Governing through crime
Jonathan Simon is an American Professor of Law. In 2007 he published a book, Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, in which he argued that the US ‘War on Crime’ should be understood not as a straightforward, practical policy response to the social problem of crime, but as a much broader strategy of governance.
In the short video below, Simon outlines some of his central ideas on the function that the War on Crime has served for successive US governments. Rather than asking politicians and policymakers how government can tackle the problem of crime, Simon turns this on its head by asking if there isn’t in fact a governmental problem to which crime offers a solution. Simon suggests that by focusing on punishing crime – rather than tackling its very complex root causes, such as poverty – governments frame social problems in ways that appear to have simpler solutions, and in terms of which they can more easily claim success. Simon thus refocuses our attention, moving it away from thinking about the problem of crime in terms of the misdeeds of individuals. Instead, he encourages us to question the fundamental terms on which the debate is predicated and to ask how those terms might serve the interests of those with the power to define them.