Margaret Thatcher famously commented that “there is no such thing as society” (1987) and in that comment is ample evidence of the Thatcher governments adherence to ‘New Right Realism’, arguably the dominant political philosophy underpinning crime control policies throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s and which continues to be a major influence on criminal justice policy to this day. Walklate explains the concept of Right Realism as a product of governments targeting public expenditure in response to the changing economic climates of the 1970’s. It entailed a completely new discussion of how social problems should be dealt with.
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The shift to this new understanding occurred both in the UK, particularly as a result of the election of the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, and in the US under the Reagan administration among others. One of the foremost American theorists in the US at the time was criminologist James Q. Wilson. Wilson was President Reagan’s adviser on crime and argued that crime does not have ‘root causes’ embodied in the context of individual citizens lives but that people choose to commit crime on the basis of the possible rewards offered (Blake, 2001). Essentially, New Right Realism as a political and criminological philosophy began with Wilson who proposed, in association with George Kelling (1982), the idea that crime is an inevitable result of disorder. They argued that if a window is broken and left unrepaired people walking by will believe that no one is in control and no one cares. This will lead inexorably to more windows being broken and before too long a sense of anarchy and disorder will develop. This idea became known as the ‘broken windows’ theory. Young (1983) noted Wilson’s rise as an influential figure in the US, but he became even more influential with his association with Richard Hernstein with whom he wrote the book Crime and Human Nature (Wilson & Hernstein, 1985). In this book, the authors wrote that crime was disproportionately the preserve of young men living in large cities. Walklate argues that these two authors essentially constructed a criminal personality based on age, sex, body type and personality and that these qualities are presented almost as ‘biological givens’. Walklate cites Young (1994) in observing that essentially Wilson and Hernstein concerned themselves primarily with maintaining order rather than necessarily delivering justice. Young comments that such a view is based on Rational Choice Theory which (in its criminological manifestation) refuses to address the causes of crime but instead is concerned with its management. Cornish and Clarke (1986) not only supported this notion but went on to describe the actions of the criminal as being based purely on economic motives in which human beings are regarded as being driven by profit motives.
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