Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Government appointed campaigners

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Sara Payne, the mother of murderd girl Sarah Payne, has been nominated the Government’s new Victims’ Champion and Richard Taylor, the father of murdered teenager Damilola Taylor, has been given the role of Government special envoy on youth violence and knife crime. Since when has the government decided that the people most qualified to tackle societal problems are indirect victims of said problems? I would never deny these people the right to campaign on issues which they feel strongly about, but elevating them to fairly high, even if purely symbolic, governmental posts is not the way to go.

No doubt, they will ‘visit people up and down the country to see what more can be done to make sure that the voice of the victim is heard’ but how do we know that the people they speak to are actually representative of the country as a whole? The people who turn up to their meetings will, most probably be sympathisers with their cause. This may well be good for their campaign but when we turn them into government sanctioned gatekeepers we give their cause an extra level of influence, most probably at the expense of other groups. Sara Payne has already positioned herself and her official post in opposition to offender’s rights by saying ‘Criminals have plenty of groups to stand up for their rights’. She obviously does not appreciate that offender’s rights and victim’s rights is not a zero-sum game- they do not, cannot and should not balance.

In the words of the New Generation Network we need to  ‘wrest the debate away from the extreme ends of the spectrum and provide a voice to the silent majority’. By appointing one person to go and talk to people who already feel similarly (and if you don’t believe me, take a look at the Damilola Taylor Trust’s website or The People’s March facebook group and try and find) we will not acheive anything. The government needs to continue to support impartial and neutral people to do research into why violent crime is increasing amongst young people in the UK (if it even is), taking into account all the knowledge we have accumulated about sub-cultures, desistance and the age-crime curve, public opinion and the media. Only then will we be able to improve the situation both in terms of policy formation and reduction in crime.


Written by criminologyandstuff

February 6, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Posted in media, Research

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Response to reports of ’35 million yob crimes a year’

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I think the Express has really outdone itself here in terms of statistical manipulation. Apparently the police logged ‘3.9million incidents of antisocial behaviour’ in England and Wales in 2007/08. According to the Express, because the British Crime Survey says that only 11% of victims report an incident this means that, actually, there were 35 million ‘yob attacks’- they’ve multiplied 3.9m by 9.1. Well, I don’t mean to be picky but the BCS actually says that:

People who had experienced problems with noisy or nuisance neighbours were the most likely to complain (49% had done so) compared with 23 per cent of those who had experienced drug use or dealing and 14 per cent of those who had experienced people being drunk or rowdy. (page 1)

So I don’t think that the 11% figure is accurate. I thought that maybe they were using reported crime (as opposed to ASB) figures but according to the BCS 42% of crimes are reported. Additionally, the most common reason for not reporting the incident is because it was considered by the ‘victim’ to be too trivial. If this is the case, why are we so bothered about it? The problem is, is that we are dealing with this problem within a framework devised by a government and media which is, quite frankly, obsessed by anti-social behaviour. We are asking people what behaviour they have witnessed, classifying it as ASB and then ignoring the fact that the supposed victim decided not to report it because they considered it to be too trivial to report. This behaviour is obviously not causing any significant harm (financial or physical). If it was, people would report it in the same way that most people report burglary, murder or car theft. I think that a much better way of tackling this issue is to ask people to define ASB acts for themselves based on the ‘official’ definition from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (rather than the considerably more scary version on the Home Office website- Anti-social behaviour is virtually any intimidating or threatening activity that scares you or damages your quality of life) which is ‘behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress to members of the public not of the same household as the perpetrator’. Respondents should then be asked to report whether they have experienced/witnessed it.

Moving on… the Express  says:

The horrifying statistics suggest an epidemic of unbridled hooliganism is sweeping the nation.

But, the BCS says that:

Nineteen per cent of adults had a high level of perceived ASB in 2001/02… This rose to 21 per cent in 2002/03 before falling to 16 per cent in 2003/04. Between 2003/04 and 2006/07, there was a slight increase in the proportion with a high level of perceived ASB. The latest figures for 2007/08 show a reduction, compared with the previous year, to return to the same level (16%) as found in 2003/04.

Admittedly, the BCS is fairly wordy but basically they are saying that perceptions of ASB decreased from 19% in 2001/02 to 16% last year, albeit with small fluctuations here and there. I think everyone agrees that police recorded crime is not a very accurate picture of what happens in reality and that the BCS is considerably more so. If we are experiencing an unbridled epidemic of hooliganism, why isn’t it showing up in the BCS? Either, there is no epidemic, or the BCS has some serious methodological flaws which it admittedly does but I don’t think its that bad!

