4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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The ABS is currently developing a statistical framework that will provide a structure for organising, collecting and reporting data about crime and the criminal justice system. One aim of this framework is to integrate the approach taken to data collection by the different, interconnecting sectors of the criminal justice system, and across the States and Territories of Australia and other geographical regions. While laws, penalties, and arrangements for administering justice differ across State/Territory boundaries, each State criminal justice system is similar in character at a broad level. A useful and practical structure for this framework is therefore provided by the typical flow of activity through the criminal justice system itself. The model presented below previews some aspects of this framework, but is intended primarily to represent some generalised ways in which framework development within the area of crime and justice might be approached.


There are a number of different areas of interest associated with crime and justice for which it is important to have statistical information. For example, criminal incidents themselves can be measured and analysed. The characteristics of offenders and victims are clearly important. The operations of the criminal justice system can also be usefully measured, particularly from the point of view of evaluating the performance of these operations. Other areas of interest include public attitudes and perceptions about crime and the criminal justice system, and the broad socioeconomic factors and environmental contexts that contribute to the occurrence of crime in society.

The model represented below aims to broadly represent these diverse areas of interest. It identifies the broad socioeconomic and environmental contexts that influence individuals involved in crime and affect criminal justice processes and organisations. This contextual element of the framework identifies a range of factors that determine the nature and extent of crime in society, and contribute to justice outcomes, including the resources that flow into the criminal justice system. The other main element of the framework is based on the criminal justice processes that are initiated by the occurrence of a criminal incident. Thus key individual players (i.e. offender/s and victim/s) are represented, as are the various components of the criminal justice system. These entities (persons and criminal justice system organisations) are also key counting units used in the area of crime and justice. Most other data entities of interest, such as offences (or charges) and cases, are ultimately linked to a person or organisation. Key elements of the model are discussed in more detail below.


Crime does not exist in a vacuum; rather, it occurs within the context of a complex social and economic milieu. It is often environmental factors that determine the levels and types of crimes committed as well as the response of the criminal justice system. These determinants of crime can be categorised under two main headings:

  • factors affecting offenders and victims (i.e. environmental and individual), and
  • factors affecting interventions (e.g. environmental and resource related).

Image - Crime and Justice Framework

Factors affecting offenders and victims

Environmental factors - Environmental factors that affect offenders and victims include the physical, social, family, community, economic, cultural and political environments in which individuals live. Impoverished physical, social and family environments have long been considered to be primary determinants of the development of criminal behaviour. Living in poverty, isolation from social support and being raised in a violent family are examples of these types of environmental risk factors. A lack of community cohesion in one's neighbourhood, poor economic conditions in society and conflict-ridden cultural and political environments are also potential risk factors for crime - both for offending and victimisation. The rate of unemployment, extent of use of the welfare system and the varying levels of education in society can all influence the prevalence and nature of crime. For example, higher rates of unemployment can have an impact on levels of crime.

An important environmental element relates to geographical location. The profile of crime varies across geographical areas both at the macro level (among States and Territories in Australia) and at the micro level (for example, between different suburbs or even different streets within a suburb). These differences in crime can be linked with regional differences in social, demographic and economic conditions. Understanding the nature of these links is important because it can shed light on how to manage and prevent crime. Knowledge about crime prevention strategies that have proven effective in a particular geographical area, together with information about the associated social, economic and other conditions that enabled them to succeed, can then be generalised to other similar geographical areas elsewhere in Australia.

Individual factors - Individual risk factors include the mental and physical health status of offenders or victims, their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, attitudes and beliefs, and lifestyles and behaviour. Poor health status may increase risk of involvement in crime. Certain sociodemographic characteristics such as age and sex may be the strongest determinants of criminal behaviour, and are important factors in understanding patterns of victimisation. Offending has also been related to antisocial attitudes and beliefs and to involvement with delinquent peers and associated lifestyles and behaviours. The behaviour of victims may also determine how vulnerable they are to criminal incidents and increase the risk of victimisation (e.g. not taking personal safety measures in certain circumstances).

