LEVELS AND TRENDS OF CRIME
The prominence given to crime in daily media reports is testimony to the fact that crime is an area of considerable community interest and concern. At the same time, crime stories can be sensationalised in the media and can create fear that is disproportionate to actual levels of crime. An important role of crime statistics therefore is to identify the nature and level of crime and violence in our society, and changes in these over time. Crime and justice data is also needed to facilitate comparisons within and between countries and geographic regions, and between various population groups (e.g. young people and older people).
How crime can be effectively prevented is clearly a core issue of concern for communities and governments. Thus there is a need to be able to analyse criminal incidents to understand the situational factors that create opportunities for crime. For example, information is needed about victim behaviour in relation to criminal incidents, and about the effectiveness of measures people take personally to protect themselves from crime. Information about the locations and time of day in which crime occurs can also assist analysis in this area. The risk factors for crime victimisation can also guide the development of crime prevention strategies (e.g. are there connections between particular sociodemographic factors, such as age and sex, and crime victimisation). Repeat victimisation, and the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of repeat victimisation is also of interest, as is the sociodemographic situation of offenders and information about the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
EFFECTIVENESS OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Community confidence is influenced by the effectiveness and efficiency of different elements of the justice system, particularly the police and courts. The community has expectations that the police will be able to solve crime, apprehend offenders and prevent the crime rate from increasing, and that offenders found guilty of a crime will have appropriate penalties imposed on them by the courts. The capacity of courts to deal with court workloads, and the length of time it takes to finalise court cases are therefore issues of interest. Other issues include police performance and the way in which police performance is perceived within the community. The level of unreported crime in the community is at least in part influenced by the level of confidence people have in the effectiveness of the police and other criminal justice agencies (e.g. minor theft may not be reported if victims feel there is nothing the police can do). For these reasons, information is needed to address issues relating to the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice agencies.
RESPONSE TO CRIME
Community concern often focuses on the complex issue of sentencing. The community wants to ensure sentencing results in a reduction in certain crimes and is applied equitably to all people in the population. Some people may also support the view that sentencing should punish offenders and deliver retribution to victims. The need to exact some form of reparation from offenders is also recognised, and effective sentencing may thus allow for offenders to return value to the community (e.g. in the form of work done). People are aware of the need to impose appropriately severe sentences as a deterrent, and/or to contain offenders who pose risks to the community. However, the need to be lenient in some cases, and to rehabilitate offenders is also recognised. One aim of rehabilitation is to improve the lives of people who have become involved in the criminal justice system. Importantly, rehabilitation also aims to secure the longer term safety of the community by modifying the behaviour and values of offenders so they do not engage in crime when released from prison or other corrective restraints.
Issues associated with incarceration are also complex. The effect on prisoners, particularly young prisoners, of exposure to other offenders in prison is a concern, as is the high cost of running corrections facilities. At the same time, society is concerned about the release of offenders back into the community and the danger to the community that they will re-offend. Information is needed about the efficiency and effectiveness of different corrective measures in resolving these diverse objectives. For example, how effectively do alternatives to prison, such as non-custodial penalties, meet needs for community and individual wellbeing; how highly is recidivism (repeated or habitual participation in crime) correlated with specific corrective strategies; and is there an over-representation of people in prison who committed relatively minor offences?
There is also concern about the overcrowding of prisons, and whether this jeopardises rehabilitation objectives and/or affects prisoner wellbeing. The extent to which the judiciary uses diversionary sentencing options (e.g. fines) has a direct impact on the flow of persons into the corrections system, and on overcrowding. Sentencing decisions also affect the length of time expected to be served, which also has a crucial bearing on the number of prisoners in the corrections system. Defendants may also be held in custody pending court hearings, increasing the number of people in prisons, detention centres and other custodial facilities.
The incidence of violent crime, although lower than the rates of other types of crime (e.g. property and fraud-related crimes), raises community concern due to the potential severity of the consequences arising from it. The incidence of violence within families is of particular concern. Family violence involves a range of behaviours, some of which are recognised as criminal behaviour. These include assault and sexual abuse. The hidden nature of family violence makes it difficult to know the extent of this problem in our society. Other issues associated with violent crime include the extent to which firearms or other weapons are used by offenders, levels of gun ownership, and the effectiveness of safety measures imposed on gun owners.
There is a need for information about the impact of drug use on individuals and society. The number of deaths from drug overdose has increased dramatically in recent years. From a statistical perspective, it is important to know, not only the extent of drug related crimes, (i.e. possession, use, dealing, trafficking, producing, manufacturing) but also the role that drugs and alcohol play in prompting other crimes, and the extent of crime associated with drug use/abuse (e.g. violent and property crime). The traffic in, and abuse of, illicit drugs is another issue heavily reported in the media and capable of engendering feelings of fear and mistrust in the community, for example, the fear of encountering people under the influence of drugs or overdosing, or of injury from syringes found in parks and on beaches. The age at which people begin to use drugs, and the prevention of drug addiction are also issues within the health and family areas of concern.
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
While crime is often associated with violence or theft, large-scale fraud and computer or Internet crimes can involve large numbers of people who can lose jobs and income. This so called, 'white collar crime', is therefore also an important social issue.