Wie dient Opstelten eigenlijk: de burgers, de criminologen of de criminelen?

Minister Opstelten

Foto ANP. Dankbaar geleend van het AD.

Het woord “minister” komt uit het Latijn en betekent “dienaar”. Sinds de 10e eeuw werd het woord gebruikt om dienaren, meer bepaald de raadgevers, van de koning aan te duiden (Wikipedia). We zouden mogen hopen dat het tegenwoordig “dienaar van de burgers” betekent. Bij minister Opstelten begin ik te denken dat hij vooral criminologen dient, en, via hen, de criminelen.

Na ons vorige artikel had ik de heer Opstelten een brief geschreven met als kern:

Goenendijk en ik nodigen u hierbij uit om in te gaan op onze kritiekpunten en aanbevelingen.

Op 30 oktober ontving ik Opsteltens reactie:

In bovengenoemde brief vraagt u aandacht voor mijn brief van 27 mei jl. aan de Tweede Kamer met als onderwerp Recidive, pakkans en strafhoogte.
In antwoord deel ik u mede dat ik in bovengenoemde discussie aan de Tweede Kamer voldoende uitvoerig ben ingegaan op de discussie over recidive bij taakstraffen. Ik heb daar niets aan toe te voegen.

Twee dingen kloppen niet in deze reactie.

  • Ten eerste vroegen Frans Groenendijk en ik niet Opstelten aandacht voor zijn eigen brief, maar voor onze kritiek.
  • Ten tweede is Opstelten weliswaar uitvoerig ingegaan op de discussie over recidive, maar beslist niet “voldoende”, want hij gebruikte valse argumenten, zoals wij hebben aangetoond.

In onze brief aan Opstelten herhaalden wij de zin: “Politici laten zich fout informeren en nemen beslissingen die de maatschappij schaden”. Hij doet net alsof hij dat niet gelezen heeft, en hij zal er wel mee wegkomen. De meerderheid van de Tweede Kamer heeft ook geen echte belangstelling in criminaliteit en de bestrijding daarvan. Dat zal ook gelden voor een groot deel van de kiezers. Er heerst een soort apathie. Vandaag werd me iets duidelijker hoe die de maatschappij is ingeslopen.

Ik had vorige week een link naar het vorige artikel geplaatst op Facebook. Vanochtend reageerde Danny Ghosen, de PowNews verslaggever. Ghosen is onder andere bekend van het aan de kaak stellen van selectieve wetshandhaving, in het voordeel van foutparkerende diplomaten en medewerkers van stadstoezicht, die juist op het parkeren zouden moeten toezien.

Ghosen gaf me op Facebook een link naar een artikel in City Journal uit 1999 van Theodore Dalrymple. Het is een lang stuk, maar beslist de moeite waard, want het belicht de kwalijke invloed van veel criminologen; hun ideeën hebben de maatschappij vergiftigd en veel criminaliteit veroorzaakt. Ik raad iedereen aan dit te lezen. Voor wie niet genoeg tijd heeft geef ik hieronder ongeveer een derde deel van de tekst weer, met enkele passages vetgedrukt:

How Criminologists Foster Crime

Last week in the prison I asked a young man why he was there.

“Just normal burglaries,” he replied.

“Normal for whom?” I asked.

“You know, just normal.”

He meant, I think, that burglaries were like gray skies in an English winter: unavoidable and to be expected. In an actuarial sense, he was right: Britain is now the burglary capital of the world, as almost every householder here will attest. But there was also a deeper sense to his words, for statistical normality slides rapidly in our minds into moral normality. The wives of burglars often talk to me of their husband’s “work,” as if breaking into other people’s homes were merely a late shift in a factory. Nor is only burglary “normal” in the estimation of its perpetrators. “Just a normal assault,” is another frequent answer prisoners give to my question, the little word “just” emphasizing the innocuousness of the crime.

But how has crime come to seem normal to its perpetrators? Is it merely a recognition of the brute fact of a vastly increased crime rate? Or could it be, on the contrary, one of the very causes of that increase, inasmuch as it represents a weakening of the inhibition against criminality?

