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Key Terms

Accountability: this is a mechanism whereby a person or agency is required to answer to other people or agencies in respect of the actions they intend to take or which have already been undertaken.

Anomie: this refers to a state of social indiscipline in which the socially approved way of obtaining goals is subject to widespread challenge resulting in the law being unable to effectively maintain social cohesion. The concept was developed by Emile Durkheim and subsequently advanced by Robert Merton whose key difference was the circumstances under which a state of anomie arose.

Attrition: attrition in criminal justice refers to the number of crimes that are committed and the number that end with the perpetrator of the offence being convicted. This gap occurs because there are a number of stages in the criminal justice process and crimes are weeded out at each stage so that the number of convictions represents only a small proportion of crime that has been committed.

Bifurcation: this refers to sentencing policy that embraces a ‘twin-track’ approach whereby serious offences receive severe penalties (such as long terms of imprisonment) and less serious crimes are responded to leniently (by responses such as non-custodial sentences served in the community).

‘Big Society’: this approach was associated with the 2010 Coalition government and was based on the concepts of empowerment and voluntarism whereby communities would be encouraged to provide a range of services themselves. One advantage of this from the government’s perspective was that it facilitated a reduced level of public expenditure.

Broken windows: this refers to a view, put forward by Wilson and Kelling in 1982, that it is necessary to take firm action to enforce the law against low level crime (characterized by vandalism and graffiti) which gives the impression that nobody cares about the neighbourhood and has a detrimental impact on neighbourhood cohesion.

Classicist criminology: this approach to the study of crime emphasized the importance of free will and viewed a criminal act as one that had been consciously carried out by its perpetrator having rationally weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking the action. The main focus of classicist criminology was on the reform of the criminal justice system.

Code for Crown Prosecutors: this is prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions and gives guidance to solicitors working for the Crown Prosecution Service concerning the general principles to be followed when making decisions concerning whether or not to prosecute. The Code  also puts forward guidelines to aid decisions as to what precise charge should be brought against a person who is being proceeded against.

Code of Professional Standards for Police Officers: this sets out standards for the standards of professional behaviour that are expected from police officers, the breach of which constitutes a disciplinary offence that could lead to dismissal. This replaced the Police Code of Conduct in 2006.

Cold case review: this practice entails the police investigating unsolved crimes that occurred some time in the past in the hope that developments in forensic science (especially in connection with DNA profiling) will result in a conviction.

Community penalties: these embrace non-custodial responses to crime that are served by offenders within their communities. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act provided for community orders that enabled sentencers to prescribe a wide range of requirements to address an individual’s offending behaviour.

Contestability: this entails a mixed economy of service delivery whereby services can be delivered by public, private or third sector providers. This approach was developed in connection with the purchase of correctional services that were designed to tackle recidivism and was subsequently promoted in connection with local government by the 2006 White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities.

Crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRPs)  The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act placed a statutory duty on police forces and local authorities (termed ‘responsible authorities’) to act in cooperation with police authorities, health authorities and probation committees in multi-agency bodies which became known as crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRPs). In Wales CDRPs are termed community safety partnerships and this title has since been adopted widely throughout England. The role of these partnerships was to develop and implement a strategy for reducing crime and disorder in each district and unitary local authority in England and Wales.

‘Cuffing’: this practice entails a police officer either not recording a crime that has been reported or downgrading a reported crime to an incident which can be excluded from official statistics.

Cybercrime: this term broadly refers to crime involving the use of computers. There are two main forms of computer-related crime – computer-assisted crime involving the use of computers to perform crimes that pre-dated their existence such as fraud or theft, and computer-focused crime that refers to the emergence of new crimes as the result of computer technology.

‘Dark figure’ of crime: this term refers to the gap between the volume of crime that is actually committed in society and that which enters into official crime statistics. This discrepancy is explained by the nature of the process of crime reporting which consists of a number of stages, each of which acts as a filtering process progressively reducing the number of crimes that are officially reported.

