the Americas.  There are articles and books on the evolution and development of policing, the rise of the prison, and on different types of criminal activity. Researchers have studied homicide, highwaymen, fraud and forgery, shoplifting and pocket picking; they have looked at juvenile criminals, at female felons, and at (most recently) at the huge numbers of men and women transported to Australia.

Some of the earlier work in the history of crime – and I’m going back to the 1970s and 19780s now – set the scene for much of what has followed. Researchers like Douglas Hay and others that studied under Edward Thompson at Warwick, produced wonderful polemic work that critiqued the hanoverian justice system. They exposed the class bias at the heart of the English criminal justice system that selected its targets from the young working class men who robbed and stole from those better off than themselves.

Peter Linebaugh’s study of eighteenth-century London (The London Hanged) and Thompson’s  own Whig’s and Hunters are, with Hay’s seminal edited collection (Albion’s Fatal Tree), examples of left-wing revisionist histories of a Georgian justice system that seemed to have very little to do with ‘justice’ itself. As another firebrand of this sort of history, VAC Gatrell,  declared that the history of crime is a dirty subject because it is about power, not about crime itself.

Gatrell’s own magnum opus, The Hanging Tree, remains one of my favourite books both for its depth of research and the power of his prose. These pioneers in the history of crime redefined the way we studied this history, borrowing as they did from the wider field of social history, to place the criminal centre stage and, and this is important, raise him up as a victim of the justice system.

The Digital Panopticon, which launched late last year, traces the steps of those uprooted from their communities and dumped on the unforgiving continent of Australia in the late eighteenth and early to mid nineteenth centuries. Michel Foucault and later Michael Ignatieff’s work on the Victorian prison system also paints a bleak and desperate picture of men and women ground down and destroyed by a heartless penal system.

In short then the history of crime and punishment has mostly (since the 1970s at least) been a history of how the state has brutalised those caught up in the criminal justice machine. What is largely missing from the story is that of the victims of crime.

Now, I understand why this was the case in the early years. Historians (particularly those of the left) were keen to show that working-class people had agency, that they were not simply condemned to the ‘condescension of history’ (as EP Thompson put it). Along with work that highlighted the fight for customary rights, the vote, resistance to oppression and creeping capitalism these historian created ‘social bandits’ and heroic highwaymen. More clearly, and less controversially, they attacked the state and its mechanism of social control.

But is it now time to think about the victims of crime? After all, since the late twentieth century the right of the victims of crime have increasingly been placed on the agendas of legislators and criminal justice commentators. Modern criminology does acknowledge that victims need to be both seen and heard; restorative justice has gained ground and recent debates about the release of John Worboys have re-energised calls for victims to be better informed or consulted when offenders are let out of prison.

I think we need to start to try and place the victims at the centre of our studies of crime and punishment, or at least to better understand their role and their experience. We have had excellent work that looks at the role victims have played as prosecutors, which acknowledges their ability to help secure pardons (or conditional pardons) for property offenders sentenced to hang under England’s ‘bloody code’. But what about some work on the shopkeepers in London that appear in the Old Bailey? Or the men and women  robbed and beaten by highwaymen, or those fleeced in city taverns by ‘cunning’ prostitutes? Could we try to present a history from their perspective?

It is not easy of course. We have ended up knowing a lot more about the criminals than we have the victims. Even when it comes to the most famous unsolved murder case in history – the Whitechapel (or Jack the Ripper) murders of 1888 – there is precious little on the five (or more) women who were killed, at least by comparison to the endless commentary on who the assassin might have been. At least Haille Rubenhold is working on this as I write, so that may be addressed fairly soon.

So this is a call if you like, to prospective PhD students, and others working in the field. I’m not asking us to stop exposing the cruel penal systems of the past (or those of the present for that matter), nor am I saying that everyone executed, transported, flogged or imprisoned deserved their fate, but perhaps we now need to redress the balance a little and begin to research those that suffered in a different way from the prevalence of crime and paucity of protection from it that a deterrent based system in the past offered them.

Drew Gray

Drew writes a daily blog on the Victorian Police Courts and teaches the History of Crime at the University of Northampton.

indicative bibliography

Foucault, Michel (1975). Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison.

Gatrell, V.A.C, (1994) The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 

Hay, D (1975), Albion’s Fatal Tree

Ignatieff, Michael (1978) A just measure of pain: the penitentiary in the industrial revolution, 1750-1850.

Thompson, E.P (1975) Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act