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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 2019–20 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 publications on family and domestic violence were released in 2019–20, including the results of our research with ACT Policing exploring the predictive validity of their Family Violence Risk Assessment Tool. We developed a revised risk assessment tool with improved predictive accuracy that was significantly shorter and therefore faster for frontline police to complete, and which can flag indicators of escalating violence. This new instrument has been rolled out across the ACT.

Another paper presented the results from a systematic review of 39 quantitative Australian studies spanning nearly three decades of research into domestic violence offenders, prior offending and repeat offending. A presentation on this research was the first in our revamped occasional seminar series to be launched on our YouTube channel, CriminologyTV, as part of the move to online events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on research originally developed in consultation with the Office for Women in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, we published two papers on female perpetrators of domestic violence. One study used data from the AIC’s National Homicide Monitoring Program to explore intimate partner homicide by Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, while the other analysed more than 150 detailed police narratives of domestic violence incidents involving female persons of interest. This study produced Australian-first estimates of the extent of self-defensive and retaliatory violence by female perpetrators of domestic violence.

Also released in 2019–20 was a study titled Policing repeat domestic violence: Would focused deterrence work in Australia? This paper was the culmination of three years of research by the AIC, consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and collaboration with the US National Network for Safe Communities, led by David Kennedy. We recommended trialling focused deterrence to reduce domestic violence reoffending in an Australian pilot to improve offender accountability and improve victim safety. AIC researchers are now working with government to explore how this model might be delivered.

Finally, in response to growing concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on safety in the home, we began work on a large-scale survey of women’s experiences of domestic violence during the early months of the pandemic. For more information on the survey, see Crime in the time of COVID-19.

Child exploitation material

The AIC has continued its research into the problem of child exploitation material (CEM), in collaboration with the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and the Australian Federal Police. The Child Sexual Abuse Material Reduction Research Program, funded under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, seeks to reduce the production, distribution, storage and viewing of CEM.

In the previous financial year, eight research teams were awarded funding for projects looking at ways of reducing CEM offending. These projects are now well underway. While some have been slightly delayed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, most of the research teams have submitted draft reports. The proposed conference, to be co-hosted by the AIC and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation in Brisbane, had to be postponed due to the pandemic-related restrictions on travel and large gatherings, but video-conferencing with stakeholders has continued.

In addition, the AIC has carried out other research in this area. A project undertaken in collaboration with AUSTRAC and the ACIC involved analysing data on overseas payments made for live-streamed child sexual abuse. The resulting Trends & issues paper was published in February 2020 following presentations on the topic at the National Press Club in Canberra by the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and the CEOs of AUSTRAC and the ACIC.

The Department of Home Affairs has provided additional funding for further research on the problem of live streaming of child sexual abuse, particularly focusing on how sessions are identified, negotiated and paid for, and whether participation leads to contact offending.

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

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. Two papers were published in 2019–20 addressing individual, community and systemic consequences of this over-representation. A paper by Griffith University published in the Trends & issues series calculated the costs of offender trajectories for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people born in Queensland in 1983 and 1984. Indigenous offenders were on average more costly due to high levels of repeated contact and sanction seriousness and length. The second paper examined the needs of Indigenous men and women following release from prison. This study used interviews conducted in Western Australia and the Northern Territory to illustrate the cultural and practical needs of people returning to their community from prison, and the importance of family and community in the establishment and delivery of services.

Youth crime

In 2019–20 the AIC published two landmark papers on young people’s involvement with the criminal justice system. The first looked at ‘crossover kids’—children and adolescents who have had contact with both the child protection and juvenile justice systems. The findings from this paper indicated that young people with a history of contact with the child protection system are more likely to have multiple contacts with the juvenile justice system, and to be involved in more serious forms of offending. The other study looked at the reoffending patterns of adolescents reported to the police for domestic and family violence offending. This study identified that the reoffending patterns of young people are almost identical to those of adult domestic violence offenders, indicating the need for additional support targeted at young offenders to disrupt emerging patterns of abusive behaviours.

