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Chapter 8: Spotlight on alcohol and other drugs and crime

Minimising the risk posed by the involvement of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) in offending has been a primary concern of crime prevention practitioners for decades. Although it is impossible to conclusively determine how much crime can be attributed to the use of AOD, the correlation between the two has been extensively researched. One study, released in 2012, found that 50 percent of detainees (ie a person who has been arrested, but not convicted and is in the custody of police) attributed their most recent offence to their usage of AOD (Reference 29). Further, the use of AOD has been correlated with specific types of criminal offending. For example, AOD has been correlated with property crime (see References 30 & 31) and some types of violent offences (see References 32 & 33). In particular, the correlation between AOD and assault (see Reference 34) has commanded a significant amount of media and policy focus in the last few years.

This year, trends and statistics around AOD and criminal offending are presented as a specific focus of Australian Crime: Facts & Figures 2012. The information in this chapter is derived from three sources—the ABS’ Crime Victimisation, Australia (2010–11) (Reference 16), the AIHW’s The Health of Australia’s Prisoners and the AIC’s DUMA program.

The relationship between alcohol and other drugs and crime

In 2004, the Australian Government Attorney–General’s Department released The Relationship between Drugs and Crime report. This report provided a comprehensive overview of how drug use and criminal offending interact. While not specifically referenced, the theories behind drug use and offending can be applied to alcohol usage as well.

In the report, three theories were identified to explain how AOD and offending interact. These were:

  • AOD leads to crime—for example, through the maintenance of a drug habit;
  • crime can result in AOD—for example, through associations with deviant peers and/or risky behaviours; and
  • that the use of AOD and engagement in criminal behaviour has the same cause—for example, inter and intrapersonal risk factors such as antisocial personality disorder and genetics have both been linked to the development of AOD problems and criminal offending (Reference 35).

The research is still divided on the utility of these theories and it is noted that there is a specific lack of Australian-based theoretical research examining the link between crime and AOD (References 35 & 36). However, it is a widely held belief that all three theories, considered in collaboration, provide a reasonable picture of the relationship between AOD and crime (Reference 35).

In 2011, the ABS released the annual Crime Victimisation, Australia report (Reference 16). This report is based on an annual survey that looks at participant’s experiences as victims of crime, as well as views on a number of other social disorders. The ABS interviewed a large sample of people and weighted these responses to make them representative of the wider population. One benefit of this method is its ability to estimate the amount of crime that is both reported and not reported to police. One drawback is that, due to the weighting, all data are estimations. As a result, totals reported in Crime Victimisation, Australia are not comparable to those in other ABS publications that are based on state and territory police statistics.

For the first time, the information collected included the involvement of AOD in experiences of physical and threatened assault. However, while increased aggression is one of the many side effects of AOD intoxication, not every individual who drinks or takes drugs will become aggressive (Reference 33). Rather, the relationship between alcohol and aggression is influenced by factors such as the pharmacological effects of the alcohol (ie liquid courage), the individual’s own tendencies towards violence, their age and sex, environmental factors such as overcrowding and wider social attitudes towards drinking and violence (Reference 37).

To illustrate the nature of incidents of crime where AOD was a contributing factor compared with those that were not, the following figures focus on physical assault.

Figure 121 Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by victim sex, 2010–11 (%)

Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by victim sex, 2010–11 (%)

  • In 2010–11, of the estimated 287,000 victims of physical assault where AOD was a contributory factor, 63 percent were male. Conversely, only 43 percent of victims of incidents where AOD was not a factor involved a male.
  • An estimated 57 percent of victims of incidents of non AOD-related physical assaults were female.

Source: Reference 17

Figure 122 Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by victim age, 2010–11 (%)

Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by victim age, 2010–11 (%)

There is a clear trend around the involvement of AOD in physical assault across the age categories. Specifically, the younger the victim’s age, the higher the proportion who were victimised in a physical assault where AOD was a contributing factor. As victim age increased, the proportions involved in AOD-related physical assault decreased.

  • Twenty-nine percent of victims of incidents where AOD contributed to the physical assault were aged between 18 and 24 years. This proportion decreased as the age of the victim increased, with only 27 percent of victims aged 25–34 years and 21 percent of victims aged 35–44 years assaulted where alcohol was identified as a contributory factor.
  • Conversely, the proportion of victims of physical assault where AOD was not considered a contributing factor increased between the ages of 18–24 and 25–34 years. While 19 percent of victims were aged 18–24 years old, 26 percent involved victims aged 25–34 years old.