Deviancy: this refers to actions committed by individuals to which society reacts in a negative way, even though these acts are not necessarily illegal. Those who carry them out may thus encounter hostility from their fellow citizens resulting in their ostracism from society.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP): this office was created by the 1879 Prosecution of Offences Act. The role of this official was to initiate and carry out criminal proceedings and to advise and assist other officials (such as police officers) concerning the prosecution of offences. The 1985 Prosecution of Offences Act made the DPP head of the newly created Crown Prosecution Service that henceforth became responsible for the conduct of criminal proceedings.

Discretion: this refers to the ability of an official, organization or individual to utilize their independent judgement to determine a course of action (or inaction) to be pursued in connection with an event that they encounter when exercising their professional duties.

Doli incapax: this term applies to those who have committed crime but, because of their age, cannot held responsible for it because they are considered insufficiently mature to be able to discern right from wrong. Currently, children below the age of 10 (the age of criminal responsibility) are deemed to be in this situation. Formerly children aged 10–13 were also in this position, but this presumption was ended by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

Economic crime: this term refers to a range of activities that include bribery, corruption, cybercrime, money laundering and various forms of fraud that are associated with white-collar crime, middle-class crime and organized crime and which particularly impose a burden on business enterprise.

Estate rationalization: this entails criminal justice agencies reducing the amount of property that they occupy. This can result in closures of premises such as police stations and magistrates’ courts (thus saving on their running costs) and may be accompanied by co-location which entails a number of criminal justice agencies operating from the same premises. This approach has been pursued since 2010 as a cost-cutting measure.

Home detention curfew: this was introduced in 1999 to provide for the early release of short-term prisoners serving sentences between three months and less than four years for the last two months of their sentence provided that they stayed at an approved address and agreed to a curfew (usually from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) monitored by an electronic tag. This would last for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 60 days. Those who breached the conditions of their curfew or who committed another offence while on curfew were returned to prison.

Home Secretary: this minister heads the Home Office (or Home Department) and is in charge of a wide range of matters affecting the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. This includes exercising ultimate responsibility for the police service and the maintenance of national security. The duties of this role were re-vamped when the Home Office was split in 2007 with some of its functions (including responsibility for prisons) being transferred to the newly-created Ministry of Justice.

Human rights: these consist of basic entitlements that should be available to all human beings in every country. Unlike civil rights (that are specific to individual countries), human rights are universal in application. A full statement of human rights is to be found in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950).

Institutional racism: this refers to the use of discriminatory practices against members of minority ethnic groups by an organization. The term is capable of a number of definitions that include discrimination that is derived unwittingly from an organization’s culture and working practices.

Joined-up government: this approach seeks to enhance the level of coordination between the various agencies whose work is of relevance to crime and disorder. Joined-up government suggests that crime can be reduced by managerial improvements affecting the way in which the criminal justice system operates.

Judicial review: this is a legal procedure whereby the court is able to strike down an action undertaken by any public body, including the executive branch of government, for reasons that include the correct procedures that are laid down in law have not been followed in reaching the decision.

Justice model: this refers to an approach to the punishment of offenders that is underpinned by reductivist rather than rehabilitative ideals. In particular it seeks to ensure that punishments reflect the seriousness of the crime that has been committed. Other features of the justice model emphasize the desirability of consistent sentences (especially by curbing the discretion of officials working in criminal justice agencies) and the need for the criminal justice process to effectively protect the accused’s rights.

Lethal force: this refers to an intervention by a police officer that is likely to cause the death or serious injury to a person on the receiving end. Lethal force is delivered by armed police officers whose decision to shoot a suspect is based on the belief that this is the only way guaranteed to protect themselves and other members of the general public.

Mandatory sentence: this imposes an obligation on sentencers (magistrates or judges) to hand out a stipulated sentence – murder, for example, carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. The present raft of mandatory sentences was considerably added to in the 1997 Crime (Sentences) Act and subsequent legislation.

