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Research performance

The AIC’s research priorities are set annually by the Director, in consultation with the Criminology Research Advisory Council. The research priorities for 2018–19 were:

  • criminal justice responses to family and domestic violence;
  • child exploitation material;
  • Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system;
  • youth crime;
  • transnational serious and organised crime; and
  • illicit drugs.

Criminal justice responses to family and domestic violence

Several papers on family and domestic violence were published in late 2018, including a large-scale review of the evidence on police responses to domestic violence, a paper examining who does and does not report domestic violence to police, a study using crime script analysis to describe men’s violence against women, and a review of evidence on the link between methamphetamine use and domestic violence. Further research on the links between methamphetamine dependency and domestic violence was also completed, contributing to our understanding of the harms associated with this drug.

In 2018–19, work was completed on a collaborative project with ACT Policing which assessed how accurately the police agency’s Family Violence Risk Assessment Tool predicted reoffending. Results of this work are being used to refine the tool, making it not only more accurate but also quicker for police to use.

Collectively, this work helps to build the evidence base needed to support trialling new approaches to domestic violence, including the application of focused deterrence strategies. The AIC hosted experts from the Intimate Partner Violence Intervention at the National Network for Safe Communities in early 2019 and held a series of workshops and seminars exploring the potential of this approach in more detail, the outcomes of which have been documented in a forthcoming paper. For more information about the Intimate Partner Violence Intervention, see page 73–4.

Child exploitation material

During 2018–19 the Institute published two Trends & issues papers relating to child exploitation material. One looked at the demographic profile, psychological characteristics and offending patterns of child exploitation material offenders. The other paper explored the implications of child sex dolls, a growing number of which have been imported into Australia in recent years. This research coincided with a bill being introduced into the House of Representatives which seeks to prohibit the possession of such dolls.

The AIC is also funding research projects under the Child Exploitation Material Reduction Research Program. Established in July 2018 in partnership with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), this program uses funding received under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and seeks to reduce the production, distribution, storage and viewing of child exploitation material. For more information about this program, see page 77–8.

The Institute is also supporting an Australian Research Council-funded Linkage Project called ‘Online child sexual exploitation: Understanding and responding to internet sexual offenders’. It is being conducted by Swinburne University and Monash University.

Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system

The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system remains a pressing concern for policymakers, practitioners and Indigenous communities. In 2018–19 three papers were published on this priority theme. Firstly, a Trends & issues paper discusses the impact of an adult literacy program on interactions with the criminal justice system. A second Trends & issues paper looks at the experiences of young Aboriginal people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder who come into contact with the criminal justice system. A Statistical Bulletin examining deaths in prison and police custody during the 25 years following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody also sheds light on the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

Youth crime

Understanding and reducing young people’s involvement with the criminal justice system has been identified as a research priority for the AIC. Three papers were published on this research theme in 2018–19:

  • a study using data on 21,000 children examining the link between parental offending and childhood conduct problems;
  • an analysis of the decision-making and emotional control of adolescents who engage in antisocial behaviour; and
  • a paper examining the differences between offenders who began sexually abusing children as either adults or adolescents.

Transnational serious and organised crime

This year the AIC established the Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory (SOCR-Lab), funded for three years under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The SOCR-Lab uses a crime science approach, classic criminological concepts, new analytic methods and innovative data sources to discover methods to detect and disrupt serious and organised crime affecting Australia. It aims to gain insight into an under-researched area.

The SOCR-Lab is supported by a cross-portfolio advisory group with representatives from the ACIC, the Commonwealth Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Centre, the Department of Home Affairs and the AFP. This ensures the work of the SOCR-Lab is relevant to and can help to inform the work of the portfolio. The SOCR-Lab’s work in 2018–19 was organised around three themes: predicting and disrupting serious and organised criminal activity, illicit drug markets (see below) and the economics of serious and organised crime.

The first paper to be published by the SOCR-Lab, on the criminal histories of Australian organised crime offenders, was published in early 2019. Findings from the second stage of this work—analysis of the offending trajectories of organised crime offenders—were presented to the Stockholm Criminology Symposium in June 2019. Work to predict prolific and violent reoffending by organised crime offenders, and to measure escalation and concentration of offending, was also progressed this year.

Several projects have been undertaken under the broad theme of the economics of serious and organised crime. The aim of this research theme is twofold: first, to develop and refine estimates of the costs of serious and organised crime using improved methods and, second, to explore the processes used by serious and organised crime groups in order to identify opportunities for disruption. A better understanding of the complex financial processes organised crime groups use could help law enforcement agencies to reduce the rewards associated with this criminal activity. Research conducted on this theme includes the Statistical Report Estimating the costs of serious and organised crime in Australia 2016–17, which was published in 2018.

