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Modelling crime and offending: recent developments in England and Wales

‘What causes the trends and the patterns in crime?’

This question has exercised social reformers, historians, criminologists and politicians ever since crime trends were first documented. This study, by the
Research Development Statistics Directorate
, draws together some recent work upon modelling explanations. These innovative and speculative pieces of research encourage further debate and development of modelling techniques.

Title: Modelling crime and offending: recent developments in England and Wales

Research Development Statistics Directorate

Series: Occasional Paper 80
Number of pages:
Date published:
December 2003

This publication brings together several recent experimental analyses of well-known databases in England and Wales,
attempting to throw more light on the question of what causes crime and offending.
British jurisdictions have, by international standards, good databases through which trends in crime and offending can be tracked. Considerable effort has always been placed into improving data quality of these sources. However,
database use has concentrated on the presentation of data in user-friendly form and in drawing
policy development conclusions. There has been little data exploitation of effective crime and offender modelling to answer the more fundamental question of what causes crime.

This paper attempts to restore the balance towards greater usage of modelling concerning crime foundations. It brings together different approaches to the use of models of crime and offending, both as a contribution to basic understanding involved, as well as contributing to policy development. By matching their model hypotheses against available data, each is able to throw more light on what is actually happening.
Moreover, these various sections within the paper suggest whole new areas of research and data collection activity.

As well as each of these sections being important in their own right, this study is meant to stimulate discussion
of the contribution that modelling can make to the crime and offending area, encouraging further specialist modelling theories to be devised. These differing analyses are broken down in the paper into the following sections

Section A

Survey of the research literature on the criminological and economic factors influencing crime trends: A summary

The purpose of this study was to carry out a comprehensive literature survey identifying key economic, social and criminal justice factors that have a causal effect on the recorded levels of post-World War II violent crime and domestic burglary.

Section B

Non-linear modelling of burglary and violent crime in the UK

The aim of this project is to offer an innovative framework in which to understand better the process by which crime rates spread (or contract) over time. The approach is similar to that used in mathematical biology to describe how potential epidemics are either spread or contained in a population.

Section C

A theory and model of the conviction process

This paper describes an analysis of data extracted from the Offenders’ Index and the generation of a theory of the process of offending – conviction – and re-conviction.

Section D

Developments and applications of MacLeod’s hypothesis

This paper indicates how the hypothesis from ‘Section C’ can be further developed, both to predict the prison and probation populations and also gives insights into the effectiveness of various approaches to reducing crime.

Section E

Modelling crime at police force area level

In this paper we discuss modelling issues and present some preliminary findings from ongoing research on why some areas have higher crime rates than others.

Section F

Forecasting trends in recorded crime

The study was concerned with forecasting issues relating to the recorded offences of burglary and of theft and handling of stolen goods in England and Wales between 1999 and 2001.

Future Evaluation

This paper provides opportunity for development towards much wider discussion, which needs to incorporate practitioners from three main areas of criminological work:

  • data collectors/statisticians who maintain large data bases, mainly containing accounting data

  • social researcher/psychologists who know a good deal about individual offenders/non-offenders social, criminal and psychological histories

  • model builders who try to disentangle patterns from the world to produce relationships that can give more insights into what is really going on and how interventions can be targeted to reduce crime.

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Last update:  05/01/04

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