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HomeReports → 1987-1988

CRC funded reports


The Council received reports from 11 completed research projects during the year 1987-88. 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. Attributions of responsibility for unlawful behaviour: a developmental study
  2. Analysis of patterns in public perception of crime
  3. South Australian Aboriginal fine default intervention study 1986-1987
  4. The Walcha crime report
  5. Strange language - child victims under cross examination
  6. Between the rock and another hard place: Aborigines and the criminal justice system in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia
  7. Children's understanding and perceptions of children's court criminal matter hearings
  8. An agenda for the reform of firearms laws
  9. Crime perception, victimisation and reporting in inner Brisbane
  10. Children's construction of their involvement in the children's court process
  11. Government agency approaches to the implementation of pollution control legislation in South Australia

Attributions of responsibility for unlawful behaviour: a developmental study

Report title: Adolescents' Assignment of Responsibility and Punishment for Delinquent Acts
Grantees: Michael Siegal, University of Queensland
Criminology Research Council grant ; (1/85)

Adolescents may perceive as arbitrary the ages at which different acts are determined to become legal, and may thus develop disrespect for the law. Should they view status offences to be justifiable and committed by responsible persons, they may be reluctant to punish the culprits. In this study, adolescents in three age groups (14, 16, and 18 years) were asked to assign responsibility and punishment for the smoking, drinking, and shoplifting of 14, 16 and 18 year old culprits. In contrast to shoplifting, smoking (for example through the underage purchase of cigarettes) and drinking are 'status' offences, determined by a legal age of responsibility. There were significant age of subject and age of culprit differences in attributions of responsibility for status and nonstatus offences. Compared to 16 and 18 year old subjects, 14 year olds assigned more responsibility to 14 year old culprits. Both 14 and 16 year old subjects assigned more responsibility to 16 year old culprits than did their 18 year old counterparts. Subjects aged 16 years were most lenient in their punishment of young smokers and drinkers. Compared with 18 year olds, 14 and 16 year olds as signed less punishment for shoplifting regardless of the culprit's age. Subjects were generally more likely to accept a problematic family environment as grounds to reduce responsibility and punishment for smoking and shoplifting than for drinking. Issues of responsibility and punishment are discussed in terms of the relation between adolescents' compliance and perceptions of the law. For example, it is suggested that the discrepancy between 14 year olds and their elders on the question of responsibility for status offences may transform 16 year olds into rather lenient exponents of punishment for these acts.

Analysis of patterns in public perception of crime

Report title: Australian Attitudes to Crime
Grantees: Dr M F Collins, Lecturer, Department of Mathematics, Australian Defence Force Academy
Criminology Research Council grant ; (2/87)

This project involved statistical analysis of a large data set on Australian public opinion regarding a selection of 13 criminal offences. When each offence was assessed for its 'seriousness' using the Sellin-Wolfgang index, the ordering offences from most to least serious were: stabbing a victim to death, heroin trafficking, pollution causing one death, industrial accident causing loss of a leg, armed bank robbery, wife beating, child beating, social security fraud, Medicare fraud, break and enter, tax evasion, shoplifting and homosexuality.

This ordering is significantly different from the comparable ordering given by the public in the United States. The Australian public gives higher seriousness scores to crimes occasioning (or with potential for) serious physical harm, and significantly lower scores than the U.S. sample for white collar crimes, shoplifting and homosexuality.

Major differences of opinion were also apparent within the Australian sample - especially regarding the choice of appropriate sentence for particular crimes. For example, opinion on sentencing for a social security fraud involving $1,000 was fairly evenly divided between imposing a fine, a community service order, imprisonment and probation. Differences in opinion were strongly related to the respondent's age and education level; respondents with tertiary education tend to rely less on the death penalty, life imprisonment or a fixed prison term as a means of sentencing, and instead lean more towards probation and community service than respondents without tertiary education; the relationship with age, on the other hand, is for perceived seriousness of most crimes to increase with the age of the respondent.

