Early interventions could reduce violent crime

23 April 2019

Interventions involving multiple agencies may be effective in reducing violent crime, according to a new POSTnote briefing co-authored by Nuffield Foundation Flowers Fellow, Francesca Boyd.

Published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the research finds that violent crime involving knives and sharp instruments has increased since 2014 in England and Wales, disproportionately in metropolitan areas such as London and the cites in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Individual and environmental factors can make a person more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of violent crime. Similar risk factors can make a person more likely to be involved in violent crime as either a victim or a perpetrator, and an individual can be both simultaneously. For example, children and young people can be groomed, tracked and threatened into carrying out offenses on behalf of gangs. 

Individual risk factors include negative experiences at home, school exclusion and mental health issues. Environmental risk factors include deprivation and poor relations between the community and the police. 

The research finds that early interventions may be effective in reducing violent crime. The POSTnote presents evidence on the effectiveness of early interventions including: 

  • Support for families or individuals to prevent adverse childhood experiences.
  • Population-wide interventions involving multiple agencies.

The researchers explain that early interventions are difficult to evaluate because there are no standard evaluation measures, there are a range of contributory factors which lead to violent crime, and assessing the long-term effects of interventions requires multiple follow-ups over many years. 

The Flowers Fellowship is a three-month placement for PhD students at the POST. The opportunity is funded by the Nuffield Foundation in memory of its late chair, Lord Flowers of Queen's Gate who played a key role in the establishment of POST. 

Nuffield Foundation Flowers Fellow, Francesca Boyd reflects on her POST placement:

When I started my PhD in 2016 researching urban nature, well-being and young adults at the University of Sheffield, not for a moment did I think I’d spend time walking through the Palace of Westminster, watching Brexit debates and interviewing experts on gangs. And as I sit at my desk over-looking the rooftops of central London I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.

The Nuffield Foundation Flowers Fellowship funds a three-month placement at the POST. Each fellow produces a research brief on a current and specific topic, mine is titled Early interventions to reduce violent crime. It outlines types and prevalence of violent crime, describes associated risk factors for involvement, and presents evidence on the effectiveness of early interventions to counter these risk factors and prevent violent crime. Other fellows in my cohort have been writing briefings on a wide range of topics including: soil microbes, the use of civilian drones and advancements in cancer treatment.

The placement gives PhD students an opportunity to get stuck into a new politically hot topic. Through interviewing experts in academia, industry, government and the third sector, reviewing key literature, drafting, reviewing and redrafting, it is possible to create an unbiased and informative four page brief. This brief is publicly available and sent to members of the House of Commons and Lords. It is one of many ways that academic research reaches parliamentarians. POSTnotes paint an insight on a topic, with the background being current legislation, a foreground of incoming policy and a technical balance of academic and industry research. As the one creating it, there’s a skill to understanding the arguments behind contentious points and using accessible language without hindering the context.

I have loved my time in Parliament. The POST team and the Nuffield Foundation made the daunting task of moving to a new city and starting a new role enjoyable. I have only got lost once in the House of Lords and twice on the tube! I have given a tour of Parliament to international conference delegates and I have met a wonderful group of fellow PhD students from across the country.  Thanks to this fellowship I have no doubt that when I finish my PhD this year I will take an evidence-led approach into whatever I do next - hopefully in a place as fascinating as Westminster.