Johnny Connolly Transcript
Published on 25th November 2011
Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode criminologist Johnny Connolly outlines current research and policy on the broad areas of crime and drugs, and also discusses crime statistics and recent trends in drug consumption. Recorded in front of a live audience in the Central Library on 8 September 2011 as part of its 'Crime and the City' series.
Very happy to be here. Happy to be invited. Right, well what I’m going to do is start by looking at what we think we know about drug related crime. Now first of all when we talk about drug related crime, we’re talking about illicit drugs and the reason I’m talking about illicit drugs is because certain substances have been made legal through statute often as a result of international obligations and our main sort of drugs legislation are based in the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act. Now later on hopefully in a bit of discussion we can talk about some contemporary issues. One particular issue is the whole issue of so-called head shops and psychotropic substances and new substances, every week apparently a new substance is being created and the challenges that creates for any legislative system or any system of criminal deterrents. So we’ll have a little chat about that. I want to start, however, by just talking a little bit about the background to the issue of drug related crime. And then I’m going to talk about the official picture and that is what people talk about or what you read in the newspapers often about the, you know, where politicians say the crime rate is increasing or decreasing etc., I’m going to sort of interrogate that a little bit and see what exactly that means. And then I’m going to look at what we referred to as the dark figure of drug related crime, what that picture, that official picture, doesn’t tell us. And then I’m going to go through the various models that look at ... that have emerged to try and explain the connection between illicit drug use and offending behaviour. And there are four sort of dominant models that have emerged in the literature to explain the connection because people sort of assume that’s it quite simple but it’s actually a very complex area in terms of determining the causative connection between the use of illicit drugs and offending behaviour. Most people who use illicit drugs don’t commit any offence whatsoever expect the offence of possession and that’s something that we can touch on as well. I’m then going to go into a little bit, you know, in a more sort of topical way looking at how we understand the drugs phenomenon in a Dublin context in particular. The way in which different sort of perspectives within society have responded to the problem, the way in which the State has responded, the way in which communities most affected by the problems have responded and then maybe we’ll start talking about other different approaches that are debated – legalisation, decriminalisation and various other models that have emerged perhaps in Portugal or in the Netherlands etc. So hopefully, you know, be as interactive as you want, feel free to cut across and at the end hopefully we’ll have time for a bit of a discussion. Now the photographs I’m using and I’m trying not to be overly academic here so I’ve used photographs that have been taken by a friend of mine called Ronnie Close. And myself and Ronnie worked on a project in the mid 1990s where we were looking at the whole revival of the anti-drugs movement that emerged at that time and for those who aren’t familiar with this the drug phenomenon, particularly heroin, really impacted in the north inner city in the late 70s and early 1980s. At that time a movement emerged made up of what was referred to as ‘the concerned parents against drugs’ because there was a perception that the State and that the police either couldn’t or wouldn’t respond adequately to the problem. This phenomenon emerged again in the mid 1990s, particularly with the emergence of ecstasy and the whole rave scene and then the resurgence in a way of heroin back onto the scene and a number of drug related deaths, particularly in inner city Dublin communities and in sort of economically deprived parts of the area of Dublin as a whole.
And then we had sort of a quite ... what you might refer to as a watershed and that was the murder of Veronica Guerin, a journalist, in 1996 by people allegedly connected to the trade in drugs. And that led to a major reaction from the State in terms of legislation and that sort of approach has really been sustained over time like there was sort of a renewal of the whole sort of what is being referred to as ‘the war on drugs’ at that time. It was a major challenge to the democratic institutions of the State that a journalist was murdered who had been prominent in writing about people involved in drug related crime and gangland and those involved in gangs etc., associated with drugs and this was what was perceived a major symbolic threat to the State and so it was quite an important watershed. So we’ll talk later about all of that.
Now I’m going to go through ... and then we’ll talk a little bit about the challenge in recent times as a result of head shops and also the Internet and the challenge that has created for people trying to legislate against psychoactive substances which are changing so rapidly and which can be sold so easily over the Internet etc.
Now I’m going to show a couple of graphs and I hope you can see them easily enough. And this reflects what I refer to as the official picture. Now when you read in the newspapers or you hear coming up to election time in particular where one group of politicians are saying that this group are soft on crime and the other group are saying that we’re hard on crime and we’re tough on crime and then one group will come back and say but drug crimes are increasing or crimes associated with drugs are increasing dramatically, now what we’re actually talking about in that debate is very little in terms of what actually is happening but what the statistics, the official picture, is telling us is really what the police are doing. They are a reflection of law enforcement activity. So, for example, the statistics that we see are produced largely by Customs and by the Garda Síochána who have the main responsibility in the State for the prosecution of drug offences. But those statistics are determined by the resources of these agencies, by their ability to detect drugs, by the ability of those involved in the trade to conceal their drugs and to evade detection. So really what these figures are telling us is about what the police do in response in carrying out their mandate to enforce drug offences, the offences contained in the Misuse of Drugs Act. And the main offences that are prosecuted are possession, or what we refer to as simple possession, it’s a Section 3 offence, possession often for personal use, amounts of a substance, most cannabis and then drug supply, Section 15, where you are prosecuted for the possession and distribution of drugs. And then you’ve a couple of other offences that sort of are dominant such as obstruction where you might try and throw drugs down a toilet or you might try and resist arrest and this is another dominant area. Cultivation of drugs, personal cultivation is an area that has increasingly been ... it’s increasingly dominating headlines and we’re hearing about factories where people are producing their own drugs. Now again is this a real increase in this phenomenon or are we just seeing law enforcement focusing more on it and this is a very difficult one to know.
Now what you see here if you follow the yellow line, that’s the total drug offences between 1993 and 2005. The pink line is for possession and the blue line is for supply. So what that tells us immediately is that the main trend in drug offences is determined by possession offences. That is the bulk of the offences that are prosecuted through the courts. If you notice something interesting there as well, in 1997 you see that the line jumps up very rapidly. Now I think that that is because of the murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996 and what you saw was this major reaction by the State but in terms of statistics where you’d see politicians say we’re winning the fight against drugs etc., what you see in actual practice is a huge increase in people being prosecuted for the simple possession of cannabis not really what you would see as a very significant response to that murder. Now a number of other things happened as well of course which we’ll talk about, but all I’m trying to illustrate here is the way in which statistics can be so revealing but also the way in which they can conceal so much of what is actually happening. Now again this shows you that most of the offences that are prosecuted are for Cannabis as the line sort of very clearly follows each other, the possession, most of the possession offences are related to cannabis so most of the prosecutions that we see in the statistics are for people possessing cannabis for personal use. Now I’m not offering any moral position on this, that is the law, the law must be enforced, but that is also what is actually happening. And of course there is a huge debate as to the legal status of cannabis and it is probably one of the most hotly contested issues within this whole area both publicly and in terms of the literature etc.
Here we look at prosecutions for heroin and prosecutions for cocaine between 1995 and 2005, over that decade. And what is interesting if you look at the pink line which is cocaine through the whole Celtic Tiger era you saw cocaine moving beyond its sort of idea as the rich man’s drug contained within sort of a certain section of society. And heroin was seen as a drug that was always associated with those really on the margins of society, what we refer to as dependent or problematic users. But what you see is a steady increase in prosecutions of cocaine until it eventually eclipses heroin for the first time in the history of the State in around 2004. Now another thing that tells us is that this data can be useful, it can show us trends in what is actually going on and it’s an indirect indicator of availability. You can compare say police data with treatment data and that can help you build up a picture of what actually is going on.
This is one that I think is very interesting and this is under 17 year olds prosecuted by gender from 1995 to 2005. Now if you look at that you’ll see that the number of females remains very low and relatively steady while the number of males increases year on year pretty much dramatically over the decade. Now is that because more boys are using or is it something else? And it doesn’t reflect, say, use of alcohol by girls because what we have seen in alcohol data is that the use of alcohol by girls is actually coming closer over that period of time to the use of alcohol by males and sometimes alcohol and illicit drug use can be sort of comparable to a certain degree. There’s another way that might be ... there’s another explanation. For example, when young people are stopped and searched for a girl to be searched there needs to be a female guard present but there is a lot less female guards than there are male guards so possibly it could be that. If I was a teenager and I was walking down the street with drugs it would be the girl who’d be carrying them because she’d be less likely to be stopped, to be searched, to be detected and what that tells us is the way in which statistics or production of the discretionary behaviour of law enforcement, the way in which often the picture that we think we have is a picture that has been constructed by the day to day activities of law enforcement. Because I don’t think that picture really reflects what is going on out there. And you could also argue from the perspective of young males that that is discriminatory police behaviour and this young male I think would probably agree with you. (laughter)
