«FAMILIES OF NATIONS, VICTIMISATION AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS CRIMINAL JUSTICE PAUL A. NORRIS* School of Social and Political Science, University of ...»
Within popular discourse, the United States is often seen as an exceptional case with regards to crime and justice, typified by high levels of violent crime, high levels of firearms ownership and punitive penal policy. This view of the United States has been widely questioned within the literature (for instance, Marshall, 1996). One important issue is the extent to which the apparent exceptionalism of the United States is attributable to how it is often contrasted with Europe in comparative research. Figure 8 shows that the United States is associated with victimisation rates much in excess of the average of the jurisdictions considered in this article, while its population appears to hold particularly punitive attitudes towards punishment and views their local police in a highly positive light.
However, the unique nature of the United States appears much less obvious if it is compared to those jurisdictions which could also be considered part of the 'English-Speaking' cluster. Notably, victimisation rates for the United States appear broadly similar to other 'English-Speaking' jurisdictions. Similarly, while still appearing highly punitive the extent of American uniqueness appears much less when compared to the other 'English-Speaking' jurisdictions rather than 'average' attitudes across the whole sample. This finding suggests that Figure 8. Radar Graph Comparing the United States to Other English-Speaking Nations theoretically developed typologies, which take account of important factors such as economic, political and social links between countries, can provide a useful framework in which to conduct cross-national criminological research.
CONCLUSIONSFrom a substantive point of view, the findings of this analysis are hardly surprising. The results suggest that when considering individuals' experience of victimisation and attitudes towards crime and justice, groups of jurisdictions can be identified which reflect the clusters suggested by the Families of Nations typology. The families identified by Castles (1998) can be seen as reflecting underlying differences in history, culture, politics and economics and these are all factors which are likely to influence issues around crime and justice.
Notably, the criminological characteristics of the different clusters identified offer support for the argument that there may be a strong relationship between a population's experience of crime, criminal justice concerns and wider social policy issues. However, the analysis presented gives no guidance as to whether the apparent correlation between the criminological issues considered and welfare policies is the result of direct causality (i.e. particular welfare regimes are more criminogenic) or whether the relationship reflects how both policy areas reflect underlying differences between nations in terms of culture, economics, politics and legal practice.
From a methodological viewpoint, this article serves to illustrate three important points. Firstly, the results presented reflect the growing comparative literature around penal policy in suggesting that those factors which have previously been found to be important in explaining welfare policy and welfare outcome may also be relevant to understanding differences around crime and justice. This opens up the possibility that as comparable data become increasingly available, and cross-national criminology continues to grow, there may be much to be gained from considering the explanations and methods developed in the comparative welfare literature.
Secondly, this work illustrates how the use of a theoretically developed typology (such as the 'Families of Nations') can provide a useful framework in which to conduct cross-national research. Even the limited analysis presented in this article raises several interesting questions worth further investigation. For instance, what is it about the criminal justice situation in Austria and Switzerland which means that their populations' experiences of crime and attitudes towards criminal justice sees them appear in a 'Nordic' cluster rather than in a 'Continental European' family? Similarly, why is it that the jurisdictions which form the 'Nordic' cluster in this analysis appear very similar across most of the dimensions considered but vary substantially in terms of their use of household alarms and level of burglary victimisation? Such deviations from the results suggested by a theoretical typology may help to highlight 'unusual' cases and therefore provide a focus for further research.
Finally, this analysis provides evidence that the results of empirical clustering can be influenced by the data which are considered. For instance, in their analysis with a sample involving a wider range of countries Smit et al.
(2008) found that the 'Nordic', 'Continental European' and 'English-Speaking' clusters present in this analysis formed a single grouping. This result is most likely attributable to the different samples considered but it is by no means certain that the clusters identified in this analysis will persist across different substantive interest within criminology, or that they will remain constant over time. Indeed, if victimisation and attitudes towards crime are a function of social, economic and political factors then it could be expected that increased globalisation and convergence of social and economic policies will cause shifts in crime and justice to occur.
NOTE Indeed this point is argued by Smit et al. (2008: p. 184) when they suggest that 1.
a more detailed analysis of those countries which they identify as 'North/West' may help to identify sub-groups within this cluster.
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