Lies, damned lies and crime statistics

If you’re reporting a story that does little more than regurgitate some press releases, you’d at least try not to make any errors in what you copied, no? Step forward the Adver which, in publishing a story based on a press release from Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board, has managed to misquote the figures from an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) press release.

The number of youths cautioned for criminal offences has grown 12 per cent in the last six years. The number convicted of a crime rose by three per cent since 2002.

What the IPPR figures actually stated was that the number of youths cautioned or convicted for criminal offences has grown 12 per cent in the last six years whereas for adults the rise is three per cent.

The Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board’s response to the IPPR report is to claim that the number of youths cautioned or convicted for criminal offences has decreased by 13 per cent in the last two years. In a later press release they go even further.

In the past three years we’ve seen a fall of nearly 40 per cent in the numbers of young people entering the youth justice system.

Well, that’s comforting isn’t it? No mention of detection rates or of the numbers of crimes being reported. As long as convictions are dropping, everything’s fine.

On the basis of the analysis done by the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board, we’d be far safer if the police were abolished, because then no children would be convicted or cautioned. And regardless of what has happened in the last two years, by the boards own measure, youth crime is 12 per cent higher than six years ago. Just two years of figures are hardly evidence of a downward trend.