To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign — “It’s about prevention, stupid”. Victims of crime advocates need to listen carefully to one of their own today at conference in Adelaide.

One of the world’s leading researchers into victims of crime, Dr Irvin Waller, says that our politicians, the tabloid media and victims of crime advocates, need to stop banging on about punishing criminals, and focus their efforts and resources on crime prevention instead.

Dr Waller, who is Professor of Criminology at Canada’s University of Ottawa, thinks, according to an ABC report this morning, that directing more police resources to crime prevention programs could reduce violent crime by up to a staggering 40 percent in 10 years. Dr Waller told the ABC from the National Victims of Crime Conference in Adelaide:

The evidence is incredibly strong that trying to catch people one at a time and punish them is extraordinarily expensive to taxpayers and expensive to potential victims and does not give us the sorts of results that being smart about investing in prevention, that reducing the number of victims would give us.

Waller’s observation is not rocket science but it is one that appears to be routinely ignored by the populist, aggressive and conflict driven political and media elite in this country.

On an almost daily basis for example, the Herald Sun gives airplay to victims of crime advocates like Noel McNamara to vent their spleen about soft sentences and weak judges. That newspaper, along with the Daily Telegraph, often run stories — which are really editorials and advertorials for victims of crime groups — about sentences handed down by our courts with the phrase, “Victims groups today expressed outrage at the sentence handed down etc…”

Politicians, driven by intellectual laziness and sheer opportunism, would rather continue to shortchange taxpayers by bolstering sentences for crimes, and put little effort into the much less sexy crime prevention and social cohesion programs that help to reduce violence in the first place.

One wonders if the South Australian Premier Mike Rann and his law order crazed Attorney-General Michael Atkinson will bother to listen to what Dr Waller has to say while he is a guest in their state?

Those two politicians are perhaps the most egregious in the nation when it comes to banging the law and order drum. Atkinson has just introduced phase two of his draconian anti-bikie gang laws. This time he wants to allow police to wonder around the community with false IDs so they can obtain intelligence in criminal gangs, and to refuse to allow defence lawyers to know who the accusers and informants against their client are in cases where bikie gang members and other serious offenders are charged.

Dr Waller’s message should be on the front page of the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph tomorrow — but what’s the bet it won’t be. It would spoil the populist line that panders to prejudice and ignorance about criminal justice.

Peter Fray

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