The most common recurring factor in crime is alcohol consumption. According to a report by the British Crime Survey, in 2007- 2008 over a million crimes involved the use of alcohol (Directgov.uk, 2010). Such crimes are described as 'alcohol-related'. Alcohol-related crime may be divided into two categories. The first being offences involving a deliberate abuse of alcohol and related legislation such as, drunk driving, public disorder and other violations including illegal sale of alcoholic products in an unlicensed premises or sale of alcohol to minors. The second consists of crimes where the consumption of alcohol by the offender is believed to have had a significant, if not causal, influence over the offender's actions. The offender is seen to have been acting 'under the influence' of alcohol at the time of committing the crime. This category includes offences ranging from criminal damage to murder (IAS 2009).
So while there seems to be no doubt as to the existence of a link between alcohol and crime. The problem however, is determining the exact nature of such link. This is so because some research has suggested that the association between these variables usually relies heavily on a third variable; usually a set of social circumstances or independent activities that are peculiar to the offender. It thus becomes prudent to employ caution in trying to determine the link between alcohol consumption and crime as just because an offender has consumed alcohol before committing a crime, does not mean that it can be firmly concluded that alcohol is directly related to crime, it may be the result of some other unknown element. However, if a causal link is established, it would give better insight into how alcohol control can be used to lower crime rate.
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This research attempts to find answers to 2 main research questions:
How significant is alcohol to crime?
Have government policies and alcohol legislation aided in the reduction of alcohol related crime over the years?
The methodology includes a review of already existing key literature, description of the methods used in conducting the primary research, analysis and commentary on findings and will end with conclusions drawn from the data and possible recommendations.
General Opinion: Alcohol and Crime
More people believe there is a certain causal link between alcohol and crime and this is shown when any sort of anti-social behaviour is exhibited after alcohol has been consumed. The blame is immediately placed on the consumption of alcohol, and the offender would most likely be described as acting under the influence. The opinion is similar when a crime is committed by a person who has consumed alcohol (Collins, 1981). Light (1994) further added that these assumptions of a 'sure' link between alcohol and crime are readily created and accepted because they seem logical and give quick answers.
One popular researcher method is the comparison of official crime statistics with alcohol consumption rates (Pernanem, 1981). The outcome of this method shows a correlation between the increase in alcohol consumption and an appreciation in recorded criminal offences relating to violence. Inversely, a study in areas with reduced alcohol supply showed a lower level of social interaction, thereby resulting in a lower risk of interpersonal crime e.g. assault (Field, 1990). Thus leading to the theory that control of social interaction, through the manipulation of alcohol availability, would invariably lead to a drop in crime rates. There is little doubt that reports of this nature would have, in no small measure, informed government initiatives towards crime reduction via alcohol regulations.
The Licensing Act of 2003 was introduced in November 2005 and one of its main objectives was the prevention of crime and disorder. The Act was designed to give some flexibility to the otherwise strict system already in place which presented a two pronged problem. The first was heavy drinking caused by prescribed closing times across the nation which resulted in many people drinking as much as they could, while they could (in most cases leading to drunkenness) and the second was managing a large number of people, who had been consuming alcohol, being simultaneously 'ejected' onto the streets all over the country.
A study carried out shortly after the Act was implemented, surveyed 30 police forces including a case study of 5 cities, showed very subtle changes in crime rate, thereby suggesting the Act had little or no impact on crime (Hough et al 2008). This may have been because the law was relatively new during the period under review, and proper implementation measures had not been fine tuned. A significant reduction in the crime rate following the implementation of the Act may have served as further indication of a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and crime.
