Crime and society in Western Australia

Criminology Research Council grant ; (11/81)

Three areas were covered in this research project, funded by the Australian Research Grants Commission from January 1980 to October 1981, and by the Criminology Research Council from October 1981 to March 1982. In the first area, a computer data base has been devised to analyse offences and offenders committed for trial to the W.A. Quarter Session (1830-1861) and to the W.A. Supreme Court (1861-1971). This was the most complex and time consuming part of the research. Work on coding the information prior to analysis is continuing. In the second area, several series of 'crime' statistics have been collected and collated from various 'official' sources for Western Australia from 1871 to 1915. Where possible figures have been adjusted to give continuous series from at least 1895 to 1915. These figures will be supplied to the Australian Bicentennial Historical Statistics Project. Where possible the categories of offences have been arranged to broadly correspond to existing published statistics for nineteenth century New South Wales (P.N. Grabosky, 1977). In the third section a preliminary assessment has been made of the usefulness of 'Controlology' (J. Ditton, 1979) for a history of 'crime' in Western Australia. Sufficient evidence has been collected to support Ditton's criticism of 'official crime statistics' and to warrant scepticism about attempts to judge variations in the nature or extent of 'criminal' behaviour by the use of such statistics. Such statistics should be seen, not as the product of 'criminal' actions, but of the decisions and policies pursued by police, magistrates, crown prosecutors and judges. As yet, this research cannot support Ditton's theory of 'control waves' (to replace the conventional ideal of 'crime waves'). Nonetheless until a detailed historical study of 'crime' recording procedures is made, conventional analysis of 'crime' statistics (e.g. S.K. Mukherjee, 1981) may not reflect the reality of changes over time in criminal behaviour.