The relationship between health and crime illustrates the need to consider the broader context in which crime occurs. For example, drug use crosses the boundary between the health care system and the criminal justice system, and a full understanding of drug use in society requires analysis of data from both systems. Using data beyond that available from the criminal justice system can thus broaden the scope of the picture of crime that can be built statistically. Other examples include accident and injury data, and hospital admissions data.

Factors affecting interventions

Environmental factors - Environmental factors affecting the structure and operation of the criminal justice system include factors relating to the physical, social, community, cultural, economic or political environment in which the criminal justice system, or branches of the system, operates. Physical factors can include the geographical location of elements of the system such as police stations. Community factors can be particularly important in determining how the criminal justice system operates and its effectiveness. For example, community attitudes to crime and the criminal justice system and the civic values held by the community have a strong influence on whether the community supports or hinders the operations of the criminal justice system. The cultural and political contexts in which the criminal justice system operates fundamentally determine its approach to crime, sentencing and correction at a broad level.

Resources - These include the full range of financial and non-financial resources available to the criminal justice system in carrying out its functions. Both the quality and quantity of human resources are fundamental factors in the effective conduct of criminal justice functions. Data about human resources can inform analysis of the need for recruitment or for training and support for people who are part of the criminal justice system. Physical resources include material objects such as buildings and equipment. Adequate accommodation is of particular importance to areas of the criminal justice system that have requirements for high levels of security, privacy or formality (e.g. prisons and custodial facilities, interview rooms, court rooms). As well as needing basic administrative equipment, the criminal justice system makes use of a wide range of specialised equipment, such as uniforms, fire arms, and forensic equipment, that is needed for its optimal operation. Research resources include, for example, statistical information and analysis that allows effective monitoring and evaluation to take place.


The way in which the criminal justice system operates is both sequential and consequential. The sequential element refers to the fact that events occurring within the system generally take place in a particular chronological order:
  1. an incident occurs;
  2. the criminal justice system becomes aware of the incident (through a call for service or through its own investigation) and further investigates to determine whether a crime occurred (this stage is the investigative stage);
  3. the criminal justice system determines if criminal responsibility exists and directs that some form of penalty or obligation to be applied as the result of a finding of liability or guilt (this stage is the adjudicative stage); and
  4. the criminal justice system applies and manages the penalty or obligation (this stage is the correctional stage).

The consequential element of the system refers to the fact that decisions or activities taking place in early stages of the sequence have important effects on subsequent stages. For example, police activities will affect the number of charges brought before the courts. Similarly, sentencing decisions made by magistrates and judges will influence situations within corrective service organisations (e.g. the availability of prison accommodation). It is interesting to note that, while cases and offenders generally move through the system in one direction, information may cycle back through the system. For example, courts results information may go back to police to inform their activities. This interdependency between the sectors of the criminal justice system means that data about one component of the system can often usefully inform analysis within other components. For instance, the need for resources in particular areas may be anticipated, or processes adjusted to increase efficiency across the system.


Within this framework, incident refers to incidents that are criminal in nature, whether they come to the attention of the criminal justice system or not. (The fact that some incidents are not reported to the police is indicated by a thin connection line in the previous overview diagram). Data that describes the incident can include, for example, data about the number of people involved, type of crime, the time of day it took place, and the location of the incident. Location information may be geographical and/or in terms of type of location (e.g. whether in a public or private place). Reported incidents initiate criminal justice processes.

As the incident moves through the criminal justice system, the way it is described and categorised often changes. For example, the initial incident may be categorised as a particular kind of crime or charge. As the incident is further investigated, more information may come to light, and the incident may be re-categorised to a different charge. The process of adjudicating the incident may further change the way it is categorised. Thus the final conviction may relate to a charge that is quite different from the charge initially recorded.

The naming convention used to signify the incident also changes as different stages of the system are encountered. When an incident first occurs, a call for service to an authority may be made. The authority contacted may record the call as a reported incident. If an initial investigation reveals that one or more offences have been committed, the reported incident may be labelled a criminal incident and enter the system of the investigating authority as a recorded crime. If a charge is then laid and passed on to the courts system, it becomes a court case. If guilt is determined, an adjudicated case will then have a penalty applied. This process is illustrated in the diagram below.