Source: Reference 17

Figure 123 Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by relationship to offender, 2010–11 (%)

Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by relationship to offender,2010–11 (%)

a: Includes ex-boyfriend/girlfriend

b: Includes previous partner

  • It is estimated that almost half of all victims of physical assault where AOD was a contributory factor were strangers. Conversely, only 27 percent of victims where AOD did not contribute were strangers.
  • Friends were the next most common victim/offender relationship when AOD contributed to the physical assault. It was estimated that in 2010–11, 12 percent of victims were friends with their offender.
  • Large proportions of victims of assaults where AOD did not contribute involved an offender who was a family member or partner. It is estimated that, collectively, these two categories accounted for 34 percent of victims of physical assault that did not involve AOD. By comparison, other family members and partners each accounted for only nine percent of victims where AOD was involved.

Source: Reference 17

Figure 124 Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by location, 2010–11 (%)

Incidents of physical assault and victim reported contribution of AOD by location, 2010–11 (%)

  • In line with statistics presented in Chapter 2, victims were most commonly assaulted in their own homes. This was evident regardless of the level of AOD contribution to the incident. It is estimated that 30 percent of victims of AOD-related assaults and 41 percent of victims where AOD was not involved were assaulted in their own home.
  • Places of entertainment/recreation were the second most common location for AOD-related physical assault victimisation (21%). This is not surprising given that this category includes locations such as pubs, nightclubs and other licensed premises where large amounts of AOD are consumed. Only four percent of victims of assaults that did not involve AOD were victimised in the same location.
  • An estimated 24 percent of victims of non AOD-related physical assaults were assaulted in a workplace or place of study, followed by 14 percent who were victimised on the street or footpath. The proportion assaulted on the street and footpath was the same for AOD-related assaults (14%).

Source: Reference 17

Summary

These statistics indicate that physical assaults where AOD was a contributing factor have distinguishing characteristics. Of all physical assaults where AOD was considered a contributing factor, the victims were primarily male and generally aged less than 24 years old. While assaults primarily occurred between strangers regardless of the involvement of AOD, the proportion was higher for victims of incidents where AOD had contributed (48% compared with 27%). Finally, the victim’s own home and places of entertainment or recreation were the most common location where individuals were victimised in incidents of AOD-related physical assaults.

Attribution of alcohol and other drug use to criminal offending

As outlined previously, there are a number of ways that AOD can contribute to criminal offending. It is therefore important to understand not just the impact of AOD on the offence itself but also the extent and patterns of use by offenders. The figures below present information from the AIC’s DUMA program. Importantly, in addition to collecting information on detainees’ use of drugs, it also collects information regarding the detainees’ self-reported frequency of AOD use and attribution of AOD involvement in their current MSO.

Figure 125 Detainees self-reported frequency of alcohol and other drug use with violent most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

Detainees self-reported frequency of alcohol and other drug use with violent most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

a: Methamphetamine

Note: An irregular user is a person who had used the drug 1 to 3 days in the past 30 days. A moderate user had used the drug 4 to 11 days in the past 30 days. A frequent user had used the drug 12 or more days in the past 30 days

  • Alcohol and cannabis were the two categories of drugs to record the highest frequency of use among detainees in 2010–11. Specifically, 35 percent of detainees who self-reported the use of alcohol would consider themselves a frequent user compared with 28 percent of those testing positive to cannabis.
  • Less than one percent of detainees who tested positive to either cocaine or ecstasy considered themselves a frequent user.

Source: Reference 20

Figure 126 Detainees self-attributed alcohol and other drug involvement in violent most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

Detainees self-attributed alcohol and other drug involvement in violent most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

a: Population less than 50

b: Population less than 100

Note: Population totals exclude detainees who have not used AOD in the last 30 days

  • While 11 percent of detainees who self-reported the use of alcohol felt that it contributed ‘a little’ to their offence, a large proportion felt alcohol contributed ‘a lot’ (34%).
  • The drug types for which the largest proportions of detainees reported their AOD use contributed ‘a lot’ to their current arrest for a violent MSO included heroin (40%), alcohol (34%) and methamphetamine (33%).

