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AbstractThere’s always heated debate about crime in the media and a lot of political argument about how we should respond to it. But these arguments rarely provide insight into what actually causes crime, what lies behind trends over time and in different places, and how best to go about reducing it. Values inform how a society decides to deal with crime. We may decide that rehabilitation is a better principle than punishment, and this will influence how we decide what is most effective. However, we also expect these choices to be disciplined by sound evidence, because if crime policy ignores what works and what doesn’t, there are likely to be bad social consequences. And with over £10bn spent annually on tackling crime through the police, prisons, probation and courts, unless we look at evidence we can’t see how effective any of it is. Crime policy usually has twin aims – to prevent crime, and to seek justice by punishing those who commit offences. Research shows there’s only a loose link, if any, between the way offenders are punished and the number of offences committed. There is no reliable evidence for example, that capital punishment reduces serious crimes as its supporters claim. Yet politicians and commentators regularly claim that more punishments are a way to cut crime. Academic, government and community organisations have all said crime policies need to be based more on evidence, but much of the evidence available at the moment is poor or unclear. Debates about crime rarely reflect how strong the evidence behind opposing policies is, and even when politicians honestly believe they’re following the evidence, they tend to select evidence that supports their political views. This guide looks at some of the key things we do know and why it has been so difficult to make sense of crime policy. An important point throughout is that policymakers sometimes have to make decisions when things are not clear-cut. They have a better chance of making effective policies if they admit to this uncertainty – and conduct robust research to find out more. In the following pages we have shared insights from experts in violent crime, policing, crime science, psychology and the media’s influence on the crime debate. They don’t have all the answers, but we hope they leave you better-placed to hold policymakers and commentators to account and promote a more useful discussion about crime.
CitationSutherland, A., Thompson, A., Shepherd, J., Silverman, J., Pease, K., Morrison-Coulthard, L., Ross, N., Buch, P., Wortley, R., Brown, T. (2015) 'Sense About Science - Making Sense of Crime'. Available at: http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/files/resources/182/SAS012_MSOC_LR-2.pdf
PublisherSense About Science
DescriptionBooklet 'Making Sense of Crime' published by registered charity 'Sense About Science'
SponsorsProduced with support from UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, the British Psychological Society and the University of Bedfordshire
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