GR. The texts of Nils Christie, Louk Hulsman and Ruth Morris should be studied as independent texts. Some ideas are echoed, but their authors were based in different countries (Norway, The Netherlands and Canada) and wrote from different backgrounds: Nils Christie and Louk Hulsman were grounded in academics while Ruth Morris grounded her writings politically and religiously, specifically from the Quaker religion. Additionally, Nils Christie more accurately represents the wave called “penal minimalism”, while Louk Hulsman and Ruth Morris advocated for the abolition of the penal system. Nevertheless, all three authors criticise the concept of “crime”. This is especially present in Louk Hulsman’s text, of which it is the subject: he encourages reflections in terms of “problematic situations” rather than “crime”, which comes from criminal law and poorly reflects the reality of harm. In this way, Louk Hulsman reminds readers that crimes are not an “ontological reality”, but rather the result of an historical and political construction, and that the actions called “crimes” are not inherently bad or harmful. Louk Hulsman also demonstrates that the concept of “crime” is tied to the idea of personal responsibility, which is the basis of the penal system’s punitive approach.
Ruth Morris’s criticism of the concept of “crime” rests on the distinction she makes between two types of victims: those of street crime and those of distributive injustice, such as racism or poverty. Here, Ruth Morris highlights a major problem of the penal system: it focuses on victims and diverts our attention from power relations and structural injustice.
As for Nils Christie, in his text “Conflicts as property”, he analyses how the penal system, by dealing with offenses, robs their perpetrators and their victims, but also society at large, of the “richness of conflicts”. He describes the “theft of conflicts” by “professional thieves” such as lawyers and judges. He thus questions what is often taken for granted now: the transfer of conflict management, at least in some cases, to professionals.
Nils Christie, Louk Hulsman and Ruth Morris all challenge the accepted meanings of both “crime” and punishment. The three authors condemn at length the retributive nature of criminal punishments and consequently, the recourse to punishment. As Louk Hulsman notes, many response models (punitive, compensatory, therapeutic, conciliatory, educational) exist for dealing with a problematic situation. In this sense, it is not so obvious to resort to punishment when harm has been done.