We also commenced a number of projects aimed at understanding young people’s involvement with the criminal justice system and identifying effective responses. These projects include:

  • a review of the online safety risks experienced by young people and adolescents;
  • a study examining the links between adolescent domestic and family violence offending and subsequent adult domestic violence offending; and
  • a systematic review of youth focused crime prevention projects to understand the implementation factors associated with effectiveness.

The AIC has also been commissioned to conduct a meta-evaluation of early intervention programs targeted at at-risk young people undertaken as part of the Safer Communities grants program, administered by the Department of Home Affairs.

Transnational serious and organised crime

The Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory (SOCR-Lab) has continued to work closely with partners from across government to help inform efforts to target and disrupt organised crime groups. In 2019–20 we collaborated with the Australian Gangs Intelligence Coordination Centre, National Task Force Morpheus, Queensland Police Service, NSW Police Force, the Australian Taxation Office, AUSTRAC and the Department of Home Affairs.

A highlight of 2019–20 was the publication of research into the involvement in violent and organised crime of nearly 6,000 members of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs). This was the first output using linked data from the ACIC’s National Gangs List and National Police Reference System. This represents the single largest sample of OMCG members’ criminal histories anywhere in the world, and the release attracted considerable media attention. We are now using these data to explore patterns of criminal mobility among OMCG members, to examine the changing offending profile of OMCG members, and as part of an international comparative study of OMCGs.

Continuing the focus on OMCGs, work exploring factors related to the recruitment of individuals into OMCGs and the reasons for leaving gangs is now well underway, in partnership with Queensland Police Service. Involving interviews with former OMCG members, this research will directly inform the development of new prevention strategies to discourage individuals from joining OMCGs and supporting members who wish to leave. More than 50 former OMCG members have participated in interviews and several papers that draw on this information are currently in production.

We published the first of several organised crime studies by leading academics from Australia and around the world commissioned by the SOCR-Lab. Academics from Transcrime and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, were commissioned to prepare a paper summarising the results of a systematic review of the social, psychological and economic factors leading to recruitment into organised crime.

Finally, we worked with the Australian National University Cybercrime Observatory to assess the availability of COVID-19 related medical products on the darknet. This study, completed during April 2020, found a range of personal protective equipment, purported medicines and fake vaccines available for purchase. For more information, see Crime in the time of COVID-19.

Illicit drugs

Several projects by leading academics commissioned by the SOCR-Lab, involving systematic reviews of research into the dynamics of illicit drug markets, were completed in 2019–20. Two of these focused on the relationship between drug price, purity and demand and associated harms. Another two involved systematic reviews and meta-analyses of research into the impact of street-level drug law enforcement and supplier arrests and drug seizures. These are important foundation pieces for a larger of body of primary research. Researchers from the SOCR-Lab are now working closely with researchers from the AIC’s Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program to analyse long-term trends in methamphetamine market indicators of supply, demand and harm.

Work was also completed on two studies funded by the SOCR-Lab and conducted by the Australian National University’s Cybercrime Observatory focused on the availability of synthetic opioids on cryptomarkets. This included the final paper from a study tracking fentanyl listings across six prominent cryptomarkets, published in February 2020, and research into the impact of law enforcement seizures on the availability of fentanyl and other opioids on Tor darknet markets. This is part of a wider body of SOCR-Lab work focused on the availability of illicit products on darknet markets, and effective countermeasures, in response to growing concern about the role of darknet markets in organised crime.

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 (DUMA) program has been operating since 1999 and collects drug and alcohol use and criminal justice information quarterly from police detainees at multiple sites across Australia. During 2019–20, a total of 1,929 adult police detainees were interviewed at five sites in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. DUMA interviews in quarter 4 were limited to Perth due to COVID-19 restrictions. Quarterly addenda administered with the core questionnaire asked detainees about the use of fentanyl, price elasticity and drug purchasing behaviour, and domestic and family violence.

