Headlines: October 18th, 2004

Government crime reduction strategies are in danger of targeting the usual suspects rather than those who cause the most harm or who pose the greatest risk, according to a new discussion paper from the think-tank the Crime and Society Foundation today.The paper, ‘Crime, persistent offenders and the justice gap’, says many of those who commit hidden crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assaults and crimes against children do not come to the attention of the authorities and so are likely to be ignored by the government’s strategy. It also argues that government spin on crime figures is misleading and counterproductive.

They say regular ministerial assertions that 100,000 persistent offenders are responsible for half of all crime and that 5,000 prolific offenders commit nearly 10 percent of all crime, are ‘manifestly incorrect’. The report says the claims are based on information about those convicted of crime, not those who commit it. Less than three percent of known crime results in an offender being successfully prosecuted. By focusing attention on known offenders, the paper argues, ministers risk marginalizing arguably more important crime reduction priorities.

The paper goes on to criticise the use the government has made of the British Crime Survey. Although it is a more accurate measure of some crime than police statistics, the report says, the BCS gives little or no information about a range of crimes, including sexual assaults, crimes against children, and white-collar crime. As a result, the paper concludes, the use made of the Crime Survey by ministers as a basis for claims about crime as a whole stretches credibility.

The paper’s author, Richard Garside, the director of the Crime and Society Foundation, puts forward a number of conclusions, including the need to rethink the ‘reassuring myth’ that a small number of people commit a large proportion of crime. He also urges the government to consider developing more comprehensive measures of crime in all its variety and he wants politicians and other opinion formers to be more honest about the limitations of the criminal justice system in dealing with crime. Public confidence is not served, he says, by overselling the capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with crime.