How successful are early interventions in reducing violent crime?

Early interventions with young offenders (or with those deemed to be at risk of offending) are one of the preferred methods of controlling crime by Left Realists.

Early interventions involve taking a multi-agency approach to give extra support and guidance to young offenders (or prospective offenders) involving the police, social services, education, employment and health services working together to offer young people extra support and guidance to ‘steer’ them away from crime.

The UK government has been funding several early intervention programmes for several years now and this recent parliament briefing from 2019 summarises some of the evidence of how successful some of these programmes have been in reducing violent crime.

Before getting into the evidence on solutions the report defines what it means by violent crime (it includes carrying a knife) and then looks at the factors correlated with people turning to crime.

What Type of People are More Likely to Commit Violent Crime?

Here the report cites evidence relating to two major factors:

  • Individual Risk factors – such as exposure to Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) for example domestic abuse, exclusion from school and poor mental health
  • Environmental Risk Factors such as coming from an area of social deprivation and have negative experiences with the police through stop and search, the later of which is especially correlated with being an ethnic minority.

Early Interventions to Prevent Crime

The report distinguishes between individual and environmental interventions. The later are focused on geographical areas

Individual Interventions to Prevent Crime

There are many one to one support services available to young people from a huge range of government and charitable institutions offering the following types of support:

  • Mentoring – in which a trustworthy adult guides a young person through the early stages of their life. However evidence of the effectiveness of mentoring to reduce crime is limited. One study of 350 programmes across England found a huge variety in the support structures, and while this can be successful if mentors are well trained in it for the long-term, it can also have negative effects on the mental health of both mentor and mentee.
  • Specialist Children’s Services – one example is where child support agencies find extra financial support for young people who have been victims of domestic abuse. One study found that this reduced offending rates from 25% to 7%.
  • The Troubled Families Programme – involved assigning a support worker to families whose children were statistically at risk from offending, with the aim of helping children make the most of local community and employment opportunities. The first phase ran with 120 000 families from 2012 to 2105 but an individual evaluation in 2016 found no evidence of this meeting its aims. As a result the second phase ramped up to 400 000 families, and I’ll blog later about how effective this was!
  • Mental Health Support – One interesting approach mentioned here is ‘Parent Infant Psychotherapy – helping parents with mental health issues develop a bond with their children can help reduce neglect and thus reduce crime later in life.

Environmental Interventions to Prevent Crime

  • Community interventions – Appropriate policing is mentioned here as one approach – such as increasing police visibility in high crime areas to reduce opportunities for crime.
  • School Based Interventions such as teaching children social, emotional and communication skills have shown a positive impact in reducing anti social behaviour and substance abuse, such as those offered by ‘Growing Against Violence’ which works in 600 London Schools. However, programmes involving fear tactics have proven less successful.
  • The public health approach -More than a decade ago the Scottish Crime Survey identified that more than 70% of crimes involved people being drunk, so the Scottish authorities developed measures to reduce alcohol consumption, and violent crime reduced every year between 2008 to 2018. This was a truly multi agency approach to reducing crime.

Relevance of this report to A-level sociology

This is a terrific update for evaluating Left Realist approaches to crime. The report seems to be balanced and notes mixed results in many of the interventions, though does seem to be generally positive about the positive impact these early interventions have had in reducing crime.

However from a methods point of view it is difficult to know whether crime would have reduced anyway, even without these interventions, and that is one of the main problems with long term interventions – it is difficult to isolate the independent effect they may have had on reducing crime!

Why has Police Recorded Crime Doubled in Three Years?

The number of violent crimes and sex offences recorded by police in England and Wales have more than doubled in the last four years.

violent_crime_statistics

This is an excellent article by the BBC summarising this trend, with a pretty shocking embedded video in which reporters witness two serious crimes: one ‘moped mugging’ and another just ‘regular’ attempted mugging in a park.

The latest police figures for the 12 months to September from 44 forces show:

  • 68,968 robbery offences, up 29%
  • 138,045 sex offences, up 23%
  • 37,443 knife crime offences, up 21%
  • 1,291,405 violent crime offences, up 20%

However the ONS says higher-harm violent offences, such as knife crime occur in relatively low volumes, and also tend to be concentrated in cities and are therefore not “well-measured” by the Crime Survey.

Analysis (from the BBC)

Although there’s likely to be a dispute about the accuracy of the police crime figures because they hinge, to some extent, on the way forces log offences, how pro-active they are and the willingness of victims to come forward, they clearly demonstrate a rapidly rising caseload.

At the same time, the number of police officers has continued to fall: in the 12 months to last September, down 930 to 121,929. That combination – rising crime, declining police numbers – is creating enormous strain for forces.

Applying Perspectives to explain this increase in crime:

From Right Realist perspective, this increase crime will be a direct result of the declining police numbers, although the decline is so small, it probably doesn’t explain that much of the decrease.

