A book review

Social construction of criminality varies between countries as much as the administration of punishment takes different forms in respective criminal justice systems. The central and eastern European context is a strikingly interesting case to look at as criminality and criminal justice systems in this region have been shaped by various socio-economic and political factors throughout three distinctive historical periods: communism, transformation and contemporary times. Although 26 years have passed since the fall of communism in Europe there is still a significant dearth of thorough and engaging academic discussions on this matter. Criminality and Criminal Justice in Contemporary Poland is an ambitious scholarly endeavour that contributes to the field of penal practice by examining the Polish context in particular.

One of the first advantages the reader will appreciate is that this edited collection goes beyond presenting the Polish penal landscape against only its socialist/communist past. All authors, who are well known and established Polish criminologists, focus on the transformation period onwards and contextualise post-1989 crime/offending data against broader economic and socio-political changes that took place at the time in Poland. The book is an edited volume comprised of 10 chapters entitled as follows: Criminality Today and Tomorrow: Structural Stability and Variability; The Status of Criminality in Poland since 1918; Social Change and Criminality: Mutual Relationships, Determinants and Implications; The Relationship between Poverty, Social Exclusion and Criminality; Preventing Criminality: The Social Policy of Preventing Social Exclusion; Justice and Its Many Faces; Controlling Criminality; Supervised Freedom; The Social Perception of Criminality; Criminality and the Media. It is worth acknowledging though that all book chapters were originally written in Polish and then translated into English.

Although the real value of the book is that all scholars attempt to shift the reader’s attention to Polish criminological thought and research, they also engage with relevant (mainly sociological) literature familiar to western academics. Some of the authors refer to notable Polish criminologists such as Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Juliusz Makarewicz, demonstrating that Polish criminology also has great foundations. The former became a post-war ‘refugee’ in the UK and became one of the founding fathers of British criminology.

When it comes to the content of the book there are a couple of chapters that require a special mention. In Chapter 2 (The Status of Criminality in Poland since 1918), Konrad Buczkowski looks beyond the traditional post-Second World War period and demonstrates a more comprehensive and detailed overview of crime data in Poland. Despite the fact that the author relies on the number of reported crimes and convictions, a great asset to the chapter is that criminal policies under the communist rule are delineated into several stages corresponding with different phases of the 1944–1989 period. This chapter in particular forms a solid basis for an interesting debate about so-called Polish punitiveness, or rather the dynamic of punitive responses in the Polish context. However, in Chapter 6 (Justice and Its Many Faces), Barbara Czarnecka-Dzialuk and Paulina Wiktorska, based on Szymanowski’s observation and a number of Polish public opinion surveys, argue that behind Polish people’s preference for non-isolation sanctions such as fines or community sentences lies an increasingly moderate and rational attitude towards punishment.

Thereafter, Anna Kossowska in Chapter 3 (Social Change and Criminality: Mutual Relationships, Determinants and Implications) introduces a number of studies from Poland in order to illustrate how post-1989 transformative years resulted in the ‘change trauma’. The author introduces some sociologically distinctive explanations and argues that the multiple transformations aimed at ‘moving away from the Polish version of socialism to the Polish version of capitalism’ (p. 48) were carried out at considerable cost to society. These analyses shed an interesting light on the causes of criminality at the time and encourage to look at the data along with the argument of so-called Polish galvanising consumerist attitudes.

The readership of European Journal of Probation will benefit most from Chapter 8 (Supervised Freedom) that discusses Probation Service in Poland, and Chapter 5 (Preventing Criminality) that examines the link between poverty and levels of criminality. While the former depicts how the educational/rehabilitative model of probation can be contrasted with the social work model known in western Europe, in the latter the author points out that the important phase of the functioning of social work in Poland was the 1990s – when the aim of social work was to protect people from the consequences of the rapid transformation.

The main contribution of the book lies in exposing the Polish context and discussing criminality and the criminal justice system with reference to the Polish studies and criminological school of thought. This collection creates a delicate, but highly important, equipoise for Anglo-American hegemony of criminological publications.

Book Review: Konrad Buczkowski, Beata Czarnecka-Dzialuk, Witold Klaus, Anna Kossowska, Irena Rzeplińska, Dagmara Woźniakowska-Fajst, Dobrochna Wójcik (2015) Criminality and Criminal Justice in Contemporary Poland: Sociopolitical Perspectives, originally published in: European Journal of Probation, August, 8, p.104-105. 

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