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Collins (1981) asserts that evidence suggesting a causal link is usually of a contradictory nature and not very persuasive as the presence of alcohol in the commission of a crime may at best be explained as 'contributory' or a 'determinant' to the crime and should not be asserted as the cause. In support of this, Dingwall (2006) submits that the contemplation of a purported 'link' is far more complicated than it seems, as these conclusions are mostly based on hypotheses that cannot be proven by evidence. He argues further, that while there is no scarcity of research on this subject, the available material is laden with faulty methodology and is restricted in scope. Greenberg (1981) emphasised the vague and sometimes inadequate definitions of alcohol and crime and also asserted that the precise nature of the relationship to be tested between both variables was not specified. Field (1990) emphasised that alcohol consumption required the involvement of a third variable, (usually peculiar to the offender) before it can be translated into crime.
In further criticism of existing research claiming a causal link, Roizen (1997) pointed out that the available research, collated and utilised empirical data using the 'event-based' methodology i.e. statistical surveys of perpetrators or victims of alcohol related crimes. The critical flaw in these methods is the absence of a comparison group against which normally expected behaviour as against alcohol related or induced behaviour can be tested. Surely the results of such comparison would go a long way is further defining the actual correlation between alcohol and crime. However, the challenge with finding such an appropriate group lies with the practical impossibility of measuring or replicating intentional behaviour. Phillips et al (2007) sought to use this reasoning to cure the defect in earlier research by employing a 'match-pair' research design which they claimed made it possible to achieve an appropriate comparison group.
Alcohol and Violence
This recognised flaw in previous methodology also led to testing the correlation between alcohol and violence. The reasoning behind this was that research had constantly shown that the consumption of alcohol is associated with increased levels of aggression and was usually present in a very significant percentage of violent events, almost all of which, led to crime (Pernanem, 1991). According to Fagan and Wilkinson (1998), the consumption of alcohol leads to illusions of strength and toughness which may translate to an increased risk of violence and inevitably, crime. This is the same line of thinking utilised by Graham and Holman (2008) when they posited that alcohol consumption has a high probability of being a factor in impromptu or spontaneous violence as is frequently seen in pubs or clubs and, people who consume alcohol are more likely to exhibit violent behaviour (Felson, 2007). It is noteworthy to critically examine the relationship between alcohol and aggressive or violent behaviour (Benton and Holloway, 2005).
Despite disagreements on if alcohol can rightly be termed a causal factor, or if it is simply a contributory factor, there is an established statistical relationship between alcohol and crime which is too significant to be ignored or termed coincidental. Both sides of the issue have been very keenly debated and researched, making it even more difficult to adopt a position, but without a clear definition of the parameters within which these variables are measured, it becomes arguable that alcohol can actually even prevent crime, as a would-be offender may become too inebriated to commit any crime that he otherwise may have.
Data was obtained by first of all conducting qualitative primary research to ascertain people's understanding and opinions on alcohol related crime, how they have been affected by it and what impact they think the various government policies and current alcohol legislation have made on crime rate so far. This was done using a prepared questionnaire. However, due to the sensitive nature of the issues being researched and to further ensure accuracy of responses, the questionnaire was not administered face to face but was in most cases given to the respondents and collected at a later time.
The questionnaire consisted of a total of 14 questions which incorporated a mixture of both open and closed questions. Some closed questions had multiple choice answers each representing a set value on a scale of 1-5. This was done to give the respondents a better choice of responses and also make the participants less uncomfortable and more cooperative.
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Q. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
A. Every day; 3-5 times a week; once a week; weekends; special occasions only.
(A draft questionnaire is attached as Appendix A).
A pilot questionnaire was administered on 3 respondents who gave useful feedback by explaining the challenges they had with answering particular questions either due to vagueness of the question itself or not properly understanding the instructions given. Subsequent adjustments were then made to produce the final questionnaires. Further quantitative research were conducted which involved reviewing statistical data from government websites and other credible sources e.g. Institute for Alcohol Studies to determine the general crime trend over the years and the impact, if any, of alcohol legislation.
