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Contemporary Crime Control And Criminal Justice

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Understanding Scotland’s current high imprisonment rates

· Introduction

David Garland has observed that, since the 1970s, an unpredictable shift has been made from penal-welfarism, where the focus was on progress and rehabilitation, to a culture of control, characterised by the re-emergence of punitive sanctions and expressive justice. -add more detail from garland and introduce other authors who have noticed this maybe?

Due to the complex character of penal change, the focus of the essay will be on how political discourse in used in justifying old penal practices and how public opinion can dictate policy.

A criticism of Garland’s explanations of the emergence of a culture of control is the generalisation of causal factors and how it downplays the specifics of each country. As a result, the essay will attempt to illustrate how Scotland’s current policies have been influenced or are aligned with the new penology in order to explain the high imprisonment rates.

In order to achieve this, the paper will first explain the concepts and characteristics of Modern Penality and New Punitiveness by utilising Garland’s observations. This will allow for a better understanding on their differences and will highlight how the transition from one to another happened in a short period of time.

The paper will focus next on the political discourse that has dominated the period from 1970s and how it influenced the public’s perception on crime, more specifically, the war on crime. Further, it will be highlighted the new managerial approach to crime which has led to a privatisation of punishment. The issues with private prisons will briefly be mentioned by making reference to the two private prisons currently in Scotland.

The influence of media and social media will also be highlighted as, with the development of technology, it becomes more and more +accessible and it allows for faster transfer of information. This has also had an impact of how much public perception is taken into consideration when devising policy. This populism approach is a characteristic of the new penology and it emerged as a response to a decline in the belief in science and rationality.

As the essay has addressed the recent changes, it will next look at the purpose of sentencing and the role of criminal justice. It will explore ideas such as rehabilitation, punishment and public protection and how each perception changes the way we address crime through alternatives to imprisonment.

In recent years, due to high levels of violence, Scotland has attempted a public health approach to crime rather than a punitive one. However, in spite of these progressive changes, its imprisonment rates are one of the highest in Europe. The essay will utilise the elements highlighted in the new penology to explain the high levels on incarceration: focus on the needs of the victim (the Victim Notification Scheme and its influence in prisoner’s early release), the ending of automatic release after serving 2/3 of the sentence for long term prisoners, the introduction of the Orders for life-long restrictions, higher minimum tariffs for Life sentences.

Although an actuarial approach to prisoner management has been utilised, due to increased media attention on several high-profile cases, this has been increased. The paper will highlight how media coverage and political discourse have influenced policy which resulted in limiting the number of Home Detention Curfew releases and the number of prisoners progressing to less secure conditions. This caused the number of prisoners in custody to increase leading to prison overcrowding.

To summarise, the essay will attempt to explain the process of penal change by attempting to justify recent changes in Scottish policy and how it affected the current criminal justice system.

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  • The history of the present
  • Modern penalty and New punitiveness
  • Neoliberal Political Discourse
  • The rise in Victimisation
  • The purpose of sentencing and the role of the Criminal Justice
  • Alternative sentencing options
  • Therapeutic prisons

· Is Scotland facing a prison crisis?

Thirdly, across western jurisdictions, there is a renewed and urgent desire among national governments to re-structure, re-imagine, and re-create penal policy, penal institutions and penal practices. This urgent policy desire is being propelled by a synthesis of principled, empirical, and financial reasoning. In Scotland, for example, this can be seen in developments such as the McLeish Report ‘Scotland’s Choice’, recent legislation (e.g. Criminal Justice & Licensing Act 2010), the potential expansion of Problem-Solving Justice, the growth in diversion from prosecution and in out-of-court penalties, the imminent establishment of a Sentencing Council for Scotland, the 2012 Commission on Women Offenders; and, the increasing interest in reparation, apology, and alternative forms of adjudication and sentencing, such as multi-disciplinary and problem-solving courts. Hence for this and other reasons, Scotland makes for an excellent case study in the dynamics of penal change. Similar developments are also evident in the search of the coalition government of England and Wales for more effective penal ‘solutions’, as they are in the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and several other national jurisdictions in the western world.

· Headlines dictating policy and penology

· Contemporary strategies of penal reform

· At the time of writing, there are 15 prisons in Scotland (one of which is currently run by a private sector company, with the remainder coming under the tutelage of the Scottish Prison Service, an executive agency linked to the Scottish government). Corntonvale is the only establishment solely for women and Polmont is the principal institution for young male offenders (those aged between 16 and 20).

