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CRC funded reports


The Council received reports from 6 completed research projects during the year 1989-90. 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. Evaluation of the special care unit (at Long Bay Gaol, New South Wales)
  2. Forensic audio-visual evidence analysis procedures
  3. Victims of the criminal justice system in South Australia
  4. Study of appeals from local courts in New South Wales
  5. Factors relevant to weapon choice by violent offenders
  6. Homeless street kids as victims of violence

Evaluation of the special care unit (at Long Bay Gaol, New South Wales)

Report title: Evaluation of the Special Care Unit (at Long Bay Gaol, New South Wales) (PDF 4.36MB)
Grantees: Dr D W Porritt, Research and Statistics Division, NSW Department of Corrective Services
Criminology Research Council grant ; (8/85)

The Special Care Unit (SCU) is a 20-bed self-contained unit within the NSW Department of Corrective Services which opened on 1 January 1980. It has a short-term goal of assisting inmates with behavioural/psychological problems to adapt to the prison environment and a long-term goal to facilitate their rehabilitation back into society. The research was designed to evaluate the short-term goal, and to provide feedback on staff and prisoner perceptions of the benefits and/or problems of the unit.

A total of 140 inmates were interviewed either at entry to the unit, at exit or at three month follow-up, as well as 24 inmates in a comparison group. Several psychological tests were also administered including the Interpersonal Behaviour Survey, Jessness Behaviour Checklist, Lovibond's Self Analysis Questionnaire and Spielberger's Tait Anxiety Scale. Interview results revealed that inmates had learnt to overcome initial apprehension about therapy groups with prison officers and were able to discuss themselves and their problems openly with most staff (including prison officers). They reported heightened self awareness and an improved ability to relate to other inmates and prison officers after leaving the unit. The results of psychometric tests showed statistically significant differences between groups but these did not have any clear interpretation.

Data were also analysed for a total of 45 questionnaires and 28 interviews from staff who had worked in the unit between April 1984 and June 1986. Staff reported enhancing their skills in working with inmates and particularly in dealing with angry or distressed prisoners.

More generally, other benefits and/or problems were reported by both staff and prisoners. The reported benefits appeared to derive from the unique environment created in the SCU when compared to the main gaol system. For instance, the high degree of mixed staffing was rated as having a 'positive effect on inmates' by 70 per cent of the staff, and none said that this had a negative effect. Some staff also reported that they felt that working in the SCU improved their prospects for promotion and improved their interpersonal and communication skills. Some staff also said it improved their communication with their families. Inmates said that the unit offered them better conditions than the main gaol system (for example, more visits and phone calls, opportunity to wear their own clothes) and claimed that they enjoyed greater freedom in the unit.

Some of the problems mentioned by staff were difficulties adjusting to the unit, the location of the unit inside the walls of a larger prison, the selection of staff and inmates not being stringent enough, and lack of training resources for staff. Staff also mentioned that they felt inmates should be provided with more support after leaving the unit. Some of the inmates said that they found it difficult to make the transition from the unit back to main gaol and would have liked more support. A few inmates mentioned that they felt the SCU program itself was very hard for them, because they found group counselling too confronting or they felt uncomfortable talking openly in a group. Many of the inmates who had these difficulties did not complete their stay in the unit. More generally, a high non-completion rate was a continuing problem for the unit with a non-completion rate of 48 per cent for the period of this evaluation. Many inmates were expelled from the unit for non-work or drug use.

In short, the research provides some support for the conclusion that the SCU achieved its short-term goals; to enhance the ability of troubled prisoners to cope with the gaol environment through improved staff-to-prisoner and prisoner-to-prisoner relations.

The report makes recommendations based on the research findings to:

Forensic audio-visual evidence analysis procedures

Report title: Evidentiary Tape Recordings - Their Management and Control / Peter A. Jones (formerly Inspector-in-Charge, Audio-Visual Division, Victoria Police) (PDF 5MB)
Grantees: Dr Malcolm C. Hall, Chief Executive, Forensic Science Technology International Pty Ltd, The Levels, South Australia
Criminology Research Council grant ; (4/87)

The increasing use by Australian law enforcement agencies of audio and video tape recordings as evidence has resulted in a concomitant increase in workload for those responsible for ensuring that these recordings are managed in a manner which meets all the associated evidentiary requirements.

The initial chapters of the document arise from a detailed examination of the application of magnetic recording technology in all Australian states and territories, as well as overseas.

Through the author documenting his 30 years of practical experience as a highly-skilled practitioner in his field, he has been able to provide a practical guide for those who have chosen to work in the specialist field of law enforcement audio and video recordings.

