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Can Research Prevent Crime?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Nigel Bennee.

The contributions of research to increased longevity are well-known and widely accepted; the role of research in preventing crime is equally interesting, but generally unknown.

This lecture traces the benefits of two centuries of research on crime, concentrating on the last three decades—when measures of crime have dropped substantially in most advanced economies.

Research has led governments to do better at three key tasks: targeting, testing, and tracking taxpayers’ investments in preventing crime.

TARGETING resources better has been a direct result of epidemiological research specifying the victims, places, social networks and situations featuring the greatest concentrations of harm from crime.

TESTING resources to specify what works—and what doesn’t—to prevent crime has seen a rapid growth of randomized controlled trials of various practices and innovations in social services, policing, sentencing and corrections.

TRACKING resources to guide them more precisely has developed from research showing where discredited criminogenic practices are still being used, and where effective practices are not being used to the extent possible. The lecture presents prominent examples of all three ways in which research has helped to prevent crime. It concludes by offering cautions on the cultural challenges of antipathy to research about a highly emotional topic, and the generally precarious fate of science-based policy in any democracy.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research (CSAR) series.

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