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CRC funded reports

2001-2002

The Council received four reports of completed research projects during the year. Summaries of these reports are given below. These reports are held by the Australian Institute of Criminology's JV Barry Library and are available on inter-library loan. For full bibliographic information on any report, search the Library's Catalogue.

  1. Private investigators in Australia
  2. Sentencing the multiple offender
  3. Prolific urban criminals and urban barriers: a quantitative spatial- impact study of the ACT's unique geography on recidivist property crime offenders
  4. Pathways from child maltreatment to juvenile offending

Private investigators in Australia

Report title: Private investigators in Australia : work, law, ethics and regulation
Grantees: Dr Tim Prenzler, Griffith University
Criminology Research Council grant ; (15/99-00)

This study analysed the nature of the private investigation industry and associated issues of ethics and regulation. A comprehensive study was undertaken of legal powers and controls, and interviews were conducted with 40 practitioners. It was clear that private (and commercial agents) provide a wide range of services to their clients. Such services are vital to the business operations of insurance companies and legal firms. Private agency services also provide a significant public good in the fight to reduce the cost of fraud in the community, and facilitating the achievement of justice for aggrieved parties who are owed money or who are the victims of crimes and other wrongs. The past 10 to 15 years has seen an enormous increase in the use of private agents to investigate insurance fraud and there is currently an increase in the outsourcing of investigations of suspected welfare fraud. Private agents claim to have a very high success rate in recovery of losses, dropping of suspect insurance claims, discovery of offenders, facilitation of fair legal process, and in various other forms of solving crime-related problems for clients. This process contributes to a wider response to the problem of 'hidden crime', primarily in terms of prevention and restitution.

The sensitive nature of private agency work and conflicts with privacy principles can lead to abuses of position - as revealed in two inquiries in New South Wales and Queensland in the past 10 years. However, there is also a growing sense of professionalism among investigators who are strongly supportive of an enlarged role for government in further lifting standards of conduct and the image of the industry. Governments need to pay more attention to means of facilitating the many benefits provided by private agents, in part through improved pre-service training and more active consultation with the industry. In particular, more attention needs to be paid to finding a more productive balance between justifiable requests for information and the interest of personal privacy. There is a case for strengthening controls on access to confidential information held by governments while also expanding controlled access by private agents for legitimate purposes. This arrangement is supported in the review of legislation undertaken in this study, by practitioners who were interviewed and by inquiry reports.

Sentencing the multiple offender

Report title: Sentencing the multiple offender in Victoria: an empirical study of judicial practice
Grantees: Dr Austin Lovegrove, Melbourne University
Criminology Research Council grant ; (79/98-9)

The first part of the study offers a quantitative description of the way judges apply the totality principle. It does this by means of an analysis of archival sentencing data. The sample selected from cases heard in the Victorian County Court in 1995 and 1996 comprise rape, armed robbery and burglary as principal offences. Across the three samples of offences there were 64 offenders. In 31 of these cases cumulation was considered to be excessively harsh. The legal category of offence did not appear to be a factor, however, there was some tendency for the incidence of disproportionality to be lower where the sum of the secondary sentences was higher and for the single event and escapade categories. According to this report, too many offenders served too much unnecessary time in prison.

Prolific urban criminals and urban barriers: a quantitative spatial-impact study of the ACT's unique geography on recidivist property crime offenders

Report title: A quantitative spatial study of the impact of Canberra's unique geography on residential burglary offenders
Grantees: Dr Jeremy Ratcliffe, Charles Sturt University
Criminology Research Council grant ; (17/00-01)

This study has investigated if residential burglars are inhibited by suburb boundaries and urban barriers (such as major road systems and vegetation strips) in their choice of suburbs to target. Data on individuals charged with burglary, along with the offence location, were provided by the Australian Federal Police (ACT Region) for the ACT for 1999 and 2000.

The journey-to-crime burglary patterns of over 300 offender/offence records (from home address to targeted location) were plotted on a Geographical Information System (GIS). The majority of offenders in the study travelled across more than one suburb boundary in their journey to crime (travelling offenders). Furthermore, those offenders that stayed more local to their home address (marauders) were not inhibited in their travel plans, and there is no statistical evidence that these offenders favoured their own suburb over other neighbourhoods that were within their travel range. The statistical findings show that the Canberran burglars follow an expected distribution of target selection based on simple geographical opportunity that is unaffected by urban barriers. The findings suggest that physical characteristics of suburban boundaries are not a factor in target selection and that the significant dual carriageways and wide vegetated areas that are characteristic of Canberra do not inhibit residential burglars.

Pathways from child maltreatment to juvenile offending

Report title: Pathways from child maltreatment to juvenile offending
Grantees: Dr Anna Stewart and Dr Susan Dennison, Griffith University
Criminology Research Council grant ; (29/00-01)

All children born in 1983 who had contact with either the Queensland child protection system or the juvenile justice system were included in this study. At the time of data collection these children had turned 17 and were no longer considered children. The Department of Families databases contain a unique identifier enabling children to be tracked over time and across the two systems. There were 4,655 children who came into contact with the child protection system. The majority of these children (62%) were the victims of multiple incidents of maltreatment (30% of substantiated notifications). Children with substantiated maltreatment were more likely (17%) to come to the attention of the department for juvenile offending than children with notifications that were not substantiated (10%). Of children who offended, 18 per cent had been the victim of child maltreatment. Maltreated children who offended were more likely than maltreated children who did not offend to be male, Indigenous, to be older at the final maltreated episode (but not younger at the first), neglected or physically abused, have more notifications and be more likely to be placed outside the home because of maltreatment. Although not all children who are maltreated offend, these results indicate that the frequency, severity and type of maltreatment increases the risk of children offending. These results have important implications for the prevention of juvenile offending.

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