Ministry of Justice: this government department replaced the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2007 (which in turn had replaced the Lord Chancellor’s Department in 2003). It is responsible for a wide range of agencies and services that operate within the criminal justice system including HM Prison Service and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Moral panic: this refers to a process in which a specific type of crime is focused upon by the media in order to whip up public hysteria against those who are identified as the perpetrators. The aim of this is to secure widespread public approval for the introduction of sanctions directed against the targeted group.

New deviancy: this approach emphasized the social construction of crime and deviancy which arose as the result of a negative reaction from society to a particular act. New deviancy theory concentrated on social reaction to activities which were labelled as ‘deviant’ rather than seeking to discover their initial causes. Labelling theory is an important aspect of new deviancy theory.

New public management: this approach towards the delivery of services by the public sector emphasized the importance of public sector organizations providing value for money and sought to reorganize the operations of public sector agencies through the use of management techniques associated with the private sector such as the use of performance indicators and business plans. This approach was associated with a shift towards organizations attaining centrally determined objectives at the expense of compliance with bureaucratic rules and procedures.

Nothing works’: this approach stemmed from an article written by Robert Martinson in 1974 that asserted programmes and interventions that were designed to rehabilitate offenders had largely failed to achieve this objective. They hadn’t worked. The apparent failure of the rehabilitative ideal helped to popularize criminal justice interventions of a more punitive nature regardless as to whether they aided the reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

OASys: OASys is the Offender Assessment System that is designed to assess the level of risk posed by all offenders aged 18 and over. It is used by both the Prison and Probation Services.

Panopticon: in 1791 Jeremy Bentham wrote a three-volume work, The Panopticon, in which he devised a blueprint for the design of prisons which would enable them to bring about the transformation of the behaviour of offenders. Central to his idea was the principle of surveillance whereby an observer was able to monitor prisoners without them being aware when they were being watched. The design of Millbank Penitentiary and Pentonville Prison adopted many of the features of Bentham’s panopticon.

Penal populism: the terms ‘penal populism’ or ‘populist punitiveness’ were coined during the 1990s. They emphasize the need to adopt a harsh approach towards those who carry out crime. Governments following this course of action do so as they believe that the approach of ‘getting tough with criminals’ is viewed favourably by the general public.

Penology: this term refers to the study of the way in which society responds to crime. It covers the wide range of processes that are concerned with the prevention of crime, the punishment, management and treatment of offenders and the measures concerned with reintegrating them into their communities.

Plural policing: this entails an enhanced role for organizations other than the police service in performing police-related functions. Those performing this work effectively constitute a second tier of police service providers and the organizations supplying work of this nature may be located in either the public or private sectors.

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCS): the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act provided for the replacement of police authorities with directly elected PCCs, for each of the 41 forces covered by the legislation (the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police force not being covered by the Act). These officials were designed to replace bureaucratic accountability (that had previously been imposed by a centrally-directed target regime) with local political control to ensure that policing responded to the concerns of neighbourhoods.

Political spectrum: this is a model which places different political ideologies in relationship to each other, thereby enabling their differences and similarities to be identified. Ideologies are placed under the broad headings of ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘centre’, indicating the stances they adopt towards political, economic and social change – the right opposes this, the left endorses it and the centre wishes to introduce changes of this nature gradually within the existing framework of society. When applied to criminology, the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are especially employed to describe progressive and retributive stances towards the aims of punishment.

Positivist criminology: this approach to the study of crime adopts a deterministic approach whereby offenders are seen as being propelled into committing criminal acts by forces (that may be biological, psychological or sociological) over which they have no control. Positivist criminology also insists that theories related to why crime occurs should derive from scientific analysis.

Pre-sentence report: this is a report that provides information to sentencers regarding the background of an offender and the circumstances related to his or her commission of a crime. It is designed to ensure that a sentence of the court is an appropriate response to the criminal action that has been committed. Pre-sentence reports are prepared by the Probation Service.

Privatization: this approach was favoured by new right governments and was consistent with their belief in the free market. It entails services previously performed by the public sector being transferred to private sector organizations. These services are either totally divorced from government henceforth, or are contracted out and are thus periodically subject to a process of competitive tendering by bodies wishing to deliver them. This latter process is termed ‘outsourcing’. The main reason for pursuing this approach is a presumption that it delivers services more cheaply than the public sector.