This research is based on opinions on a general social issue but with a focus on the Liverpool city area thus the target population was essentially anyone who resided in the Liverpool city area and who was most likely to be knowledgeable enough about alcohol related behaviour and the crime rate in the city of Liverpool. The sampling frame contained 30 participants, but with no particular preference regarding gender or race. The purposive sampling method was employed in the Liverpool International College for the first 15 participants by approaching mainly staff of the college and the quota sampling method was used around the city centre to achieve the remainder.
Of the 30 respondents sampled, 14 were female and 16 were male. All respondents were of adult age with 9 of them being within the ages of 18 - 25, 8 were between the ages of 26 - 35, 6 were between 36 - 45 and the rest were above 46.
All respondents were approached directly, the purpose of the research was explained to them and confirmation of their residency and age was obtained before the questionnaire was administered. Generally, there were minimal difficulties in obtaining responses as people appeared quite interested in the research subject and seemed to cooperate more out of intrigue and curiosity. Only three prospective respondents refused to participate as one of them claimed to be in a hurry and two others indicated that they were late for respective appointments. The respondents, who did cooperate, answered all questions.
All respondents were asked for their consent before participation. Confidentiality and anonymity were guaranteed in the cover letter accompanying the questionnaire and also personally by the researcher as some required information may have been of a sensitive or personal nature to the respondents. The researcher also considered respect for feelings of the respondents so as not to cause undue embarrassment or bring back any painful memories.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
This chapter deals with the major findings from the data and some discussions on the probable reasons for these trends and how they relate to the objectives of this research.
Link between alcohol and crime?
From the data obtained in the course of this research, an impressive 70% of respondents believed that there is most definitely a link between alcohol consumption and crime. 23% think there just may be a link and the remaining 7% do not know if a link exists. None of the respondents feels strongly enough to state there is no link between the two variables. These opinions are illustrated in the pie chart (fig. 1) below.
Figure - Respondents responses to whether there is a link between alcohol and crime
In an attempt to further test the respondents' understanding of the phrase, 'alcohol-related crime', they were asked in question 8 to explain the term. As expected, the answers all varied in articulation but, nevertheless mutually expressed the identification of alcohol related crime as 'crime committed whilst under the influence'. In most cases it was explained as crimes committed or magnified due to the consumption of alcohol. This idea tends to determine alcohol as having a causal effect over crime.
These findings may be related to the initial general assumption that alcohol consumption may lead to negative consequences. This trend may also be related to one of the research questions in affirming that alcohol is indeed quite significant to crime. Of the respondents sampled, approximately 7% do not consume alcohol, whilst over 90% of them do.
Effectiveness of legislation and government policy.
Another important issue to inquire into is the efficacy of alcohol legislation. According to different studies (as noted in the literature review chapter), and also in the preceding paragraph, there indeed exists a high statistical relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. It is therefore safe to assume that effective alcohol legislation is likely to make a positive impact on the level of alcohol related crime and the crime rate in general.
The respondents were asked in questions 9 and 10 to rate the level of alcohol related crime in Liverpool and also to comment on the efficacy or otherwise of existing legislation respectively. In response, approximately two -thirds of the respondents rated Liverpool high on alcohol related crime and just over 60% of respondents do not think that existing legislations and policies are effective enough to reduce alcohol related crime. This may be the case because Liverpool has a proliferation of bars, pubs and night clubs and is likely to have a higher exposure to alcohol related crime. This increased exposure would adversely affect public opinion on government policy and legislation as they would appear generally ineffective. Fig. 2 below graphically illustrates this finding.
Figure - Bar chart showing opinion of respondents on efficacy of existing legislation and government policy on alcohol control.
Respondents were also asked in question 11 if they felt there was room for improvement in efforts by the government. 66% of them answered in the affirmative and gave various suggestions for improvement which included, more awareness and better education of the public on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, more effective policing, monitoring and enforcement of existing laws, stiffer punishments for offenders e.g. illegal sale to minors, reduced licensing hours, increased support for people suffering from alcoholism and other drink disorders, increase age restrictions e.t.c.
