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Come together!…The 16th Annual Conference of the ESC in Münster/Germany
After Porto the ESC goes to the ancient German city of Münster, another exciting place which will hopefully attract criminologists from all over the world. The conference is conceptualized under the theme of “Crime and Crime Control – Structure, Developments, and Actors”, thus covering a wide range of areas/subjects within modern criminology. The organizers, Klaus Boers and his team, succeeded in structuring the plenaries given by leading experts around the three subthemes: Formal Crime Control (Policing and Prisons), Life Course and Developmental Criminology, and Economic and State Crimes.
In the first plenary Alison Liebling, from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, will give a talk on Prison Research (“Values, prison quality and outcomes: the role of legitimacy and trust in upholding social order”). Thomas Feltes, University of Bochum/Germany, will focus on the current state of knowledge on Policing. It might be surprising that the issue of formal social control is addressed from the perspective of the police as the first instance of formal crime control and of prisons at the end of the sentencing and sanctioning practice. But there are good reasons for focusing on these subjects, and at least one link concerning the restriction of human rights: pre-trial detention. The second plenary will start with a talk by Robert Sampson, Harvard University, on “Integrating Structural and Life-Course Criminology”, followed by a presentation by Manuel Eisner, Cambridge Institute of Criminology, on “Developmental Prevention”. The third plenary will address the macro-level and deal with “Crimes of the Powerful” and again cover a wide range of issues. Wim Huisman, Free University of Amsterdam, will talk on “Economic and Financial Crime” and Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London, will present on “State Crimes”.
The organizers have worked on another splendid idea to improve thematic discussions during the conference plenaries. It is common that after good plenary talks there is not enough time left for further discussion. For this reason, they have set up six follow-up-panels to deepen the dialogue between attending experts about the plenaries’ topics. All in all, 18 criminologists, both renowned and up and coming young scholars, have agreed to comment on the plenaries while also bringing in their own research experience. This structure could develop into a good tradition for further ESC conferences.
At the opening plenary on Wednesday evening, Alexandra Jour-Schroeder, Acting Director Criminal Justice at the European Commission, will outline “Keystones of the European Commission’s Policy in Criminal Matters”. The second talk will be given by Klaus Boers (local organiser and president of the Society of German, Austrian and Swiss Criminologists) on the crime situation and the state of criminology in Germany, and finally I will give an overview of the development of sentencing and prison population rates in Europe and discuss crime policy in times of refugees and terrorism. Somewhat surprisingly, prison population rates are on the decline in many European countries. The reasons are not always clear, but it appears that increasing punitiveness is not an all-encompassing trend as it has long been presented to be. Not that we are realizing this only now: the relativity of punitivity was the general topic of the ESC-conference 2013 in Budapest (“Beyond Punitiveness: Crime and Crime Control in Europe in Comparative Perspective”). Tendencies could be detected already then. But now it seems certain that the drop of imprisonment rates is indeed a trend and not a short anomaly on the trajectory of an ever increasing punitivity. In my talk, I will to look at even more amazing developments, such as the decline of the prison population in Russia by about 40% since 1999, by 46% in the Netherlands since 2006, and by 30% in Portugal since 1998. To understand this confusing “new complexity”, exploring the role of crime policy and sentencing practices seems to be an important issue.
Our former president, Gerben Bruinsma had the great idea to invite scholars to so-called presidential workshops to present their research on new topics in criminology or new insights on old subjects. (Amongst others, we had excellent presentations on state crime and organized crime at the last year’s conference.) I want to follow this tradition with a special presidential workshop on refugees, migration and crime. As is commonly known, this subject is a challenge for criminologists. I have also pointed this out in my presidential column in the winter issue of the 2015 ESC newsletter, .and it is addressed in an article by by Maria João Guia and our former ESC-board member May-Len Skilbrei, Oslo University, in the present Newsletter. May-Len will also be one of the presenters at this presidential workshop. The problem of refugees and migration is a special one for Germany and many concerns about the future crime situation fuel the media debates. In the elections in March this year a right-wing populist and islamophobic party (“Alternative für Deutschland”) succeeded in winning a considerable amount of seats in the three federal state parliaments (Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt), carrying 15%, 13% and 24% of the votes. So, this is the flip side of the German “welcome culture” I described in the last Newsletter. It is somehow a paradox that, in particular, former immigrants to Germany (e.g. from the former Soviet states) in a – at that time – similar situation as today’s refugees, voted for this right-wing extremist party. On the other hand, more than 80% of the German population did not. In view of the visible weakening support for refugees and an integrative approach the German government has agreed to a “dirty” deal with the Turkish government in order to stop or at least restrict further immigration. This cannot be seen as a humane solution, as refugees are suffering in overcrowded Turkish refugee camps, but it demonstrates the deficiencies of the German approach which resulted in the failure to pass a long-due reform to update the immigration law to meet current challenges.
In the upcoming presidential workshop, we will discuss immigration and crime (criminological migration research), immigration control and penal policy (border regimes etc.) and on conflict regulation concerning refugees, both current efforts and in historical perspective. In addition to May-Len Skilbrei, I invited the director of the Bielefeld Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, Andreas Zick. Dario Melossi from the University of Bologna, will also participate in the workshop.
The conference program is still being developed at the moment (May 2016), but we anticipate about 800 presenters from the 23 ESC-working groups and other criminological research units.
Münster is a good place for criminology in Germany. It is housed within the law faculty (one of the biggest in Germany) and the criminological department in Münster is one of the few centres doing empirical research within a law faculty. I started my academic carrier by teaching for one semester in Münster in 1989/90 and having about 800 students in my course of criminology -- a real challenge for a young professor at the time! So for me, coming back to Münster will be a nice trip down memory lane, and I hope that many criminologists will be attracted by the university as well as the city. Münster is an old and historic place and can be seen as somehow symbolic for our current problems: In 1648 it was the place where – after 30 years of war – the Catholics and Protestants signed a peace agreement and ended one of the bloodiest periods in European history. We may hope that criminology can contribute to peaceful and tolerant solutions to the present problems mentioned above. So, enjoy the conference and the academic atmosphere in the university town of Münster!