Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach? - Justice Committee Contents

2  Trends in crime and re-offending

Trends in recorded crime since 2010

12. Crime has continued to fall since 2010, as measured by both the Crime Survey for England and Wales and offences recorded by the police. The latest survey figures estimate that there were 8.0 million crimes against households and resident adults in the twelve months in the year to September 2013, down 10% compared with the previous year's survey, and the lowest estimate over the history of the survey, which began in 1981.[26] The reduction in crime measured by the survey was led by statistically significant decreases in both household (vehicle and property related) crime and personal (theft from the person and violent) crime, which were down 10%, and 9% respectively on the preceding year. These categories include high volume crimes such as burglary and criminal damage which make a major contribution to the overall crime rate, masking rises in some offences.

13. The recorded crime figures for the same period show that the police recorded 3.7 million offences, giving a 3% reduction over the previous twelve months.[27] Again, there were decreases across most of the main categories of police recorded crime, but signs of increasing upward pressures in some offence types. For example, shoplifting showed a 4% increase and theft from the person increased by 7%. The number of sexual offences recorded by the police increased by 17%, which has been partly attributed to a continuation of a 'Yewtree effect', whereby a greater number of victims have come forward to report historical sexual offences to the police.[28] Concern has been expressed that neither self-reported nor police recorded figures capture adequately some types of offences, including e-crime.[29] In the year ending September 2013, 201,035 fraud offences were recorded by the police and Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, based on reports from members of the public. This represents a volume increase of 34%, and should be seen in the context of a move towards improved centralised recording of fraud by the police.[30]

14. While our inquiry was under way, the Public Administration Select Committee took an in-depth look at crime statistics. One aspect of their inquiry was to examine the reasons for increasing divergence between the two measures: since 2004/05 the police recorded crime dataset has shown a steeper decline than the survey for comparable offences. The Committee found strong evidence that police recording data under-record crime, and therefore the rate of decrease in crime may be exaggerated, and concluded that this is due to lax police compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focused crime recording.[31] As a consequence of this inquiry, this data set lost its designation as a National Statistic.

Trends in recorded re-offending since 2010

15. The Government also publishes several series of data on trends in recorded re-offending. The Ministry of Justice publishes National Statistics on proven re-offending in England and Wales for both juvenile and adult offenders on a quarterly basis.[32] The one year proven reoffending rate for adult offenders discharged from prison or commencing a court order was 35.9% for the representative cohort from July 2008 to June 2010, against a baseline of 40.9% in 2000.[33] The most recent figures suggest that there has been little change since then, with the rate relating to the year to June 2012 being 35.4%.[34] Less than 1% of all proven re-offences committed over the one year follow-up period were serious violent or sexual offences, with very little change in that proportion since 2000.

16. Other figures include: the impact of sentencing on proven re-offending for adult offenders in England and Wales; re-offending rates at the end of sentence; and local adult reoffending (giving data at both local authority and local probation trust level). The latest data for the first two, which relate to 2009-10, demonstrated that:

·  offenders sentenced to fewer than 12 months in custody have higher reoffending rates than similar offenders receiving a community order or suspended sentence;

·  offenders receiving suspended sentences had lower re-offending rates than similar offenders receiving a community order;

·  offenders receiving a conditional discharge had lower re-offending rates than similar offenders receiving a community order or a fine; and

·  offenders sentenced to between 1 and 4 years have lower re-offending rates than similar offenders receiving a sentence of less than 12 months. [35]

The local adult reoffending data show that from 2007/08, the baseline for the series, to September 2013, the picture has been mixed:

·  14% of Probation Trusts (5) show an increase in reoffending and 29% (10) show a decrease, with the remainder (20) demonstrating no significant change;

·  5% of local authorities (8) show an increase in reoffending, and 20% (35) show a decrease, with the remainder demonstrating no significant change.

·  The progress of both probation trusts and local authorities has retreated since the year to March 2013, when 14 Trusts and 48 local authorities were demonstrating a decrease in relation to the baseline.[36]

17. Crime rates have continued to decline since 2010. Falls in reoffending were achieved up to 2010, but since then reoffending rates have stabilised and remained high. Local data demonstrate that efforts to reduce reoffending in local areas, by probation trust, or local authority, have had mixed results. Over the last year there has been a fall in the proportion of local authority areas and probation trust areas achieving a decrease in reoffending.