Problem-oriented policing (POP): this is a method of policing that seeks to tackle the root causes of recurrent problems as opposed to an approach whereby the police react to each manifestation of them. POP emphasizes the importance of identifying and analysing recurrent problems and formulating action to stop them from occurring in the future. Problem-oriented policing emphasizes the multi-agency approach to curbing crime, whereby activities directed at crime involve actions undertaken by a range of agencies and not by the police alone.

Reactive policing: this is a style of policing (that has also been dubbed ‘fire brigade policing’) in which the police respond to events rather than seeking to forestall them. This method of policing tends to isolate the police from the communities in which they work and tends to promote the use of police powers in a random way based on stereotypical assumptions. This style of policing was widely regarded to have been a significant factor in the riots that occurred in a number of English cities in 1981.

Reassurance policing: the key aim of this style of policing is to combat the fear of crime by making people feel safer in their neighbourhoods. It is associated with a constant uniformed presence in a locality whose key purpose is to tackle low level crime and disorder that creates feelings of insecurity amongst residents. The reassurance agenda was promoted in the early years of the twenty-first century and is especially associated with neighbourhood policing that was rolled out across England and Wales in 2008.

Recidivism: this refers to the reconviction of those who have previously been sentenced for committing a crime. It is an important measurement of the extent to which punishment succeeds in reforming the habits of those who have broken the law.

Reductivism: this term refers to methods of punishment that seek to prevent offending behaviour in the future. Punishment is designed to bring about the reform and rehabilitation of criminals so that they do not subsequently indulge in criminal actions.

Responsibilization: this entails governments shifting the task of crime control from the central state to the local level where it is carried out by a range of actors including local government, private and voluntary sector bodies and the general public. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships are an important example of this process in operation.

Restorative justice: a key aim of restorative justice is to enable a person who has broken the law to repair the damage that has been caused to the direct victim(s) and to society at large. The main intention of this process is to enable the offender to become reintegrated into society. This approach is popular with the 2010 Coalition government as it is a cost-effective response to crime.

Retributivism: this term embraces responses to crime that seek to punish persons for the actions they have previously committed. Punishment is justified on the basis that it enables society to ‘get its own back’ on criminals, regardless of whether this has any impact on their future behaviour.

Risk: this term refers to the role that criminal justice policy accords to securing public safety. Agencies operating within the criminal justice system have increasingly formulated their interventions on the basis of predictions regarding the extent to which the future behaviour of offenders was likely to jeopardize communal safety. Attempts to assess the future risks posed by offenders have given rise to actuarial penal techniques.

Routine activities theory: this concept was developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence Cohen in 1979. It is based upon rational choice theory and suggested that three factors were necessary for crime to occur – a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. It was put forward as one explanation of repeat victimization.

Rule of law: this constitutional principle asserts the supremacy of the law as an instrument governing the actions of individual citizens in their relationships with each other and also controls the conduct of the state towards them. In particular it suggests that citizens can only be punished by the state using formalized procedures when they have broken the law, and that all citizens will be treated in the same way when they commit wrongdoings.

Sentencers: this term applies to officials who deliver society’s response to crime through the courts over which they preside. In the criminal justice system these comprise judges and magistrates.

Sentencing tariff : the tariff sets the level of penalty that should normally be applied by sentencers to particular crimes. In the case of murder, the tariff was the period that had to be served in prison in order to meet the requirements of retribution and deterrence. In 2002 the Sentencing Advisory Panel recommended that the phrase ‘minimum term’ should be substituted for ‘the tariff’ in these cases.

Separation of powers: this concept suggests that each of the three branches of government (the executive, legislature and judiciary) should perform a defined range of functions, possess autonomy in their relationship with the other two and be staffed by personnel different from that of the others. This principle was first advocated by Baron Montesquieu in his work De l’Esprit des Lois, written in 1748, whose main concern was to avoid the tyranny that he believed arose when power was concentrated in the executive branch of government. Although total separation of the three branches of government is unworkable in practice, the judiciary in England and Wales have historically enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy.

