Youth crime falls as kids stay inside to play Grand Theft Auto instead of going out to steal cars

Crime rates in the Australian State of New South Wales have dropped markedly in recent years and researchers think technology might be a big reason why. So says an Australian Institute of Criminology study (PDF) titled “Where have all the young offenders gone? Examining changes in offending between two New South Wales (NSW) birth cohorts” published last week in Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice . The study notes that NSW “is currently in the midst of the largest and longest decline in crime on record”. In an attempt to explain that dip the authors looked at offenders by age and found that “ Comparisons between two cohorts [ one of people born in 1984 and another born in 1994] showed that, by age 21, the proportion of the population that had come into contact with the criminal justice system had halved (–49 per cent), with the largest declines in vehicle theft (–59 per cent), other property theft (–59 per cent) and drink-driving (–49 per cent).” The study concludes that technology might be responsible for the dip in a few ways, one of which is that kids today know that they’re under constant video surveillance, understand that property crime is therefore likely to be observed and therefore decide the risk of detection is too high to make crime worth the effort. Technology has also made products more secure: it’s just harder to steal a car these days. The authors also suggest that kids these days are more likely to be at home, rather than on the streets where the opportunity for crime is higher. The changing nature of routine activities among young people may also help to explain why the prevalence of offending has declined for such a large proportion of the population,” they wrote. “There is little doubt that the routine activities of young people have changed, with less time spent in unsupervised circumstances in which opportunistic offending may be more attractive, such as ‘hanging out’ on the streets with like-minded peers.” “Increased opportunities for home entertainment through the internet may have increased the prevalence of virtual interactions that limit or undermine opportunities for traditional forms of crime”. Society’s not getting off easy, however, as the authors note that kids at home have “opportunities for new forms of crime to emerge which are less easily detected.” “As we enter the digital age, those native to social media and online social networking may explore antisocial and criminal behaviours online which at present attract far less scrutiny from parents and authorities.” “Perhaps the significant declines seen in these data, and indeed the crime decline more generally, are the consequence of displacement to other forms of antisocial conduct that for now remain hidden from official statistics.” The study’s also optimistic that as crime rates fall, youth just aren’t exposed to property crimes and therefore don’t see it as an option to consider. The authors also note numerous schemes to work with at-risk youth may have worked. They conclude that “displacement of crime and antisocial conduct into the online environment is a real phenomenon, contiguous with the broader social transformation underway. This displacement need not always produce adverse outcomes. For example, if typical once-only and adolescent-limited offenders’ online antisocial behaviours have replaced more serious forms of juvenile offending this may be preferable to traditional offending.” ®