Making Sense of Crime

The challenges of evidence on the causes of crime and evidence to reduce it.
There’s always heated debate about crime and how we should respond to it.

Published: 30 April 2015
All our guides are date stamped and reflect the scientific findings and knowledge available at the time of publication.

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Did you Know?

The use of violent video games isn’t linked with a rise in violent crime (in the USA). If anything there is a strong correlation the other way.


There’s always heated debate about crime in the media and a lot of political argument about how we should respond to it. But these arguments rarely provide insight into what actually causes crime, what lies behind trends over time and in different places, and how best to go about reducing it.

This guide looks at some of the key things we do know and why it has been so difficult to make sense of crime policy. An important point throughout is that policymakers sometimes have to make decisions when things are not clear-cut. They have a better chance of making effective policies if they admit to this uncertainty – and conduct robust research to find out more. In the following pages we have shared insights from experts in violent crime, policing, crime science, psychology and the media’s influence on the crime debate. They don’t have all the answers, but we hope they leave you better-placed to hold policymakers and commentators to account and promote a more useful discussion about crime.


This guide was produced in collaboration with UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, the British Psychological Society and the University of Bedfordshire

What is the problem this guide is addressing?

Values inform how a society decides to deal with crime. We may decide that rehabilitation is a better principle than punishment, and this will influence how we decide what is most effective. However, we also expect these choices to be disciplined by sound evidence, because if crime policy ignores what works and what doesn’t, there are likely to be bad social consequences. And with over £10bn spent annually on tackling crime through the police, prisons, probation and courts, unless we look at evidence we can’t see how effective any of it is.

Academic, government and community organisations have all said crime policies need to be based more on evidence, but much of the evidence available at the moment is poor or unclear. Debates about crime rarely reflect how strong the evidence behind opposing policies is, and even when politicians honestly believe they’re following the evidence, they tend to select evidence that supports their political views.


The launch of Making Sense of Crime was featured on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 and written up in several newspapers including the Independent, Belfast Telegraph and Evening Standard. It was also covered in media outlets across the country from the Bedfordshire On Sunday to Safer Communities Scotland and in specialist publications like Transform Justice and Criminology in Public.

Published: 8 November 2016