The Federation Press

Law and Order in Australia

Rhetoric and reality

Overview

How much crime is committed in Australia? What sort of crime, where and by whom? What can we do to stop it?

This book deals in facts and dispels myths. Don Weatherburn, Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, shows how policies are driven by the political need to manage public reactions, not to control and prevent crime.

Law and Order in Australia informs public debate about crime in Australia by contrasting popular assumptions about crime and crime control with what is actually known to be true.

The opening chapter sets the scene by asking how serious Australia's crime problems are. Weatherburn then offers a critique of the way Australian governments attempt to deal with Australia's crime problems.

This is followed by the foundations for a discussion of what actually works in crime prevention and control by highlighting some basic facts about crime and offenders. The final chapters discuss what the evidence reveals about crime prevention and control and the key issues in crime prevention and control in Australia.

Weatherburn clearly provides numerous ideas for better policies, ones that will actually work.

Reviews

This book is an extremely well researched and thought-provoking read. - Gowan Carter, NT Police News (Sept 2005)

...a fabulous little primer on the subject, wonderfully informative and readable. - Ross Gittens, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2004

This is a great book. It provides a fast-paced, easy-to-access summary of what works and what doesn’t in regard to crime and its control in Australia. It represents a concise and punchy summary of the essential reality of contemporary prevention in Australia. - Dr David Indermaur, University of Western Australia

This book is destined to become a classic of Australian Criminology. Weatherburn’s work is an exemplary model of policy analysis. It is a breath of fresh air that sets a new standard for debate on issues of law and order - Professor Peter Grabosky, The Australian National University

Weatherburn’s book offers law enforcement and policy makers a clear and rational way forward. - Commissioner Mick Keelty, Australian Federal police

This is one of those myth busting books you wish you had to hand when assailed across a dinner party table by some boorish know-it-all insisting we need to get even ‘tougher on crime’. Weatherburn demolishes the rhetoric with the reality of what ‘works’ and ‘doesn’t work’ in controlling crime. For every seemingly bold assertion (eg prison works as an incapacitator keeping offenders out of circulation but not as a deterrent to reoffending) there is a wealth of reference to empirical studies from around the globe to back it up. What works? Keeping kids at school to Year 12 does, but getting police to come to schools and talk about the consequences of drug use doesn’t. Police targeting repeat offenders or crime hotspots does, but intensive supervision of offenders on parole is no more effective than standard supervision. Concentrating police resources on supply side drug enforcement and using drug courts is a much more effective use of resources than targeting drug users. The crime hotspots idea. Weatherburn cites a Sydney study that showed that more than 30% of the burglaries in the local government area of Waverley had occurred in just 13 streets! Another study found that 12% of hotels in inner Sydney accounted for 60% of pub fights in the city and almost all of them had extended licences. Take targeting repeat or what one study calls ‘prolific’ offenders. A 1987 ACT study estimated that there were somewhere between 320-350 car thieves operating in Canberra who accounted for almost 1500 car thefts. Catch even a couple of these and the rates go down dramatically. What else works? Getting old, since most offenders cease offending by the time they are in their late 40s. Starting young, the US Perry pre-school project targeting 3 and 4-year-old children from very poor family produced a dramatic reduction of children who became ‘chronic delinquents’. Tailoring responses, since drug courts and domestic violence courts have both proved effective. Some things make the situation worse as far as crime control is concerned. Transferring juveniles to adult courts increases recidivism. Boot camps or wilderness experiences make things worse! I couldn’t detect a flicker of bias – if its evidence-based Weatherburn accepts it. For once some back page previews are correct. The book is ‘fast-paced’ and ‘punchy’ but is also ‘a breath of fresh air’. - Tony Foley, Ethos (ACT Law Society Newsletter) September 2005

Dr Weatherburn cleverly and comprehensively reveals how much crime occurs in Australia across most categories through the experienced analysis of recent research. He also unravels the complexities associated with criminal activity across most categories. Crime does not occur in isolation of a wide variety of causal factors. ... Law and Order in Australia – Rhetoric or Reality is a thoroughly wide-ranging and detailed analysis of the facts pertaining to law and order in Australia. The depth and breadth of the sources dispels most myths and gives the reader ample fodder to develop a balanced argument in discussions on law and order topics. - Ted Bassingthwaighte, NSW Police News, Vol 85 No 7, July 2005

The mission of the book is to persuade readers of the virtue and efficacy of an evidence-based approach to crime control rather than one driven by punitive impulses and short-term political calculation. ... Don Weatherburn succeeds admirably in achieving his goal. The book is informed by an extensive and discerning knowledge of the empirical research evidence concerning crime patterns and trends and what works with respect to the prevention and control of crime. Although Australian in focus it reflects Weatherburn’s familiarity with the international literature and developments. Its clear structure and fluent style make it ideal for the interested general reader, and no less so for administrators, policy makers, politicians and academics. It is about as comprehensive in its coverage as one could expect of a book with its goal and target audience. ... Weatherburn makes a powerful case for a less criminal justice-centred approach to crime prevention whilst recognising the continuing important role of criminal justice agencies and their potential to prevent and control crime more effectively. For those skeptical or fatalistic about more effective crime reduction policies the arguments, evidence and the many telling examples of workable prevention measures presented in the book amount to a highly persuasive case that the knowledge exists for governments to do a whole lot better and perhaps live up more closely to their depressingly repetitive electoral rhetoric concerning the need to take crime seriously. Detailed endnotes do not intrude on the essential arguments and the flow of the book but provide plentiful sources and additional reading for those who want to follow them up. ... The attention to both the detail of crime prevention measures and the policy framework and instruments needed to implement them represents a substantial advance over much existing crime prevention thinking and practice in Australia... - Russell Hogg, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol 17, November 2005

Weatherburn is admirably described by Chief Justice Gleeson in the foreword as “a reliable source”. His arguments are supported by facts and heavily cross-referenced by a wide body of source material, including crime research statistics and academic articles. The book achieves a comprehensive juxtaposition of facts and perceptions about the commission of crime in a succinct and eloquent manner. This makes it both a useful reference for criminology students and an excellent overview for those interested in criminal law policy and the law and order debate. Send it to the shock jocks – now. - Law Society Journal (NSW), Vol 43/5, June 2005

This is a very well written book. The style of presentation makes it a pleasure to read and the methodology by which opinions are arrived at, are clearly set out so that you can agree or disagree without feeling that the author is intruding on your right to form your own views on the various subjects. This is a most thought provoking book which will be of interest to anyone who wishes to gain a greater understanding of the concepts of crime and punishment, or of law and order. - BJM, Tasmanian Law Newsletter, May 2005

Table of Contents

How serious is Australia's crime problem?
How rational is our response to crime?
What causes crime?
What can the police do?
What can the criminal justice system do?
Can we stem the flow of criminal opportunities?
Can we stem the flow of offenders?
Key issues in crime prevention and control

Of interest...