Click for menu
Dr Carmen Lawrence addresses a rally outside Parliament House in Canberra

Dr Carmen Lawrence's Freilich Foundation lectures

Fear and Public Policy

Former WA Premier, past President for the ALP and the Federal member for Fremantle Dr Carmen Lawrence was the Fourth Freilich Foundation Eminent Lecturer in 2005 at The Herbert and Valmae Freilich Foundation.

Dr Lawrence generously supplied the lectures to us for publication - they are brought together in a series of four pages. Below are links to the other three lectures.

Related pages:

1 January 2007: The Gifts of Carmen Lawrence - The number of contributions from Carmen to the national debate, also but not only about Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, has kept growing, also on our website - this was the reason we constructed this page to bring all pages, all gifts from Dr Carmen Lawrence together.

8 November 2005: Fear and Public Policy: Dr Carmen Lawrence's 2005 Freilich Foundation lectures | Relaxed and Comfortable? | - I will attempt to chart the consequences of the exploitation of fear on the Australian body politic. As the title suggests, I will place this in the context of asking whether the objective Howard set himself as he approached government in 1996 has been realised.

8 November 2005: Fear and Public Policy: Dr Carmen Lawrence's 2005 Freilich Foundation lectures | Fear of Annihilation | - Just last week the Prime Minister and Premiers gathered to devise even more draconian laws following the London bombings, ostensibly to protect us from such threats, while insisting that the threat level has actually not increased since that time.

8 November 2005: Fear and Public Policy: Dr Carmen Lawrence's 2005 Freilich Foundation lectures | Fear of the Other | - One of the reasons offered for adopting democracy as a system of government is people's desire to be protected from state-sponsored fear - fear of persecution and death, arbitrary theft of property and discrimination.

Lecture Two: Fear of Crime

The Fourth Freilich Foundation Eminent Lecturer
Dr Carmen Lawrence, MP
14 September 2005

In this the second lecture of the series, "Fear of Crime", I will argue that the last twenty years have seen a sustained campaign on law and order, with the result that people now have wildly exaggerated, and fearful perceptions of the risks of assault, murder, child abuse and robbery. I will explore the distorting effects of these fears on law and justice policies and on public expenditure.

Crime is one of those topics, as Altheide observes1, where the repeated association with fear means that simply to mention crime is to elicit fear. He notes the paradox that at the same time as we enjoy unprecedented levels of health, safety and life expectancy, our daily discourse is riddled with fear.

The constant use of fear in communication about crime is part of a wider practice which pervades a lot of popular culture and political debate. Fear and threat are pervasive elements in our entertainment and in the messages that shape our daily lives. Research in the U.S. has shown that the use of fear in the news media - in headlines and text - nearly doubled over the 20 years to 19942. Under this sort of barrage, we come to expect fear and dread in our lives. As Ferarro3 suggests, the major impact of the discourse of fear is to cultivate a sense of disorder and a belief that "things are out of control". When we routinely define our circumstances as threatening and fearful, our disposition toward others becomes more hostile and we are more likely to see ourselves as victims needing salvation.

Since at least the mid-80s, law and order politics have played a starring role in state and territory elections in Australia. The two major parties have converged on the position that we are under siege from burgeoning crime, that much more needs to done to combat crime and that the best remedies for dealing with crime are to employ more police, arm them with greater powers and punish offenders more harshly. This formula is not unique to Australia and has been embraced in varying degrees by much of the developed world. It has also been singularly ineffective.

What's going on here?

What we do know, is that it's not a response to an escalating crime problem and it certainly cannot be justified by any rigorous assessment of public attitudes toward punishment.4

The increasingly punitive rhetoric and policy is in sharp contrast to the promise held out in the 60s of a more rational, research based and humane approach to criminal justice. My first job was as a research psychologist in the W.A. Department of Corrections and my first project was to determine whether it was possible to distinguish people who would go on to become repeat offenders from the rest. As a brash - but sceptical - 20 year old, I observed, no insisted that,

"theories which attempt to associate crime and delinquency with low socio-economic status, fare badly on critical examination since statistics on the incidence of law breaking are usually derived from the courts themselves. They fail to account for the known discrimination in arrests and charge rates of lower socio economic groups, and the greater likelihood of prosecution if you happen to belong to a distinctive racial minority group or are unable to afford expert legal counsel. Thus the criminal statistics themselves have an inbuilt bias, so it is not surprising that high percentage of those with recorded convictions are of low socio-economic status. The few studies, which have attempted community surveys of self-reported crime, have been unable to show significant differences between socio-economic levels. Yet penal establishments are filled with members of low socio-economic groups.