Image - Criminal Incident


While the offender will not always be identified, and will not necessarily make his or her way through the criminal justice system, all crimes involve an offender. There may be one or a number of offenders. The offender may be an individual person, however, organisations may also participate in criminal activities. An organisation may enter the criminal justice system, for example, following an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency. The organisation may be subject to adjudication in the courts and may then exit the system with a fine as the outcome of the determination of guilt.

As with the incident, the offender's status changes as he or she moves through the system. A person begins as a suspect in a case and then becomes an alleged offender. The status of offender is not conferred until after the person stands as a defendant and is proven guilty. The person may then become a prisoner or may be subject to a community-based order (CBO). (Also, if the offender commits another crime they become a re-offender.) Despite these changes, certain offender characteristics remain unchanged (such as sex and ethnicity), and these can therefore theoretically be collected at a single point in the system.

Image - Offender


There may or may not be a victim associated with a given criminal incident. Drug use is probably the clearest example of a 'victimless' crime. There may be a number of victims in a particular incident. An organisation that secretly dumps toxic waste is an offender committing an environmental offence against society, and any number of individuals may also be harmed. Individuals may be victims, and organisations may also be victimised. For example, bank employees who misappropriate company funds commit an offence against that organisation. The victim's presence is implied throughout the criminal justice system, as adjudication and sentencing may be seen as being performed by the State on the victim's behalf.

Investigative stage

The investigative stage involves the police (including State, Territory or federal police services) and/or the National Crime Authority. Police agencies are involved in detecting, investigating, recording and charging. Such agencies are created for maintaining order, detecting and preventing crime, and enforcing laws. One of the principle functions of the police is to investigate the criminal incident and seek to identify the offender/s. The investigations may lead to a number of outcomes. In some cases offences turn out to be unfounded, in others, they are withdrawn. A search for an offender may continue, without results for any length of time. Where an offender is identified, they may be apprehended and proceeded against. This can be through the laying of charges in court, or can be accomplished via a number of alternatives to court, including cautioning, counselling or fining the offender. In some cases, evidence may exist to support a charge but police may be unable to effect an arrest or proceed against them (e.g. the offender has died, escaped overseas or has diplomatic immunity).

Adjudicative stage

The adjudicative stage involves the courts, who determine the guilt or innocence of defendants. Following hearing of the charges a penalty is imposed in cases where a finding of guilt is made. Fines and bonds are the most common penalties handed down by the courts.

Criminal and civil courts - Apart from criminal matters, the courts deal with civil matters. In other words, the same court infrastructure (e.g. court buildings and facilities) is used in dealing with civil and criminal case types. The essential difference between criminal and civil cases is the source of the lodgment and the parties in dispute. Criminal matters are brought to the court by a government prosecuting agency, which is generally the Director of Public Prosecutions, but can also be the Attorney-General, the police, local councils and traffic camera branches. Civil matters, on the other hand, are lodged by individuals or organisations (the plaintiff or applicant) against another party (the defendant or respondent) who responds to the file. Civil and criminal courts are also referred to separately because they have separate information systems and case flow management practices.1

Family Courts essentially deal with civil matters. Family Court proceedings can be carried out by federal courts set up to run as Family Courts by the Commonwealth government. Note, however, that Children's or Youth Courts are State courts set up by the State and Territory governments and try criminal matters where the offender is considered too young (up to about age 17-18 years) to be in the adult criminal courts system.

Further, Coroners’ Courts (which generally operate under the auspices of State and Territory Magistrates’ Courts), inquire into the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths and into suspicious fires; their findings can be the source of criminal prosecutions.1

