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Professor Howard Jones (1918-2007)

Professor Howard Jones, criminologist, 23/11/1918 - 31/12/2007

Howard Jones, BSc (Econ), PhD, D.Litt., was Head of the Department of Social Administration at University College, Cardiff from 1969 to his retirement in 1984, and died December 31 2007, aged 89.  He received a D. Litt. from the University of Wales in 1984 and became Professor Emeritus on his retirement that year. 

Howard belonged to that generation of social researchers who were self-made intellectuals. He left school at 14, worked for a glass firm, local government, and estates before joining the YMCA as Deputy Warden to supervise the training of boys in farm work.  In a sense, he may have been defined as a ‘problem youth’ himself, being a pacifist conscientious objector during WW2.  In tandem with ten years in youth work, casework and residential social work, he completed a London degree as an external candidate part time, and went on to take a Diploma in Public Administration, qualify as a psychiatric social worker (training at the Tavistock, a leading edge place for psychoanalysis and group work), and do a Ph.D. under Hermann Mannheim at the LSE, all of them except the psychiatric social work part-time.  This sense of commitment and of ‘doing it my way’ carried with him till the end of his days and it is interesting to reflect how conventional are the backgrounds of most academics (and politicians) nowadays in comparison.

Howard’s most notable contribution to social science was to help develop an evidence base and approach to social work and criminology that was analytically and empirically defensible but which was not reductionist or ignored emotional interactions, and which was forged in public debate with both practitioners and academics.  In more recent times it would have been called evidence-led engagement with the field. He began academic life as a lecturer in social studies and then senior lecturer in sociology at Leicester 1953-65, before moving to a Readership at Keele 1965-69, where he commenced as the only member of staff in a new department and started criminology there. Then, after study leave at Berkeley, he moved to Cardiff as Professor in 1969, to head the then Department of Social Administration and School of Social Work.  He retired in 1984, before the merger of Social Admin with Sociology and of University College Cardiff with UWIST.

In an age when publishing did not receive the obsessional focus it does today, he was an avid communicator. His books included Reluctant Rebels (Tavistock, 1961); Crime and the Penal System (University Tutorial Press, 1962); Alcoholic Addiction: a Psycho-Social Approach to Abnormal Drinking (Tavistock, 1963), Crime in a Changing Society (Penguin, 1965); Towards a New Social Work (Routledge, 1975); Open Prisons (Routledge, 1977); The Residential Community (Routledge, 1979); Society against Crime: Penal Practice in Modern Britain (Penguin, 1981); Crime, Race and Culture (Wiley, 1981); and Social Welfare in Third World Development (Macmillan, 1990). 

However he also made a significant contribution to probation and social work research and practice.  Balancing these worlds sometimes gave rise to difficulties. He once told the story of a public talk he gave while he was at Leicester, which included a spoof on how the rabid ‘hang-em-and-flog-em’ brigade would deal with criminals. Unfortunately for him, a reporter walked in during this sequence, having missed the contextual prefatory remarks, and he quoted this purple passage verbatim in the local press. A furious Howard – and he could be a match for Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘hairdryer technique’ when roused - phoned the editor to complain, but the editor refused to issue a retraction or apology, since he had indeed uttered the quoted words!  Howard ruefully remembered the damage this press report did to his reputation with local practitioners. 

Many of his works (and their titles) have a quaintly old fashioned ring in the light of fashionable late modern cynicism both about change and about the legitimacy of motivations for change. Postmodernism and its language and preoccupations appalled him; ‘crime science’ would have been viewed as too narrow and insufficiently concerned with motivation. As with others of his generation, he had the good fortune not be cluttered by the range of literature available today, and he had a direct style and an ability to think and dictate/write in whole paragraphs or chapters.  (In those pre-computer days, revision was a laborious business.) His first book, Reluctant Rebels, arose out of his work with ‘maladjusted children’ (a term he used without the inverted commas) and addressed the extent to which group therapy could provide them with a sense of security and some insight into their problems. He stressed the importance of treating kids as individuals rather than labelling them as ‘yobs’ as happens today.  The regimes in the school he studied had some positive results, which were dispassionately reviewed in his book, but the school was closed down by the Ministry of Education because its results were not unambiguous enough to fit its evaluation metrics. The date – not 2008, but 1961!

Crime and the Penal System might lay claim to be the first British criminology textbook, though at the time, there were precious few criminology students to buy it.  Crime in a Changing Society was written in a folksy, accessible style – legend had it that he dictated it, a chapter per Saturday morning, into a tape recorder, without much later amendment – and even a decade later, theoretical fashions had moved on.  But in terms of communicating a set of issues about crime and rational responses to the public – Penguin was the publisher – it was good by the standards of its day, before interactionist or marxisant criminology took off.  Open Prisons remains one of the few interesting empirical studies of such regimes and remains a standard reference.  Society against Crime was an edited collection of articles by Cardiff criminology and social work staff, aimed at increasing the profile of our department.  Howard was far too bright not to realise the there was some contradiction in ‘society’ being against crime, which is part of ‘society’, but the title for him represented the ‘institutional realist’ approach of formal government and institutions facing ‘crime’. 