While the conclusions may not stand contemporary scrutiny, the level of analysis should. It is rare to hear statements about crime which attempt to unpick the power and resource differentials which are at play in the development of ideas about crime or the construction of criminal careers. It is deeply unfashionable, for example, to even speculate that the way we respond to crime may have as much to do with our conceptions of society as with the individual characteristics of the person who ends up in gaol. Yet, there is a very neat fit between the neo-liberal assumption that social position is the result of a person's own effort and endeavour and the view that crime is the result of individual pathology.

By stripping crime of its social and economic context, such as race, poverty and powerlessness, crime becomes a matter of perverse, individual "choice"; it also becomes less amenable to understanding. And what you can't understand is likely to make you afraid. Ignorant people are more susceptible to respond to fear campaigns which promise to protect them from malevolent forces.

As McCulloch suggests, "this ideological framework encourages repression and punishment rather than support" 5; social problems are recast as crime problems. We can then ignore inequality and disadvantage, thus increasing the psychological and social distance between the "haves" and the "have nots". As Galbraith6 has pointed out, such thinking can cause "the comfortable to disavow the needy", making it easier to imagine that defects of character or culture rather than economic history cause disadvantage.

A few have drawn attention to the simultaneous "loosening up" of economic controls recommended by neoliberal economic theory and the imposition of greater social control. Lowi7 calls this the "dirty little secret" of capitalism; that it has nothing to say about what happens when the "loosening" recommended by neoliberal economics creates growing social problems and inequalities. In the United States, the most unequal of the developed economies, the incarceration of citizens appears to be the preferred mode of dealing with the poor and marginalised. Gray describes this mass imprisonment as a "surrogate for the controls of communities which unregulated market forces have weakened or destroyed"8. Evidence from around the world and, increasingly, from Australia points to what Gray describes as "the innermost contradiction" of the free market, i.e. that it undermines the traditional social institutions on which it has depended in the past, the family being the key example.

What we are encouraged to believe is that social factors are largely irrelevant in the genesis of criminal behaviour and that there are some people who are by nature disposed to deviance and have "a compelling propensity" to commit crime. They are intrinsically different from the rest of us and are not amenable to change. The inevitable conclusion is that the world is divided into those who are committed law abiders and those who engage in crime and that, to protect the community, the latter group need to be incarcerated since they cannot be rehabilitated. At the core of this focus on fear is the process by which the dominant social group defines into existence an inferior group, the "other". It is no accident that the most disadvantaged and powerless minorities in our society fulfil that role.

Penal Populism

No government in Australia is exempt from the charge of exploiting the community's fears about crime and all levels of government have attempted to exploit such fear of crime for political advantage. For example, in the lead up to the 1998 election, the current Prime Minister raised the law and order issue (usually the province of the states), calling for harsher punishments and accusing judges of being "soft" on crime. In NSW, former Premier Carr adopted a punitive rhetoric previously associated with conservative figures, saying, amongst other things that "hoodlum patrols would reclaim the streets for our citizens and make them safe again." Drug traffickers, he later promised would "die in jail".

Over the last decade or more, a veritable fever of penal "reform" gripped the state governments, usually in the heat of election "auctions" designed to demonstrate that the purveyors of the policies were definitely not "soft" on crime. Labor governments were particularly sensitive to being tagged with that label and moved dramatically away from more progressive policies which had previously characterised their approach to criminal justice. Ministers under attack from the Opposition or vocal critics may feel there is no option but to "talk tough", reassuring themselves that unless they make compromises to "penal populism"9, they will lose power and, with it, the chance to make beneficial changes to the system.

