Research Report

A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Asset-Focussed Interventions against Organised Crime



Atkinson C, Mackenzie S & Hamilton-Smith N (2017) A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Asset-Focussed Interventions against Organised Crime. Economic and Social Research Council. What Works: Crime Reduction Systematic Review Series, 9. Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research.

Organised crime is a pernicious problem in many contemporary societies. Asset-focussed interventions have been deployed with increasing frequency in a range of jurisdictions to tackle this problem; however, the effectiveness of such interventions in reducing organised crime remains unclear. This systematic review seeks to identify and interrogate the evidence base on asset-focussed interventions against organised crime, and in doing so address the question of the effectiveness of such interventions.  The results presented in this review will show that the practical effectiveness of assetfocussed interventions remains unclear. There is a paucity of evidence from primary evaluations on which to provide an assessment of the outcomes of asset-focussed interventions. Despite this, there has been widespread adoption of such policies and practices, based on implicit assumptions about why and how they are expected to ‘work’. We use a systematic framework of analysis in this review to identify and examine the various theoretical rationales which support these quite widespread assumptions of effectiveness. These theoretical perspectives do not, in fact, always offer the kind of unequivocal support that advocates of asset-focussed interventions against organised crime would hope for. For example, deterrence through both the threat and reality of financial ‘punishment’ is a primary mechanism through which asset-focussed interventions are justified and expected to work, but its underlying principles have been subject to critique in this field, as in others.  This review points not only to the gaps in the current evidence-base on asset-focussed interventions – such as any known effect size, whether the theoretical rationale for such approaches is supported by evidence, and the precise cost-effectiveness of deploying such tactics – but also to the areas in which knowledge has been generated: from the causal mechanism that is purported to underpin the approach, to the contextual and practical factors that support successful implementation. Overall, we highlight the lack of evidence in support of the effectiveness of asset-focussed interventions in reducing organised crime. This is not to say definitively that these interventions are ineffective in reducing organised crime, but rather to point out that in terms of the available evidence on cause and effect, it is not possible to identify whether they are or are not effective.  The evidence base for judging the effectiveness of asset-focussed interventions is weak, but the moral imperative upon which such approaches rest remains attractive, defensible and popular in the current climate. Given this strong populist foundation, therefore, assetfocussed interventions are likely to remain a key tactic used by law enforcement and policing agencies against organised crime, irrespective of any firm foundation of evidence to suggest that they can be truly said to ‘work’. This area is therefore germane for future research in conjunction with policing and law enforcement agencies.

Title of seriesWhat Works: Crime Reduction Systematic Review Series
Number in series9
Publication date30/04/2017
PublisherScottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
Publisher URL…nised-crime.aspx

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Dr Niall Hamilton-Smith

Dr Niall Hamilton-Smith

Associate Professor, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology