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The 'fear Years' In The United Kingdom

2565 words - 11 pages

For the last few decades, crime has seemed to play a part in the shaping of politics and law. The topic of crime is often shown in the media and discussed by politicians. This emphasis has seemed to create a ‘fear’ of crime and developed a penal system based on popularity. As criminologist Jonathan Simon described the ‘fear years’ of 1970s USA, I hope to outline a period of fear years in the UK. The topic has been in the headlines for some decades, however I feel that it was the 1990s when politics and crime seemed to escalate onto another level of ‘fear’.

1.2 Aims
The overall aim is to determine to what extent penal populism has had on 1990s politics and law the UK. While outlining this I shall also touch upon the politics leading up to the 1990s law and order regime as well as give a comparative analysis of penal systems elsewhere.

1.3 Method
This piece of work will use a variety of primary and secondary sources to show the impact that fear has had on crime and politics in 1990s Britain. Specifically it will involve anaylsis of the literature on crime, law and politics as well as legal policy and documents.

1.4 Overview of Structure
In my first section I will begin by giving a definitions of penal populism in order to ensure some clarity as to the relation between crime and politics. I will then go on to describe and evaluate Johnathan Simon’s phrase of ‘fear years’ and put this into context in regards to 1990s UK crime and politics. This first section will then end on an introduction to the first political use of law and order in 1980s Britain. The second chapter I shall discuss the politics in 1990s Britain that was behind penal populism. In this chapter I shall also discuss the cases and incidents which invoked fear into the public and the way the politicians reacted to this. Pratt, Penal Populism (2007): 9My third chapter will focus on the mass media and its involvement in politics and the shaping of law. The fourth chapter will be a comparative section. I will outline the way in which crime and politics has been dealt with in Norway compared to the UK, contrasting two similar cases. This chapter will then go on to detail the use of fear in politics in the USA. The last part of this chapter will comment on Scotland and it’s use of penal populism in the 1990s in comparison to England and Wales.


In spite of prevalent use of the term ‘penal populism’ in much analytical work, the definition of penal populism has received very little consideration as both Sparks and Matthews have observed. The topic is often viewed as a label attached to politicians who devise punitive penal policies that seem to be in any way ‘popular’ with the general public. In actual fact, penal populism is much more complex. It is structurally embedded, representing a major shift in the configuration of penal power in modern society, rather than something within the purview of politicians to meddle with as they please.
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