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Newsletters - Crime and Justice Statistics - Issue Number 13, October 2002
 
 

In this issue:

Understanding Differences in Recorded Crime Statistics
Publications
Projects
International Visitors
Conferences
NCCJS Meetings
Upcoming Publications
Staff News
Crime and Justice on the Web
NCCJS Contact Points

Understanding Differences in Recorded Crime Statistics

The National Crime Statistics Unit (NCSU) has begun work on a project to investigate state and territory differences in recorded crime statistics (RCS). This project has the endorsement of state and territory Police Commissioners, and will run for a period of 2 years.

This project aims to identify issues relevant to understanding the nature and extent of the impact of various factors on the national comparability of recorded crime statistics as published in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publication, Recorded Crime, Australia (cat. no. 4510.0).

Background

Official statistics drawn from crimes recorded by police provide a regular indicator of levels of crime over time. However, they are not the only indicator, as not all crime comes to the attention of police. Over recent years, the NCSU has become increasingly aware of differences between states and territories with regard to how crimes are reported and recorded by police.

Since the development of the national crime statistics collection in 1990 the policing environment has changed considerably. In particular, there has been a large shift from paper-based systems to advanced IT systems for the storage of information on crime. Such changes have been more frequent in recent times, and although the NCSU has been able to conduct limited work on investigating these changes through its Quality Assurance (QA) strategy and various analytical work, there is a need to further investigate possible sources of differences for all states and territories.

More recently, there has been increased pressure from police agencies and other government departments to look at the differences in recorded crime figures between states and territories. With the emphasis now on 'performance culture' within police agencies, the use of RCS data as a performance indicator for police increases the pressure to make sure that these data are better understood.

Project outline

There are 5 broad phases to be investigated in this project, each of which has a number of associated components. These are:

1. What crime occurs
  • different underlying levels of crime
  • different interpretations of what is crime by victims

2. What crime is reported to police
  • different levels of reporting crime

3. What crime is recorded by police
  • differences in recorded crime based on how crime is detected by police
  • different approaches to what happens once crime is reported

4. How crime is recorded by police
  • data entry methodology
  • processes by which crime is recorded

5. How crime statistics are compiled from official police records
  • areas of responsibility for compiling statistics and levels of skills in these areas
  • software programs used to compile these statistics
  • different QA procedures.

Outcomes

The key outcomes for this project include:
  • better understanding of the factors underpinning state and territory differences in recorded crime statistics
  • better understanding of crime victimisation levels
  • facilitation of more informed use of recorded crime statistics.


Publications

Copies of all publications can be ordered by contacting the ABS National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.

Corrective Services, Australia

The June quarter 2002 issue of Corrective Services, Australia was released on 26 September 2002. While the national figures showed a continuing slight upward movement in the average daily number of prisoners between the June quarters 2001 and 2002, large variations in the size and direction of changes were apparent at the state and territory level. During the period from June quarter 2001 to June quarter 2002, Tasmania's average daily prisoner population increased by 18%, with a 10% increase in the period March quarter to June quarter 2002. Western Australia, however, recorded a decrease of 11% between the June quarters 2001 and 2002.

While the actual number of prisoners in Australia has increased between the June quarters 2001 and 2002, when compared to the growth in Australia's adult population, the growth in the number of prisoners has not kept pace with the increase in the adult population. This has resulted in Australia's imprisonment rate decreasing by 1% over this period. While the Northern Territory continues to have the highest imprisonment rate of 473 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in the June quarter 2002, this was 7% lower than the June quarter 2001 figure.

GRAPH - AVERAGE DAILY IMPRISONMENT RATE (a)



Higher Criminal Courts, Australia

On 4 June 2002, Higher Criminal Courts, Australia 2000-2001 was released. For the first time, experimental data on offence and penalties associated with finalised adjudicated defendants were included in the publication. The available data shows that the five principal offence categories that accounted for the majority of adjudicated defendants who appeared in Australia's Higher Courts during 2000-01 were:
  • acts intended to cause injury (includes assault) (13%)
  • illicit drug offences (12%)
  • unlawful entry with intent (11%)
  • offences related to robbery and extortion (11%)
  • offences related to sexual assault (10%).

Of the defendants proven guilty in the Higher Criminal Courts during 2000-01, excluding the ACT, approximately 55% received a sentence of imprisonment. The proportion was highest for those proven guilty of homicide and related offences (89%).

GRAPH - DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Sentenced to imprisonment (a) - 2000-01
(a) The 2000–01 data on offence and penalty has been classified as "experimental" due to data quality issues. For more detail on the "experimental" offence and penalty data, refer to the Explanatory Notes section of Higher Criminal Courts, Australia 2000–01 (cat. no. 4513.0).
(b) Includes other offence types not separately listed in the chart.


Other findings presented in the Higher Criminal Courts, Australia publication included:
  • of the 5,459 defendants who initially pleaded not guilty, 58% changed their plea during proceedings
  • the median duration for finalised defendants was 21 weeks, compared to 22 weeks the previous year
  • the largest reduction in the median duration for finalised defendants was in New South Wales, where the median decreased by 9 weeks (26%) since the previous year
  • one in two of all defendants were aged between 17 and 29 years, with males representing 87% of all finalised defendants.

Recorded Crime, Australia

Recorded Crime Australia 2001 was released on 30 May 2002. In 2001, the offence categories with the largest number of recorded victims were other theft (699,262), unlawful entry with intent (435,524) and assault (151,753).

