By Poppy Wise | 15 Mar 2017

Director Poppy Wise reflects on her time at the ​2017 Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research’s Applied Research in Crime and Justice Conference.

I spent a few years of my childhood growing up in New York. At the risk of revealing my age, New York at the time was a very different city from today. It was a hotspot for property and violent crime, the AIDS and homelessness epidemics were visible on every subway and street corner. It was eye-opening and life-changing for my younger self, and my family quickly learned to adjust from our previous suburban Melbourne life. Based on this early experience, I have always felt lucky and safe living in Australia – and a bit perplexed at our collective community fear of all manner of crimes. 

Recently, these suspicions regarding our safety were confirmed when fellow Urbis Director Alison Wallace and I attended the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Annual Conference. We heard a range of speakers from across Australia as well as several international keynotes, with particular focus on domestic and family violence, sentencing, the role of technology in the fight against crime, and the cost-effectiveness of policy responses to keep us safer. 

For me, the two days highlighted several key themes. Firstly, that despite living in a culture of pervasive fear and ‘law and order’ politics, we REALLY ARE very safe compared to previous times in Australia. Secondly, despite this relative safety, domestic violence continues to occur at unacceptably high levels in our community. And lastly, evidence clearly demonstrates that early intervention in communities at risk of involvement in crime is the best investment to keep us all safe in the future.

Governments face challenging decisions when it comes to where they invest to reduce crime and increase safety. Governments in Australia do invest in addressing the factors that can see increasing numbers of potential offenders come into contact with the justice system. But we spend much more on punitive measures once crimes have already been committed – think expanding prison populations, building new prisons and resourcing for parole arrangements. 

Due to a rapidly growing body of evidence, several speakers demonstrated not only the lack of a link between increasing prison populations and decreasing crime, but also the need to spend more money on early intervention – for both better outcomes and a reduction of costs over the long-term. Early intervention programs might include police training and partnerships, mentoring and justice programs, improved pathways for young people and strategies to address child neglect and abuse.   

In the climate of public spending cuts, it is critical to think not only of community safety but of how we get best bang for our buck in crime prevention. Highly-respected Australian criminologist, Rick Sarre closed out the conference with a presentation describing how he would spend $100 million to deliver the best outcomes for crime prevention. Outlining a range of early intervention and prevention strategies, a total of 70% was earmarked for these projects, with the remaining spend on supports for people within and transitioning out of prison. 

So, the evidence is clear but a challenge remains. How do we address the disconnect between a law and order mentality in our communities that equates prisons with safety, and the evidence-based reality that we should be supporting vulnerable communities much before crime occurs to divert people into better lives?

Poppy’s article was originally published on LinkedIn

Our Economics and Social Advisory team consists of experts who’ll help you find solutions to the toughest policy and social challenges. Get in touch to find out more.

Poppy Wise View Profile