While there are some small variations among States and Territories (often only a difference in name), the courts are structured along similar lines throughout Australia. Different levels at which the courts operate are described below.
  • Lower courts - The term lower courts refers collectively to local or Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts. Proceedings in these courts are conducted by a magistrate. Civil matters are dealt with in these courts as are the great majority of criminal matters, the offences being mostly summary offences. A summary offence is a less serious criminal offence and does not require a trial by jury in a Higher Court (e.g. traffic offences, offensive but not dangerous behaviour). The magistrate makes decisions on the relevant facts and law, determines whether or not a person is guilty as charged, and if appropriate imposes a penalty. Lower courts also undertake preliminary hearings (called committal hearings) for indictable offences to be tried in a higher court. An indictable offence is a serious criminal offence which generally requires a trial in a Higher Court. They may also deal with less serious indictable matters (known as summary-indictable offences) which usually require the consent of the accused person to be heard summarily. Examples are break, enter and steal, motor vehicle theft and malicious wounding. To date ABS collection of national court statistics has not included statistics from the lower courts, but a range of data are available annually from the Report on Government Services produced by the Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision under the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
  • Higher Courts - The term higher courts refers collectively to District, Circuit and Supreme Courts. These are presided over by a judge and deal with more serious criminal matters related to indictable offences. The District (and Circuit) Courts hear trials, sentencing matters and appeals against decisions made in the lower courts. They deal with the majority of indictable offences such as armed robbery, sexual assault, arson and drug trafficking. The Supreme Courts conduct trials for the most serious indictable offences, e.g. murder. The proceedings are presided over by a Supreme Court Judge.
  • Courts of Appeal - There are also courts of appeal, for example, the High Court, and Supreme Courts that sit as courts of appeal. However, the ABS collection of courts statistics has been concerned primarily with offences heard in the higher courts and not with appeals as such or with courts of appeal.

Correction stage

The correction stage involves the prisons and other correctional organisations and services. Sentences are managed and administered by correctional services agencies and may include imprisonment, community work and some types of bonds. It is important to understand some of the different types of correctional action that can be taken and the structures that exist in the corrections sector in order to understand the type of data available from this sector, and the various classifications available. There are two broad categories of correctional activity involving offenders.
  • Custodial - involving offenders serving a prison sentence and those who are awaiting trial (remandees).
  • Non-custodial - involving offenders serving correctional orders not involving incarceration (mostly probation and community service orders) and offenders serving post-prison orders, including parole and licence orders. The legislative basis for non-custodial orders differs among States, but all have the following three main types.
    • Probation - When a person is convicted for an offence for which imprisonment may be imposed, the court can instead make a Probation Order. Adult offenders can be released on probation by courts for a fixed period, during which time they receive supervision and a range of guidance, support and referral services.
    • Parole - This allows a prisoner to be released from prison at the discretion of a Parole Board to serve the remainder of their prison sentence in the community. Prisoners on parole are still under order of the correctional service and have specific conditions placed on them, for example, they may have to report to a local police station regularly and have conditions placed on their movements.
    • Community service - These provide a sentencing alternative to imprisonment whereby the courts can direct offenders to make restitution by undertaking a set number of hours of community service work.

Other processes of the criminal justice system

The description of the criminal justice system above illustrates the basic, typical flow of events through this system. In reality, the criminal justice system does not have a single flow of events, as individuals do not flow neatly from one process to another. Importantly, a given individual may not remain within the system throughout the entire process, and may exit at any number of points. For example, an alleged offender may not be charged and forwarded into the courts process. Instead, some sort of diversionary process may be initiated. This is particularly the case with juveniles, who are often diverted via cautions, family conferences, intervention and treatment programs, and the like. The courts system also makes use of diversionary tactics, sending offenders to treatment and intervention programs in order to remove them from the formal corrections system. It is also possible that some criminal justice processes might be skipped. This 'leapfrogging' may occur in any sector of the criminal justice system.

Some examples are where :
  • individuals caught speeding experience the detection and recording of the incident simultaneously - the investigation activity is therefore unnecessary;
  • individuals sent ex officio to the higher courts bypass the lower courts; and
  • individuals who breach parole can be put back into prison without progressing through the courts system again.

The above process model should therefore be seen as a simplification of the criminal justice system as it exists in practice. A more detailed description of the processes and flows involved in the criminal justice system is illustrated below, although this also contains some simplifications.


