Social science holds the key to crime prevention

A new publication from the Academy of Social Sciences shows how university research has helped to reduce crime, prevent crime and change UK Government policies.

Online PR News – 29-June-2011 – – Plans to toughen up on prison sentences and end the cycle of reoffending were outlined last week (on 22 June) in the new UK Justice Bill - a reversal of previous Government policies that proposed longer sentences. It raises questions about whether such policies about crime and punishment are based on proper research-based evidence, not shaped to fit the mood of the moment, argues the Academy of Social Sciences.

A new publication shows the way university research has dramatically changed the way crime and offenders are tackled. Making the case for social science: Crime (published on 29 June) shows how research can make a significant contribution to reducing crime, policing crime and addressing the causes of crime. A collaboration between the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Society of Criminology and the British Psychological Society, it brings together case-studies showing that the preventative approach used in health screening, for instance, can be applied successfully to the study of crime prevention so that policy can draw on proper evidence

“What often appear to be common sense solutions to crime are often way off the mark. Rigorous social science research can provide a sound basis for addressing the causes of crime,” says Professor Mike Hough, President of the British Society of Criminology.

Examples in the publication show the impact of research on policy and crime prevention.

• A 50-year study of boys in London shows how early interventions can prevent them offending.
• Research on the use of imitation guns and air weapons in violent crime led to a change in the law prohibiting these kind of firearms.
• A study of the psychological motivation of killers (the modus operandi) has been adopted in an official murder investigation manual.
• Research on ‘mob mentality’ has changed the way police deal with crowds.
• Evidence showing that 70 per cent of burglaries in Liverpool were committed by offenders breaking in at the back of properties led to the installation of alley gates, which reduced burglaries by over one third.
• A 15-year research programme found that illicit drug use does not necessarily lead directly to other forms of crime. Instead it revealed that problem drug users typically start their criminal careers in their teens, before they become habitual drug users.

“Crime policies based on unsound evidence are ineffective at best and damaging at worst. So any strategy designed to control crime needs to be underpinned by a proper understanding of the underlying social, cultural and economic causes of crime,” says Professor Cary Cooper, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science. “It is essential that politicians and policy makers have a solid evidence base to draw on.”

Notes to editors - examples from the report

Early interventions
Research at the University of Cambridge has been investigating why people become criminals and how to prevent this happening through a 50-year study of boys from one working class area of London from the age of eight. This has highlighted risk factors such as low school achievement, poor parental supervision and unemployment. As a result, the importance of early interventions in preventing offending has been adopted by the youth justice system and in the Government’s work on social exclusion.

Gun crime research leads to change in the law
Research from the University of Brighton revealed that around 10 per cent of gun homicides, 20 per cent of serious firearm injuries and 40 per cent of armed robbers in 2008-9 involved or what were then legal firearms such as imitation guns, air weapons or converted weapons. . This led to the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Act that brought prohibitions and tighter controls on a wider group of weapons, resulting in a reduction in the overall recorded gun crime in England and Wales.

Modus operandi in homicides
A study of the characteristics of difficult-to-solve homicides, conducted at the University of Glamorgan, has helped police officers to establish a modus operandi for different types of homicides and an insight into the psyche of the murderer. This research has been picked up on a national level and cited as a key source of information in the Murder Investigation Manual – recognised as the definitive guide on homicide investigation in this country.

Softly softly approach to controlling crowd behaviour
Researchers at the University of Sussex found that, contrary to popular belief, people do not lose their identity and adopt an uncontrolled ‘mob mentality’ in crowds. Instead they act in terms of a shared social identity. The researchers developed an approach to crowd control that has been used successfully at European football championship matches and by the emergency services.

Alley-gating reduces house burglaries
Simply making crime more difficult can have a significant impact. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield discovered that more than 70 per cent of burglaries in Liverpool were committed by offenders breaking in at the back of properties. More than 5,000 gates have been installed to alleyways behind terraced houses. The result was a reduction in burglaries by over one third

Tackling assumptions about drug-related crime
A 15-year programme of research at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (now at Birkbeck) found that illicit drug use does not necessarily lead directly to other forms of crime. There is a causal relationship between offending and drug use, but it is not straightforward. Research shows that problem drug users typically start their criminal careers in their teens, before they become habitual drug users. It also shows that the criminal process could be used to encourage or coerce dependent users in to treatment and that the problem can be tackled

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