Subject material dealt with in the report includes:

Throughout the Australian law enforcement and judicial system, there is an increasing awareness that technological developments can provide increased productivity and accuracy, if applied correctly.

This report provides an evaluation of audio and video technology and associated procedures which can now contribute significantly to specific areas in the Australian criminal justice system

Victims of the criminal justice system in South Australia

Report titles: Victims of Crime: An Overview of Research and Policy / Gloria Rossini, 1988; and Criminal Injuries Compensation in South Australia / Gloria Rossini and Julie Gardner, 1989 (PDF 3.3MB)
Grantees: Attorney-General's Department, Office of Crime Statistics, Adelaide (G K Rossini, Chief Investigator and Julie Gardner)
Criminology Research Council grant ; (24/87)

Victims of Crime: An Overview of Research and Policy reviews existing literature and research. It also summarises policy initiatives in South Australia aimed at improving the position of people who become victims of crime. The report begins from an historical perspective, assessing the past role of victims in society; the recent development of the victims movement; and problems with the definition of a victim. Statistical information on crime victims, the impact of the offence, fear of crime and the current role and status of victims also are covered. This report concludes with a summary of legislative changes, and of departmental responses to South Australian Government's 'Bill of Rights' for victims 1985.

Criminal Injuries Compensation in South Australia focuses on the current operations of the scheme and assesses claimants' experiences with and attitudes toward the compensation process. The study examined 547 files from the Attorney-General's Department and interviewed 110 claimants. The sample was taken from claims lodged in three six-month periods: January to June 1984, 1985 and 1986.

Key issues addressed by the study included:

The study concludes that victims had two major criticisms of the current scheme:

These results do not indicate a need to radically restructure criminal injuries compensation procedures in South Australia. The following recommendations for further improvements however, are made:

Study of appeals from local courts in New South Wales

Report title: Questioning the Magistrate's Decision: Sentencing and Conviction Appeals from the Local Court / Concetta Rizzo, 1989
Grantees: Dr A J Sutton, Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Attorney-General's Department, Sydney
Criminology Research Council grant ; (28/87)

The report of this research project is entitled and published by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. This study examined and assessed the characteristics and outcomes of appeals lodged by defendants against convictions recorded and sentences imposed in NSW Local Courts during 1987. (As of November 1988, the legal situation changed allowing the prosecution to lodge an appeal against the sentence to the District Court.)

There are two types of appeal: an appeal may be lodged against the severity of the sentence alone, or an appeal may be lodged against both the conviction and the severity of the sentence. The second type of appeal, the 'all grounds' appeal, proceeds by way of hearing 'de novo' (i.e. the complete rehearing of the case), and in these cases the judge hearing the appeal is permitted to read the depositions taken in the Local Court hearing only with the consent of the appellant. This situation, and the difficulties it creates, has been the source of recurring legal concern.

From the analysis of information obtained from the computerised case tracking system maintained with the Attorney-General's Department and the Criminal Registry's file papers relating to 5,137 appeals finalised in 1987, the study reports a 17 per cent increase in the number of Local Court cases between 1986 and 1987, and a 32 per cent increase in the number of appeals (uniformly spread across types of appeal). Overall, there was approximately one appeal against conviction and/or sentence for every 30 cases dealt with in the Local Courts. Appeals were more likely to be lodged by those defendants receiving a prison sentence, with appeals against severity of sentence representing almost two-thirds of all appeals. All grounds appeals constituted only slightly more than one-third of all appeals.

More detailed examination of a sample of 685 cases revealed that while 25 per cent of appeals lodged were eventually abandoned or withdrawn, there was a success rate of 75 per cent for determined appeals. Of those appeals which were determined, the conviction was quashed in 40 per cent of all grounds appeals, and in 73 per cent of appeals against severity the penalty was decreased. Defendants were legally represented in 85 per cent of determined appeals but this did not bear upon the success of appeals heard. However, in only half the cases of withdrawn appeals did the defendant have legal representation.

Drink drive offences and serious driving offences figured in over 50 per cent of all appeals, an over-representation in relation to Local Court cases.

A notable difference exists in the time taken to finalise all grounds appeals and appeals against severity. Half the appeals against severity were finalised within three months of the Local Court hearing, whereas it took nine months for half of the all grounds appeals to be finalised. In fact, most cases which were prolonged involved the non-appearance of the appellant at some stage during the proceedings. Finally, legal representation did not appear to affect the length of proceedings in appeals against severity of sentence or all grounds appeals.

