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Why We Are The Worst People to Study This

We are the worst people to study criminology.

Alright, maybe not the worst. But we're definitely not great.

This goes for sociology, anthropology, any of the social sciences.

This is why: it's our job to study and analyse the world. To eventually provide research that will go on to inform public policy, and make changes to the Anthropocene. To make it (hopefully) a lil' more fair and accurate.

However, if you're reading this now - or are lucky enough to ever have attended a university - then you are (statistically) probably a white person. Probably middle-class. You're more likely to be from the South, and you're more likely not to have had a job before you went to university.

So what fucking right do you (and I) have to pretend we understand the world enough to make any analysis on it? What right to I have to be sitting here, doing this now?

By virtue of where we are - we are a very specific group of people. A certain demographic. And this is problematic in a tonne of different ways.

If you've been studying the criminal justice system, then you know that there's a big ol' problem with diversity within the judiciary (and in a lot of other areas of the CJS, but we'll stick with judges for this example). Now this isn't just shitty because it means that we're clearly not giving equal opportunities to everyone in society (although that is certainly shitty), there are fundamental problems with an unrepresentative judiciary:

1) It limits the perspectives that these judges have on critical legal issues. This is especially damming when it comes to class related issues, like theft out of necessity (Spohn, 2008)

2) Lack of diversity leads to discrimination, which translates to things like harsher punishments to BAME offenders (Mutua, 2014), and female offenders (Heidensohn, 1989).

2a) This further criminalization of BAME groups leads to an increased likelihood of reoffending - see increased recidivism as a result of incarceration (Weatherburn, 2010)

3) A more theoretical reason: having a representative judiciary of the same percentages of people found in society (for example, 51% female to 49% men), increases the democratic legitimacy of the judiciary (Hunter, 2015).

If we branch out of problems for the lack of diversity in judges, and look around other areas of the CJS, it gets worse. BAME victims are less likely to come forward and give statements to all white, all middle class police stations (Davis, Erez and Avitabile, 2001).

Eventually we will do these jobs to suggest the ways to change this world, or at least study the ways these people do their jobs. The same problems that apply to judges (discrimination, limited perspective, lack of empathy) will, and do, apply to us.

We are so blindsided to other people's problems - the people that we can't befriend because they didn't go to the same schools as us, the people that we haven't met because they live in the shittier parts of town - and they make up a lot of the conversation in terms of making the world fairer.

But they have no voice. Part of this makes me feel like this institution is doomed to fail.


Davis, R.C., Erez, E. and Avitabile, N. (2001) Access to Justice for Immigrants who are Victimized: The Perspectives of Police and Prosecutors. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 12(3), pp.183-196

Heidensohn, F. (1989) Gender and crime. In: Crime and society. Palgrave, London, pp. 85-111

Hunter, R. (2015) More Than Just a Different Face? Judicial Diversity and Decision-Making. Current legal problems, 68(1), pp.119-141

Mutua, A. D. (2014) Disparity in Judicial Misconduct Cases: Color-Blind Diversity? American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 23(1), pp. 23–105

Spohn, C. (2008) How Do Judges Decide?: The Search for Fairness and Justice in Punishment. London, Sage

Weatherburn, D. (2010) The Effect of Prison on Adult Re-Offending. Crime and Justice Bulletin, 143, pp. 1-11

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