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May 1, 2015

Do politicians use evidence in talking about crime?

Sense about science are worried that politicians don’t always use evidence correctly when talking about crime.  Their report criticises politicians for ascribing the recent fall in crime to their own policies and for making sweeping statements about the causes of crime.  The authors say politicians ignore one of the major factors in crime  (life stage or age)  because it undermines their depiction of people as angels or devils, and of offenders as a separate group. In fact, “half of British males born in the 1950s had acquired a criminal conviction by the time they were middle-aged”.  The authors point out that “policy-makers tend to heavily underrate the importance of circumstances as a factor, while overrating the personal choices that “criminals” make”.  This is right, and chimes with the research done by the FrameWorks Institute for us about the “cultural models” or beliefs people have about the motivations for crime. People think that crime is the result of a rational choice – that those considering committing a crime  logically weigh up the potential rewards of the crime against the potential for arrest and punishment.  The public, like policy-makers, discount circumstances and social context.  But this is not surprising, because these deep beliefs (that crime is a rational choice) are shared by policy-makers, politicians, the public and by many who work with offenders. The challenge is to get everyone to better understand the role of context and circumstance.