Factors relevant to weapon choice by violent offenders

Report title: Weapon Choice by Violent Offenders in Western Australia: A Pilot Study / Prof Harding and Ann Blake, 1989 (PDF 2.8MB)
Grantees: Prof Richard Harding, Crime Research Centre, The University of Western Australia
Criminology Research Council grant ; (5/88)

The final report of this research, entitled and published by the Crime Research Centre. A total of 123 convicted violent offenders currently serving sentences in Western Australian prisons answered questionnaires relating to their decision whether or not to use weapons in carrying out their offences and why one weapon was chosen in preference to another. The responses were, where necessary, supplemented by interview. Participation was voluntary. Respondents had all committed the focal offence within the previous three years.

Gun-users were a sub-sample of particular interest, the researchers having hypothesised that their decision-making processes would be distinctive. The bulk of this sub-sample (15/18) were robbers. In this context, the most cogent research findings related to gun-robbers. They were as follows:

First, those armed robbers whose preferred weapons in the particular crime-event were guns predominantly chose them because of the operational advantages (crime-scene and victim management) which they believed guns conferred. Next, gun-robbers tend to pay a great deal of prior attention to the risks of getting caught, and believe that use of guns in the crime-event will reduce these risks. However, they also believe that if they are caught the sentence they will receive will be greater, reflecting the fact that they did in fact use a gun rather than some less dangerous weapon. Despite this expectation, they nevertheless decide to use a gun and claim that they would still do so in future robberies. This is so even though they believe in retrospect that they actually did receive a greater sentence on account of their gun-use in the focal offence.

These findings identify a 'deterrence hiatus'. According to standard deterrence theory, these most calculating of violent offenders should be the most deterrable -- but seem to be the least. The contrast with knife-robbers, for example, who positively decide not to use guns because of the sentencing implications is marked. How does this hiatus arise?

It is suggested that two factors are highly significant: ambivalence in the law itself and in judicial pronouncements as to whether, and to what extent, gun-use really does lead to a greater sentence; and high levels of drug use by gun-robbers. As to the first, the research argues strongly for the creation of a mandatory minimum additional sentence for the gun-use component of armed robbery, such penalty not to be reducible by parole. Canadian and United States research data support this argument. The suggested period is one year's imprisonment for the first such offence.

The research also addresses the question of socialisation to the use of firearms. The data strongly suggest that the source and circumstances of early exposure to guns may be tangible factors in the decision of a violent offender to use a gun rather than some other weapon in subsequent offending. In particular, it is notable that persons who were first exposed to and educated in gun-use by authority figures were significantly less likely to use guns as weapons than those influenced by peer-group members. Moreover, persons who were brought up in gun-owning households where the primary motive for ownership was protection were also significantly more likely to regard gun-use in crime as appropriate and acceptable conduct. The socialisation of such persons tends to be continuously reinforced by their moving in a sub-culture where gun-use is relatively normal, both in crime and generally.

However, there was one quite outstanding exception to the general findings as to socialisation. This related to tribal and semi-tribal Aborigines. Despite their equal exposure to gun-use in non-criminal contexts, this group was significantly different in its pattern of gun-use in crime. Culturally, guns were seen as hunting and work tools; as one prisoner graphically said, 'Guns are for shooting tucker, not people'. In other words, strong acculturation against criminal use of firearms will hold firm even in the face of their widespread availability. The gun control debate does not merely revolve around availability, therefore, but also around attitudes to self and to society. This finding seems to have implications for the licensing of gun owners generally, implications which deserve to be explored further.

The research project and findings are best seen as a contribution to the growing body of Australian research in this area and also as one which could gain strength and cogency from replication either in relation to some future Western Australian sample or another Australian sample at a different time and place.

Homeless street kids as victims of violence

Report title: Homeless Youth as Victims of Violence / 1989 (PDF 3.5MB)
Grantees: Dr Christine Alder, Criminology Department, The University of Melbourne, Parkville
Criminology Research Council grant ; (35/88)

The objective of the research was to examine the violent experiences of young people after they had left home and had been living without anywhere permanent to stay. The report is based on data from intensive interviews conducted in Victoria with 51 young people under the age of 18 years. The research team included 10 young people who had experienced homelessness.

The research report noted that, contrary to some popular images, homelessness is not a carefree freedom enjoyed by rebellious teenagers. It is filled with anxieties about survival. Nearly all homeless youth spoke of feeling scared for their personal safety and spoke of a vulnerability to violence as a major source of fear.

For young men, the major sources of violence were physical fights with other young men (often strangers) which occurred in public spaces. For young women, the major source was young men who were often described as 'friends'. The vulnerability of young women to sexual assault and harassment was recognised by both sexes. The research report stated the second major source of violence for both sexes was police officers. These assaults most often involved more than one officer and most often occurred in police stations following an initial confrontation in public spaces.

The report commented upon the extent to which young people suffer their violent victimisation without seeking help or reporting incidents.

The report made recommendations in relation to a number of policy issues and areas:

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