South Australian Aboriginal fine default intervention study 1986-1987

Report title: South Australian Aboriginal Fine Default Intervention Study 1986-1987 / Aboriginal Task Force of the Justice and Consumer Affairs Committee, South Australian Cabinet
Grantees: J Moriarty, Director, Office of Aboriginal Affairs, South Australian Government
Criminology Research Council grant ; (9/86)

This project was conducted with the support and co-operation of the Aboriginal Task Force of the Justice and Consumer Affairs Committee of the South Australian Cabinet.

The research sought to develop policies to reduce the unusually high numbers of Aborigines jailed for fine default. The main aim of this research was to:

Processes of intervention were introduced at the experimental court to ensure fines were paid on time. It was nevertheless found that the majority of Aborigines refused to pay fines as a matter of principle and protest against the European concept of a criminal justice system. Many indicated that if they could do a community service order within the Aboriginal community, they would prefer this to being jailed. Other recommended alternatives to imprisonment included a form of restitution, court reassessment or a stepped sentencing package.

Problems experienced with the intervention program led the researchers to recommend seventeen wide-ranging changes to the criminal justice system in South Australia. These recommendations were referred by relevant Ministers to a committee of chief executive officers of justice agencies and several already have been implemented. Recommendations adopted include:

Overall, the report highlighted many deficiencies within the criminal justice system in relation to Aborigines and has demonstrated the need for government departments and instrumentalities to review current procedures and practices. For example, the report detailed concerns about the lack of communications between departments. There was also no formal mechanism in place to enable joint problem-solving between these departments, and the Task Force recommended that such a permanent consultative committee be established.

The Walcha crime report

Report titles: The Walcha Crime Report (PDF 7.4MB); The Walcha Rural Crime Report: Executive Summary; and Crime in a Rural Community / M O'Connor and D Gray, Federation Press, Sydney
Grantees: Dr M E O'Connor and Dr D.E. Gray, Lecturers in Sociology, University of New England, Armidale
Criminology Research Council grant ; (11/85)

The perception of crime and the policing practices in a rural Australian community was the focus of the research. The location for the research was the town and district of Walcha, New South Wales. Size, rural qualities, presence of a police station and accessibility were the reasons for selecting Walcha.

The research examined a wide range of crime related issues. The study specifically examined attitudes concerning crime, crime avoidance behaviours, victimisation experiences, perceptions of criminals, the extent of criminality in the previous century, rural policing and a variety of community issues. The research used several different methodological approaches, such as an historical analysis of official crime records, a detailed literature review of rural crime studies, observation analysis based on the Walcha police station and interviews with a random sample of the adult population. Interviews were carried out with a random sample of 191 individuals living in Walcha and the surrounding district.

The analysis of available court and police records from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided the historical perspective on crime in Walcha. Public order offences have been the main problem encountered by police in Walcha in both centuries. The main differences between the past and the present have been the disappearance of labour relations from the criminal justice agenda and the proportionate decrease per head of population of the official crime rate.

Respondents did not report high levels of concern or fear of crime. Walcha was generally perceived to be safer than other rural towns and much safer than urban areas such as Sydney. However, respondents indicated a reasonably high level of crime avoidance behaviours and a significant level of crime victimisation. Approximately 14 per cent of respondents claimed that they had been victims of crime in the preceding twelve months. Most of the crimes were minor and the majority were not re- ported to the police.

Community satisfaction with the local police was extremely high. The local police engaged in four basic categories of police work namely, proactive policing, reactive policing, welfare and bureaucratic work. Each police role is described and analysed and related to community conditions. Respondents reported frequent exposure to the news media, but cited informal sources as their main source of crime news.

Finally, the theoretical, policy and practical implications of the research are discussed. Policing strategies and practices in rural areas are considered in the light of these findings, as well as the development of community crime prevention programs.