As usual, one must look first to the academy when tracing the origins of a change in the Zeitgeist. What starts out as a career-promoting academic hypothesis ends up as an idea so widely accepted that it becomes not only an unchallengeable orthodoxy but a cliche even among the untutored. Academics have used two closely linked arguments to establish the statistical and moral normality of crime and the consequent illegitimacy of the criminal justice system’s sanctions. First, they claim, we are all criminal anyway; and when everyone is guilty, everyone is innocent. Their second argument, Marxist in inspiration, is that the law has no moral content, being merely the expression of the power of certain interest groups—of the rich against the poor, for example, or the capitalist against the worker. Since the law is an expression of raw power, there is no essential moral distinction between criminal and non-criminal behavior. It is simply a question of whose foot the boot is on.

Criminologists are the mirror image of Hamlet, who exclaimed that if each man received his deserts, none should escape whipping. On the contrary, say the criminologists, more liberal than the prince (no doubt because of their humbler social origins): none should be punished.

It is impossible to state precisely when the Zeitgeist changed and the criminal became a victim in the minds of intellectuals: not only history, but also the history of an idea, is a seamless robe. Let me quote one example, though, now more than a third of a century old. In 1966 (at about the time when Norman Mailer in America, and Jean-Paul Sartre in Europe, portrayed criminals as existential heroes in revolt against a heartless, inauthentic world), the psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book with the revealing title The Crime of Punishment.
At the age of eight, I stole a penny bar of chocolate from the corner store. (…) My mother did not take the view that this was a transient episode of delinquency that would pass of its own accord. She knew instinctively (for, at that time, no one had yet befuddled minds by suggesting otherwise) that all that was necessary for delinquency to triumph was for her to do nothing. She did not think that my theft was a natural act of self-expression, or a revolt against the inequality between the power and wealth of children and that of adults, or indeed of anything other than my desire to have the chocolate without paying for it. 

It has been the effect, and quite possibly the intention, of criminologists to shed new obscurity on the matter of crime: the opacity of their writing sometimes leads one to wonder whether they have actually ever met a criminal or a crime victim. Certainly, it is in their professional interest that the wellsprings of crime should remain an unfathomed mystery, for how else is one to convince governments that what a crime-ridden country (such as Britain) needs is further research done by ever more criminologists?

It is probably no coincidence that the profession of criminology underwent a vast expansion at about the same time that criminal activity began the steepest part of its exponential rise. Criminologists in Britain once numbered in the low dozens; and criminology, considered unfit for undergraduates, was taught only in one or two institutes. Today, hardly a city or town in the country is without its academic criminology department. Half of the 800 criminologists now working in Britain got their training (mostly in sociology) in the late sixties and early seventies, during the heyday of radical activism, and they trained the other half.

Of course, it might have been that the problem of crime called forth its students. But since social problems are often of a dialectical nature, could it not also have been that the students called forth their problem? (British economist John Vaizey once wrote that any problem that became the subject of an ology was destined to grow serious.) Since the cause of crime is the decision of criminals to commit it, what goes on in their minds is not irrelevant. Ideas filter down selectively from the academy into the population at large, through discussions (and often bowdlerizations) in the papers and on TV, and become intellectual currency. In this way, the ideas of criminologists could actually become a cause of crime. In addition, these ideas deleteriously affect the thinking of the police.


Of course, the tendency of liberal intellectuals such as Jock Young not to mean quite what they say, and to express themselves more to flaunt the magnanimity of their intentions than to propagate truth, is a general one. 

The idea that prison is principally a therapeutic institution is now virtually ineradicable. The emphasis on recidivism rates as a measure of its success or failure in the press coverage of prison (“Research by criminologists shows . . . ” etc.) reinforces this view, as does the theory put forward by criminologists that crime is a mental disorder.
The great majority of the theories criminologists propound lead to the exculpation of criminals, and criminals eagerly take up these theories in their desire to present themselves as victims rather than as victimizers.
In fact, criminals know all about the power of punishment: both its deterrent and rehabilitative effect.
Criminology is not monolithic, and there are more dissenters now than there once were, as Jock Young recognizes. “This recent pattern [of criminologists who believe in detection and punishment] is in contrast to a generation of liberal opinion and scholarship whose aim was to minimize police intervention and lower police numbers. One might even say that this has been the hidden agenda of academic criminology since the Nineteenth Century.

From the criminal’s point of view, criminology has served him proud.



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