The beginning of this era of "penal populism" in Australia appears to have been the 1988 New South Wales election which was marked by a "bidding war" on the introduction of tough new penalties. The result was so-called "truth in sentencing" legislation which dramatically inflated the prison population, so that gaols were soon full to overflowing; conditions inevitably deteriorated.

From this point, and with the media pouring "high octane fuel (on) politically malleable fears"10, a cycle of increasingly punitive policing and punishment took hold. By the 1990s, the promise of tougher sanctions to protect people from crime had become an obligatory element in every suite of policies presented to the voters at state elections. Law and order has risen inexorably from being judged a relatively low-order problem to one of the top three or four needing political attention.

My own state of Western Australia was the first to introduce a form of the now notorious mandatory sentencing initially popularised in the United States. Let me read you an account by a well known criminologist11 of the events leading up to the introduction of that legislation.

"The general background from the late 80s to the early 90s in Western Australia was one of growing disdain for rehabilitation and intolerance of juvenile crime. The push toward a simplistic view of offenders and the effectiveness of punishment was to a considerable extent fuelled by a popular "talk back" radio commentator, culminating in a rally before Parliament House in August 1991. The rally attracted 20,000 people and provided powerful "copy" in a debate now largely in the hands of the media. The tinderbox was primed and simply awaiting the spark. The spark is typically a case involving an archetypal (middle-class) innocent victim, offender (lower-class recidivist) and a terrible crime .... Just such a case provided the spark to the tinderbox in Western Australia in late 1991.

On Christmas Day 1991, a young family was driving home after visiting relatives. The family comprised the father, mother (heavily pregnant with her second child) and young child. The vehicle was hit by a young aboriginal offender in a stolen car who was being pursued by police. The resulting crash killed all members of the family, except the father. The offender was a 14-year-old with a lengthy criminal record. Media coverage was intense and included pictures of the crash scene strewn with Christmas presents.

The Christmas and New Year's period in Australia is typically a festive time with many social occasions. The Premier of the state was away (overseas) and the crisis ensuing from the Christmas day tragedy was borne by the acting Premier and his Cabinet. On the sixth of January, the acting Premier announced that "Western Australia's hard core juvenile criminals will be subject to the toughest laws in Australia under measures approved by State Cabinet today." Further details promised mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for repeat juvenile offenders, particularly for offences involving violence. Despite serious flaws now evident in the proposed strategy designed to achieve selective incapacitation, the legislation was introduced in Parliament. The proposed act was largely unworkable. Recognising the limitations of the legislation, the Labor Party attached a "sunset clause" which effectively terminated the legislation after two years (in 1994)."

Not only was the legislation flawed - it was ineffective. An evaluation by the W.A. Crime Research Centre showed that in the period leading up to the enactment of the law, car theft was already in decline, actually increasing after the laws came into effect. It was clear that the "toughest laws in Australia" were of absolutely no use in reducing the rate of motor vehicle theft (or violent juvenile crime).

This salutary tale - most of you will have realised that I was the absent Premier referred to and I failed to act to reverse the decision - illustrates all of the key elements of the "law and order" epidemic; the sustained scare campaign by the media targeting marginalised "others"; the hysterical public (and Opposition) response; a tragic trigger event and panic by the political leaders resulting in ineffective legislation.

Fear of Crime and Victimisation

Politicians and media populists are now expert at the use of fear to exercise control and ratchet up their approval ratings. And we are accustomed to respond. What may have initially been perceived and justified as a response to public opinion, comes to shape it.

The evocation of such fear appears to serve the two ends I mentioned in the last lecture: as a means for political leaders to pursue specific political goals and as a threat those who appear to challenge their power and status. In either case, the use of such fear may represent an intentional strategy to exploit public anxiety about crime and cultivate public resentment toward offenders or it may be a response to what is assumed to be public opinion - "doing what the community wants".

