Prof. Erin Gibbs Van Brunschot of the University of Calgary’s Department of Sociology came in to give a presentation about her work in spatiotemporal tracking of high-risk offenders. Van Brunschot’s primary interest is in risk and how offenders and victims interact to produce the situations of crime, and her work revolved around analyses of data from a study on the GPS monitoring of high-risk offenders. Lacking the ethics approval required to actually talk to the offenders themselves, Van Brunschot was limited to using police data only.
Prof. Erin Gibbs Van Brunschot of the University of Calgary’s Department of Sociology came in to give a presentation about her work in spatiotemporal tracking of high-risk offenders.
Van Brunschot’s primary interest is in risk and how offenders
and victims interact to produce the situations of crime, and her
work revolved around analyses of data from a study on the GPS
monitoring of high-risk offenders. Lacking the ethics approval
required to actually talk to the offenders themselves, Van Brunschot
was limited to using police data only. She began her talk by
describing (for the non-sociologists in the room) the notions of:
birth cohort, or people grouped by the year they were born in; age,
or people grouped by their level of maturational and biological
development; and period, or people grouped by the historical
circumstances in which they lived (e.g., the Cold War period). In
addition, she defined
the spatial/geographical features that encourage or discourage
Her interest piqued by Rachlis et al.’s 2008 paper on
drug users and
risk environments, which found that those needle users who moved away from
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—an
epicentre of criminogenic activity—had reduced levels
of HIV transmission but increased involvement in other risk
activities, Van Brunschot posed her question:
are there particular times or locations that predict different
criminogenic outcomes that other times and locations?
High-risk, in this context, referred to those individuals subject to additional monitoring or otherwise considered a risk to the community. Some had never been charged with a crime, but had been referred to police by the likes of doctors, social workers, etc. Ultimately, Van Brunschot’s $ n $ was 409, with the aforementioned variation in the precise levels of high-riskiness. 85 of the 409 were formally considered high-risk, the mean age was 46.2 years and the age range was 19–89 years. Criminal careers varied in length from 0–56 years.
Van Brunschot tracked
conviction events, which she considered
to be each instance in which an offender went before a judge,
regardless of the number of charges laid against them. These charges
were categorised as either: violent offences; sexual offences;
property offences; driving offences; weapons offences; and
administrative/other offences. When multiple charges were presented,
the conviction event was categorised in line with the most severe
charge. Van Brunschot’s dataset ultimately comprised 5,452
conviction events, or 13,690 charges, with a mean of 13.3 conviction
events per offenders.
Examining the breakdown of offences for different cohorts
(normalised to the first 30 years of each criminal career), Van
Brunschot found that whilst almost half of 1950s births’
crimes were property crimes and 11.6 % were violent, by the 1970s
births the numbers were 35 % and 28 %. The obvious conclusion was
that each decade was increasingly violent, but Van Brunschot was
quick to point out that sociology is primarily concerned with
looking into the non-obvious conclusions and so we should not stop
at this. With our
sociological thinking caps on, we should
maybe, maybe not.
Another major finding of her study was the growing proportion of
administrative/other crimes an offender could look forward to as
they aged—from 17.2 % for 20-year-olds to 30 % for
40-year-olds. From this, we can see that the criminal justice system
becomes an increasingly difficult mire to extricate oneself from the
deeper into it one finds themselves. She also demonstrated a
path of destruction graphic that plotted Calgarian high-risk
offenders’ conviction events onto a map of Canada at five-year
Van Brunschot then addressed the many methodological deficiencies of
the study. For the
path of destruction visualisation, she
pointed out that a conviction event at a given location does not
necessarily mean that the offence took place there. When
demonstrating her results when comparing Calgarian and Edmontonian
high-risk offenders, she repeatedly pointed out that her $ n $ here
was far smaller (29 Edmontonians, and around 89 Calgarians).
Ultimately, she concluded that offending profiles seem to vary by cohort, age, period and location, but that the limited controls available meant that any such results should be taken with a pinch of salt. She demonstrated limited support for Rachlis et al.’s idea of risk environments, and that most older offenders were primarily tied up in administrative charges relating to their youthful offending—hardly the ideal conditions to promote non-recidivism.