Source: Reference 20

Figure 127 Detainees self-reported frequency of alcohol and other drug use with property most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

Detainees self-reported frequency of alcohol and other drug use with property most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

a: Methamphetamine

  • Significant proportions of detainees who self-reported the use of alcohol and cannabis reported being frequent users. Specifically, 27 percent of detainees reported frequently using cannabis, while 23 percent frequently used alcohol.
  • Four percent of detainees who self-reported the use of cocaine and were arrested for a property MSO were irregular users. The same was true for nine percent of detainees who self-reported the use of methamphetamine.

Source: Reference 20

Figure 128 Detainees self–attributed alcohol and other drug involvement in property most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

Detainees self–attributed alcohol and other drug involvement in property most serious offence, 2010–11 (%)

a: Population less than 50

  • Detainees were most likely to attribute a lot of their property MSOs to their use of either heroin or methamphetamine. Specifically, over half of detainees (54%) who self-reported the use of heroin believed it contributed a lot to their crime, while the same was true for 32 percent of detainees who self-reported the use of methamphetamine.
  • Twenty-six percent of detainees who self-reported the use of alcohol felt that the alcohol had either a little or a lot to do with property offending.

Source: Reference 20

Alcohol and other drug use in the prison population

The findings of The Relationship between Drugs and Crime report (Reference 35) highlighted that AOD use among offending populations is a significant problem. In 2010–11, 66 percent of detainees tested positive to the presence of AOD within 48 hours of their arrest (Reference 39). Further, the AIHW reported that in 2010, 69 percent of prison entrants were found to be at risk of alcohol-related harm and 67 percent had used drugs in the past 12 months (Reference 38).

As stated in Chapter 6, 40 percent of prisoners released in 2008–09 had returned to prison by 2010–11. Offenders face a number of challenges upon release from prison that can influence their likelihood of reoffending (Reference 40). Research shows that an offender’s age, sex and Indigenous status can affect their likelihood of reoffending (Reference 41). However, a key factor that has also been found to influence recidivism is the presence of an AOD abuse issue (Reference 41). For example in 2003, Putnins found that for juvenile offenders in South Australia, alcohol and inhalant use at the time of arrest was associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending (Reference 42).

The extent of AOD use by detainees and prisoners in Australia is presented in the following figures and is drawn from AIHW’s The Health of Australia’s Prisoners annual report (Reference 38).

Since 2009, the AIHW has released an annual report that details the health of prisoners in Australia. The report measures prisoner health using the National Prisoner Health Indicators that are aligned with the National Health Performance Framework (Reference 38). Examples of some of the indicators include the highest level of education, level of distress over current incarceration, the number of sexually transmissible infections, notifications received while in custody and medical consultation by prisoners while incarcerated (Reference 38). Further, the report provides information around the alcohol and drug usage patterns of prison entrants.

Figure 129 Risk of alcohol-related harm and history of drug use for prison entrants, 2009 and 2010 (%)

Risk of alcohol-related harm and history of drug use for prison entrants, 2009 and 2010 (%)

  • The proportion of prison entrants found to be at risk of alcohol-related harm increased by nine percentage points from 60 percent to 69 percent between 2009 and 2010.
  • Conversely, the proportion of prison entrants who reported using drugs in the past 12 months; decreased by five percentage points—from 72 percent in 2009 to 67 percent in 2010.

Source: Reference 39

Figure 130 Drug use and risk of alcohol-related harm for prison entrants by sex, 2010

Drug use and risk of alcohol-related harm for prison entrants by sex, 2010

  • A slightly greater proportion of male prison entrants were found to be at risk of alcohol-related harm than females in 2010. Specifically, 70 percent of male prison entrants were at risk of alcohol-related harm compared with 67 percent of females.
  • Conversely; while only 65 percent of male prison entrants reported using drugs in the past 12 months, 78 percent of females reported the same.

Source: Reference 39

Figure 131 Risk of alcohol-related harm for prison entrants by Indigenous status, 2009 and 2010 (%)

Risk of alcohol-related harm for prison entrants by Indigenous status, 2009 and 2010 (%)

  • In both 2009 and 2010, greater proportions of Indigenous prison entrants were found to be at risk of alcohol-related harm than non-Indigenous prisoners. Specifically, in 2010, 82 percent of Indigenous prisoners were found to be at risk of alcohol-related harm.
  • In 2010, the proportions of at-risk non-Indigenous prison entrants were only slightly higher than that recorded in 2009. In 2009, 57 percent of non-Indigenous prisoners were judged to be at risk compared with 60 percent in 2010.