Fear of crime, and particularly the fear of victimisation, is now commonplace and appears to be increasing, along with the perception that crime is on the increase. Australians, like those of many other nations, routinely overestimate their chances of becoming the victims of crime. One national survey12 of 52,000 people found that when perceived risks were compared with the actual risks, most Australians greatly exaggerate the risk. Another survey13 examined people's beliefs about trends over the previous two years (2001-2) in six common offences: home break-in, motor vehicle theft, robbery with a fire arm, sexual assault, murder and shoplifting. While the actual frequency of these offences was either stable or decreasing over that period, the majority of respondents (from NSW and WA) believed that every category of crime had been rising. Older respondents and women were more likely to judge that these crimes were on the increase, as were blue-collar workers and those who lived outside the metropolitan areas.

One of the factors contributing to this tendency to over-estimate crime is the media's exaggerated and distorted picture of the direction, character and prevalence of crime. In part, this is due to the practice of reporting every crime story, without any contextual information about trends in such crimes or the real risks of victimisation. Indeed, even when the media is provided with that information, they may reject it. Professor Mark Findlay, Deputy Director of Sydney University's Institute of Criminology, reports an interview he had with a Sydney talkback host in which he was asked why judges in NSW were sentencing fewer people to gaol for shorter periods of time. When Professor Findlay told him that he was wrong on both counts and that statistics had been released that day that showed the reverse was true, the talkback host retorted that "the stats didn't matter because that's not what the public believe."14 What's more, anyone who challenges these popular views is likely to be summarily cut off or subjected to a tirade of abuse.

Because the media give prominence to the most horrific incidents of murder and rape, the public come to believe that these rare events are much more common than they are. More ghoulishly, people's anxiety is increased when the media dive into the misery and distress victims suffer to wring the maximum emotional impact from their crime reports.

There is an accompanying tendency for the language of fear to be built into every news story. Following the U.S. example, our media are increasingly likely to employ military terminology - the "war on drugs" - with the attendant fear that we may be "losing the battle". Politicians both drive and respond to this fear. For example, Senator Ellison said of a government policy initiative in a recent press release,

This demonstrates the importance of the Government's Tough on Drugs Programme. If we make progress in the war on drugs, we make great strides in the fight against crime.

As well as its directly distorting effects on criminal justice policy, disproportionate fear of crime causes great distress and harm to many in the community. In some cases, especially in some neighbourhoods, the fear of crime may be well-founded and protective measures justified. But in other cases excessive fear may lead people to so constrain their lives that it may be said that it effectively imprisons them.15 It may, for example, cause them to withdraw from the community, curtailing their exposure to what they regard as risky environments. Older women are particularly likely to stay at home, avoid public transport and spend large sums on security measures. The tragedy is that more and more people's daily lives become "armoured" - they live in walled estates, hire guards, and drive tanks (otherwise known as four wheel drives). Unfortunately, these behaviours actually reinforce the sense of threat and disorder.

There are many in the community, if talk back radio is any indication, who buy the line that we are in the midst of a crime wave and that we need more and more severe prison sentences to deter would be offenders. Pauline Hanson certainly seemed to hold this view prior to her own imprisonment which appeared to produce a welcome, if painfully generated, change of heart.

Following her imprisonment, I was asked on more than a few occasions whether I thought she should have been gaoled. My answer was generic rather than specific to her case - that I could not see the benefit of jailing people for non-violent crimes; that in such cases we would all be better served if the focus was on reparation rather than retribution, rehabilitation rather than revenge. No one disputes that people who commit crimes of cruelty and violence should go to prison, but I cannot see the wisdom of locking people up for non-violent crimes when they could remain in the community with their families making good any damage they have done to society and working off their debts.

The view that goal will reduce crime rates is embedded in the "tougher" government response to crime which has seen the prison population grow 102% between 1982 and 1998 and the rate per 100,000 of those old enough to be imprisoned by 55%, with Queensland recording the highest rate in the country at that time (AIC report)16. These rate increases have been sustained in recent years. ABS data17 show that between 1990 and 2000 imprisonment rates increased every year, so that by 2000, 148 adults in every 100,000 were serving a prison sentence. Pointedly, the authors of the AIC report argued that "there is no evidence that greater imprisonment acts as a major deterrent to potential criminals."'