For the first time in this publication, data on knives and syringes as weapons has been separately identified. A knife was the most common type of weapon used in attempted murder (33% of victims were attacked with a knife), murder (29%) and robbery (23%). Syringes were less likely to be used as a weapon than firearms or knives. In relation to the overall level of weapon use, the majority of victims did not have a weapon used against them, with the exception of murder and attempted murder victims. However, during the period 1995-2001, for most offences a person was increasingly likely to be a victim of a crime involving the use of a weapon.

Contrasting with most other offence types, the overall number of murders and the murder victimisation rate has been relatively stable. There has, however, been a decrease in the likelihood that a person will become a victim of murder involving a weapon, as indicated in the following graph:

GRAPH - VICTIMS OF MURDER WHICH INVOLVED A WEAPON, By type of weapon used



For all offence categories, younger people (aged 24 years or less) had the greatest likelihood of being a victim. Persons aged 15-19 years were over 4 times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault and over 3 times more likely to be a victim of robbery than the general population. Children aged 14 years or less had a sexual assault victimisation rate of 173 per 100,000, over twice the rate for the total population.

Projects

Offender Based Statistics Collection

Work is progressing on the development of a collection of all offenders proceeded against and recorded by police. The Offender Based Statistics (OBS) collection will improve general knowledge about crime and the characteristics of the people/organisations who commit crime, as well as the level of contact police have with offenders. Information on offenders proceeded against by police will assist in bridging the gap that exists nationally between information that is known about victims of crime and the subset of persons who are proceeded against in the criminal courts. Offender information recorded by police provides valuable measures of the volume and characteristics of offenders at the widest part of the 'funnel' that forms the entry into the criminal justice system. Offender information also assists in evaluating the effect of crime and justice policy at the national level.

A draft of the proposed OBS framework has been developed, and was included in an OBS Manual distributed to all state and territory police agencies in June 2002. The Manual has been used as a guide for the extraction of OBS test data, which was received by all state and territory police agencies in early September 2002. The test data included: date of birth of offender, sex of offender, indigenous status of offender (where available), method of proceeding against the offender, and the number and types of offences.

The analysis of the test data will be presented for discussion at the November 2002 National Crime Statistics Advisory Group (NCSAG) and the December 2002 Police Statisticians' meetings. Following these discussions, the collection framework will be refined, as well as the development of a formal assessment and plan for the collection.

Sexual Assault Information Development Plan

The development of a Sexual Assault Information Development Plan (IDP) is being undertaken in the NCCJS, a project funded by the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women. The IDP provides a conceptual framework for sexual assault, identifies key policy issues and related information needs, lists data sources currently available and identifies gaps in the data.

Aimed at the health and community services sectors as well as crime and justice sectors, some strategies are proposed to fill the gaps and to improve the utilisation and comparability of data. It is anticipated that this work will be published as an ABS Information Paper in March 2003.

International Visitors

In July 2002 Dr Pat Mayhew, OBE, delivered the inaugural Justice Research Lecture. Dr Mayhew is currently working at the Australian Institute of Criminology, where she is a consultant criminologist. She is on secondment from the Crime and Criminal Justice Unit of the Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the UK Home Office.

The seminar, titled ‘Falling Crime Levels: Can We Explain Them?’, examined the patterns of falling crime levels in many Western countries over recent years. Dr Mayhew considered Australasia in relation to these patterns, suggesting that explaining the more positive picture after decades of rising crime poses a serious challenge for criminologists and all those involved in the criminal justice system.

Conferences

A conference, titled “Evaluation in Crime and Justice: Trends and Methods” will be held at ABS House in Canberra on 24-25 March 2003. The Australian Institute of Criminology and the Australian Bureau of Statistics will jointly sponsor this conference.

The aim of the conference is to provide a forum for practitioners, researchers and policy makers to discuss current issues and challenges involved with criminal justice research and evaluation.

NCCJS Meetings

The following meetings have been held since April 2002:
  • Corrections Board of Management, 21 May 2002
  • Crime Board of Management, 22 May 2002
  • Courts Board of Management, 28 Aug 2002
  • Crime Board of Management, 1 Oct 2002
  • Courts Practitioner Group, 29 Oct 2002.

Forthcoming meetings:
  • Corrections Advisory Group, 12 Nov 2002
  • Crime Advisory Group, 22 Nov 2002
  • Courts Advisory Group, 22 Nov 2002
  • Police Statisticians Group, 4 Dec 2002.

Upcoming Publications

19 December 2002: Corrective Services, Australia, September Quarter 2002 (cat. no. 4512.0).

20 February 2003: Prisoners in Australia, 2002 (cat. no. 4517.0).

27 March 2003: Corrective Services, Australia, December Quarter 2002 (cat. no. 4512.0).

30 April 2003: Crime and Safety, Australia, April 2002 (cat. no. 4509.0).

Staff News

In June 2002, Geoff Fisher joined the NCCJS in the Statistical Management Unit. In August, Marika Woodberry joined the NCCJS, working on a project on Differences in Recorded Crime Statistics, and Christina Stonier-Gibson began work in the Development and Analysis Unit. In September, Margaret Windsor and Jackie Cooper joined the NCCJS, working in the Strategic Coordination Unit and Statistical Management Unit respectively.

During the same period, Stacey Richardson and Belinda Too left the ABS.

Crime and Justice on the Web

For more information about Crime and Justice statistics, look for our theme page on the ABS web site. From the ABS home page click on ‘Themes’, then ‘Crime and Justice’. These pages are a centralised source that links all ABS information on crime and justice and related areas in one place.

NCCJS Contact Points

Fax: (03) 9615 7372

Email: <crime.justice@abs.gov.au>

Postal Address:
National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics
GPO Box 2796Y
Melbourne VIC 3001



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