Now if we look at drug offences more recently again we have seen a consistent increase – that’s a bit difficult to read - but the broken line at the top is total drug offences, the second one is drug possession and the third one is supply and again we can see that supply is relatively consistent, the trend in the total number is really determined by simple possession. If we look more recently as well what we can see is – and this is an interesting phenomena in recent times – a decline as the Celtic Tiger and people’s disposable income has declined we have seen a simultaneous decline in the use of illicit substances or at least in their detection. Now I wouldn’t say that that reflects any difference in police behaviour, I’d say it actually is probably a more accurate reflection of people’s actual use of illicit substances because other surveys, other studies, have also reflected this decline. Again if we look here we can see the dark broken line is ecstasy and that’s an interesting phenomenon because where in the mid 1990s you had huge seizures of ecstasy and it was a very popular drug, what this tells us is that it was a culturally relevant drug. It emerged at a particular time, probably associated with the rave culture, it was popular at a certain time, but something else might be happening there as well and that is the growth, the emergence of head shops and the use of other substances that might have mirrored ecstasy or mirrored cocaine, for example mephedrone, which increased and became popular and possibly displaced the use of ecstasy. Sort of the other line there, the sort of smaller dots on it, that’s cocaine and that’s interesting where you see this rapid decrease in cocaine and again I would say that reflects the lesser availability of disposable income for people and the lesser use of cocaine. And then heroin at the bottom is relatively consistent because heroin is a drug that often those who use it who are dependent drug users the economic circumstances don’t really matter to them, it’s what we refer to in economic terms as an economically inelastic demand for that drug because if it becomes more expensive people will rob more to pay for it. And the economic circumstances don’t really matter because there is a serious dependency or a serious addiction. So it doesn’t as easily as other drugs, such as cocaine, it doesn’t necessarily reflect people’s disposable income.
But what are we missing? Firstly, in general when we talk about crime and the law that is there politicians, when they respond to crime, maybe they’ll pass some legislation. Now that’s fine but we know very little about how that legislation is actually enforced. We know next to nothing about how that legislation is actually enforced. We also know very little in this country. In the UK, for example, we know that about 1 out of the 4 crimes that are committed upon people are actually reported to the police. Now the reason we know that is because what they do, they’ve been doing it since the 1980s, they’ve been comparing the official picture from the police data with self report studies that are conducted every year. So they look at the official picture and they ask people were you a victim of crime in the last year? And they say yes. Well did you report it? No we didn’t. Why didn’t you? Well there was no point, nothing would happen. There was no insurance potential. I couldn’t be bothered. The police wouldn’t do anything, nothing would happen. So actually in terms of the crime picture what we are seeing is only a very small part of the picture of crime. If we go into certain types of crimes, for example, shop lifting. Only 1 out of 11 shoplifting offences are actually reported. If we look at bicycle thefts it’s even higher. So in terms of our picture of crime, in terms of the official picture it is extremely limited in terms of reflecting what is actually happening. And even when people do report crimes that doesn’t mean they’re actually ever recorded. For example, a study in the UK showed that 40% of crimes reported to the police weren’t recorded. Perhaps the police office at the time didn’t think it was a crime, didn’t believe it was important enough. Maybe they were finishing their shift and they couldn’t be bothered and all of these things have been shown as reasons why this might be the case and again human behaviour is an important element of this and discretionary behaviour in terms of how our picture of crime is affected. But the dark figure of crime, that’s what we call this, is much higher for drug related crime because a lot of drug related crime never enters the official picture. A lot of drug related offences, like serious ones, are never reported and one of the main reasons for this is because people are fearful of those involved in the drug trade. Other times people don’t care, if they see somebody smoking a joint or they see somebody, a crime is being committed but it’s their business, it’s not really that important and there are much more serious crimes and we know in this country, of course, that the really serious crimes aren’t often seen as crimes, for example, tax evasion. I remember having a conversation with a business man one time and it took me about an hour to explain that tax evasion was actually a crime and that was a culture that we are beginning to see the consequences of now, that only certain crimes on the criminal statute books have ever been enforced. And so crime is also… and who we see as offenders is also a production of how society determines what’s important to prosecute and what’s not important.
Most of what we know in terms of crime or as we see crime it relates to street level crime – theft, burglary, robbery, assault, etc. That is the sort of bread and butter of what we would determine as crime and those we would see as criminals are often referred to as police property groups, the people that the police prosecute on a day-to-day basis, usually young working class males make up the bulk of the offender. And if you look at, say, those in prison, for example, the vast majority of those in Mountjoy prison come from three postal districts in Dublin. And that is also a reflection of the discretionary nature of the system. Certain people are stopped. Certain people are arrested. And certain people the way they talk back to the guards might determine whether they will be actually prosecuted or not. Or where they are from, the whole attitude test, do they pass the attitude test? Certain people for the same offence might be likely to get a custodial sentence while others would not and that is the whole discretionary nature of the criminal justice system and that makes up our picture.
