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Crime Briefing

Latest International Comparison of Crime in OECD Countries

The UN affiliated European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control has recently published the most up-to-date international comparison of crime statistics. The figures are based on the UN Survey of Crime Trends (UN-CTS). In the past the UN only published comparisons for Europe and North America, but the latest report uses police-recorded crime for 2006 for many additional countries. However, because there are significant problems of comparability, Civitas has selected only those nations that belong to the OECD. Its members are more likely to have reliable national statistics agencies and to be accustomed to standardising information. It is frustrating that international comparisons are so far behind, but ironing out inconsistencies to ensure that we really are comparing ‘like with like’ simply takes a long time.

We know from comparisons with other EU members that crime in England and Wales is very high. In 2004 the European Union’s Crime and Safety Survey looked at 18 countries and found that the UK was a ‘crime hotspot’, along with Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark. And in 2007 the latest Eurostat figures for the 27 EU members found that England and Wales had the third worst crime rate.

How does our crime rate compare?

But how do we compare with developed countries inside and outside Europe? The UN comparisons are based on six of the most serious crimes: intentional homicide, rape, robbery, major assault, burglary and car theft.

As the charts show, England and Wales were above average for rape, robbery, burglary and car theft and below average for intentional homicide and ‘major assault’

  • 14th out of 34 countries for homicide.
  • 8th out of 34 for rape.
  • 6th out of 34 for robbery.
  • 17th out of 28 for major assault.
  • 5th out of 34 for burglary.
  • 7th out of 33 for car theft.

Compared with our peers, the report shows that we are a high-crime society.

Are we a punitive society?

The report also allows us to test the theory that our system is especially punitive, a claim recently made by the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke. The report calculates a ‘punitivity ratio’ by contrasting the number of people convicted in a year per 100,000 population with the number of prisoners in jail as a result of a court sentence per 100,000 population. (That is, the figure includes only prisoners sentenced to jail, not those on remand; and it includes prisoners sentenced in earlier years to long terms of imprisonment.)

If a nation handed down prison sentences to a high proportion of those found guilty, or gave long sentences to those given custody, then it would have a high ‘punitivity ratio’.

However, the score for England and Wales, contrary to the claims of Kenneth Clarke, is low. The claim that our criminal-justice policies are punitive is not, therefore, supported by the best available evidence.

The UN report is available online here.

For more information contact:

Civitas on: 020 7799 6677

Notes for Editors

i. Civitas is an independent think tank. It receives no state funding either directly or indirectly and has no links to any political party.

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