Pre-Crime and Counter-Terrorism: Imagining Future Crime in the ‘War on Terror’

Posted: 25 Aug 2009

See all articles by Jude McCulloch

Jude McCulloch

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Sharon Pickering

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies; Monash University - Faculty of Arts

Date Written: September 2009


This article looks at pre-crime in the context of counter-terrorism. Pre-crime links coercive state actions to suspicion without the need for charge, prosecution or conviction. It also includes measures that expand the remit of the criminal law to include activities or associations that are deemed to precede the substantive offence targeted for prevention. The trend towards anticipating risks as a driving principle in criminal justice was identified well before 2001. However, risk and threat anticipation have substantially expanded in the context of contemporary counter-terrorism frameworks. Although pre-crime counter-terrorism measures are rationalized on the grounds of preventing terrorism, these measures do not fit in the frame of conventional crime prevention. The article argues that the shift to pre-crime embodies a trend towards integrating national security into criminal justice along with a temporal and geographic shift that encompasses a blurring of the borders between the states’ internal and external coercive capacities. The counter-terrorism framework incorporates and combines elements of criminal justice and national security, giving rise to a number of tensions. One key tension is between the ideal of impartial criminal justice and the politically charged concept of national security. Pre-crime counter-terrorism measures can be traced through a number of interlinking historical trajectories including the wars on crime and drugs, criminalization and, more fundamentally, in colonial strategies of domination, control and repression. The article concludes by identifying a number of challenges and opportunities for criminology in the shift from post-crime criminal justice to pre-crime national security.

Suggested Citation

McCulloch, Jude and Pickering, Sharon, Pre-Crime and Counter-Terrorism: Imagining Future Crime in the ‘War on Terror’ (September 2009). The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 49, Issue 5, pp. 628-645, 2009. Available at SSRN: or

Jude McCulloch (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

Sharon Pickering

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Monash University - Faculty of Arts ( email )

Clayton Victoria, 3800

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