The Academy of Social Sciences held the launch of the fourth ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences’ booklet, this time focussed on crime.
Speaking at the event, The Rt Hon Lord McNally, Minister of State for Justice and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, spoke about the considerable influence that social science research has on his department. He said that the social sciences can play a critical role in making criminal justice policy, and that they are consumers of social science research as much as commissioners.
Lord McNally talked about the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ consultation, which was being discussed today in the Commons. He said the proposals made were not developed in a vacuum, and that much is derived from social science research.
He also emphasised the complexities involved in tackling offenders, and that social science is crucial in understanding these complexities. He pointed to the vital role the social science community place in understanding how the policies being implemented are working: where are they working, for who, why, and the wider implications.
Mike Hough, President of the British Society of Criminology, also echoed this need to understand complex problems. He referred to ‘contradictory certitudes’: the fact that we are all convinced we are right. Social research helps to test these contradictory certitudes and also helps to provide perspective for the problems. In 15 years of research at the IPCR he added however that while the government had listened to some of the evidence, they had ignored others.
David Farrington OBE, Professor of Psychological Criminology at the Institute for Criminology, Cambridge University, shared the extensive work he has been involved in on risk-focussed prevention strategies. Like a common approach to Public Health, he has worked on identifying effective risk interventions for crime, many of which have been adopted by successive governments over many years.
A panel discussion followed between Mike Crokart MP, Liberal Democrat Member for Edinburgh West and former police officer in Lothian & Borders Police; Frances Crook, Director, The Howard League for Penal Reform; David Farrington and Mike Hough. The panel threw up further interesting questions, including the challenges of identifying the right government contacts to speak with, and the difficulty also for policy makers to find academics with a broad systemic view of problems.
One closing thought was how can social sciences get the resources to point out bad reporting on social science research – the sciences have this with Ben Goldacre: who will fill this role for the social sciences?