Source: Reference 39

Figure 132 Drug use of prison entrants in the past 12 months by Indigenous status, 2009 and 2010 (%)

Drug use of prison entrants in the past 12 months by Indigenous status, 2009 and 2010 (%)

  • The proportion of prison entrants who reported using drugs in the last 12 months declined, regardless of Indigenous status, between 2009 and 2010. However, the drug use remained greater among Indigenous prison entrants compared with non-Indigenous prison entrants.
  • Drug use by Indigenous prison entrants decreased by four percentage points in 2010—from 72 percent in 2009 to 68 percent. Similarly, drug use by non-Indigenous prison entrants decreased from 71 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2010.

Source: Reference 39

Figure 133 Prison entrants who reported using drugs in the past 12 months by age, 2009 and 2010 (%)

Prison entrants who reported using drugs in the past 12 months by age, 2009 and 2010 (%)

  • The proportion of prison entrants who used drugs in the past 12 months decreased across all age categories in 2010. This difference was greatest among entrants aged 35–44 years, which decreased by eight percentage points between 2009 and 2010 (from 71% to 63%).
  • In 2010, 74 percent of prison entrants aged 25–34 years were found to have used drugs in the past 12 months. This was the greatest proportion of any age group in 2010.
  • Averaged over the two years, 73 percent of prison entrants aged 18–24 years were found to have used drugs in the past 12 months.

Source: Reference 39

Figure 134 Prison entrants use of drugs for non-medical purposes by type of drug, 2009 and 2010 (%)

Prison entrants use of drugs for non-medical purposes by type of drug, 2009 and 2010 (%)

a: Includes painkillers

b: Includes sleeping pills

c: Includes buprenorphine and suboxone

d: Includes hallucinogens, GHB, ketamine, barbiturates, steroids and inhalants

  • Cannabis remained the most common drug used, with over half (51%) of prison entrants reporting using cannabis in the past 12 months.
  • In 2010, prison entrants were least likely to have used cocaine, which decreased by three percentage points from 10 percent in 2009 to seven percent.
  • The proportions of prison entrants who used drugs decreased most noticeably in relation to heroin and ecstasy. In 2009, 19 percent of prison entrants reported using heroin in the last 12 months, while 18 percent reported using ecstasy. In 2010, heroin and ecstasy was only used by 10 percent of prison entrants, respectively.

Source: Reference 39

Summary

These statistics show that over half of prison entrants in 2010 were at risk of alcohol-related harm and/or had used drugs in the preceding 12 months. Importantly though, there were some differences based on the sex, age and Indigenous status of the prisoners. There was little difference between the proportions of male and female prison entrants with regards to alcohol abuse issues; however, greater proportions of females had problems with drug use compared with males. Compared with non-Indigenous prisoners, Indigenous prisoners had greater levels of AOD use. Finally, approximately 72 percent of prison entrants aged 18–34 years reported using drugs in the past 12 months. Taken together, these statistics attest to the serious problem of AOD abuse issues among Australian prisoners.

Rehabilitation

Efforts are being made to address the problems of AOD use by offenders and prisoners. A recent Australian National Council on Drugs report detailed the efforts undertaken by state and territory governments and corrective services to combat AOD use within the prison population. These strategies include decreasing the supply of drugs in prisons through the use of drug detection dogs and drug-free prison units, as well as decreasing the demand for drugs (Reference 43). Demand has primarily been targeted through rehabilitation measures such as methadone programs, detoxification support and counselling services (Reference 43).

There is very little data that provides insight into the use of these programs by prisoners or whether they are successful. However, the AIC’s DUMA program does provide some information with regards to offenders and their engagement in rehabilitative services prior to arrest.

Figure 135 Police detainee engagement with rehabilitation programs by program type, 2010–11 (%)

Police detainee engagement with rehabilitation programs by program type, 2010–11 (%)

a: Includes methadone, maltrexone, and buprenorphine

b: Includes therapeutic communities

c: Includes Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and church groups

  • Sixty–two percent of detainees in 2010–11 reported engaging in pharmacological treatments as a form of rehabilitation. This was by far the most common type of rehabilitation service used, compared with only one percent who sought treatment through a general practitioner.
  • In 2010–11, 25 percent of detainees reported using outpatient or counselling services, while 14 percent had been through rehabilitation programs that included in-patient therapeutic communities.

Source: Reference 20