The information obtained from the responses above, coupled with the information from the previous paragraph, may indicate a general lack of confidence in the government's current ability to tackle alcohol related crime via control of alcohol distribution and consumption. It is clear that while the majority of respondents feel that the governments' current methods are not very effective, they also clearly require improvements particularly in educating younger people on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and the introduction of stricter laws to deal with offenders who sell to minors. From this we may also infer that a large proportion of the anti-social behaviour which leads to crime is being perpetrated by young people who have been illegally exposed to alcohol.
The data is made even more credible as it has been obtained from respondents, a majority of whom have lived in the city of Liverpool for over 5 years and may be regarded as more knowledgeable of the social ills caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Fig. 3 below depicts this correlation.
Figure - Bar chart showing how long respondents have been resident in Liverpool
So far, the data obtained is in favour of a very high statistical correlation between alcohol and anti-social behaviour leading to crime and further alludes to a very high alcohol related crime rate in the city of Liverpool and the general ineffectiveness of existing legislation. However, when compared to the responses from question 6 which asked the respondents of the general feeling they had after consuming alcohol, the results produce an anomaly. While 66% of respondents stated they felt happy after consuming alcohol, only 10% admitted to having feelings of aggression after drinking which is an emotion more commonly associated with anti-social behaviour and crime. 40% had feelings of increased confidence and about 26% said they felt fatigue. These statistics do not seem to support the idea of a tendency to commit crime after drinking and might debunk the purported causal link between alcohol consumption and crime.
Secondly, in analysing the data from questions 12 - 14, while just under 50% claimed to have actually witnessed some form of alcohol related crime in the last 12 months, only 10% admitted to have fallen victim to it. This data may also go to negate the claim of a very high alcohol related crime rate if only 3 out of 30 people have been victims. On the other hand it is very possible that some respondents are ashamed, embarrassed or sceptical about admitting that they had been victims.
Limitations and Challenges
This research is however, not without its share of challenges and limitations. The major limitations of this research may be its inability to be generalised to a larger population as the research was specific to the city of Liverpool area and even at that, only targeted a relatively small area. The sample was a very small one owing to constraints of time and resources and may not accurately reflect the opinion or statistical trends of the general population.
Some of the challenges faced included lack of access to a wider database of alcohol related crime statistics which may have afforded better comparisons of the data, and most significantly, the perceived reluctance of respondents to give out sensitive information either regarding crimes they had witnessed or crimes they had been victims of.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In conclusion, it is safe to say that there is indeed a very significant relationship between alcohol consumption and anti-social behaviour leading to crime. Although we still cannot determine if this relationship is of a causal nature, we can at least identify a positive statistical correlation with incidences of crime which are alcohol related. The research has been able to identify and confirm the age-old assumption of a direct relationship between alcohol and crime and this assumption is generally based on popular opinion backed up by a very high percentage of crime in which alcohol was involved. We have also been able to show that most people express the same understanding of the term 'alcohol-related crime' to mean crime committed due to excessive consumption of alcohol which inhibits morality and caution which causes aggressive or violent behaviour leading in most cases to crime.
According to the data, alcohol-related crime in the city of Liverpool is perceived to be quite high and the existing legislation and government policy in tackling and reducing incidents of alcohol related crime via control of distribution and consumption of alcohol is generally ineffective or just not good enough.
The practical implications of this are that the government needs to step up its efforts in its fight against alcohol related crime with particular focus on minors. Secondly, the link between alcohol and crime is actually statistically evident and better alcohol legislation and control would go a long way in ensuring a significant reduction of crime rate.
It is recommended that further research be done in this area but such research may produce more effective results when targeting a small area e.g. City of Liverpool, as the residents of different areas have their own peculiarities and mannerisms largely moulded by the respective social settings. More awareness and education of youth on the dangers of binge drinking and socially unacceptable behaviour will also go a long way in developing a generation that will be more aware of these dangers and will imbibe the culture of moderation.