The relationship between rates of crime and re-offending and crime reduction policies

18. The range of explanations suggested by our academic witnesses illustrate that the fall in crime is an extremely complex phenomenon to explain. Professor Stephen Farrall believed that it was important also to seek explanations for why crime had risen in the period up to that time.[37] Demographics, opportunity, culture and societal structure all play a role in explaining trends in different types of crime. For example, there are fewer young people, and they are drinking less and taking fewer drugs than the 1970s.[38] There are fewer opportunities for car crime and burglary due to better car and home security; this is thought to explain the initial drop in crime from the mid-1990s.[39] In broader structural terms, countries with lower rates of poverty and inequality and more generous social safety nets are typically safer, had lower rates of violence and lower rates of imprisonment.[40] Professor Farrall's modelling of crime trends in the UK indicated a link between property crime and levels of economic inequality, rates of unemployment and social welfare benefits.[41] Limited research has been conducted on the geographical distribution of crime in England and Wales.[42]

19. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) presented a range of research evidence to submit that the main influences on levels of harm and victimisation are social arrangements—for example rates of wealth and poverty, levels of employment and unemployment, unequal power relations—rather than the criminal justice system and its individual agencies.[43] For example, they cite studies by both Professor Pridemore, University of New York, and Professor Dorling, University of Oxford, on homicide rates that each found that higher levels of homicide were associated with higher rates of poverty; the latter found that in Britain between 1979 and 1999, those living in the richest neighbourhoods saw their risk of being a victim of homicide fall, whereas in the poorest neighbourhoods the risk of being a victim of homicide went up sixfold.[44] Professor Tseloni echoed this, she suggested that "people in the most vulnerable population groups are much worse off compared with others than before the crime drop".[45] One consequence of this is that crime should be much easier to target.[46] Recent analyses of fear of crime suggest that it tends to reflect neighbourhood crime rates.[47]

20. Falling crime rates are to some extent an international trend, meaning that explanatory factors related to the functioning of individual justice systems and other policies have generally been assumed to have limited relevance. Having reviewed international evidence explaining falls in official crime rates, Professor Tseloni said that the drop cannot be explained by criminal justice changes—such as sentencing, rates of imprisonment, police numbers, or policing strategies—within any specific jurisdiction.[48] Professor McDougall believed that the adoption of evidence-based approaches to reducing reoffending, including offender behaviour programmes, in prisons and probation, was "bound to have had an effect", although she was unable to quantify this.[49] Independent evaluations of individual integrated offender management initiatives have demonstrated significant reductions in acquisitive crime in the localities in which they have operated.[50] The doubling of rates of imprisonment is also thought to have had an impact, albeit a small one.[51]

21. In a 2010 article Exploring the international decline in crime rates Professor Tseloni and her colleagues said the consequence of the variation in explanations for the fall in crime was that potential lessons for policy and practice may not have been learned.[52] Professor Garside considered that it was important to distinguish between various crime types in seeking underlying causes for their trends and assessing the policy implications.[53]

22. Crime can be sensitive to changes in national policy agendas: these can facilitate crime, or they can make its commission more difficult. Professor Laycock explained that just as burglary went down because homes became more secure, removing regulations on securing houses as part of any agenda to promote house building might mean the burglary figures would rise again.[54] Crime can also be sensitive to socio-economic trends: there is general accord that crime rates tend to rise during periods of economic downturn, although violent crime typically drops. Yet the ongoing falls in crime rates since 2010 have confounded expectations. When we put this to Professor Hough, he said "I was one of the people who said that the recession would kick crime up at some stage. I have yet to be proved right. I suspect that different recessions have different cultural meanings, and that the '70s and '80s recessions meant different things to people at risk of crime, compared with now, but I have not really got much further than that to explain it."[55] The latest police recorded crime statistics indicated a 4% rise in shoplifting, but it is too soon to predict whether this is indicative of a longer-term trend.

23. Our predecessor Committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice undertake work to identify the key factors influencing changes in the rate of reoffending and crime as a priority.[56] The question of causation is important as this can be used to reduce criminality amongst individuals or groups and to predict crime trends and seek to influence them. When we questioned the Minister for Crime Prevention, Norman Baker MP, about what the Government was doing in this regard he explained that he had just set up two panels, one to examine what steps could be taken now to reduce crime, and the other to look at future crime trends. He said "It is not sensible to have a Department which simply fire-fights the whole time. We have to anticipate where crime is going and try to head it off."[57] This is reflected in his work with the mobile phone industry to tackle the rise in mobile phone theft, and international research, in which the Government is involved, to examine the fall in use of heroin and crack cocaine and fall in crime.[58]

