Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Disaggregating the Relationship between Drug Misuse and Crime

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Disaggregating the Relationship between Drug Misuse and Crime

Article excerpt

Studies on the association between drug-misuse and criminal behaviour have tended to be based on either aggregated data (composite forms of drug-misuse or offending) or data on just one or two types of drug-misuse or crime. Such studies can obscure variations in the nature of the relationship between particular drug types and particular offences. The current study uses disaggregated data derived from the NEW-ADAM (New English and Welsh Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring) program to investigate both connections and nonconnections between drug-misuse and crime. The results show some variations in the relationship depending on the particular combinations of type of drug-misuse and type of crime. The paper concludes that the use of disaggregated data can help identify both consistencies and variations in the relationship and might help to understand its complexities and inform government policy.

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Research on the association between drug-misuse and criminal behaviour tends to be polarised between studies that use fairly general measures (such as 'arrest rate' or 'number of convictions'; e.g., Boudouris, 1976; Gossop & Roy, 1977) and studies that use highly specific measures (such as 'heroin addiction' or 'crackcocaine use'; e.g., Parker & Newcombe, 1987; Inciardi & Pottieger, 1994). There is some division in the literature about which type of study is the more prevalent. French et al. (2000), on the one hand, note the preponderance of generalist studies in their recent observation that '... the majority of studies in the criminological literature have examined relationships between any substance use and the probability of being arrested or committing a criminal act' (p. 96). South (1994), on the other hand, notes a few years earlier the tendency towards specialism when he writes, 'The majority of criminological studies since the 1960s have focused on heroin ...' (p. 412). The main point that both commentators make is that studies on the drugs-crime connection have tended to focus on either just one specific or a few general types of drug-misuse and crime.

Generalist and specialist studies such as these have provided a valuable service and have generated the base of current knowledge on the drugs-crime relationship. However, they each have their limitations. Nurco et al. (1985) argue that there is a danger that generalist studies can lead to the conclusion that substance misusers (or offenders) are a homogeneous group. Against the highly specialist studies, a similar argument could be mounted that they encourage the view that the results relating to specific forms of drug-misuse (especially the heavy focus on heroin) and criminal behaviour can be extrapolated to other forms. In both cases, the research implicitly suggests a simple connection (in the case of specialist studies) or a universal connection (in the case of generalist studies) between drug-misuse and crime. However, there is mounting evidence to show that the relationship is neither simple nor universal.

Gandossy et al. (1980) reported in one of the earliest reviews of the literature that there was no simple relationship between drug-misuse and crime. Chaiken and Chaiken (1990), in a review conducted 10 years later, noted that, when behaviours of large groups of people are studied in aggregate, no coherent general pattern exists associating drug-misuse and predatory crime. They make the obvious (but often overlooked) point that there are many severely addicted people who commit no crimes and there are many prolific offenders who are not involved in drug-misuse. They go on to ask, 'Where, then, lies the strong relationship between drug-misuse and criminality?' (1990, p. 212). More recent reviews of the drugs-crime literature tend towards the same conclusion. Hough (1996) notes that the extent to which drug-misuse and criminal behaviour are connected and the precise nature of the relationship has yet to be established. …

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