Australian Institute of Criminology

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One third of offenders blame illegal drugs or alcohol for their crime

Media Release

16 January 2004

New research by the Australian Institute of Criminology has found that 39 per cent of prisoners attribute their crime to illegal drugs or alcohol, Acting Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Toni Makkai, said today.

"The Drug Use Careers of Offenders (DUCO) study of 2,135 males in the prison system is the most extensive study of lifetime drug use amongst incarcerated offenders ever conducted in Australia," Dr Makkai said.

"The majority of offenders reported lifetime use of illegal drugs. Poly-drug use was also found to be common".

More than 80 per cent had used any of the four main drug types - cannabis, heroin, amphetamines and cocaine - and 69 per cent had used any of these drugs in the 6 months prior to their arrest.

Offenders who had tried illegal drugs had a three in four chance of going on to become a regular user of illegal drugs.

Illegal drug use usually begins with experimentation with cannabis, followed by amphetamines, heroin and cocaine. The time delay between first cannabis use and the other three drug types was approximately three years.

The DUCO study found that although many offenders report using illegal drugs, the majority of offenders began committing crimes before they began their use of illegal drugs.

Specialisation in offending was uncommon. Many offenders reported a variety of both property and violent offending throughout their criminal careers.

However the most prevalent types of crimes reported by offenders were drug and minor property offences. Property offenders were more likely to report buying and selling drugs, report committing many more crimes, and they were more likely to attribute their offending to illegal drugs.

Regular violent offenders, including homicide offenders, reported committing fewer crimes and were more likely to attribute alcohol as a causal factor in their crime.

Offenders reported a variety of ways in which they obtained drugs. They most commonly paid cash but they also traded stolen goods, swapped other drugs and were paid in drugs for work they did.

One in five offenders reported that they used force or violence to obtain drugs and a smaller percentage (eight per cent) said they also used weapons.