24. Falling crime rates have continued and are welcome, but the extent to which falls in crime can, in practice, be attributed to the success of national or local crime reduction policies is unclear. What is clear is that there are multiple factors at play, and that it is difficult to attribute falls in crime directly to particular crime reduction policies or practices. Crime rates and reoffending rates are simple measures used to reflect the effectiveness, or otherwise, of an extensive and complex series of policies and processes, and offenders' responses to them. It is concerning that some local reoffending rates appear to indicate setbacks in the progress of local areas on this agenda. Similarly, while there has been a significant fall in crime, criminal victimisation is now more concentrated on a few vulnerable population groups and the poorest neighbourhoods, providing a greater opportunity for more targeted crime reduction initiatives. The economic downturn, which some commentators suggest had potential to impact on crime rates, has not yet done so, or that impact is not yet apparent. It is only at a relatively late stage in this Parliament that Ministers appear to have taken steps to increase their understanding of crime trends. The Government should seek to recognise more explicitly where reoffending has fallen and seek to understand why.

26   Office for National Statistics, Crime in England and Wales, year ending September 2013, Statistics are now available for the year to December 2013.  Back

27   IbidBack

28   IbidBack

29   Q327 [Professor Hough]. See also, for example, Crime expert attacks 'deceptive' Home Office figures showing fall in offences, The Observer, 5 May 2013  Back

30   Crime in England and Wales, year ending September 2013. See also Q327 [Professor Hough] Back

31   Public Administration Select Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2013-14, Caught red-handed: Why we can't count on Police Recorded Crime statistics, HC 760 Back

32   See, for example, Ministry of Justice, Proven Reoffending Quarterly Bulletin July 2011-June 2012, England and Wales, April 2014. Proven re-offending is defined as any offence committed in a one year follow-up period and receiving a court conviction, caution, reprimand or warning in the one year follow-up. Following this one year period, a further six month waiting period is allowed for cases to progress through the courts. Back

33   National Offender Management Service, National Offender Management Service Annual Report and Accounts 2011-2012, HC 436  Back

34   Proven Reoffending Quarterly Bulletin July 2011-June 2012, England and Wales  Back

35   Ministry of Justice, 2013 Compendium of re-offending statistics and analysis, July 2013. This refers to one year reconviction rates. Back

36   Ministry of Justice, Local Adult Reoffending 1 October 2012-30 September 2013 England and Wales, February 2014  Back

37   Q273 Back

38   Q345 [Mr Page]; See for example, Health and Social Care Information Centre, Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England - 2012, July 25, 2013. Back

39   Q272 [Professor Farrington]; Q277 [Professor Laycock]; Q342 [Professor Tseloni] Back

40   See Mills, H. and Roberts, R. (2012) Reducing the numbers in custody: looking beyond criminal justice solutions Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Back

41   Q273 Back

42   Q274 [Professor Farrall] Back

43   Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, (PPC0022) Back

44   See also Q327 [Professor Garside]; Q330 [Professor Tseloni] Back

45   Q330 [Professor Tseloni] Back

46   See, for example, Pease, K. and Tseloni, A. (2014) Using Modeling to Predict and Prevent Victimization, Springer Briefs in Criminology, Vol 13.  Back

47   Q348 [Professor Tseloni]; Q334 [Mr Page] Back

48   See also Q340 [Professor Tseloni]. In 2012 the NAO produced a briefing for our inquiry on the budget and structure of the Ministry of Justice, Comparing International Criminal Justice Systems, in which it found 'no consistent correlations' between falls in official crime rates and the numbers in prison across a range of countries. HM Inspector of Constabulary has said that there is no simple link between police officer numbers and crime levels, between numbers and the visibility of the police in the community, or between numbers and the quality of service provided.  Back

49   Q279 Back

50   See, for example, National Policing Lead for Integrated Offender Management (PPC0008), Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon & Somerset (PPC0019), Napo (PPC0031); Q60 [Ms Mountstevens], Qq71, 78 [Ms Bourne] Back

51   Q346 [Professor Hough] Back

52   Tseloni, A., Mailley, J., Farrell, G. and Tilley, N. (2010) Exploring the international decline in crime rates, European Journal of Criminology 7(5) 375-394  Back

53   Q327 Back

54   Q277  Back

55   Q343. See also Q343 [Professor Garside] Back

56   Justice Committee, First Report of Session 2009-10, Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94-I Back

57   Qq507, 518 Back

58   Qq507, 509 Back

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Prepared 26 June 2014