Realist criminology is a phenomenon which has appeared, under different names, in Britain and the USA during the 1980’s. 230 The criminologist had been making many various claims that crime is something when the poor ‘getting their own back’; that rising crime figures are only a result of different counting techniques; and that society should not forget the importance of business crime. However, the victims in deprived inner-city areas were facing a different ‘reality’ every day, with their lives blighted by muggings, sexual assaults and burglaries. 230 The genesis of realism lies essentially in the perception that crime rates have tended to rise remorselessly in advanced societies, and that established policies for dealing with crime have failed to stem this increase. 402 The previous theories and policies indicated that they cannot fully explain the rising crime rates, therefore the two new theories were introduced: right and left realism.
Realism of both types was introduced as an acceptance of a fact that a crime is a real problem; a recognition that it has destructive effects on communities; that there is a need to discover realistic policies to counter the crime problem; and recognition that no miraculous solutions will ever be found.404 Both approaches recognise the need to monitor the success of interventions so as to guarantee their cost-effectiveness and are critical of the present approach of the police.
James Q. Wilson is one of the most significant proponents of the right realism. The right realists do not challenge the criminal law of the State and their goal is to attack ‘street crime’ excluding all the others offences. 404 The aim of the right realism is to reduce the problem via pragmatic intervention, accepting that this can be of only limited benefit, but stressing that it is feasible and ought to work.405 Wilson suggested that the role of the police should be the one which creates an atmosphere within the society in which the crime is unable to prosper. 233 The most effectively the police could be used not as law enforcers but as a body which keeps order within society.405 The police should be allowed to deal with potentially disruptive behaviour giving cause for concern, which perhaps has not been regarded as criminal in a strict sense. 233 The right realism states that the areas which are beyond saving should be left away in order to devote the money and resources to the areas which are not completely broken down, but appears in danger of doing so. Wilson and Herrenstein considered that an interaction between constitutional factors and social conditioning can affect the way in which certain people balance on the one hand, the attraction of rewards and, on the other hand, the pull of their conditioned conscience. Furthermore, they were disapproving of single parent families. 232 They believed that police should be concentrated on the first time drug users rather than on drug dealers or hopeless drug addicts.
The right realism theory was criticized for being too limited in the street crime. They exclude any considerations of corporate or white – collar offences as well as all others powerful offenders. 407 Wilson was more interested in more visible crimes.
The analysis of Right Realists ignores virtually all socio – economic influences on the way people live and, in particular, the high levels of inequality found in most industrial societies. Furthermore, issues of power, class, gender and race are overlooked. 234
Wilson and Kelling admit that there a particular areas where crime is thriving therefore the areas became hopeless, they propose to move the offending into those areas and away from the areas where the situation is under control but at risk.. 407Thus, the worst areas and people living in those areas are left aside, marginalised and disadvantaged.
Finally, the central part of the solution is based in the policing not crime. The most worrying thing about this it, is that police are allowed on such a loose mandate to control all manner of activities it is very difficult to make them accountable, to control them and insure they act with integrity.408
These policies might reduce crime and fear of crime in some areas, but in other areas might end up in chaos. In the abandoned areas constraints towards being law abiding are reduced still further and the inhabitants, even if law abiding, will be subjected to ever – increasing levels of crime and victimisation. 408
Left realism is mostly associated with British criminologists such as Jock Young, John Lea, Richard Kinsey and Roger Matthews. Left realism considers crime as it would be perceived by many, either through their own experiences or through those of family and friends and through media images. It then tests these feelings about criminality and tries to include them in its explanations. Young claimed that the ‘central tenet of left realism is to reflect the reality of crime, that is in its origins, its nature and it impact’ 80. The left realism accepts that crime exists and it is a huge problem which must be taken seriously, and that there is a rational core to people’s fears of it.
Left realism recognizes four main elements which must be examined: victims; offenders; formal control (the police and other agencies of social control); and informal control (the public). The essence is to study the interrelationship between them: the approach is sometimes characterised as ‘the square of the crime’.409
Left realists believed that the fundamental cause of crime is feeling of relative deprivation (where people feel themselves to be deprived in relation to others with whom they compare themselves). Left realist also state that relative deprivation can explain non-economic crime, as it can lead to violence by people of all social classes. Generally, it happens, where people believe that recourses have been distributed unfairly, and take action to go against the perceived injustice.237
Left realists are particularly concerned with conveying the impact of crime and stresses the importance to predicate this on people’s experiences. Left realists argue that steps should be taken to establish why the crime has a tendency to be committed against women, the poor and ethnic minorities living in certain inner city areas. Such people have difficulties (usually financial) to deal with their loss or harm.
Left realism has been criticised for its uncritical and conventional definition of crime, which is said merely reflect media, political and public concepts, and leads to a focus on street crime. The theory was also criticized for failing to explain the causes of street crime. Left realists spend most of their time focusing on asking people if they were victims of street crime, but forgot to ask the offenders why they actually committed the crime in the first place. The theory regurgitates subcultural theory that generated its own criticisms in the first place. The whole notion that society has a set of shared values can be questioned. White-collar crime cannot be understood in terms of this approach, especially not corporate crime. It focuses too much on street crime and ignores the fact the police can be selective in the areas they police. Another problem with left realism is that their theories are largely based on small-scale victim surveys conducted in inner city areas. Mugford and O’Malley (1991) stated:
‘Arguably, the advocacy of inner-city victims, and an ill – concealed contempt shown for ‘suburban souls’, constitutes a narrow platform for a socialist strategy dealing with crime’ 241
Left realism significantly contributed to criminology. Left realists demonstrated that there are real problems of crime in working class communities, which hitherto had not been revealed by traditional forms of measurement. Left realism has been applauded for reviving key concepts such as relative deprivation and for highlighting the problem of street crime that can affect the weaker members of society.
Right realist criminology has received little academic support in Britain, where the greater attention has been paid to Left Realism. Realist criminology represents a shift from ideology to a pragmatic concern for dealing with the problem of crime. What can be defined as the problem depends on political views. For Right realist such as Wilson, it is the breakdown of public order on the streets. For left realists such as Young, the problem is also found in poor inner city areas. This time the focus switches to the poor as victims.244