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Murderers, their victims and drug & alcohol treatment
New linked data sets explore the use of substance misuse services by victims and suspects of homicide.

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Better Outcomes through Linked Data

The Ministry of Justice might be a department under pressure with all three of its main areas of responsibility – prison, probation and courts – struggling. But one area where the MoJ continues to excel is in its commitment to making more and more information available to the public. Last week (28 March 2024), the MoJ published a new report: “Drug and alcohol treatment for victims and suspects of homicide: report“. It presents the results of the first data linkage between the Home Office Homicide Index (HI) and the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS), which is owned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). DHSC’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) carried out this linkage as a proof of concept and to better understand the relationship between homicide and substance misuse treatment. (In English law, the offence of homicide is an act resulting in the death of another person. It includes murder and manslaughter.)

The data linkage explores the use of substance misuse services by victims and suspects of homicide and the MoJ hopes that its  findings will contribute to part of the evidence base for homicide prevention policy.

The report is official statistics in development and is part of the Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD) cross-government programme led by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

The NDTMS extract extended to March 2022, a year beyond the HI extract, to enable analysis of suspects after the homicide.

Methodology

Between April 2019 and March 2021, there were 1,245 homicide victims and 789 suspects recorded in the HI. Between August 2018 and March 2022, NDTMS had records of 442,242 people in community treatment and 53,482 people receiving treatment in secure settings, using standard NDTMS methodology to identify an individual person.

The analysts linked the HI extract covering the period April 2019 to March 2021 to the NDTMS extract covering the period August 2018 to March 2022 using deterministic and probabilistic methods. This identified 36 victims and 90 suspects of homicides occurring between April 2019 and March 2021 who had at least one treatment record between August 2018 and March 2022. 

Findings

The headline conclusion was that 3% victims and 11% suspects had a treatment record.

There were 118 homicide incidents in which a victim or suspect was identified as having at least one treatment record for either drugs or alcohol. This corresponds to 10% (8% to 12%, 95% CI) of all homicide incidents in the HI for the period of the analysis. The number of homicide incidents is lower than the number of individuals because some homicide incidents involved multiple victims or suspects that were identified with a treatment record.

Most suspects (68% of those with a treatment record) had a treatment record only after the homicide, most of which was for treatment in prison.

Almost two-thirds (62% of those with a treatment record) of all suspects in the HI were involved with a homicide that was recorded as drug-related. For suspects with a treatment record, this proportion was 80%.

When compared to the overall population in treatment, both victims and suspects were less likely to be in treatment for opiates. Most suspects in treatment after the homicide (68% of those with a treatment record) were in treatment for alcohol and non-opiates or non-opiates only.

Limitations

This is very much a first attempt, more designed to prove the feasibility of linking these data sets rather than to produce results which might generate new policy or practice. The linkage rate (the proportion of people in the HI that were matched to NDTMS data) is likely to be an underestimate where insufficient or conflicting data meant links could not be found. The findings will, of course, not include people who have substance misuse problems but have not accessed treatment in this period or ever.

This suspicion is underlined by existing information on whether homicides are drug-related.

The HI includes information on all homicides, including whether they were drug-related. The Home Office’s definition of a drug-related homicide includes any case where the police believe the victim or suspect:

  • was an illegal drug user or dealer
  • had taken a drug
  • had motive to obtain drugs or steal drug proceeds

It also includes cases which were otherwise marked as drug-related.

The proportion of homicides in England and Wales that have involved drug users or dealers, or have been related to drugs in any way, has increased over the last decade. They rose from 43% in the year ending March 2012, to 52% in the year ending March 2022. Figures for England only are not available.

From April 2021 to March 2022 there were 360 homicides that were thought to involve drug users or dealers or were in some way drug-related. This was 58 more than the previous year and the highest number since the Home Office began collecting this information in the year April 2007 to March 2008.

Correlations

Nevertheless, there is useful detailed NDTMS information on the sociodemographic and clinical profile of victims and suspects engaged in treatment including:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Substance Group
  • Injecting status
  • Referral source
  • Accommodation status and 
  • Employment status.

The HI records information about the following categories for the principal suspect only:

  • relationship to victim
  • mental state of suspect
  • domestic homicide

This report explores these factors for the 73 principal suspects recorded who had a treatment record in NDTMS. This analysis (albeit of small numbers) found that a greater proportion of those in treatment were friends or acquaintances with the victim than other principal suspects in the HI (44% compared with 27%).

In terms of “apparent homicide methods”, those with a treatment record had a greater proportion where the homicide method was hitting or kicking (26% compared to 17%) or blunt instruments (13% compared to 7%).

Conclusion

This report is part of the broader BOLD initiative; there are 4 main BOLD demonstrator pilots which are focused on:

  1. reducing homelessness (led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)
  2. supporting victims of crime (led by MOJ)
  3. reducing reoffending (led by MOJ)
  4. substance misuse (led in England by OHID and in Wales by Public Health Wales)

I hope to share the results of these pilots via the blog in the future.

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