Fighting crime with social science

A new report shows how academic research has made dramatic and effective changes the way crime and offenders are tackled.

Making the case for social science: Crime is a collaboration between the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Society of Criminology and the British Psychological Society. It brings together case-studies showing that the preventative approach used in health screening, for instance, can be applied successfully to the study of crime. It can be downloaded without charge from the Academy of Social Sciences website.

“Crime policies based on unsound evidence are ineffective at best and damaging at worst. So any strategy designed to control crime needs to be underpinned by a proper understanding of the underlying social, cultural and economic causes of crime,” says Professor Cary Cooper, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science and a Chartered Psychologist. “It is essential that politicians and policy makers have a solid evidence base to draw on.”

Examples in the publication show the impact of research on policy and crime prevention:

  • A 50-year study of boys in London shows how early interventions can prevent them offending.
  • Research on the use of imitation guns and air weapons in violent crime led to a change in the law prohibiting these kind of firearms.
  • A study of the psychological motivation of killers has been adopted in an official murder investigation manual.
  • Research on 'mob mentality' has changed the way police deal with crowds.
  • Evidence showing that 70 per cent of burglaries in Liverpool were committed by offenders breaking in at the back of properties led to the installation of alley gates, which reduced burglaries by over a third.
  • A 15-year research programme found that illicit drug use does not necessarily lead directly to other forms of crime. Instead it revealed that problem drug users typically start their criminal careers in their teens, before they become habitual drug users.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Westminster yesterday (29 June), Lord McNally, Minister of State for Justice and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, spoke about the considerable influence that social science research has on his department.

He said that the social sciences can play a critical role in making criminal justice policy and he was delighted to attend the launch of Making the Case for the Social Sciences 4: Crime and to endorse it.