The MWS Podcast 102: Tom Gash on his book Criminals: The truth about why people do bad things

We are joined today by Tom Gash. Tom is an advisor, researcher and writer on crime policy and government effectiveness, who helps people to think differently about the big challenges facing governments worldwide. He is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government, a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics, and an expert adviser for the Boston Consulting Group. He’s going to talk to us today about his book Criminal: The Truth about Why People do Bad Things which challenges many of the assumptions and entrenched beliefs that are commonly held about crime and criminals.


MWS Podcast 102: Tom Gash as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_102_Tom_Gash

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 102: Tom Gash on his book Criminals: The truth about why people do bad things

  1. A very interesting podcast. Crime does seem to be an area that is especially prone to fixed beliefs and biases, but these are also amplified by the media and, as Tom said, by internet algorithms. The freewill v determinism dichotomy, mono-causal assumptions, and sweeping generalisations all combine with confirmation bias to create and cramp debate in which even those politicians who want to move forward (Ken Clarke in recent times) find themselves unable to do so because they’d be moving too far ahead of public opinion. I increasingly think a two-pronged approach is needed to actually change these perceptions: better critical education together with pressure on the media to start valuing critical thinking.

    I’m glad to find that such an articulate advocate is trying to improve critical thinking on crime. However, I did feel that what he said about rehabilitation was rather falling victim to technicality. If the ways in which different countries measure re-offending differ, surely there is some way of estimating the impact of the differences? To me it also seems obvious that rehabilitation works better than punishment simply because it produces better integrated people – and the whole of the rest of our experience of people in general can be drawn on to support that point. Getting accounts of integration that can be tested sufficiently well to satisfy scientists is a big task, indeed, but nobody at present seems to be thinking along those lines or trying to develop them. Once you get this you’re in a better position to evidence how having more integrated people with fewer conflicts is better for society in all sorts of ways, but certainly including crime. The value of rehabilitation then becomes just as clear as the value of meditation and critical thinking for children, which Tom seemed to be happier with. Is the kind of evidence being demanded here to show the success of rehabilitation too narrow from the beginning?

    1. Thanks very much for this comment. Sorry to spot it so late. There are certainly effective ways of rehabilitating, it’s just so many things that intuitively ‘should’ work end up not really making that much difference such is the difficulty of changing fixed patterns of behaviour. It can be done, but it is hard, and there is a lot of mystery in it relating to who is involved in supporting desistance and the timing of interventions in people’s lives. I do think prisons should think much more about things like critical thinking and meditation too, actually – because even if we aren’t yet sure whether it will reduce reoffending, it might (let’s measure) and it is highly likely to make the prison environment calmer and less dangerous – much needed in light of current prison service collapse in the UK, and many other countries.

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