Illicit drugs

In response to growing concern about the problems associated with synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl use in North America, the AIC’s SOCR-Lab undertook two pieces of work on this topic. The first explored the factors that contributed to the opioid epidemics in the United States and Canada, including social and environmental conditions, key events and features of synthetic opioids, and compared this with the current situation in Australia. The second involved a rapid evidence assessment of the effectiveness of supply reduction strategies targeting the harms associated with the misuse of pharmaceutical opioids. The SOCR-Lab also commissioned the Australian National University’s Cybercrime Observatory to do research on current trends in the availability of fentanyl on cryptomarkets. Specifically, this involved capturing data from six prominent cryptomarkets on the number of fentanyl listings, prices, physical forms and vendors.

The SOCR-Lab has also embarked on an ambitious program of work exploring the dynamics of illicit drug markets and the impact of law enforcement responses. This includes commissioning a number of leading academics to conduct research to address existing knowledge gaps.

Statistical monitoring

In addition to undertaking projects on each of the research priorities, the AIC administers five long-term statistical collections on crime and justice: the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program, the Fraud Against the Commonwealth census, the Identity Crime and Misuse Survey, the National Homicide Monitoring Program and the National Deaths in Custody Program.

Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program

The Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program has been operating since 1999 and collects quarterly drug and alcohol use and criminal justice information from police detainees at multiple sites across Australia. During this reporting period, 2,333 adult police detainees were interviewed at five sites in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney (Bankstown and Surry Hills) and Perth. Quarterly addenda are administered with the core questionnaire, this year gathering detainees’ responses about the use of mobile communications in drug supply, open and closed markets for amphetamine type stimulants, and gambling behaviour.

In 2018–19 we published the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia report for 2017. This Statistical Report found that a seven-year increase in amphetamine use reversed in 2017, with equal proportions of detainees testing positive for methamphetamine and cannabis. The AIC added to its current focus on prescription opioids with a Statistical Bulletin on fentanyl use among police detainees, which showed that the prevalence of reported fentanyl use remained at three percent between 2016 and 2018. A Statistical Bulletin on polydrug use, released in December 2018, reported 41 percent of detainees had used two or more drugs in the previous 30 days, up from 30 percent in 2009. Most polydrug users combined methamphetamine and cannabis use.

Fraud Against the Commonwealth

The AIC upheld its responsibility for conducting the annual Fraud Against the Commonwealth census of Australian Government entities’ experience of and response to public sector fraud. The annual reports for 2016–17 and 2017–18 were prepared. The AIC also worked with the private sector consultancy firm Maddocks to produce an online publication, released in September 2018, based on the findings of the 2015–16 census.

Identity Crime and Misuse Survey

The AIC continued its work for the Identity Security Branch of the Department of Home Affairs, conducting regular surveys of the public and national data collection from the public and private sectors concerning identity crime and misuse. Five papers dealing with identity crime were released in 2018–19:

  • Identity crime and misuse in Australia 2017;
  • Identity crime and misuse in Australia: Results of the 2017 online survey;
  • Counting the costs of identity crime and misuse in Australia, 2015–16;
  • Estimating the cost to Australian businesses of identity crime and misuse; and
  • Use and acceptance of biometric technologies in 2017.

National Homicide Monitoring Program

Two Statistical Reports from the Homicide in Australia series, covering the years 2014‒15 and 2015‒16, were finalised for release. Data from the National Homicide Monitoring Program were published in two reports on filicide (the killing of a child by a parent or parent-equivalent). These data also contributed to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s examination of child homicide and proposed changes to sentencing laws.

National Deaths in Custody Program

The National Deaths in Custody Program was established in 1992 following a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. A Statistical Bulletin examining Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in prison and police custody over the 25 years since the Royal Commission was published in February 2019. The paper showed an overall decrease in Indigenous prison custody death rates since 1991‒92. The AIC also released the most recent Deaths in custody in Australia Statistical Report, which described the 74 deaths in prison custody and 17 deaths in police custody recorded in 2016‒17.

Other research

Not all of the research undertaken during 2018–19 can be categorised into one of the priority themes. Some research relates to priorities from prior years, while some relates to fee-for-service research commissioned by Commonwealth, state or territory agencies. Topics covered by this research included:

  • human trafficking and slavery;
  • public sector corruption associated with organised crime groups;
  • videoconference technology in court proceedings;
  • the effectiveness of a youth justice program;
  • the cost of alcohol-related crime;
  • police use of CCTV;
  • child sexual exploitation in South-East Asian orphanages;
  • information sharing among law enforcement;
  • energy drink consumption and antisocial behaviour; and
  • information and communication technology in prisons.