One of his strong interests was comparative criminology, penal welfare and its relationship with general social conditions. As well as sabbaticals with his family visiting adventurous spots such as Papua New Guinea (where he was mugged but still found stimulating), he played an influential role in developing probation and alternatives to prisons in the Caribbean, especially Barbados, Guyana and, to a lesser extent, Jamaica.  A five year project funded by what is now DFID brought some Guyanese to Cardiff for PhDs and sent to Guyana David Dodd. He and his wife Bess were good hosts to our graduate students from the countries of the South.

Howard’s last book before retirement, Crime, Race and Culture, explored differences in crime rates between Guyanese of Indian and African origin and tried to account for them in cultural and employment terms.  The book belonged to the pre-racism discourse era, and though it did look substantively at issues of the colonial legacy, it correctly concluded that this legacy was a necessary but not sufficient part of the explanation for crime differences between the ethnic groups. After his retirement, he continued writing – Macmillan published Social Welfare in Third World Development – and remained a source of good company and intellectual vitality until his recent illness.  

Even in the era that preceded ‘the audit society’ (which he would have hated to superintend), Howard was kept busy with building up and then managing a quite fractious department of overwhelmingly junior staff, the majority being social work/probation lecturers; the next largest group being social policy (who distanced themselves from both him and criminology); plus two criminologists other than him.   Most of the social work staff saw themselves primarily as trainers of professionals, and the kind of rigorously agnostic analysis to which Howard subscribed was quite alien to them: emotional authenticity was often their key test of validity. (Fortunately this was before the Campbell Collaboration or the Research Assessment Exercise!)  He was intellectually and personally sharp in debate during our sometimes vitriolic staff meetings, and treated some staff like the (far from) ‘reluctant rebels’ of his first book.  He also had to manage some cohorts of social work students who were keen to hone their skills in the culture of complaint. He was fearless and could be quite outspoken in private and public settings (including with the Home Office), and – though bull-like in his determination to achieve those objectives he thought right - had no temperament for the sustained delicate interdepartmental and governmental alliance-building that might have enabled him to bring to fruition the Welsh Institute for Social Policy or police-funded lectureship he sought to get in the first half of the 1980s. (In the early 80s, he imaginatively hosted four lectures by leading Chief Constables and when he took his regular study leave in the Caribbean, I took over from him an interesting project on police-public relationships in Devon & Cornwall and Greater Manchester.)

Departmental duties at Cardiff left him with insufficient time to engage in personal fieldwork in the UK so, despite his cleverness, some of his writings lacked the ethnographic base of immersion in the field that would have given them more lasting power: perhaps more importantly, the change in academic and political fashions left no space for his sort of correctional commitment.  On the other hand, he had sufficient legitimacy in social work (especially probation) to engage in writing and argument with his colleagues, and – coming from a generation in which rounded social scientists were engaged with social policy debates – he was happy to discuss academically any of the issues about which colleagues were writing, and to assist them in research proposals and publications if requested

He was theoretically open-minded except to what he regarded as totalitarian thinking – in 1975, the leading American sociologist of deviance Ed Lemert spent a sabbatical in our department at Cardiff – but never one to be swayed by contemporary intellectual fashions or by the benefits of kowtowing to government or other departmental heads. He was an unabashed believer in reforming both offenders and correctional institutions/ policy-making, and I have selected as a typical example of his incisive thinking and no-nonsense prose style the following extracts from ‘A case for corrections’ in the British Journal of Social Work (1981: 1) which, though published 26 years ago, still has a contemporary ring:

“Over the last few years the correctional approach to offenders has fallen into disfavour among academics. As in the case of many previous one-sided dogmas in criminology, the evidence for this anti-correctionalism is not strong. Nevertheless this has not prevented it from taking on the aspect of irrefutable truth, and spreading from the academics (who do not in themselves matter all that much) to the practitioners (who matter a great deal). This paper will examine the credentials of this fashionable ideology, and to this end will pay particular attention to a recent paper on probation by Bottoms and McWilliams. “ 

It ends (p.16):

“We have much more research and experimentation before us if correction is to become an effective means of crime control, but among its rivals, retribution has nothing to offer on this score, incapacitation very little, and deterrence only on a strictly selective basis. It is not open to either the moral or the social objections usually raised against it—less so perhaps than any of its competitors.

But it is no more a panacea than anything else. Though we must beware of giving such prominence to deterrence that we come to run our society on a basis of fear, it also has its part to play in that strictly limited field in which punishment can be expected to deter. Incapacitation through imprisonment, whatever its disadvantages, will continue to be demanded so long as society continues to attach the rather dubious label of 'dangerous' to certain kinds of offender. The case for the continuance of the retributive justice principle in sentencing must rest on the value which can be claimed for it in setting limits to correctional or deterrent activity. Even if there was no such case, the need which we seem (regrettably) to have for a moral rationalisation, to enable us to go on displacing our social and economic dissatisfaction upon conveniently available scapegoats like criminals, will probably ensure its survival.”

 

Michael Levi, Professor of Criminology, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.