Australian Institute of Criminology

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Links between illicit drug use and crime

There is research both in Australia and internationally which shows that a significant proportion of those apprehended for a range of criminal offences are frequent illicit drug users. However, whether drug use is a causal factor for crime continues to be debated.

The AIC conducts the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) and previously, the Drug Use Careers of Offenders (DUCO) projects to examine the illicit drug use of people in police watch houses and lockups, and prisons. The research provides an insight into the use of illicit drugs amongst detainees and prisoners, the self-reported effect of drugs on their offending and the sequence of drug use and offending.

Drug Use Monitoring in Australia

In 2004, 37% of detainees in the DUMA program attributed at least some of their offending to drugs (excluding alcohol), with the proportion rising to 45% for those who had used drugs in the previous twelve months.

Drug Use Careers of Offenders

While the DUMA figures indicate that some offending is directly linked to illicit drug use, they do not necessarily show that drug use is a precursor to crime. The DUCO study found that males who used illicit drugs during their lifetimes were more likely to have committed offences prior to drug use, whereas women were almost equally as likely to have commenced either first. The majority of young people surveyed started drug use and offending at an early age, with drug use beginning before or around the same time as offending.

Another theory related to the drugs-crime link suggests that there are factors which increase both the risk of becoming involved in offending and the taking of illicit drugs. It has been suggested that factors such as an abusive childhood or parental absence may predispose individuals to involvement with crime and drugs or that lifestyle influences may be a driver.

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