From a Left Realist perspective, it could be due to increasing levels of marginalisation and relative deprivation (more likely?)

I think we can rule out postmodernism in the above cases – I don’t think (I might be wrong) that serious violent and sexual offences are done for the ‘thrill of the act’ – I’m fairly sure criminals don’t enjoy mugging people, for example.

From an Interactionist point of view, this increase in Police Recorded Crime (NB not reflected in the CSEW) is just an artefact of more people reporting crime – so there’s not necessarily a corresponding underlying increase.

What do you think the reasons are for the increase in the amount of violent crime recorded by the police in recent years?

 

 

Domestic Abuse Trends

The topic of domestic abuse is relevant to the families and households and crime and deviance modules within A-level sociology, as well as providing some of the strongest supporting evidence for the continued relevance of Feminism more generally in contemporary society.

It’s also one of those topics that’s good to teach (sensitively) for more ‘humanistic reasons’ – raising awareness of the nature and extent, and underlying dynamics of domestic abuse could play a role in helping prevent today’s teenagers being victims (or even perpetrators!) of this crime.

Below I provide some ‘starting point’ resources which students can use to research the nature and extent of domestic abuse in England and Wales.

Office for National Statistics: Domestic Abuse in England and Wales (to year ending March 2017) – This ONS summary of CSEW and Police Recorded Crime data focuses on extent of domestic abuse, broken down over time, by gender, age and different types : the ‘headline stats’ are below:

Official statistics on Domestic Abuse

  • an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year
  • 1.6 million of these were women and 713,000 were men.
  • 5.7% of adults aged 16-74 experienced Domestic Abuse according to the CSEW (Crime Survey of England and Wales)
  • Only 43% of CSEW reported Domestic Abuse cases go on to be recorded officially as a crime.
  • There has been a decline in the number of cases of Domestic Abuse in recent years…

Infographic on Domestic Abuse

NB – this is based on the 2017 ONS stats, I will update soon!

Domestic Abuse Statistics 2018.png

Good sources for researching Domestic Abuse

Victim SupportVictim Support is an independent charity which supports victims of crime. Their section on domestic abuse is a a very accessible guide to the basic definition and different types of domestic abuse, as well as containing information about how to get support if your a Victim, or you think someone else is.

Women’s Aidmost of their research publications focus on the state of domestic abuse services (e.g. refuges) provided by the state and what happens to the survivors of domestic abuse. 

The NSPCC –  focusing on children and domestic abuse (which the ONS stats above do not cover). 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse – either as victims themselves, or witnessing it.

The Femicide Census – profiles of women killed by men – 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016 – 69% of them by their intimate partners, and only 8% by strangers. This 2017 publication by Women’s Aid outlines some of the grim facts of this crime. 

A very useful website from the U.S. is The Recovery Village –  It contains information on how to leave an abusive relationship, how to help a victim of domestic violence, and more. One of its key aims to empower victims of domestic abuse and their loved ones.

The above are really just some useful ‘starting point’ links…. Further Sources to Follow!

Is Violent Crime Increasing?

According to the latest police recorded crime figures there has been a significant increase in crime in the last year:

  • Gun crime has increased by 27%
  • Knife crime has increased by 26%
  • Robberies have increased by 25%
  • Stalking and Harassment have increased by 36%

At first site, what’s interesting about these figures is that they not only demonstrate a radical increase, but this abruptly reverses the recent trend in declining violent crime:

increase violent crime UK

However, these figures may not actually give us a reliable picture of the actual change in violent crime because of ONE simple fact: police forces in England and Wales are facing significant budget cuts, and so there may have been a more concerted effort on the part of the police to detect and record crimes over the last year – if crime can be shown to be going up, then this can be used as evidence to not cut police funding.

Then there’s the possibility that the public may be reporting more crimes – the ability to report online, for example, makes it easier to do so, and where harassment crimes are concerned, this may be due to a wave of recent campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism blog,  to raise awareness of the fact that such behaviour is not acceptable.

British Crime Survey, based on accounts by victims, shows that crime is still going down, and this is generally regarded as a much more valid way of measuring the extent of crime in England and Wales than police recorded crime, as the BCS removes the subjectivity-bias of the police in investigating and recording crimes:

police recorded compared british crime survey

Sources 

The Guardian

Explaining the Increase in Sex Crime Prosecutions

A fifth of Crown Prosecution cases are alleged sex crimes or domestic abuse. In fact, the proportion compared to all prosecutions has nearly trebled in the last decade.

Alleged sex crimes and domestic abuse offences now account for nearly 20% of cases pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service compared to just under 8% a decade ago.

Prosecutions for sexual offences excluding rape reached a new peak of 13,490 in the latest financial year, while the number of rape prosecutions completed rose from 4,643 in 2015-16 to a record 5,190 in 2016-17.

