Family violence, drugs on the agenda for Crime Statistics Agency

By David Donaldson

Wednesday June 3, 2015

Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency will spend its inaugural two years focusing on family violence, sex offences, drug and alcohol use in crime and indigenous over-representation in the justice system, according to its first research agenda framework released this week.

The plan outlines the agency’s research strategy for 2015-17, setting out six overarching themes “required to fill reported gaps in the evidence base in Victoria”: profiles of offenders and victims, changes in crime over time, place-based analysis, recidivism and re-victimisation, co-occurence and offending trajectories and responses to crime.

The CSA, which opened its doors this year, provides regular releases of crime statistics and data, as well as conducting in-depth research into crime trends and issues, with the aim of contributing to the evidence base for policy and practice in Victoria.

Indigenous people are over-represented in the justice system, argues the framework document — with the growing number of Koori women in prison of particular concern. Much of the growth in the overall proportion of Australian female prisoners “can in fact be attributed to growth in the Indigenous female prisoner population,” it says, adding that “this shift warrants further investigation.”

The desire for geographical information about crime was a “consistent theme” during the agency’s consultation with stakeholders, with many interested in comparisons of crime rates between country and city areas, and across postcodes.

It is hoped better identification of where crimes happen, as well as where offenders and victims live, will assist “in planning the distribution of intervention programs and services,” says the document. Even information about who perpetrates crimes in Victoria “is almost absent” currently, undermining accountability and prevention strategies.

Stakeholders expressed interest “in developing an understanding of the different types of crime that are likely to be perpetrated by the same offender both at a point in time and across their offending career,” says the plan. In particular, this includes predicting which types of crimes may lead to more serious offending in future.

The agency will look at what factors influence the likelihood a police call-out will result in charges and outcomes, highlighting in particular the high attrition rate of sexual offence cases through the justice system at present.

It will also try to provide a focus on justice system outcomes, in addition to more easily measured outputs:

“For example, while the justice system reports on number of Intervention Orders issued (outputs), the impact of those Intervention Orders on victim safety or recidivism (outcomes) across Victoria is largely unknown. In part, this is due to inherent methodological difficulties associated with rigorously evaluating and measuring outcomes. However wherever possible, the CSA will focus on reporting justice system outcomes in addition to outputs.”

Research findings and reports will be made available on the CSA’s Research and Evaluation page as projects are completed.

The Crime Statistics Agency has taken over responsibility for reporting crime data from Victoria Police. This followed many years of concerns about the independence and reliability of the police’s statistics output, with the Victorian Ombudsman recommending from 2009 that an independent body look after crime statistics. This came to a head in 2011 after the release of a “dodgy” report before the state election, ultimately leading to the resignation of chief commissioner Simon Overland.

New South Wales, in contrast, has had the independent NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research body since 1969.

The research agenda has been developed “to address the key information needs of Victorian stakeholders, to support policy and decision-making. It is the result of consultation with government, academic and non-government representatives, and a review of the coverage of the existing evidence base about crime in this state,” said the CSA in a statement.

Fiona Dowsley
Fiona Dowsley

Fiona Dowsley was appointed the CSA’s inaugural chief statistician last year after a long stretch at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. She recently told The Age that statistics can hold a mirror up to our society:

“In looking at the information relating to crime and justice, it is possible to shine a light on topics which can often be misunderstood and difficult to examine, but through direct or indirect ways, can impact on all of us.

“A lot of it is about translation and presentation — ultimately about being able to tell a story. It’s about providing as much context as we can. The more we do that, the less open to interpretation the figures are.

“You’ve got to know what the question is that you are trying to answer, what area you are trying to inform or what you need to assess. Once you have a clear idea of what you are trying to understand you can work out whether you are collecting the right information and how it can be used.”

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