Now there are four dominant models explaining the link between drug use and crime. The first is what we refer to as the psychopharmacological model, which says that there is something within the property of the substance that leads to the offending behaviour. Intoxication where it might cause criminal especially violent behaviour, now research has shown a very strong connection between offending behaviour and the consumption of alcohol. There’s a consistent association between violent crime and alcohol and I don’t think that would be huge news for most of us here. But the link between offending behaviour and particularly violent crime has been refuted with regards to heroin and cannabis. There is some evidence for crack cocaine. There is some evidence for heroin particularly where people are interfered with if they have heroin in their possession or if they are shooting up there can be a violent reaction but really the link, the violent link, has not been proven. It is in the social environment, the context in which drugs are used is a much more important indicator of violence than the actual psychopharmacological effect of the substance themselves.
The second important link is what we refer to as the economic compulsive or the acquisitive and this would be one that would be most dominant probably in most of our minds, where people are committing crimes to feed their habit. This has been proven in terms of research, international and Irish research that we have seen an increase in economically motivated crimes after addiction. After people become dependent on drugs and when they are in an effective, well-resourced treatment programme, for example, methadone maintenance with other supports, we have seen a reduction in offending behaviour. So again that proves from the other side, from the treatment side, a clear connection between economically motivated crimes and addiction.
I’m going to show you a couple of police studies that were done here which I think are interesting. What they show and what a lot of other data shows is that an increase in employment and the availability of treatment has seen a very large reduction in economically motivated crimes here in Ireland. Another important point, however, is that those who are dependent on drugs are far more likely to be caught offending than those who are not dependent on drugs. The police know who they are because they’re essentially their bread and butter, they’re picking them up every day or they’re stopping them every day. So somebody who is let’s say a chaotic drug user or a dependent or problematic user is much more likely to be stopped and prosecuted than somebody who is not dependent. For example, somebody who uses drugs at the weekend, a recreational user who goes to work on a Monday morning, they do not appear in the statistics. They’re not generally stopped, they’re not prosecuted etc. And their use of the substance is manageable, they are managing it and they’re not engaging in serious crime, in any crime beyond possession, so they don’t appear really.
Just very quickly, two studies were done, one that got a huge lot of attention in 1997. It was a Garda study and they asked a number of people who they knew were dependent drug users a series of questions and then a sort of follow-up study, not as strong a study, was done in 2004 again by the Garda Research Unit. And just to go through a couple of the findings, those who found as crime as their main source of income, in 1997 it was 59% in 2004 it was 13%. Now at that time, in 2004, there was a huge increase in employment. There was an almost levelling out of unemployment. Unemployment was effectively gone at that time. And what that tells us is that people who are dependent on drugs can also maintain a job so it sort of breaks that sort of stigma that we have, that people were actually maintaining employment, at some level, and also maintaining their drug use and it was serious drug use, heroin primarily. And again the unemployment rate was far less in the latter study than in 1997. The drug first used was cannabis and that’s been fairly consistent, although if we exclude tobacco and we exclude alcohol cannabis was the drug first used. First introduced to drugs by a friend, and this again is consistent, is 81% and 86% and that’s very consistent with all studies I’m aware of, that people are first introduced to illicit drugs by someone who they know, by a family member or a friend. Now why that’s a very important point is that there is this perception of drug dealers as the stranger at the school gate, as it’s put, preying on people. Actually most people are introduced to drugs by somebody that they know and somebody that is close to them and that must question our whole understanding of the drug dealing enterprise and how people actually become involved in drugs in the first place. Drugs sourced from a local dealer had increased from 46% to 76% and what that tells me anyway is that drug markets are far more integrated into local communities. We must also remember that the mobile phone became very, you know, everyone had mobile phones and anyone with a mobile phone and a list of names can be a drug dealer and they’re very difficult to detect from a policing perspective. So an easier access to drugs was also facilitated by the mobile phone. The number who had been to prison had decreased slightly and the estimated daily expenditure, allowing for inflation etc., wasn’t that different. And an interesting finding was the movement from the Punt to the Euro and honestly people aren’t going to start looking for change on the street, like you know it’s 12.5 Euro from 10 Punts so what is that, 7.50? You know, that’s not going to happen. So really what happened was that the legitimate market wasn’t followed in the illegitimate market, changes that took place in the legitimate markets where prices largely increased to allow for the Euro in the illegitimate market there was no real change, it was just rounded figures was all that was important. And systemic crime is crimes committed as a consequence of the fact that drugs are illegal and there is an illicit market. And we refer to these as systemic types of crime. How we understand this, we look at things like drug seizures, drug prices, drug purities, drug roots, price impurity. If the purity of drugs is lower will the price be lower? And in any studies that I’ve conducted here anyway and there are very few there doesn’t seem to be a huge connection between price and purity, certainly not at a street level. If somebody keeps giving somebody crap, as it’s referred to, they will simply go to a different dealer but it doesn’t seem to be reflected in changes in price. But you would assume also let’s say for example if there’s a lower availability you would assume that prices would increase following basic demand and supply. And yet what we have seen is that drug prices have decreased in Ireland over the last number of years while availability hasn’t really been affected. So these are the sorts of indicators we try and use to understand the market.
