In Focus: Evidence busts myth of exposing young people to prison

This article appears in the April 2014 edition of the College newsletter.

​For years, people around the world have believed that, if you show young people at risk what prison is like, you can stop them from committing crime. 

Now, the evidence has been reviewed and actually shows the opposite to be true: on average, these initiatives actually increase the likelihood of young people offending.

This example shows why it's impossible to overstate the value of good evidence and data - they help us to prevent harm and target resources where they will have the greatest possible impact.

Building the evidence base for what we do in policing is at the heart of the College of Policing's mission. We want every single police officer and member of staff to have access to the latest research to help cut crime and keep people safe.

For example, knowing that having a police car parked in a crime hotspot for longer than 15 minutes gives diminishing returns means officers can be freed up to tackle crime elsewhere.

This is exactly the type of research the College is responsible for generating as the host of the government's What Works Centre for Crime Reduction.

Together with academics led by University College London, we're reviewing the best available evidence on cost and effectiveness of interventions to share knowledge of the best ways to reduce crime.

Working with academics to develop and review research is important, but it's even more critical to get the people who use it - police officers and staff - involved. Engaging people in policing in doing research will mean they're more likely to use it and, collectively, we'll build a library of "what works" for everyone.

The College recently hosted an "Evidence Base Camp" for 50 police officers and staff members, who reviewed 5,600 individual studies in areas such as preventing or reducing theft from the person and responding to prostitution. We are already considering ways to link advancement in policing to a person's contribution to building the evidence base. Evidence Base Camp was just the start. If we involve everyone in policing in building the evidence base, we will have access to increasing quality and quantity of research, much like professionals working in healthcare or education.

Research has huge potential to help us deliver policing more effectively. The challenge for the College, and for all of us in policing, is to put the knowledge we have available to work so that we're the most effective police service we can be in our mission to reduce crime and keep the public safe.

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