Crime, justice and wellbeing
Victims of crime and their families can suffer financially, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Many of these effects cannot easily be compensated for. Beyond the direct effects of crime, individuals in a community also need to feel safe - secure from physical danger, and guaranteed against the loss or destruction of personal property. Thus wellbeing can be strongly affected by the fear of crime as well as the direct experience of it. People who witness crimes, or come across evidence of crime in their local area, can suffer anxiety and may feel demoralised or powerless. People may adjust their behaviour (e.g. stop going out at night), or take actions to secure their house and property. All these actions can affect the physical and financial wellbeing of those involved, and result in a loss of confidence and freedom.
Individuals involved in committing crimes and their families may also suffer, as corrective actions affect their lives. The fact that they have committed a crime may reflect low levels of wellbeing in other areas of their life, for example they may be facing difficult family, economic or health circumstances. Offenders can also be victims of crime themselves, and this victimisation may have played a role in their criminal behaviour. Involvement in the criminal justice system can potentially complicate or worsen these situations. In other words, the wellbeing of criminal offenders who have been apprehended becomes highly dependent on the way in which a society has agreed to administer justice and deal with offenders.
The wellbeing of individuals whose work is closely associated with crime is also affected by the potentially pressured and difficult human situations they encounter each day. For example, police face risks to their own safety as they go about preventing and investigating crime. Those involved in counselling crime victims, negotiating for compensation, rehabilitating offenders, and others involved in administering or supporting processes of justice can also face situations that affect their wellbeing.
Wellbeing is enhanced when individuals have access to a timely, fair and just courts system, a strong, honest and capable police service and an effective correctional system. The perception that the criminal justice system operates effectively to protect people from harm, to compensate victims, and to deal efficiently and fairly with offenders, can balance the effects of crime and fear of crime. For example, the suffering of crime victims may be alleviated to an extent by the knowledge that the people who harmed them have been incarcerated. People also benefit from perceiving that the criminal justice system is not likely to convict someone of a crime they did not commit, and administers justice fairly.
WELLBEING OF SOCIETY
Both criminal and civil law systems contribute to maintaining social order. Test cases in both areas can serve to establish new social norms, and amendments to criminal or civil law can usher in large scale social change, for instance changes to the Family Law Act in relation to grounds for divorce. There is an association of the prevalence of crime with low income, poor education and under-achievement in other areas of social concern. The rate and type of crime evident in a society can therefore be key indicators of the wellbeing of that society.
There are many government and community areas involved in monitoring and policing laws and regulations, supporting the criminal justice system, and supporting people involved in the criminal justice system. These functions incur costs, and justice consequently competes with other areas of social concern in government budgets. High crime rates also translate into increased costs for the community in terms of replacement and repair of items that have been stolen or damaged. High crime rates may also have negative effects on foreign investment, tourism, and other areas of the general economy.
Beyond the financial costs to communities, high rates of crime can affect community interaction and encourage the concentration of disadvantage and deprivation. Perceptions of corruption or bias in the criminal justice system, or rumours of ill-treatment of offenders by the police force or judiciary, can cause demoralisation within a community. On the other hand, the presence of a strong and trusted police force, and a fair judicial system can boost levels of confidence, trust and altruism in a community and facilitate open interaction.
This page last updated 31 July 2006