Victim and Offender Self-Reports of Alcohol Involvement in Crime

Article excerpt

Research suggests that a decreasing share of violent crime is attributable to offenders who had been drinking alcoholic beverages. Surveys of victims indicate that the rate of alcohol-involved violent crimes (ie., crimes in which the perpetrators had been drinking, as perceived by the victims) decreased 34 percent from 1993 to 1998, whereas the rate of non-alcohol-involved violence decreased 22 percent. Surveys of some offenders also suggest that alcohol's role in violence is decreasing. The decrease in alcohol-involved violence is consistent with declines in other measures of alcohol use and misuse, including per capita alcohol consumption and alcohol involvement in traffic crashes. In contrast, violent offenders in State prisons are increasingly likely to report having used alcohol before committing their offenses, possibly illustrating the effect of more severe sanctions for alcohol-involved offenses. KEY WORDS: AODR (alcohol or other drug [AOD] related) crime; AODR violence; offender; self-report; victim of crime; probation; jail inmate; AOD use pattern; trend; survey

Violent crime in the United States decreased at an unprecedented rate during the 1990s. According to victim surveys, approximately 23 percent fewer violent crimes occurred in 1998 than in 1993. Similarly, data from the 18,000 police departments nationwide indicated that the number of violent crimes brought to the attention of law enforcement authorities decreased 21 percent between 1993 and 1998. Criminologists have provided numerous reasons for the decline in violent crime that incorporate demographic, economic, and policy-- related explanations. Utilizing national data maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), this article examines the extent to which changes in alcohol-- involved violence may contribute to the declining rates of violent crime.

MEASURING THE EXTENT TO WHICH ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUG USE IS INVOLVED IN CRIME

Researchers face significant limitations in measuring the role of alcohol use in criminal behavior, because most alcohol consumption does not result in crime. In addition, nonoffending behavior is not typically measured; therefore, limited statistical information exists on which to estimate the likelihood that a person will commit a criminal act during or following alcohol consumption. This article examines two major sources of information on alcohol's involvement in crime: (1) victim surveys and (2) offender surveys. A study reported by BJS in 1998, which used both of these resources, found that they yielded similar estimates regarding the involvement of alcohol and other drug use in crime. The investigators evaluated victim, offender, and law enforcement data from 1992 through 1995 and estimated that offenders had used either alcohol alone or alcohol with other drugs in approximately 37 percent of violent victimizations in which victims were able to describe substance use by the offenders (Greenfeld 1998). The study also found that in regard to violent offenders, 41 percent on probation, 41 percent in local jails, and 38 percent in State prisons reported that they had been using alcohol when they committed their offenses (Greenfeld 1998).

Victims' Perceptions of Offenders' AOD Use

Most knowledge about the incidence and prevalence of violence derives from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an ongoing survey of U.S. households conducted since 1973 by the BJS. The NCVS gathers information about exposure to and consequences of crime among the general U.S. population. Researchers use a nationally representative sample of approximately 50,000 U.S. households. All household members age 12 and older are interviewed twice per year and are asked about any crimes that they may have experienced during the preceding 6 months. More than 200,000 interviews are conducted each year, and approximately 7,000 respondents report having been victims of violent crime-such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault-or victims of attempted violence. …