When I joined the inaugural lecture of the EuroCrim 2019 in Ghent (Belgium) – the opening of this year’s large conference of the European Society of Criminology – it felt a bit like being a Ph.D.-student again and participating at the first big scientific conference. As a political scientist, I clearly was the odd one out only knowing one or two criminologists from the rare events of interdisciplinary research I participated in over the last years (e.g. thanks to my joint project on the penal-welfare nexus).
However, political science was actually all over the place during these days at the conference. In his inaugural speech, Tapio Lappi-Seppälä, winner of the lifetime criminology award, talked about patterns of penal policy, linking imprisonment rates up to concepts borrowed from political science, such as Lijphart’s theory of democracies or Esping-Andersen’s welfare regimes – couldn’t it be more political sciency? And in a panel on fear of crime, political dynamics were mentioned as main reason of why everybody is concerned with fear of crime nowadays (while actual crime rates are decreasing). Finally, the panel I participated in was even termed “politics and insecurity” – so I felt quickly at home.
In my talk, I presented the key theoretical claims and main empirical findings of the quantitative analyses that will be published as part of my book “The partisan politics of law and order” – the final output of my research project on law and order policies forthcoming in Spring 2020 at Oxford University Press. My main findings come in two steps: First of all, it seems safe to say that parties emphasize law and order issues in their manifestos to a much stronger extent, if voters find security-related issues to be important and if the configuration of party competition includes strong right-wing populist parties. However, parties do not only talk about law and order policies, but they actually put them into law, once they enter office. Based on analysis of public spending and law and order legislation, I also find that parties which emphasize law and order heavily in the election campaign translate this emphasis into more spending and tougher legislation when they are part of the government. However, judicial review by powerful constitutional courts may push back such developments to a certain extent. Nevertheless, my findings show that party politics is key if we want to understand why some countries did engage on tough-on-crime policies whether others don’t.
I am very grateful to the conveners of the panel, Emily Gray and Steve Farrell (Derby University, UK) for having invited me to present my findings at the EuroCrim 2019 – not only because it I received good feedback and learned a lot attending an interesting conference, but also because I got to know the very cozy city of Ghent. Clearly, next time I will stop by, I need to reserve more time to do sight-seeing in what seems to be a very attractive city to live (see photos).