It’s also worth noting that the successful prosecution rate has increased to around 75%

Why the proportionate rise in prosecutions?

There seems to be at least three main reasons:

Firstly, there’s more reporting of sexual and domestic violence – the rise of prosecutions are in line with a sharp jump in reports of sexual abuse to police seen in recent years in the wake of high-profile investigations launched after the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Secondly, authorities are also mounting increasing numbers of investigations involving the internet, including child sexual abuse, harassment and revenge pornography cases. For example the number of prosecutions sparked by alleged revenge porn – the disclosure of private sexual photographs or films without consent – more than doubled from 206 to 465 in the last year.

Thirdly, new laws have been introduced, criminalising a broader range of offences – for example a new law introduced to clamp down on domestic abusers whose conduct stops short of physical violence, such as those who control their victims through the internet and social media: there have been 309 alleged offences of controlling or coercive behaviour charged since the legislation was introduced at the end of 2015.

HOWEVER, there are some areas where prosecutors could do better:

There were year-on-year falls in prosecutions for “honour-based” violence and forced marriage, the report shows, while there were no prosecutions for female genital mutilation – it’s unlikely that there were no cases of the later in the last year in the UK.

Sources 

The Guardian 

The data above is taken from the CPS’s 10th report on violence against women and girls (Vawg). Cases where victims are men or boys are also covered by the analysis.

Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) – The Imitative Aggressive Experiment 

This classic example of a laboratory experiment suggests that children learn aggressive behaviour through observation – it is relevant to the Crime and Deviance module, and lends support to the idea that exposure to violence at home (or in the media) can increase aggressive and possibly violent behaviour in real life.

Bandura-bobo-doll-experiment

Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) aimed to find out if children learnt aggressive behaviour by observing adults acting in an aggressive manner.

Their sample consisted of 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University Nursery School aged between 3 to 6 years old.

Stage one – making some of the children watch violence 

In this stage of the experiment, children were divided into three groups of 24 (12 boys and 12 girls in each group), and then individually put through one of the following three processes. 

  • The first group of children watched an adult actor behaving aggressively towards a toy called a ‘Bobo doll’. The adults attacked the Bobo doll in a distinctive manner – they used a hammer in some cases, and in others threw the doll in the air and shouted “Pow, Boom”.
  • The second group  were exposed to a non-aggressive adult actor who played in a quiet and subdued manner for 10 minutes (playing with a tinker toy set and ignoring the bobo-doll).
  • The final group were used as a control group and not exposed to any model at all.

Stage two – frustrating the children and observing their reactions

The children were then taken to a room full of nice of toys, but told that they were not allowed to play with them, in order to ‘frustrate them’, and then taken onto another room full of toys which consisted of a number of ‘ordinary toys’, as well as a ‘bobo doll’ and a hammer. Children were given a period of time to play with these toys while being observed through a two way mirror.

The idea here was to see if those children who had witnessed the aggressive behaviour towards the doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards it themselves.

Findings 

To cut a long story short, the children who had previously seen the adults acting aggressively towards the bobo doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards to the bobo doll in stage two of the experiment.

A further interesting finding is that boys were more likely to act aggressively than girls.

The findings support Bandura’s ‘social learning theory’ –  that is, children learn social behaviour such as aggression through the process of observation – through watching the behaviour of another person.

Evaluation

Strengths of the bobo-doll experiment 

  • Variables were well controlled, so it effectively established cause and effect relationships (see the link below for more details)
  • It has good reliability – standardised procedures mean it is easy to repeat.

Limitations of this laboratory experiment

  • This study has very low ecological validity – this is a very artificial form of ‘violence’ – an adult using a hammer on a doll (rather than a human) is nothing like the kind of real life aggressive behaviour a child might be exposed to, thus can we generalise these findings to wider social life?
  • Cumberbatch (1990) found that children who had not played with a Bobo Doll before were five times as likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour than those who were familiar with it; he claims that the novelty value of the doll makes it more likely that children will imitate the behaviour.
  • The effects of exposure to aggression were measured immediately, this experiment tells us nothing about the long-term effects of a single exposure to aggressive behaviour.
  • There are ethical problems with the study – exposing the children to aggressive behaviour and ‘frustrating them’ may have resulted in long term harm to their well-being.

Related Posts 

Laboratory Experiments – advantages and disadvantages

Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – is the other ‘classic’ psychology experiment which usually gets wheeled out for use in sociology.

Further Sources 

This post from Simply Psychology offers a much more detailed account of Bandura’s Imitative Aggressive experiment – NB if you’re an A-level sociology student, you don’t really need to know that much detail for this experiment, this link is just for further reading.

You might also like this video which summarises the Bobo Doll Experiment – although bewarned, it’s a bit cringeworthy