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Director's review

I am pleased to present the 2019–20 annual report of the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), outlining the Institute’s achievements and outcomes for the year.

At the start of the year, I could not have predicted how the work undertaken by the Institute and, indeed, the way in which that work is undertaken, would change over the following 12 months. As with elsewhere in the Public Service and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic has required new ways of thinking and new approaches to conducting day-to-day business. As outlined in this report, the staff of the AIC have met this challenge in a professional manner, continuing to deliver on the Institute’s objectives.

As agreed in consultation with the Criminology Research Advisory Council, the AIC continued to focus on the six priority themes chosen in 2018–19, recognising that research programs take time to deliver. These themes 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.

Working largely within these themes, the AIC was still able to respond to emerging issues associated with COVID-19, with studies conducted on the impact on drug markets, online gambling, the sale of COVID-19 related medical products on the darknet, fraud and domestic violence. These studies were developed in consultation with policymakers in the Home Affairs portfolio, as well as other Australian Government departments and agencies, ensuring that the AIC’s research was used as widely as possible.

Beyond COVID-19 related work, the AIC has continued to support policymaking by delivering research on a wide range of topics and disseminating our work as widely as possible through the Institute’s information services. In recognition of the AIC’s continued international reputation, we hosted a meeting of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme Network, which brought together institutes from around the world, including from Canada, China, Costa Rica, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand and the United States, as well as representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Research

During 2019–20, the AIC continued to undertake and fund applied crime and justice research on a wide range of topics. The Institute’s work on child exploitation material (CEM) continued, with some projects delayed until later in 2020 due to COVID-19, while others produced reports that are currently working their way through the publications process. Topics included Australians who view live-streamed child sexual abuse, crime scripting of CEM offending on the darknet, a treatment program for CEM offenders and the role of parents in CEM production.

Research on family and domestic violence focused on approaches to improving police responses. This included the use of focused deterrence as a multi-agency response to the problem, analysis of repeat offending and the development of a risk assessment tool for predicting repeat domestic violence. Other related work examined the relationship between methamphetamine dependence and domestic violence and female perpetrated domestic violence.

In relation to transnational serious and organised crime, the AIC’s Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory grew in reputation, working on projects with a range of departments and agencies, including Home Affairs, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Taxation Office and AUSTRAC. Completed research in this area included a systematic review of factors that influence recruitment into organised crime, an analysis of violent and organised crime offending by outlaw motorcycle gang members and a study of the availability of fentanyl on the darknet.

Statistical programs continue to be a core aspect of the Institute’s work, undertaken under the auspices of the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program, the National Deaths in Custody Program, the National Homicide Monitoring Program, the Identity Crime and Misuse in Australia program and the Fraud Against the Commonwealth census. These programs have proven invaluable in informing debates and supporting policy development. For example, our homicide monitoring program was used as a key source of information on intimate partner homicide, while our deaths in custody statistics informed contemporary public debates on Indigenous incarceration. (Deaths in custody reports accounted for three of the top five publications downloaded from the AIC website this year.) In addition, our identity crime statistics have supported the Commonwealth’s National Identity Security Strategy.

Apart from in Perth, COVID-19 related public health measures prevented us from collecting Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program data in the second quarter of 2020. Analysis of the Perth data showed the significant impact the restrictions had on local drug markets, with increased prices and reduced quality and availability.

Where the funding of criminological research was concerned, the AIC continued to manage a thriving Criminology Research Grants program, with 33 projects valued at over $1.7 million being funded by the end of the financial year. Working closely with the Criminology Research Advisory Council ensures that these projects are on issues of concern to policymakers, both in the Commonwealth and in the states and territories.

Dissemination

Disseminating crime and justice research remains a core function of the AIC, ensuring that those charged with developing policy and practice are armed with the latest thinking and knowledge. The AIC’s website is a key resource for disseminating AIC research and now holds over 1,700 publications. This year, website page views increased by 19 percent, with almost 2.5 million views, while the number of social media followers (on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) also increased.

The JV Barry Library continues to play an instrumental role in the dissemination of research material to policymakers and practitioners. It has been responsive to the needs of stakeholders through its ‘front desk’ service, as well as by disseminating emerging evidence produced by the AIC and other crime and justice researchers. This is in addition to the library’s key task of supporting AIC researchers with systematic literature searches.

Events held by the AIC have responded to changing circumstances during the year. Pre-pandemic, the Institute held a number of face-to-face events, including co-hosting the Australia and New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing Conference in October 2019 and holding occasional seminars on prevention of radicalisation, counterterrorism at train stations, firearm use and crime prevention.

Social distancing requirements from March 2020 made it difficult to hold face-to-face events and we took the decision to cancel this year’s Organised Crime Research Forum. Instead, we moved to an online approach, with four presentations filmed and uploaded to our CriminologyTV channel on YouTube. Moving forward, we will continue to seek innovative and effective ways to disseminate the latest research.

As a result of all of this activity, I am pleased to report that the AIC has once again achieved all of its performance criteria for the year and, more importantly, helped to inform crime and justice policy in Australia.

Michael Phelan APM
Director
Australian Institute of Criminology