It’s not the first time David has run his ruler over my ideas around crime and justice, but it’s the first time we’ve disagreed to such a degree.
Great stuff. Let’s start in prison.
On Monday the Minister said that there are 4,000 gang members in total and that gangs make up 28 percent of the prison population. That means more than one in four people in prison are gang members. Furthermore, it means that only 1,620 gang members are on the street (given a prison population of around 8,500). So more than half of all gang members are in prison.
Over to you, David, if you can find any credible source who says that is correct then I will cede the entire argument and say you and the Minister can increase my ability to see in the dark.
I spend a lot of time working in prisons and I spend a lot of time with gangs. The prisons are not so full of gang members and not a single gang I know has anywhere remotely close to half of its members inside. That statistic is bollocks. Let me repeat, the number is wrong – and wildly so.
I could just end it there, but let’s go on.
What the 28 percent prison number represents is gang members as well as gang associates in prison. This makes a massive difference. A few years back The Police Association said gangs and associates numbered 60,000. Associates are difficult. Am I an associate? Is a guy with a brother in the gang an associate? Associates are an arbitrary measure that can capture people not connected to a gang in any meaningful way. Therefore, if you are talking about gangs as ‘membership’ numbers or gangs as ‘members and associates’, then you are talking about very different things. That’s a 4,000 to 60,000 difference. While I think the latter should be avoided, you need to at the very least use one definition or the other and remain consistent. Apples with apples, as they say.
Inflating figures when it comes to gangs is hardly new. In 2009 the Police Association said that the methamphetamine trade was worth $1.5 billion a year, of which they estimated at least 75% was controlled by gangs. Given most gang members (accepting that many are neck deep in the black economy) are hand to mouth people, I wondered where the money was going. It didn’t seem possible, so I did some digging.
I turned to apprehension data compiled by the police and obtained by my lawyer. These statistics were arranged in three, rather ambiguous, categories: Drug (Cannabis Only), Drugs (New Drugs), and Drugs (Not Cannabis). In each of the three years from 2006 to 2008, drug dealing by gang affiliates, as measured by apprehensions for ‘possession for supply’, averaged 9.4 percent of total apprehensions for ‘cannabis only’, 11.5 percent for ‘new drugs’, and 7.6 percent for drugs ‘not cannabis’.
These data will surprise most people because they obviously don’t support the rhetoric of gang dominance of the drug trade. It was for this reason the statistics used by the Minister on Monday looked heavy.
At the time the above data were obtained I spoke to the National Statistics Manager at Police National Headquarters who told me that their data did not include whether or not apprehended persons were gang members as such, but only if the “persons apprehended are known to be affiliated in some way with a gang”, and therefore captured a significantly wider population than just gang members as well as a large degree of offending unrelated to gangs in any meaningful way.
The Minister has almost certainly relied on the police for her data. So unless the police have changed their policy and now take note of gang numbers (not including associates) then the figures are heavily misleading. We are not comparing apples with apples. We are not even comparing apples with pears. We are comparing apples with basketballs. It is fundamentally dishonest.
So, David, you have close links with the Minister. You were sent her data. You have used it to say that I am wrong. Ask her. Did she use membership numbers (a small number) to show how few gang members there are and then gangs and associates (a large number) to show a) how many were in prison and b) that they dominate certain crimes and c) why use arrest data and not conviction data – surely what can be proved rather than alleged is the key?
You continually say that the numbers ‘seem credible’ but that’s not enough, is it? Colin Craig thinks that it’s credible that we didn’t land on the moon. What we want is the truth.
I don’t expect you to eat a suitcase full of carrots when you discover I am right, although I promise I will certainly send you one. I would, however, like you to be honest. I believe that you are, and therefore I await your response.
I know I am safe on the prison numbers. They have without doubt been misrepresented. It is now just a matter of how much of the other information has been too.