Guest post by Angelika Adensamer and Sahng-Ah Yoo, MSc candidates in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. In this post Angelika and Sahng-Ah discuss the importance of courses that deal with matters of citizenship and migration in degrees of criminology, law, and penology. Angelika is on Twitter @herrangelika.

For the past several decades, there has been extensive scholarly analysis―particularly in the fields of anthropology, human rights law, refugee studies, and sociology―on immigration, its control, and its impact on society. Criminologists, however, have been a bit slower on the uptake.

In their course ‘Criminal Justice, Migration, and Citizenship’ at the University of Oxford, Mary Bosworth and Lucia Zedner highlight this absence of criminological attention and set out ways of investigating the criminalization, control, and coercion involved in immigration policies. Students who took this course gained an understanding of the shifting nature of criminal justice under conditions of mass mobility, piecing together the connections between migration control, race, and gender. By considering citizenship and migration in terms of criminological theory, policing, law, punishment, prisons, and intersectionality, Bosworth and Zedner establish that migration has become embroiled in a pattern of increasing criminalization that holds ambiguous value for the people involved and detrimental effects on society as a whole.

We strongly believe that the study of borders and ‘crimmigration’ should be a central part to any course on criminology, if only for the broad impact that immigration has on the field of academic study of crime, society, and punishment. Even in courses that don’t have the topic of border criminologies as their core focus, the questions raised by this subfield should be considered.

Here are five recommendations on ways other fields of criminology can better engage with the ideas and questions raised by the study of the interaction between immigration control and crime policy:

1. Re-conceptualize Crime. Since the advent of labeling theory, critical criminologists have considered crime as a social construction with law involved in promoting socially-approved behaviors. Given these traditions, it is no great leap to include the current criminalization of illegal migration as a context in which to consider the meaning of ‘criminal’ or ‘deviant’ behaviors. When we refer to ‘crime’ we must be aware that it describes both the brutal and often fatal process of trafficking people across borders as well as the wholly non-violent act of overstaying a visa. Considering what ‘harm’ is imposed, by whom, onto whom, in these examples, and what sanctions might be proportionate raises important questions about the core concept of criminology: crime.

2. Include Deportation as Punishment. When talking about punishment, criminologists and legal scholars typically focus on proportionate sentencing, types of prisons and rehabilitation programs, and effective re-entry of offenders into communities. But for many foreign nationals (as well as some naturalized citizens), deportation has become a form of punishment. These people are not re-socialized into society after custody, instead they are excluded from the country entirely. In their case, the ideal of rehabilitation is being replaced by a principle of exclusion. For those who are fleeing war, poverty, or political persecution, or those facing ejection into a country that they have never known, this form of punishment is the least effective practice possible, and merits consideration within a violent, global context.

3. Consider Diverse Prison Populations. Foreign nationals, however, aren’t subjected to punishment only in deportation. In many countries, foreign nationals make up disproportionate numbers in prison population. Processes in the prison system of England and Wales separate foreigners from British nationals.  As a result, studying ‘prisons’ includes a broader spectrum of people and practices than traditionally seen. Experiences of the prison differ according to the nationality of inmates and, thus, cannot be generalized.

4. Engage Race, Gender, and Citizenship. Falling into larger discussions about critical criminology as part of the core curriculum, this recommendation stems from personal frustration with the lack of effective engagement of race and gender within a largely white, male, and western discourse of crime, despite the reality of globalization. Conversations on the discriminatory effects of immigration and criminal policies as they exist within many western countries have often been approached as a ‘tack-on’ to an existing canon of traditional criminological theories. Experts in this field typically imply racist tendencies inherent in the defining of insider/outsiders of a society, but there seems to be a struggle to explicitly mark them in academic literature. Moreover, the engagement with intersectionality has claimed very little space in core criminology, disadvantaging ourselves by under-defining the experiences of marginalized groups.

5. Stay informed. Linking classroom discussions to current events is an important facet of any course―whether this is by learning about ongoing research activities by contemporary criminologists or by discussing contemporary events, like the immediate implications of Britain’s PREVENT strategy on the Oxford campus. Many countries―western and non-western―face especially high arrivals of refugees at the moment, which leads to legislative reactions that are all too often punitive and restrictive in nature. It is important to connect research with current events and news from your country, about the detention, criminalization, and policing of new arrivals.

Mass mobility has become a prominent feature of our world and it holds distinct features that criminologists would do well to consider. We believe these recommendations will enable our discipline to reach its full potential in understanding social order.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Adensamer, A. and Yoo, S. (2016) Five Ways to Incorporate Borders into Criminology. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/04/five-ways (Accessed [date]).