In 2019–20 the DUMA program’s Statistical Report for 2018 was released. It showed that the proportion of detainees testing positive to any one drug or to multiple drugs was the highest recorded since 2002. Over half of detainees tested positive to methamphetamine. Two Statistical Bulletins released during the year examined non-medical fentanyl use among police detainees. Just three percent of detainees tested positive to fentanyl but all stated they had not used fentanyl in the previous 12 months, suggesting fentanyl contamination in the Australian illicit drug market. Another two Statistical Bulletins revealed the prevalence of social supply (the sharing or swapping of drugs among family and friends) as a source of pharmaceutical opioids and methamphetamine among police detainees. A fifth Statistical Bulletin described the use and subsequent abandonment of mobile phone technology to buy and sell illicit drugs.

Fraud Against the Commonwealth

The AIC continued to conduct the annual Fraud Against the Commonwealth census, examining Australian Government entities’ experience of and response to fraud. Reports on the 2016–17, 2017–18 and 2018–19 fraud censuses were released in 2019–20. Another report, also published during the reporting period, focused on the most harmful incidents of fraud investigated by Commonwealth agencies in 2018–19.

Identity Crime and Misuse Survey

The AIC also continued its work for the Identity Security Branch of the Department of Home Affairs, conducting regular surveys of the public and undertaking national data collection from the public and private sectors concerning identity crime and misuse.

The most recent Identity Crime and Misuse Survey was undertaken in December 2019 and January 2020 and three reports were prepared for publication. As in previous years, the survey asked a sample of 10,000 Australians about their experience of identity crime or misuse, both in their lifetimes and in the last 12 months. The findings indicate the extent of identity crime and help policymakers to reduce its impact throughout Australia.

National Homicide Monitoring Program

The National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) is Australia’s only national collection on homicide incidents, victims and offenders. Four annual reports were released in 2019–20, covering the years 2014–15 to 2017–18. The number of homicide incidents in 2017–18 fell to the lowest recorded since 1989–90. The decrease in homicide was driven by decreases in acquaintance and domestic homicides and, significantly, a decrease in intimate partner homicide.

The NHMP contributed to a report commissioned by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on female-perpetrated intimate partner homicide, which found that offenders were characterised by histories of domestic violence victimisation and backgrounds of criminal activity, unemployment and substance misuse. The NHMP is also contributing to the Pathways to Intimate Partner Homicide project commissioned by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety and funded by the Department of Social Services. This project is describing the sequence of events, interactions and relationship dynamics preceding and coinciding with the murder of a woman by her male intimate partner.

National Deaths in Custody Program

Established following a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the National Deaths in Custody Program is responsible for monitoring the extent and nature of deaths that have occurred in prison, police custody and youth detention in Australia since 1980. The program made a significant contribution to recent national discussion of deaths in custody, through its collation of comprehensive longitudinal data on the rates and characteristics of Indigenous deaths in prison and police custody.

During 2019–20 we released the report Deaths in custody in Australia 2017–18, which describes the 16 Indigenous and 56 non-Indigenous deaths in prison custody and three Indigenous and 14 non-Indigenous deaths in police custody occurring in that year. We also published a Statistical Bulletin on the 82 shooting deaths in police custody between 2006–07 and 2016–17. Shooting deaths in police custody were most likely to affect non-Indigenous men, and to occur after the commission of a violent act and while the decedent was in possession of a weapon.

Other research

Not all of the research undertaken in 2019–20 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:

  • online gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • organisational and consumer fraud;
  • public sector corruption;
  • videoconference technology in court proceedings;
  • social network analysis of co-offending networks;
  • firearm theft;
  • the costs of offending among different cohorts;
  • identity theft;
  • combating human trafficking and slavery;
  • risk factors associated with phishing victimisation;
  • regulation of high denomination banknotes to reduce economic crime;
  • pure cybercrime; and
  • evidence-based policing.