Crime victim surveys which wash out any variations over time in policing and reporting practices show that most serious offences and violence in particular, have increased little in the last 20 years. Most Australian probably wouldn't believe you if you told them that there has been no significant increase in the homicide rate for over 100 years, although it is true.18 Where there have been increases, particularly in property crime, they appear to be largely due to increasing substance abuse, a problem for which prison is a spectacularly useless solution.

And, in any case, international comparisons reveal that there is no systematic relationship between imprisonment rates and crime rates19. Within Australia, different rates of imprisonment between the States appear not to correlate with differences in crime rates.

Nor is the increase in crime itself responsible for the increasing number of people in prison. Careful research by Blumstein and Beck in the U.S.20 concluded that the near tripling of their prison population between 1980 and 1996 was due only in very small measure (12%) to increasing crime rates and mostly (88%) to changes in sentencing policy. Similarly, analysis by Australian researchers Young and Brown21 of the factors contributing to different rates of imprisonment in a number of developed countries showed that only a small part of the difference in prison populations was related to crime rates.

As a result of nearly two decades of unrelenting "law and order" campaigns, we are far too ready to gaol people rather than seeking other forms of sentencing. Too many politicians - me included during my time as Premier - have been seduced into implementing costly and ineffective policies; they have embraced penal populism, enacting policies which are based primarily on their anticipated popularity rather than their effectiveness.

We are, as a result, in the grip of a "penal arms race", with each party offering tougher and tougher measures. No one seems publicly willing to suggest other approaches, lest they be labelled "soft on crime". And most politicians, for much the same reason, are unwilling to accuse others of exaggeration, even when untested and extreme claims are made.

The effectiveness of "tough on crime" policies

There has been very little serious public debate about the consequences, costs and benefits of imprisonment as opposed to community based alternatives to imprisonment. Most of the rhetoric has been about punishment and retribution and very little about crime prevention and the reduction of reoffending. What we really need is a cool, clinical assessment about what measures are likely to improve community safety rather than impotently banging on about the threats to our safety, claiming to be tough on crime while ignoring the damaging consequences of these policies both for the prisoners and their families and the community at large.

More and more people are being sent to prison and for longer periods of time. In many indigenous communities, the rate of imprisonment is so high that is has become "normal", a perverse "rite of passage." Such overuse of prison may reduce its stigma in some communities and further undermine respect for the law.

The cost to the community of the escalating prison population is enormous. For example, the cost of running the NSW prison system is over $530 million each year and rising. In addition, the government spends around $90 million per year on building and maintaining prisons. Data from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that it costs on average $160 per day for each offender, whereas community service orders cost around $3.50 per day and parole around $5.00. While these community based programs are poorly resourced and need to be improved, it is easy to see that reducing imprisonment rates in favour of non-custodial alternatives would save a poultice Australia wide since, the aggregate national running costs for gaols reached $1.5 billion in 2001-2.

The huge increases in expenditure on prisons alone - let alone the rest of the law and order package - have leached funds from other vital areas of community service. Tony Vinson's work showed that as the rate of imprisonment in NSW rose by 64% in the last 20 years (with the consequent budget increases), expenditure on public education fell from 28% to 22% of all government spending. A recent study22 showed that "the 75 per cent increase in the New South Wales prison population over the past decade has been serviced by the more intensified policing of a relatively small number of indigenous and socially disadvantaged communities." Furthermore, the report showed, yet again, that "lack of access to good education is also a critical factor in relation to crime rates"; about 65 per cent of inmates have not completed Year 10. Perhaps more money on education would mean less money would be needed for prisons; we could try to reverse the trend toward growing inequality which is known to be associated with rising crime.

In addition to the direct costs of imprisonment, there are other costly consequences for the community. People who are gaoled often lose their families and their homes and, when discharged, may remain homeless for long periods. Family dislocation has obvious social and emotional costs, especially for the children who lose a parent and often a source of income.