We have seen sort of a stabilisation of markets over time and often we look at drug markets, as a simple way of explaining, as involving three levels, you have the import level, you have what we refer to as the middle market level and then you have the street level. And then you have what we refer to at street level as open and closed markets, so an open market might be a market on the street where you can go up and you can be a complete stranger and they would sell you drugs and there was a time in Dublin, particularly when there was all those street protests and marches were taking place, when you did have a lot of that around the city. It still exists but it’s less open in the sense that often you have to know the person that your getting drugs off so we use the concept of open and closed markets to describe this type of thing. You might have closed markets in that they take place in clubs, in night clubs, and again you would have to know the person or be introduced to the person by somebody who is trusted before you will get drugs. And also one of the reasons that forces markets from open to closed is because of police undercover operations which are a major factor of policing in the illicit drug trade where they pose as drug users or people looking for drugs and as a consequence people are increasingly cautious about who they are buying and selling from. Local drug markets are particularly important of course, particularly open ones, because they cause huge community disturbance. People see them all the time. People who are trying to get treatment have to run through a gauntlet of drug dealers which is an extremely difficult thing to do. Also for younger people they might be attracted to the money that is being made particularly in very socio and economically deprived communities, so open drug markets are attractive to young people and they are problematic from that perspective as well because they are seen as legitimate. If they are happening openly without interference well then there must be something okay about them so they are particularly important. In terms of the involvement of organised crime and organised crime is a term that I think requires a lot of like analysis because two people and recently we’ve had legislation on organised crime but two or three people can be organised. They can arrange something together but does that mean they can be referred to as organised crime? Yes it does in one way but it’s not what we understand by organised crime. And this is something, a study that I’m completing at the moment, it’s the first national study on illicit drug markets which is taking place in four locations around the country where I’ve tried to address those types of questions – how are drug markets structured? Who is involved? What sort of roles do they perform? And these types of questions. Because in a way you have to look at like an ordinary market, like a legitimate market, because there are massive profits to be made but there are exchanges, there is supply, there is demand, etc., and these are important.
So how organised is organised crime? Europol has looked, has sort of compared different types of markets and it says one of the unique things about the Irish market is that it involves families, that at a certain higher level it is very much centred around families. In a lot of other countries of course it would be centred around perhaps particular ethnic groups. Now one study I conducted here in Dublin was on crack cocaine, there’s a copy of that at the back, and that found that crack cocaine initially in around 2005 was associated with West Africans, initially. Or else people coming back from England who had the ability to wash up cocaine into crack and so that was an interesting factor in that it was something that was associated with a new ethnic group emerging here who had the know-how, who had the ability, but that is no longer the case now throughout the city. And then there’s the final model, this is called the common cause model, where illicit drug use and offending behaviour are common factors of perhaps a deviant lifestyle. One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other but they are both factors of other things or consequences of other things, they’re not causally linked but they’re produced by underlining social factors such as inequality, deprivation, etc. And just to go through this list studies that have been conducted here since the 1990s, since Paul O’Mahony conducted a major study and he’s speaking here I think in a couple of weeks on a sociological and criminological profile of Mountjoy prisoners and he went through ... and nothing has emerged to say that this profile is any different today, that most were single male age 14 to 30, they were urban, living in the parental home, from large and often broken families. They left school before the minimum age of 16. They were from areas with high levels of unemployment. Their best ever job in the lowest socioeconomic class. They had a high number of previous convictions and rates of recidivism – where they’ve been to prison before. They had a history of family members being in prison and they were from local authority housing and areas of high levels of long-term unemployment. The common cause model is probably the most under-investigated model but it is also probably the most important. But from a policymaker’s perspective it is a much more difficult model to handle because the common cause model says that a drug policy on its own is not going to solve the drug problem or the drugs and crime problem. Unless you look at all of the socio and economic context in which drug use and crime take place you can’t fix the problem and so it’s a much more challenging reality from a policymaking perspective.