Situational crime prevention: this approach to crime prevention entails manipulating the immediate environment to increase the effort and risks of crime and reduce the rewards to those who might be tempted to carry out such activities. The situational approach is heavily reliant on primary prevention methods and is contrasted with social methods of crime prevention that seek to tackle the root causes of criminal behaviour, typically through social policy.

Social disorganization: this approach to the study of crime was associated with the Chicago School of Human Ecology. It suggests that crime was an ever-present feature of a specific geographic area of a city that Ernest Burgess in 1925 had termed ‘zone two’ or the ‘zone of transition’. It was characterized by rapid population change, dilapidation and conflicting demands made upon land use. The absence of effective mechanisms of social control was viewed as the main reason for this area of the city being a constant crime zone.

Social methods of crime prevention: social crime prevention is based upon the belief that social conditions such as unemployment, poor housing and low educational achievement have a key bearing on crime. It thus seeks to tackle what are regarded as the root causes of crime by methods that seek to alter social environments.

Social strain theory: this explanation of crime was developed by Robert Merton whose ideas were originally put forward in 1938. He asserted that anomie arose from a mismatch between the culturally induced aspirations to strive for success (which he asserted in Western societies was the pursuit of wealth) and the structurally determined opportunities to achieve it. Social inequality imposed a strain on an individual’s commitment to society’s success goals and the approved way of attaining them, and resulted in anomie which was characterized by rule-breaking behaviour by those who were socially disadvantaged.

Standards of Professional Behaviour for Police Officers: this sets out the standards of professional behaviour expected of police officers, the breach of which constitutes a disciplinary offence that in extreme cases can result in dismissal from the police service. It was formerly known as the Police Code of Conduct (and before that as the Police Disciplinary Code).

Taken into consideration (TIC): this term (that is also referred to as ‘write-offs’) entails an offender who has been apprehended for committing a crime confessing to others. He or she is not specifically charged with these additional offences and may suffer no further penalty for these admissions. The system has been criticized for being a means whereby police officers artificially boost their force’s detection rates through confessions from criminals that are not always reliable.

‘Third sector’: this term applies to organizations that do not operate in the public or private sectors. It embraces a range of voluntary organizations, charities, community organizations operated by volunteers and cooperative ventures.

Tripartite system of police governance: this term denotes a three-way division in the exercise of responsibility over police affairs shared between police authorities, the Home Secretary and chief constables. This system was initially provided for in the 1964 Police Act. The 2011 Police and Social Responsibility legislation replaced police authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

Victimology: this aspect of criminology concerns the study of victims of crime. In particular it seeks to establish why certain people become victims of crime and how personal lifestyles influence the risk of victimization.

What works ? This agenda emphasized the importance of evidence-based solutions to problems and issues facing the criminal justice system. Typically, a policy would be piloted, its operations would be subject to evaluation and, if deemed successful, would then be rolled out nationally.

White-collar crime: as initially defined by Edwin Sutherland, this term referred to crimes committed by respectable persons within the environment of the workplace. Subsequent definitions have differentiated between illegal actions carried out in the workplace that are designed to benefit the individual performing them, illicit actions that are intended to further the interests of a commercial concern carried out by its employees, and criminal activities by persons of ‘respectable’ social status to further their own interests but which are not performed in the workplace (such as tax evasion and insurance fraud).

Youth Rehabilitation Order: this form of community penalty for offenders below the age of 18 was introduced by the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. It was modelled on the community order that was introduced in relation to adult offenders by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act and embraces a wide range of requirements that can be imposed on a juvenile offender.

Zero tolerance: this approach is most readily identified with a style of policing that emphasizes the need to take an inflexible attitude towards law enforcement. It is especially directed against low level crime and seeks to ensure that the law is consistently applied against those who commit it. Unlike problem-oriented policing, it does not require the involvement of agencies other than the police to implement.

Further reading

Joyce, P. and Wain, N. (2010) A Dictionary of Criminal Justice. London: Routledge.