Ex-prisoners are likely to be stigmatised and have greater difficulty finding work. They also have poorer health than those who stay out of prison. Alcohol and drug abuse, which may have contributed to their offending in the first place, are rarely treated in jail and there are many inmates for whom drug abuse actually worsens because of the easy availability of drugs and the destructive environment. Most of these costs ultimately fall on the rest of us.

Prisons are notoriously harsh and damaging environments, especially when they are overcrowded - as they often are - and especially for young men. Rape, violence, self-harm and suicide are common. Humiliation is routine. When Pauline Hanson was gaoled, she reported that she declined physical contact with her close family because otherwise she would have been subjected to a mandatory strip search, something which caused her great distress. Imagine how the other women prisoners felt, the 80% the Queensland Government's own research shows have been sexually abused. Strip searching could only add to their trauma.

Most prisoners are poorly educated, with a history of unemployment and alcohol and drug abuse. An increasing proportion is seriously mentally ill and intellectually disabled. A hugely disproportionate number are Indigenous Australians.

Various reports have confirmed that mental health problems are 3-4 times greater among inmates than in the general population, although there is a substantial body of research which clearly establishes that there is no inherent link between mental illness and crime. The NSW Corrections Health Service Inmate Survey of 1997 found that 50% women and 33% men in prison had undergone some form of psychiatric intervention. The 2002 Queensland study of women prisoners' health found that 57% of women reported having been diagnosed with a mental illness, mainly depression, and had consumed alcohol at hazardous or harmful levels prior to incarceration. Over half reported a history of injecting drug use and 45% tested antibody positive for hepatitis C.

Indigenous people are incarcerated at over 14 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians, a large proportion for offences against good order and property crimes. A moment's reflection should lead us to ask why the disadvantaged and powerless - particularly indigenous people - are so over represented in our prison system and why that trend is worsening?

From the viewpoint of community safety, one of the explicit objectives of "law and order" policy, there is substantial evidence, here and elsewhere, that prison, rather than reducing the chance of re-offending, actually makes it more likely. Conversely, community based sentences result in lower re-conviction rates. A review by the Canadian Solicitor General's office of 111 studies which looked at the relationship between various punishments and repeat offending concluded that "harsher criminal justice sanctions had no deterrent effects on recidivism" and that "compared to community sanctions, imprisonment was associated with an increase in recidivism.' Furthermore, the longer the sentence, the more likely was the prisoner to re-offend. He concluded that "criminal justice policies that are based on the belief that "getting tough" on crime will reduce recidivism are without empirical support."23 Furthermore, he found that there was evidence that the lower risk offenders were the most adversely affected by the prison experience.

What makes our obsession with prison sentences even more worrying is that we cannot be sure that those convicted are really guilty as charged. The system can get it wrong and, even when people are acquitted, they will have been forced to spend large sums to obtain what legal representation they had. They will not be reimbursed. For many, the law can be financially ruinous, for others it means they will be unrepresented or unable to afford representation which is commensurate with that mounted by the Crown.

I think most Australians would actually be shocked to learn just how often people face prosecution and conviction without any competent legal representation. Yet this is an increasingly common feature of our justice system and it is clear that reductions in legal aid are a major cause of the increase. There is mounting evidence that more people are being forced to represent themselves in criminal cases, particularly in the Magistrates Courts. Research shows that it is almost impossible to obtain legal aid for summary trials and that there is no incentive for (legal) practitioners to take on such cases pro bono (without charge).

In criminal trials people have no choice but to appear and those who are forced to represent themselves are at a great disadvantage, not least because they are unfamiliar with important aspects of the criminal justice system and may underestimate the consequences of failing to comply with directives from the court. Unrepresented defendants are unlikely to have an adequate understanding of the law in relation to their case and may not be able to judge what evidence they should put before the court. Furthermore, they may include irrelevant material in their submissions and may lack the necessary objectivity to frame a proper defence. It is almost inevitable that they will lack the requisite skill to ask the right questions and avoid those which are potentially damaging to their case.

All of these shortcomings may irritate the court and will almost certainly lengthen and increase the cost of proceedings. Such defendants almost certainly lack familiarity with the sentencing options available, with consequent disadvantage. A person without legal council also runs the risk of a prejudicial response from a jury - it looks like you can't find a lawyer who believes you.