In keeping with trends outlined above, crime survey data suggest that a growing proportion of people in Scotland perceive crime rates in their local area to be relatively stable (Brown and Bolling 2007), and data from the Scottish Household Survey indicate that a range of incivilities are also perceived to be fairly stable over time (Scottish Government 2007c) (Figure 4). By contrast, when asked specifically about youth crime, a majority of respondents to the Scottish Social Attitudes survey (69 percent) reported that youth crime had increased over the past decade (Anderson et al. 2005). However, when respondents were asked how much they had been affected by various aspects of youth behaviour, only a tiny percentage indicated that these behaviours had had a major effect on their lives (Figure 5). This perception of rising youth crime levels (in the face of limited actual evidence) may be a consequence of the saturation political and media coverage of the issue since devolution (McAra 2007).

In spite of the falling/stabilizing picture of serious crime outlined above, imprisonment rates have continued to grow. Indeed, Scotland has one of the highest imprisonment rates in Europe (Figure 6). The rise in the average daily population is principally due to an increase in sentence lengths. A major cause for concern is the growing number of women who are given relatively short sentences (six months to four years) for petty persistent offending and the 40 percent increase in the total number of remand receptions since 2000, for men and women, many of whom do not end up with a custodial sentence (see Scottish Government 2007b).

Indeed the ‘Scottish case’ lends further support to theories of penal change that give primacy to the localized cultural practices through which broader structural processes are mediated, resisted or transformed (see Melossi 2001).

Since the mid-1990s Scotland’s divergent trajectory has stalled, with a major retreat from welfarist principles evident in some areas of both juvenile and adult criminal justice. Although the roots of this change can be traced to the period immediately prior to devolution, ministerial appetite for reform has exponentially increased in the post-devolutionary era and political rhetoric has become more punitive in tone. Indeed, the crime problem was ‘talked up’ by ministers in Scotland precisely at the moment when published statistics (outlined above) indicated falling/stabilizing trends

The increased levels of managerialism and institutional construction have also been accompanied by a shift in the underlying ethos of the youth and adult justice systems away from penal welfarism to a more eclectic set of rationales, including public protection and risk management.

Recent years have seen a fusion between the government’s criminal justice, social inclusion and social crime prevention strategies, with communities increasingly being regarded as stakeholders in criminal justice (McAra 2007). Key staging posts were the policy documents Partnership for Scotland (Scottish Executive 1999a) and Safer Communities in Scotland (Scottish Executive 1999b), which included proposals to reduce crime through promoting safer, more empowered communities, as well as to confront the causes of crime as linked to unemployment and social isolation. Similarly within youth justice, Scotland’s action programme to Reduce Youth Crime (Scottish Executive 2002) highlighted a need for improved neighborhood safety programmes, more effective early intervention to promote parenting skills, and an increase in (community-based) cultural and sporting programmes to enable young people to fulfil their potential.

In the period since devolution, welfarist institutions have found it increasingly difficult to achieve such cultural anchorage. Arguably, civic culture in Scotland has gone into a period of drift. Politics is far less polarized and there has been greater ideological congruence between the Labour/Liberal Democratic coalition government in Scotland (which dominated until May 2007) and the Blairite New Labour government at Westminster. This served initially to weaken a sense of political identity in Scotland based on ‘other-to-England’, with a concomitant weakening of the purchase of welfarism as a principal framework around which debates on criminal justice have taken place.

As is well documented in the criminological literature, weak governments often turn to crime control as a ready mechanism through which to overcome crises of legitimacy. Efforts to build capacity are evident in the ‘hyper-institutionalization’ that characterized the first decade of devolution, the attempts to construct community solidarities principally via a crime control agenda, and the harder-edged populist rhetoric accompanying many changes to both youth and adult justice.

· Conclusion

  1. Brown, A., D. Mccrone and L. Paterson, eds (1996) Politics and society in Scotland. Basingstoke: Macmillan
  2. Feeley, M. and J. Simon (1994) ‘Actuarial justice: The emerging new criminal law’, in D. Nelken (ed.) The futures of criminology, pp. 173–202. London: Sage Publications.
  3. Garland, D. (1995) ‘Penal modernism and postmodernism, in T. Blomberg and S. Cohen (eds) Punishment and social control, pp. 181–210. New York: Aldine de Gruyter Publishing.
  4. Garland, D. (2001) The culture of control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. McAra, L. (1999) ‘The politics of penality: An overview of the development of penal policy in Scotland’, in P. Duff and N. Hutton (eds) Criminal justice in Scotland, pp. 355–80. Dartmouth: Ashgate.
  6. McAra, L. (2005). Modeling penal transformation. Punishment and Society 7, 277–302.
  7. Melossi, D. (2001) ‘The cultural embeddedness of social control: Reflections on the comparison of Italian and North American cultures concerning punishment’, Theoretical Criminology 5(4): 403–25.
  8. Nellis, M. (1996) ‘Probation training: The links with social work’, in T. May and A.Vass (eds) Working with offenders, issues, contexts and outcomes, pp. 7–30. London: Sage Publications.

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Contemporary Crime Control And Criminal Justice. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from
“Contemporary Crime Control And Criminal Justice.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
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