Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds As you have seen in previous learning steps, debates about crime have shaped our understanding of cities in significant ways. However, the manner in which we respond to crime also has a huge influence on urban life, and our overall well-being. When we look at modern cities, we can see that security measures feature prominently. There is widespread surveillance of the population through CCTV, and we have come to expect being subjected to this surveillance as part of the ‘normal’ urban experience. In the current global security climate, it’s likely that there will be only more surveillance in the future. But the reality is that our level of security and safety differs greatly from location to location.
Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds For example, we may all want an effective policing service, but in some urban areas, typically those characterised as ghettos, shantytowns or favelas, the police may be viewed not as a source of protection, but often as a problem in their own right - whether through harassment of locals, corruption, or, in extreme cases, police killings. The relationship that communities have with the police can confirm their position in the political life of the state - are they viewed as a community to be protected, or as a disreputable group to be policed aggressively?
Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds If we consider the issue of imprisonment in particular, it is clear that the actions of the criminal justice system can have a differential impact on communities, feeding into the level of deprivation we see in different parts of the city. In most societies, the majority of the prison population
Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds share a depressingly familiar set of characteristics: often drawn from the most marginal sections of society, prisoners tend to have low levels of formal education, a history of unemployment, and of family disruption. But in addition, they tend to share
Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds one further important characteristic: and that is location or area of residence. In other words, they tend to be drawn from a relatively small number of deeply disadvantaged geographic areas. The significance of this for our purposes, is that the more people are imprisoned, the greater the impact on the families of the prisoners, on their children and on the communities they come from. And when those prisoners are released from custody, they are going to be even more disadvantaged in terms of education, their job prospects and perhaps other important issues such as their parenting skills. And so ultimately how we punish - the extent to which we imprison people - can deepen the disadvantage that communities face.
Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds One way to compare prison systems is to examine the rate of imprisonment and typically we do this by comparing the number of people in custody for every 100,000 people in the population. If we look at a selection of countries across the world, we can see striking differences in their imprisonment rates. For years the USA has led the rest of the world in terms of the rate at which it imprisons people, and although in the last number of years this has peaked and there has been a slight decline, the numbers are still far in excess of what is found in most other countries worldwide.
Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds The imprisonment rate for the USA of 693 people per 100,000, equates to an overall figure of about 2,200,000 people in penal custody. And beyond the numbers in prison, there is an even larger group of over 4 .5 million people who are on probation or on parole. So overall, about 7 million people in the USA are either incarcerated, or under the supervision of the penal system in some way. While this rate of imprisonment is enormous by international standards, when we look at the imprisonment rate for different racial groups, the scale of incarceration becomes even more remarkable. For the Black population, the imprisonment rate is about 2,300 per 100,000 population, and for Black males, it rises to about 4,300.
Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds Based on current projections, about 1 in 3 black males in the USA can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their life. This is about 5 .5 times higher than the rate for white males. This scale of incarceration has enormous knock-on effects for wider society and it has devastated many urban communities, with a hugely disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups. Beyond the activities of state agencies such as the police or prison system, we also have to consider the role that private security measures play in shaping contemporary cities. One trend that is becoming increasingly prominent is the growth of what have been termed ‘gated communities’.
Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds These comprise residential areas which are protected by gates and sometimes guards or other security measures. While this form of urban living has been common in some locations for many years, initially they were largely restricted to the wealthiest sectors of society, and in recent decades they have become more and more widespread. The increasing popularity and prominence of gated communities reflects a number of factors - for example, there can be a certain prestige associated with living in an ‘exclusive’ and expensive location. But one key reason for their growth is a concern over safety and security, and in that sense they represent a reaction to the anxieties over crime that we associate with city life.
Skip to 5 minutes and 27 seconds Described by Mike Davis as ‘security bubbles’ and by Teresa Caldeira as ‘fortress enclaves’, the scale of some of these developments can be immense. For example, Alphaville in Sao Paolo in Brazil is a gated community established in 1978. Since then it has expanded to a population of 60,000 people, with security provided by 40 miles of fencing, and almost a thousand security guards. In cities with high levels of crime, and particularly violent crime, the emergence of such gated communities can be viewed
Skip to 6 minutes and 1 second as a way of reducing the risks that residents face, and making them feel more secure. But the security they seek is pursued
Skip to 6 minutes and 9 seconds by segregating themselves from others literally, by erecting physical barriers to keep the rest of society at a distance. And so this development contributes in a very visible and symbolic way to the segregation of our cities into different areas,
Skip to 6 minutes and 24 seconds each characterised by different levels of wealth and affluence, and also by different levels of safety and security. Increasingly this is leading to the development of cities within cities, or “fragmented urbanism”. As you engage with the next learning steps, you will examine in more detail the impact
Skip to 6 minutes and 41 seconds that imprisonment has on some urban communities in the USA, and you will explore the growth of private security in South Africa. While those activities focus on specific countries, the wider issues they raise highlight the challenges of sustaining our well-being in a context of globalisation,
Skip to 6 minutes and 59 seconds inequality, and increasing urbanisation.
Security and social control in the city
Security measures such as CCTV feature prominently in modern cities, but levels of security and safety differ greatly from location to location, and people can have vastly different perceptions and experiences of the criminal justice system.
The majority of the prison population tends to be drawn from a small number of deeply disadvantaged geographic areas. This means that the more people are imprisoned, the greater the impact on prisoners’ families, and on the communities they come from. In that sense, criminal justice policy has a direct bearing on the level of marginalisation that particular communities may experience.
Private security measures also play a role in shaping contemporary cities. While the growth of ‘gated communities’ may increase the security (or at least the perception of it) of those who live in them, it also makes the city more fragmented by exacerbating the gap in the levels of security available to different groups of people.
In the following learning steps, we will explore the impact that imprisonment has on some urban communities in the USA, and the growth of private security in South Africa. While these activities focus on specific countries, the wider issues they raise highlight the challenges of sustaining our security and well-being in a context of globalisation, inequality, and increasing urbanisation.
© School of Sociology, University College Dublin