THE North East could be sitting on a ticking crime bomb in the aftermath of the recession, according to two leading academics.
Senior lecturers at Northumbria University, Dr Steve Hall and Dr Craig McLean, are warning that murder and manslaughter rates might rise in some of the region’s disadvantaged areas if the recession is accompanied by spending cuts – causing high unemployment and rising crime.
Their groundbreaking research is based on comparisons of the homicide rates and the political economies of America and Western Europe.
Disturbingly, they found that in economically disadvantaged areas, murder is most often committed while an offender is carrying out a financially-motivated crime.
Their research article has been published in a top international journal, Theoretical Criminology.
Dr Hall, a leading criminologist, suggests that the violent crime rate in some parts of the North East could rise as some individuals become more desperate under the present economic conditions and make a crime a career.
The authors found that countries with economies like the USA, where the credit crunch has led to bankruptcies and soaring unemployment, generate conditions that increase rates of homicides.
Dr Hall said: “When the economy goes on the blink more economic crime occurs. In America over 90% of homicides are committed in the course of committing economic crimes.
“In Britain, after reducing the crime rate in the 1990s in the wake the ‘crime explosion’ of the 1980s, we are seeing economic crimes such as drug-dealing, burglary, fraud and robbery slowly rising again in the recession. In the USA the homicide rate rose alarmingly through the economic disruption of the 1980s to a historically high level in 1993.
“It was reduced in the 1990s but only by imprisoning over 2.3 million adults, that’s one in every 100, and putting another five million on parole or probation; in total one in every 30 adults under the supervision of the criminal justice system – quite incredible.
“Despite similar economic problems, in Western Europe the homicide rates and economic crime rates remained low throughout the 20th Century. So there is something about American society that creates high crime and murder rates when the economy is in difficulty.
“Britain has managed to maintain a lower homicide rate than the USA, but it has tripled since its historical low point in the 1950s, and we now have the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe. So, slowly, we are moving in the American direction.”
The research was conducted as part of a long-term study of criminal communities in the North East.
Dr McLean, who researches and lectures in European politics, said: “This was a pilot study and we would very much like to look at some of the issues in a greater depth now because the data is extremely worrying.
“We are living through a time where both of the main political parties in Britain are arguing that public spending must be cut, but both have been sketchy on how this will be accomplished. Nevertheless, there have been suggestions that savings might be achieved by pruning the welfare state.
“If Britain takes a leaf out of anyone’s book on how to handle the economy and keep homicide rates low without putting one in a 100 adults in prison and one in 30 in the criminal justice system, it should be Western Europe’s, not the USA’s.”