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Not So Tough on Crime?: Why Weren't the Thatcher Governments More Radical in Reforming the Criminal Justice System?

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 50 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2010 Pages: 550-569
Date Published
May 2010
20 pages

This paper examines the Thatcher Government's (1979-1990) response to reforming the criminal justice system in Great Britian.


Despite becoming almost synonymous in the public's imagination with 'law and order' and toughness on crime, the Thatcher years (1979-90) would not be characterized by many criminologists as a period of radical reform of the criminal justice system. Thatcherism, it seems, was far less radical in the criminal policy field than it was in housing, the economy or local government finance. This paper explores the reasons for this seeming paradox. Our argument is that Thatcherite thinking came late to this policy realm and only started to inform policy in any consistent and radical way after Thatcher had left office. This we attribute to: (1) the precedence accorded other issue domains more closely associated with the 'crisis' to which Thatcherism claimed to provide a response; (2) the power-sharing that Thatcher had to engage in with the more paternalist wing of her party during much of her time in office; and (3) a series of time-lag effects. Crime, being the expression of social and economic forces, did not rise dramatically during the early phase of Thatcherite restructuring. In crime and criminal justice policy, radical Thatcherism post-dated Thatcher. It should be seen as a knock-on effect of the steep rise in unemployment and the social polarization resulting from policy radicalism in other issue domains exacerbated by the slide into recession from 1990. References (Published Abstract)

Date Published: May 1, 2010