A transaction model provides a broad framework for identifying relationships and connections that may shed light on some of the more complex social issues raised above. For example, the transaction model can be useful when examining the relationship between crime and levels of social capital (i.e. crime may decrease levels of community trust and interaction, and high levels of trust and interaction may decrease crime). Crime and justice transactions that lie outside the typical flows represented in the framework above can also be identified. For example, transactions involving individuals who are not offenders, victims, part of an offender or victim's core community, or part of a criminal justice organisation can be identified (e.g. transactions involving individuals attending jury duty or assisting police in their investigation). Justice transactions that occur at an intimate level, such as where moral values are imparted to children in the home, can be mapped, as well as criminal transactions that involve whole communities (e.g. street gangs), and transactions between individuals and non-criminal justice organisations (e.g. government bodies). Some further examples are provided in the diagram on page 258.


Requirements for information about crime and justice can be divided into two broad groups:
  • data that support the development of social indicators; and
  • data that support management of the criminal justice system.

Social indicators

The focus of these statistics is to understand the populations that come into contact with the criminal justice system and the experiences they have. They are of key interest to those within the criminal justice system, academics, criminologists, social researchers, public policy advisers, the media, and the public as they help increase understanding of the perpetrators, targets, causes and effects of crime and assist in designing and implementing crime prevention and treatment programs. They are also of interest in reflecting the wellbeing of society in general and that of groups that are disadvantaged or have special needs.

Image - Flows through the criminal justice system

They address issues such as:
  • the nature and extent of crime and how this is changing over time;
  • demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of people;
  • relationships between victims and offenders;
  • the social and economic effects of crime;
  • the impact of laws, policies, programs and sentencing practices on crime rates;
  • the relationship of social and economic conditions to crime; and
  • the factors affecting crime rates, patterns in victimisation and offending, and pathways to crime.

Management of criminal justice system

Information about the management of the criminal justice system is important to those responsible for administering agencies within the criminal justice system, as it assists in determining resource allocations, policy making, planning and evaluation. This information is also of interest to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the public to enable assessment of the relative efficiency and effectiveness of the services provided by the criminal justice system. Key types of management information include:
  • the volume and nature of work entering the various sectors of the system (for example, numbers of offences, persons or incidents/cases) ; and
  • the time required for this work to flow through a given stage

Analysis of trends in volume and time requirements can assist in planning case management regimes or infrastructure requirements such as the number and location of police stations.

Police measures

The administrative systems used by the police to manage their operations are an important source of crime statistics. Once a crime is reported to the police or becomes known to them, an offence report is created that records a range of information about the criminal incident, including details about the offence/s, the victim/s, and any suspected offenders. This information can then be used to provide measures of the number and characteristics of victims for selected offences. For example, it is possible to compile standardised national statistics on sex and age of victim and the relationship of the victim to the offender, the location at which crimes take place and type of weapon used. Other items of interest may be available depending on the procedures in particular States, for example, whether the offence was attempted or completed, and value of theft or damage.

If an offender is apprehended, another report - the apprehension report - is generated. In some cases this report is only generated when charges are laid. This report collects a range of information about the offender including age, sex and date of birth, charge history, and a range of sociodemographic information (e.g. country of birth). ABS police statistics do not yet provide counts of offenders, although there are plans to produce this data in the future.

Image - Crime and justice transactions

Criminal courts measures

A high priority in court statistics is the compilation of national statistics on the volume and flow of criminal matters through the courts. At this stage, information is collected about defendants whose cases are initiated and finalised in the Higher Courts. Information is also gathered about the number of offenders awaiting hearing in the Higher Courts. At a future stage, the same information will be collected about defendants and caseloads in the Lower Courts. Key measures are:
  • number of initiated defendants (i.e. new defendants whose cases entered the higher courts), and the way that their cases were initiated (e.g. committal from a lower court; direct laying of charges in a higher court);
  • number of finalised defendants (i.e. defendants whose cases had a final outcome for all charges before the higher courts), and the way that their cases were finalised (e.g charge proven guilty; acquitted; charge withdrawn);
  • number of pending defendants (i.e. defendants whose cases were initiated but not yet finalised); and
  • duration of cases for finalised defendants (e.g. elapsed time from initiation to finalisation).

The ABS has plans to expand the higher criminal courts collection to provide information on offences, penalties for proven charges, defendant characteristics and additional case processing details. The collection will also be expanded in scope to include other levels of the courts system.