Strange language - child victims under cross examination

Report title: Strange Language - Child Victims Under Cross Examination / Mark B Brennan and Roslin E Brennan, Riverina Murray Institute of Higher Education, 3rd ed.
Grantees: Mark Brennan, Lecturer, Riverina-Murray Institute of Higher Education
Criminology Research Council grant ; (29/86)

This project sought to identify the extent to which children who testify in court are linguistically disadvantaged. The researchers interviewed child victim-witnesses and medical, legal, health and welfare professionals. In addition, they analysed trial transcripts and conducted a testing program to assess children's ability to hear and make sense of a range of questions posed in the course of cross-examination.

The language tactics deployed in cross examination capitalise well on the vulnerability of young victims and draw on wide-spread cultural misinformation about children's tendencies to tell lies and be unreliable.

The findings clearly demonstrate that some words are put together in such an obtuse and confusing way that they cannot even be heard as language, let alone responded to coherently. From these results the concept of 'Strange Language' is drawn and the nature of the strangeness is the subject of the greater part of the study. Thirteen features which contribute to strange and thus alienating language are described and explained. The credibility of child witnesses can be impeached by the confusing use of arcane legal jargon.

'Strange language' does not argue against children giving evidence or confronting the accused. Nor does it argue that they should be exempt from examination. It does however argue most strongly for the right of children to be allowed to display their story in a variety of modes and settings and to be provided with the language right of an interpreter if adults in court cannot train themselves to both speak clearly and listen carefully.

Between the rock and another hard place: Aborigines and the criminal justice system in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia

Report title: Between the Rock And Another Hard Place: Aborigines and the Criminal Justice System in the East Kimberley Region of Western Australia
Grantees: Christine Stafford, College of Advanced Education, Armidale, New South Wales
Criminology Research Council grant ; (24/86)

This report is the result of a study of Aboriginal/Criminal Justice interaction in two East Kimberley townships, namely Kununurra and Halls Creek. Research was conducted in two stages during 1987 and methodology combines qualitative data (in the form of unstructured interviews) with analysis of records of Courts of Petty Sessions and Children's Courts over a period of ten years: 1977 to 1987. In this way it is possible to monitor the impact of massive resource development and large scale in-migration of white labour on the lives of many East Kimberley Aboriginal people. The study concludes that, as a result of the Europeanisation of the East Kimberley, Aborigines have been rendered powerless and dependent. The majority of Aborigines in Kununurra and Halls Creek are locked into a downward socio-economic and politico-legal spiral. In both towns dependency on welfare has increased, social alienation has intensified and behavioural problems have manifested themselves and are reflected in rising crime rates, particularly those committed by juveniles. In the East Kimberley this situation is exacerbated when police in fulfilling their role as 'gate-keepers' of the criminal justice system, and in performing the task of 'social hygiene', codify their actions and reactions to Aboriginal crime. The result is that Aborigines and police may be seen to conjoin and create a deviancy amplification spiral. The study, and the resultant report, aims to use the data gathered and analysed as a baseline of information for the purpose of future monitoring. In addition it is intended to inform East Kimberley Aborigines of both the historical and contemporary statistics in order to en- courage and empower them to develop their own strategies for dealing with criminal justice issues within the existing framework.

Children's understanding and perceptions of children's court criminal matter hearings

Report titles: The Role of Duty Solicitors in Children's Court - Criminal Matters: The Perceptions of Children and Duty Solicitors (PDF 1.35MB); and Children's Perceptions of Court Outcome (PDF 1.6MB)
Grantees: Dr Judith Cashmore and Dr Kay Bussey, School of Behavioural Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney
Criminology Research Council grant ; (26/85)

This study investigates children's understanding and perceptions of the court process as a function of their experience with it: repeat offenders, first-timers at court, and no experience (school-children).

Forty children appearing at Children's Court for the first time in relation to criminal matters were interviewed before and after their hearing. A further twenty repeat offenders were interviewed before their hearing. The interview concerned children's perceptions and understanding of the court process and, in particular, their perceptions of the decision making process and the role of the duty solicitor. School-children, matched on age and sex to the first-timers, were asked similar questions based on a vignette about a child who was involved in an alleged offence and a subsequent Children's Court hearing. Duty solicitors who represent children on criminal matters were also asked questions about the operation of Children's Courts and their own role in them, and in addition they were asked to predict children's responses.

