Criminal careers and the crime drop in Scotland, 1989-2011: an exploration of conviction trends across age and sex
Matthews, Benjamin Michael
MetadataShow full item record
Rates of recorded crime have been falling in many countries in Western Europe, including Scotland, since the early 1990s. This marks the reversal of a trend of increasing levels of crime seen since the 1950s. Despite this important recent change, most analyses of the ‘crime drop’ have focused on recorded crime or victimisation rates aggregated to national or regional level. It is little known how patterns of offending or conviction have changed at the individual level. As a result it is not known how the crime drop is manifest in changing offending or conviction rates, or how patterns of criminal careers have changed over this period. The aim of this thesis is to explore trends in convictions across a number of criminal careers parameters – the age-crime curve, prevalence and frequency, polarisation and conviction pathways – over the course of the crime drop in Scotland. The results presented here are based on a secondary analysis of the Scottish Offenders Index, a census of convictions in Scottish courts, between 1989 and 2011. Analysis is conducted using a range of descriptive statistical techniques to examine change across age, sex and time. Change in the age-crime curve is analysed using data visualisation techniques and descriptive statistics. Standardisation and decomposition analysis is used to analyse the effects of prevalence, frequency and population change. Trends in conviction are also examined between groups identified statistically using Latent Class Analysis to assess the polarisation of convictions, and trends in the movement between these groups over time provides an indication of changing pathways of conviction. This thesis finds a sharp contrast between falling rates of conviction for young people, particularly young men, and increases in conviction rates for those between their mid-twenties and mid-forties, with distinct periods of change between 1989- 2000, 2000-2007 and 2007-2011. These trends are driven primarily by changes in the prevalence of conviction, and result in an increasingly even distribution of convictions over age. Analysis across latent classes shows some evidence of convictions becoming less polarised for younger men and women but increasingly polarised for older men and women. Similarities in trends analysed across latent classes between men and women of the same age suggest that the process driving these trends is broadly similar within age groups. Increases in conviction rates for those over 21 are explained by both greater onset of conviction and higher persistence in conviction, particularly between 1998 and 2004. The results of this thesis suggest that explanations of the crime drop must have a greater engagement with contrasting trends across age and sex to be able to properly explain falling conviction rates. These results also reinforce the need for criminal careers research to better understand the impact of recent changes social context on patterns of convictions over people’s lives. The distinct periods identified in these results suggest a potential effect of changes in operation of the justice system in Scotland leading to high rates of convictions in the early 2000s. However, the descriptive focus of this analysis and its reliance upon administrative data from a single country mean this thesis cannot claim to definitively explain these trends. As a result, replication of this research in another jurisdiction is encouraged to assess whether trends identified are particular to Scotland.