Corrections measures

The annual census of prisoners gives a profile (demographic characteristics, legal status, sentence details) of prisoners at a point in time (i.e. a single day). The monthly series (published quarterly) gives information on:
  • the ‘first day of the month’ prisoner population;
  • average daily numbers for the month;
  • number of prisoners received each month;
  • changes in total over the past month; and
  • number of unsentenced prisoners in remand.

This latter information is compiled from returns provided by the corrections agencies in the various States and Territories.

Household surveys

Annual recorded crime statistics relate to offences that have become known to and have been recorded by police, that may have been reported by a victim, witness or other person, or may have been detected by police. These statistics do not provide a total picture of crime, as not all crimes come to the attention of the police. To gain a more comprehensive picture of the nature and extent of crime, police statistics are complemented by information from other sources such as crime victimisation surveys.

Crime victimisation surveys are most effective when measuring crimes against individuals or households where there are specific victims who are able to recall what happened to them and who are willing to relate what they know. The Crime and Safety surveys collect information from individuals and households about their experience of selected crimes, whether these crimes were reported to police, the reasons for not reporting crimes, details of the criminal incident (e.g. number of offenders, location, weapons used, injuries) and crime related risk factors. This information can be used to assess the risks of crime victimisation in various demographic groups (e.g., women, young people), attitudes to crime and crime prevention, and can potentially assess the extent of fear of crime.

Stock and flow measures

A stock and flow model can be usefully applied to statistical collection in the area of crime and justice. Stock measures can identify various statistical populations, each of which describes different aspects of the criminal justice process. Stock measures traditionally collected include stocktakes of the prisoner population at the end of a financial year. Stock measures from different areas of the criminal justice system can be compared directly, allowing analysis of status across the system.

Flow through the criminal justice system can also be measured over a given period (e.g. the number of persons charged by police, the number of defendants finalised by the courts, or the number of persons received into prison), as can the rate of flow through various segments of the system (e.g. duration of court cases, time served in prison).

Status and response measures

In a similar way, the status and response model discussed in Chapter 1 can be applied to the crime and justice area. Status measures, such as the crime rate in a particular region, can be analysed in combination with measures or indicators of government or community responses, such as increased police activity or changes in laws or penalties. Further status measures taken at a later stage may point to the consequence of these responses. Status measures taken at a different juncture in the criminal justice system may also shed light on relevant dynamics that are at work. For instance, an increase in the proportion of people imprisoned may reflect a specific government or community response to high crime rates. These status and response measures, when carefully selected and juxtaposed, can provide a contemporary picture of wellbeing and how it is changing in the area of crime and justice.


Classification of offences

The Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) ( Cat. no. 1234.0) was developed by the ABS and released in 1997. The objective of the classification is to provide a uniform national statistical classification for classifying offences for use by justice agencies and others with an interest in crime and justice statistics. It provides a classificatory framework for the comparison of statistics on offences across Australia. The ASOC is being progressively introduced into ABS statistical collections, with early efforts concentrating on collecting national statistics for major offences such as homicide, assault (including sexual assault), armed robbery, blackmail/extortion, motor vehicle theft and unlawful entry with intent. The national recorded crime statistics collection has used the ASOC to collect and publish information on victims of selected offences from 1999 onwards. The major divisions of the classification are given below.
  • Homicide and related offences
  • Acts intended to cause injury
  • Sexual assault and related offences
  • Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
  • Abduction and related offences
  • Robbery, extortion and related offences
  • Unlawful entry with intent / burglary, break and enter
  • Theft and related offences
  • Illicit drug offences
  • Weapons and explosive offences
  • Property damage and environmental pollution
  • Public order offences
  • Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
  • Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
  • Miscellaneous offences.

Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern

The Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern (ASCDC), published in 2000, was developed by the ABS for use in the collection, storage and dissemination of all Australian statistical and administrative data relating to drugs of concern. The ASCDC is essentially a classification of type of drug of concern based on the chemical structure, mechanism of action and effect on physiological activity of the drugs of concern. It is a generalised classification that can be used across both health and crime and justice areas. There are two main kinds of offences relating to drugs. The first relates to the use of illicit drugs. The second relates to the misuse of legal drugs.

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