The main effect of experience was on children's perceptions of the decision-making process. There was a significant reduction in first-timers' own perceived influence on the outcome, and first-timers believed more strongly than school-children that arbitrary factors (such as the mood of the magistrate and the child's dress) had an effect on the outcome. The two main factors that both children at court and school-children believed did and should have the most influence on the magistrate's decision were the seriousness of the offence and prior criminal history. Information on family background was generally not seen as a legitimate or important influence on the decision, and a 'poor' background was not seen as a possible mitigating factor. Young offenders rejected the mitigating function of social background information in dispositional decisions and seemed to operate on the tariff principle or justice model rather than a 'welfare' model.

Most children acknowledged their primary responsibility for 'ending up' at court and believed that the outcome and the court process were fair. Most were also satisfied with their duty solicitor. Not surprisingly though, children had a less positive view of the duty solicitor's role than duty solicitors themselves. One of the main problems was that duty solicitors seem to be identified with the 'system'. There was, however, a strong relationship between children's satisfaction with their duty solicitor and their perceived chance to 'have their say', on the one hand, and their perception of the fairness of the court process and outcome, on the other. This finding is in line with procedural justice findings that the opportunity to be heard, either personally or via legal representation, is associated with the perceived fairness or satisfaction with a decision.

An agenda for the reform of firearms laws

Report titles: An Agenda for the Reform of Firearms Laws; and Gun Laws: Proposals for Reform / J.D. Fine, Federation Press, 1988 (PDF 5MB)
Grantees: J D Fine, Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia
Criminology Research Council grant ; (9/85)

This report is based upon research carried out over a two-year period into the administration of the firearms laws in each state and internal territory of Australia. Interviews were conducted Australia-wide, with police, officers of firearms user organisations, and members of numerous other segments of the community.

The costs of current Australian practices and policies were evaluated in terms of their effectiveness in attaining the goal of reducing, so far as is reasonably possible, both the criminal and the accidental misuse of firearms.

The report also highlights the extent to which the weaknesses in firearms laws of certain States undermine the firearms laws of the other States and Territories.

Certain measures were advocated which would entail a fundamental change from present policies of many States and territories. These include the following:

Crime perception, victimisation and reporting in inner Brisbane

Report title: Crime Perception, Victimisation and Reporting in Inner Brisbane
Grantees: Dr J R Minnery, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, Queensland Institute of Technology
Criminology Research Council grant ; (21/86)

This study, based on structured interviews with households in four Brisbane residential suburbs, investigated three main factors: (i) the perception by householders of crime in their suburbs; (ii) the household's actual experience of crime over the twelve months preceding the survey, crime reporting rates and the reasons for not reporting crime; and (iii) awareness of the Queensland Police Department's security advice service.

Just over one-third (35.2per cent) of the households responding had been victims of crime over the twelve months previous to the surveys. The most common crime, in terms of number of incidents, was nuisance calls; in terms of number of households affected it was burglary/breaking and entering.

Overall, only about one quarter (24.6 per cent) of incidents were reported to the police. The rate of reporting was lowest for nuisance calls (7 per cent) and robbery with violence (25 per cent); highest for motor vehicle theft (94 per cent) and burglary / breaking and entering (76 per cent). The main reasons given for not reporting crime to the police were that the offence was 'trivial' (often linked with a suspicion the incident was the work of children; or the statement that the police were already over- worked dealing with other more 'serious' offences) or that it was felt the police could not or would not, do anything about the crime.

Overall, the results support the need for a preventative community based model of policing rather than a 'fire fighting' approach. There was a strong support for a greater police visibility, in terms of additional patrols, longer opening hours for police stations and more policemen and policewomen. But people are also well aware both that crime is a community concern and that the roots of crime extend beyond the individual of- fender and the realm of the police force. They supported better employment and recreation opportunities for youth, better control by parents of children, and closer interaction amongst members of the community.

