A new guide to the evidence on crime by Sense About Science will help the public understand some of the dubious promised made politicians to ‘tackle’ crime, says Alex Thompson, research and policy officer at Sense About Science.
The results are in: we’ll have a Conservative government. How will they tackle crime?
As Making Sense of Crime, Sense About Science’s new public guide to the evidence on crime sets out, the generalisations made by all parties during the election campaign are misleading. Claims to cut crime through introducing tougher prison sentences (Conservatives) or tough community sentences (Liberal Democrats), putting more bobbies on the beat (Labour), reducing unemployment (Green Party), or deporting foreign criminals (UKIP), wrongly assume crime is a single phenomenon to be addressed by headline-grabbing measures, and ignore evidence on what works and what doesn’t in reducing different types of crime.
It’s not just politicians who make broad claims about crime that aren’t backed by evidence. Commentators and think tanks are misleading the public on the causes of crime and policies to tackle it. They cherry-pick studies that support their values, use poor-quality, uncertain or irrelevant evidence to back up their claims, or simply aren’t honest about which of their policies are based on political values relating to punishing offenders, and which are backed by evidence that they reduce crime. This has to stop – but how?
Not only does it set out what we know about the causes of crime and how to reduce it, Making Sense of Crime will help you see where the gaps in our understanding are and what types of research can help address them. These gaps show the importance of taking an experimental approach to policy and filling areas of uncertainty with evidence of effective ways to reduce crime.
Policing has already started to do this. With the establishment of the College of Policing and their toolkit, reliable evidence is informing policing like never before. However, even a police force that’s perfectly evidence based would only address a small fraction of crime. The majority of crimes go undetected or never make it to a prosecution. For policies to effectively contribute to the decline in crime they need to go beyond the criminal justice system and include product design, urban planning and data sharing with hospitals.
If you want crime policy to be based on solid evidence the first step is to Ask for Evidence. This simple act will show recently elected MPs that you, as a member of the electorate and therefore someone who they are answerable to, want better use of evidence in policy. There’s a growing push from within government and from civil society towards ‘evidence-based policy’, but by holding them to account we can make them question the quality of that evidence. So download the guide, ask for evidence behind crime policies, and demand a more evidence-informed discussion on what causes crime and how to reduce it. Help put politicians, commentators and think tanks on notice that they can’t get away with pulling the wool over our eyes.
Alex Thompson is research and policy officer at Sense About Science, focussing on their Evidence Matters campaign. After spending 6 years conducting zoological field work in the South African Kalahari, he has now moved into campaigning for the better use of science and evidence in public policy.
Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.