Moving on again… the Express says that:

The types of offences include youth and gang-related nuisance; vandalism and damage to property; drug nuisance and dealing; prostitution and kerb crawling; dog and animal nuisance; harassment and intimidation; and litter, rubbish and fly-tipping.

But we have seen that the most likely incident to be reported is noisy or nuisance neighbours so I expect these are the majority of incidents that would be recorded by the police- not gang-related nuisance. Why doesn’t nuisance neighbours, the kind of behaviour most likely to be reported, not appear in the Express’s article? According to the BCS, ‘of the seven strands that make up the overall ASB measure, the 2007/08 BCS showed that the most widely perceived problems are teenagers hanging around, and rubbish or litter.’ Not exactly gang-related nuisance or harassment. Only 7% thought that vandalism and graffiti is a big problem in their area.

Anyway, it’s not as simple as the Express makes out and I am sure that they are manipulating figures they don’t understand to get a ‘story’. Finally, as another example of statistical manipulation I will draw your attention to the final sentence of the article (yes I did read that far, unlike most tabloid journalists) which is a quote from a Home Office minister:

The British Crime Survey shows that high levels of perceived antisocial behaviour in the local area have fallen from a high of 21 per cent in 2002-03 to 16 per cent in 2007/8.

I wonder why they chose 2002/03 as the year for comparison rather than 2001/02 (which was the year that this data was first collected) when the figure was  19%? Or why not choose 2003/04 when the figure was 16%?

I’m not going to say that ASB doesn’t exist but I am absolutely unequivocal in my belief that it is not as bad as the Express (and the Mail and the Sun, for that matter) make out. But maybe that’s because I’m a fairly privileged, well-educated, white, middle class PhD student at one of the world’s most elite universities… unlike the journalists who make these figures up.

Written by criminologyandstuff

February 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Switching off street lamps ‘could triple road deaths’ | Mail Online

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The Daily Mail has reported that Switching off street lamps ‘could triple road deaths’. As ever, I was sceptical from the outset so I decided to actually download the report which is available here . Firstly, just to clarify, the report is a meta-analysis of studies done by other people. The Cochrane Collaboration is vigorous in its selection criteria for including studies in their meta-analyses- even so there are methodological issues within the original studies. The first thing that struck me was this quote (page 2):

Authors’ conclusions
The results from this systematic review suggests that street lighting may prevent road traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities. However, further well designed studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of street lighting in middle and low-income countries.

This doesn’t quite concur with the Mail’s statement that:

Researchers say there is overwhelming evidence that street lamps save the lives of ‘a significant number’ of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists each year.

The report does not argue this and even if it did, there are numerous other major methodogical issues with the whole project which could undermine the results.

  • ‘the methodological quality of the trials was generally poor’ (page 1).
  • The research did not compare the number of fatal crashes with an area control (page 1) so we do not actually know if turning the lights off will increase the number of fatalities.
  • The risk of bias in these studies was judged to be high.
  • 11 of the studies used day time figures as a control so we are not actually comparing ‘night time no lights’ with ‘night time with lights’.
  • The other 5 studies used a seperate area as a control unit so we are actually comparing this area, with street lights, with another (and crucially different area) that has no street lights. to 10.03). Only one study with an area control specified an intention to match the control roads by speed limit, road type and police district
  • There were no randomised control trials in the analysis
  • None of the included studies had a data collection period of less than 12 months for either the before (range 1-3 years) or the after (range 1-8 years) periods,

I’m not going to continue, I think I’ve made my point. I am not criticising the meta-analysis itself- the authors are explicit in the poor quality of the whole exercise. The issue, as if it’s not obvious, is the media reporting of it. You will notice that that most of the first quotes in this post come from pages 1 and 2 of the report (ironically, page 2 is the ‘Plain Language Sumamary’). The Daily Mail author obviously didn’t get that far.

Note the quotation marks in the quote from the Mail above- ‘a significant number’. I think they must have fabricated that quote. If one searches for it in the report, it comes up with 0 (zero) occurrences. Look:

A Significant Number?

Not only has the Daily Mail not read the report but they’re making things up as well! Amazing!

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January 21, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Posted in media, Research

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