Children's construction of their involvement in the children's court process

Report title: Children in Justice / Ian O'Connor and Pamela Sweetapple, Longman Cheshire, 1988
Grantees: Dr I O'Connor, Department of Social Work, University of Queensland
Criminology Research Council grant ; (11/86)

The project explored the experience of appearing before a Children's Court charged with a criminal offence from the perspective of the child. Sixty-three children were interviewed at two Courts. The first Court was a specialist Children's Court and the second was an outer suburban Magistrate's Court, constituted as a Children's Court. Approximately half the children interviewed had not previously appeared in court charged with a criminal offence.

The analysis focussed on reading the interviews as texts, as sources of meaning. The manner in which children discussed, described and explained the Court experience was examined in order to make explicit what the accounts had in common, and the unexpressed or hidden assumptions embedded in them. The research report, Children in Justice, by Dr Ian O'Connor and Ms Pamela Sweetapple will be published as a book by Longman Cheshire in late 1988.

In chapters 2 to 6 of Children in Justice, different aspects of the children's accounts (the experience of being policed, the expectations the children have of court, their accounts and perceptions of lawyers, child welfare officers and prosecutors, the description of the court hearing and the role of the magistrate therein, and finally, their discussions of the sentencing process and the sentence itself) are explored. Particular attention is paid to how the ideas of young people, and the practices of the court hinder children's participation in the court process and how these same ideas are functional in reinforcing a structural position of powerlessness and dependency in young people. The manner in which the actual offence, the precipitating incident, disappears in the court's processing of the child, and the consequences of this for society as well as the child, are also noted.

The final chapter argues for a re-examination of the relationship between young people and society and a reconstruction of the manner in which children's crimes are dealt with by society.

Government agency approaches to the implementation of pollution control legislation in South Australia

Report title: A Study of Agency Approaches to the Implementation of Pollution Control Legislation in South Australia (PDF 5MB)
Grantees: D A Cole, Director, Social and Ecological Assessment Pty Ltd; Principal, David A. Cole and Associates
Criminology Research Council grant ; (15/84)

This study examined the administrative processes and factors which lead to enforcement decisions made under principal pollution control legislation in South Australia. The methodology involved examination of approximately 1500 cases recorded in government files in four South Australian Government agencies in two departments-the Department of Environment and Planning (DEP) and the Engineering and Water Supply Department (E&WS Dept). The principal findings of the study included the following:

Prosecution (or even serious consideration of prosecution) is rarely a strategy adopted to ensure adherence to pollution control legislation. Generally speaking, South Australian pollution control agencies pursue a policy of non-punitive resolution of pollution matters. Prosecution is used only as a last resort.

Government officers use a wide range of non-punitive approaches to resolving environmental matters including:

There is considerable variation in the approaches taken by the respective departments. This is often a reflection of the legislation on which the particular department relies, but can also reflect the policies of respective departments. The Noise Control Branch, for example, tends to rely on resolution by informal processes, reflecting the complaint-based structure of the Noise Control Act. On the other hand, the Air Quality Branch relies heavily on resolution through both inspection and the issuing of formal notices of a breach.

By way of contrast with both the above agencies, the Water Resources Branch and Trade Wastes Section of the Engineering and Water Supply Department during the study period either recommended or commenced prosecution in a significantly higher proportion of matters than was the case for either agency within the Department of Environment and Planning.

Generally, less serious matters were resolved in a relatively short period whereas those matters which were resolved only over protracted periods of time (greater than three months) were of significant or major seriousness. That is, those matters which were serious tended to be more difficult to resolve or to arise out of situations which protracted resolution.

There is a clear tendency in South Australia for cases involving significant or major breaches to take longer to resolve than those involving less serious breaches. There is little apparent administrative attempt to counter this trend.

No prosecution involved heavy industry. Four cases were successfully completed against light industry and 13 cases were considered for prosecution or commenced against rural industry (primarily wineries).

South Australian pollution control agencies may significantly benefit in implementing their respective legislation through a close examination of the range of factors contributing to delays in resolving many of the more significant pollution control matters. In this respect the report concludes that greater consideration should be given to the more frequent use of prosecution to encourage polluters to comply with legislative and administrative requirements.

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