Legal aid was supposed to prevent such injustices. As a result of successive funding cuts and changes to eligibility criteria, there are now growing concerns that only the well-off or those in a position to liquidate all of their assets can afford justice. That this appears to excite very little comment, is in part due to the predictable accompaniment to the "law and order" chant: the implicit assumption that those charged are inevitably guilty. Due process, legal aid, "not guilty" verdicts and sentences which take account of mitigating circumstances are seen as "mollycoddling" the criminals.

The Senate has tracked changes to legal aid and the consequences of these changes over several years and has charged the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee with the task of examining the current state of legal aid and access to justice. When the deadline for submissions to their last inquiry expired, 96 written submissions had been received, most expressing serious alarm at the deterioration in citizens' access to justice.

In its submission, the Law Council of Australia expressed the view that "access and equality before the law is critical to the effective operation of the rule of law and the stability of Australian society" and that "there is insufficient funding available to meet community needs."


We all need to have a change of heart about the fairness of our criminal justice system, the horrors of prison life and the real costs of incarcerating people for non-violent crimes. We need to revisit these questions and urge our legislators to adopt policies which are based on evidence about what works and will really make us safer.

We should challenge those who retail fear for their own profit and advantage, closely scrutinising their claims and assertions. Living with unnecessary fear has consequences - it stops us taking a stroll in our own neighbourhoods or letting our kids ride their bikes to school; it leads elderly people to lock themselves in their homes and draw their blinds against prying eyes.

As McCulloch has warned, "once the law and order genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put back." It's time we tried.


[1] Altheide, D.L. (2003). Notes Towards a Politics of Fear, Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media 1 (1), 37-54, p 37.

[2] Ibid, p 38.

[3] Ferraro, K. (1995) Fear of Crime: Interpreting Victimization Risk, Albany, NY, State University Press.

[4] Roberts, J.V., Stalans, L.J., Indermaur, D and Hough, M. (2003) Penal Populism and Public Opinion: Lessons from Five Countries, Oxford University Press.

[5] Mc Culloch, J. (2004) National (In)security politics in Australia: fear and the federal election. Alternative Law Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 87-91, p 3.

[6] Galbraith, J. K. (1998) Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay, New York: The Free Press.

[7] Lowi, T.J (1998). Think locally, lose globally. Boston Review, April/May.

[8] Gray, J. (1998) False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, p 116.

[9] Roberts et al, op cit, p 4.

[10] McCulloch, op cit, p 2.

[11] Indermaur in Roberts et al, op cit, p 54-55.

[12] Weatherburn, D., Matka, L. & Lind, B. (1996) Crime perception and reality: Public perceptions and the risk of victimisation in Australia, Crime and Justice Bulletin, no 28, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics.

[13] Weatherburn, D. & Indermaur, D. (2004) Public perceptions of crime trends in New South Wales and Western Australia, Crime and Justice Bulletin, no 80, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics.

[14] Scaring up the Votes, Sydney Morning Herald, January 27, 2003.

[15] Report of the inquiry into crime in the community: victims, offenders, and fear of crime, August, 2004, House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

[16] Carcach, C and Grant, A. (1999) Imprisonment in Australia: Trends in Prison populations and Imprisonment Rates, 1982-1998. Australian Institute of Criminology, Trends and Issues, No 130.

[17] Measuring Australia's Progress 2002, The supplementary commentaries. Crime: Looking more closely. Australian Bureau of Statistics.

[18] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4510.0 Recorded Crime, Australia, May2002.

[19] Roberts et al, op cit.

[20] Blumstein, A. & Beck, A.J. (1999) Population growth in U.S. prisons, 1980-1996." In Tonry, M. & J. Petersilia eds., Crime and justice- A review of research, Volume 26, Prisons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp 17-61.

[21] Young, W., & M. Brown (1993) Cross-national comparisons of imprisonment. In M. Tonry, ed., Crime and justice: A review of the research. Vol 17, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[22] Vinson, A. (1999) Unequal in Life, Jesuit Social Services.