Review of The Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control by Norval Morris and Gordon Hawikins. London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 118, 1971, p. 102
Crime control is not given a very high priority in our legal and law enforcement services. There is a general belief, strongly shared by the public, that the punishment of the offender, fair trials, seeing that justice is done. etc., matter very much more. With these as our aims, the decades and the centuries pass by, leaving us with prisons getting ever more overcrowded, violence on the increase, and more and more disruption of a very delicately balanced and overstrained social organization. How would we get on if we tried realism instead of idealism, and got down to the job of cleaning up a very nasty mess along cost‑efficiency lines? Here we have two criminologists, one of them a law professor, who offer us sensible plans, backed by evidence, clearly stated, persuasively argued, of how we might go about it.
A major fault of our present priorities is that so much effort is spent trying to prevent large sections of the community from doing things that, come what may, they will insist on doing: gambling, drunkenness, narcotics and drug abuse, disorderly conduct and vagrancy, deviant sexual behaviour, juvenile delinquency. Attempts to control these nuisances by making them subject to the criminal law get nowhere; they would be more efficiently dealt with by other social agents than the police and the judicature. But by saddling the crime prevention and penologicai services with these large‑scale problems the services are overstrained and can no loner cope with serious antisocial behaviour.
The part that the psychiatrist could and should play in crime prevention is considered sympathetically and critically. The 'forensic psychiatrist,' who spends so much of his time in diagnostic services and in helping the courts, would he more likely to make a worth‑while contribution if he were called on to take real responsibilities. The model psychiatric unit which the authors suggest setting up, with the administrative side taken care of by an experienced correctional administrator, but with the ultimate responsibility lying with the medical director (since everything that occurs in the unit is 'treatment'); with the intake consisting of those whom nobody else warns, those who are too disruptive, too turbulent, too unprontising, though not insane – such a unit really would put the psychiatrist on his mettle. Given all the facilities and equipment he could ask for, and compelled to cope with the severest problems, he certainly should learn fast.
This book is plum full of excellent ideas, as well as some less promising, and is wonderfully free from the cant we are constantly compelled to listen to from the side of the establishment. The title is the right one. The first responsibility for introducing some much needed sense into the situation lies with the politicians.