Understanding Crime Data: Haunted by the Dark Figure

Understanding Crime Data: Haunted by the Dark Figure

Understanding Crime Data: Haunted by the Dark Figure

Understanding Crime Data: Haunted by the Dark Figure

Synopsis

• What are the main ways of acquiring numerical information about crime and offenders?

• How can we understand this information and avoid the various pitfalls of interpretation?

• What does the evidence tell us about the relationships between offending and age, sex, race, class, unemployment, and trends in crime over the years?

This clear and practical text breathes life into an essential subject that students have at times found uninspiring. It provides a guide to crime data for those with little background in the subject and at the same time, it will provide a source of reference for more experienced researchers. The authors have, for example, minimized as far as possible the presentation of detailed figures and complicated tables, but they have not avoided some of the more difficult issues that arise in interpreting and using such data.

Understanding Crime Data begins by locating the study and use of crime data within the theoretical and historical development of criminology, a subject that has long been haunted by the dark figure of hidden crime and offenders. Readers are guided through the development, limitations and uses of the three main sources of numerical crime data, and selected key issues in the interpretation of crime data are examined.

The characteristics of offenders are discussed with reference to the key variables of age, sex, race and class, and the difficulties involved in interpreting long and short term trends in the crime rate are highlighted. The authors assess what crime data can tell us about the relationships between crime and unemployment, and they conclude the book with their personal evaluation and prognosis of the field.

Understanding Crime Data is a well structured text for students of criminology, and it includes annotated further reading, lists of basic concepts, and a glossary for ease of reference. It will also have considerable appeal to professionals in criminal justice, probation and social work.

Excerpt

This book is intended to provide an accessible guide to crime data for those with little background in the subject. At the same time, we have tried to write a text which does not make those with a considerable knowledge of the field wince. We have, for example, minimized as far as possible the presentation of detailed figures and complicated tables, but we have not avoided some of the more difficult issues which arise in interpreting and using these data. Our focus is upon what particular types of quantitative data can tell us about crime and offenders. As we make clear, there are other important forms of data (and, as a result, certain aspects of crime) that we do not cover in detail. We also do not intend to discuss in any comprehensive way those data which are concerned with the detailed workings of the criminal justice system, such as those about sentencing and prisons.

In the town where one of us grew up, there was a cafe where, from time to time, the crockery would rise up from the tables and head for the nearest wall. People would sit for hours, hoping for a glimpse of the dark figure that was thought to be responsible, and wondering if they might witness it rearranging the furniture. The analysis of crime data has also been haunted by a dark figure — of unrecorded crime and offenders — with earlier attempts having to use various kinds of officially recorded data as the only available source of systematic quantitative information. In the first chapter, we discuss the way in which this was done by looking at the development of criminology as a discipline over the years, and the various ways in which it responded to the haunting presence of that dark figure. While its presence was frequently recognized, many were not too disturbed by it. For others, the dark figure threatened to rearrange the furniture of criminology in a fundamental way.

In the chapters which follow, we examine three different kinds of crime data. In Chapter 2, we look in detail at the official statistics of crime and offenders and how we might best understand them. We follow this with chapters on two ways of exploring (exorcizing?) the dark figure, which have been developed in the second half of the twentieth century: self-report studies . . .

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