Participant 1: Sorry there, if that is the case, and you clearly have this well researched, have successive governments that the research board has been informing are they are taking any of this kind of research on board?
Johnny: Well they are. I mean like the National Drugs Strategy combines five pillars including demand reduction, supplier reduction, treatment, education and rehabilitation and research so in a sense the model is right and it’s quite a well-respected approach. So it is acknowledging those multiple dimensions. Now if you’re talking specifically about crime, however, and the causes and the solutions to crime they can not only be policing solutions or imprisonment etc., certainly not that, they must be responded to in a more holistic way. So I think that is ... I don’t think that anybody who doesn’t realise that is the case but translating it into actual policy is much more challenging because there is no quick fix solution to that.
Participant 1: Yeah it’s long term.
Johnny: It’s a long-term societal change, it’s not just about introducing the policy with 50 action points, it’s a much broader societal change that you have to address. For example, if you look at the initiative that was taken in Limerick, that was a multi-faceted approach to that problem involving changing infrastructure, looking at education, looking at pre-school, looking at family support and that is the way you address not only the drug problem but the crime problem and that’s the important thing that this, the common cause type of research, has shown.
So just to summarise the link between drugs and crime, most drug users do not commit crimes other than those of possession. There’s a link between some forms of illicit drug use and crime and particularly violent crime, some forms of illicit drug use and crime mostly heroin and cocaine. Most problematic users receive prison sentences for drug related offences rather than drug offences. And just a point to explain what I mean by that. There’s a major crisis of overcrowding in our prisons and increasingly this is getting some attention and a lot of international organisations, recently the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, has focused on this major issue and the inspector for prisons has written a lot about this very serious crisis within the prison system. Most of those who are dependent drug users receive very short sentences of between 3 to 6 months in prison so they’re obviously not seen as a threat to society if they’re only serving such short sentences. And clearly given the state of the prisons, although the treatment in prisons has improved a lot since about 2006, clearly that is not the answer to somebody who is a dependent problematic addicted person. Now legislation is to be introduced to basically force judges to consider non-custodial sentences for anybody who they would have given a 1-year sentence and that has to be most dependent drug users. And that is a question again for society that we have to look at different ways of treating people who are dependent users and a very highly stigmatised group of people as well, people will serious health problems. This is a very important finding, most problematic users began their criminal career before their drug use so it wasn’t drugs that led them to commit crime, they were already committing crimes. So drugs didn’t cause crime, their offending behaviour had already begun. Now drug use and particularly addiction would have increased the rate of their offending behaviour but it didn’t cause it in the first place so if you’re trying to address the cause you have to address the cause of crime in the first place. So there’s no clear causal link between drug use and crime, there is links proven between alcohol and violent crime and that is clear in the evidence.
Again although there is so much concern about illicit drug use, although we read in our newspapers every day about some gangland killing and there is a lot of public concern and public fear and there are huge amounts of legislation out there to address it, we know very little about illicit drug markets in Ireland. We know almost nothing. The research that has been done, the research I’ve done say on crack cocaine was the first study that really tried to address this as a market and the dynamics of a market and tried to apply that sort of logic to it. If you’re trying to interfere or you’re trying to intervene and address it I think you have to start approaching it in that way. What brings people into it? What sort of profits are being made? And these types of questions, how is structured? How many people are involved? And this research has been done. Early next year there will be a study that is finished now which is due to be published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and ourselves, in the Health Research Board, which again looks at drug markets from that perspective, looking at four markets around the country, you know, one city, one suburban area, one inner city area, one regional town, to try and get a sense of different types of markets and how they evolve, how they are organised and structured and how we respond to them. And that’s the other point, there’s almost no research done on what the police are actually doing. We see the statistics, the data, the graphs and the trends that I’ve shown, but we don’t know how many people are stopped and searched. We don’t know how the legislation is being implemented? How many people are stopped and searched and who are they? How many of them are arrested? What happens those people?
Participant 2: Have people tried to get that information? I mean I used to work as a journalist and I know it’s extremely difficult to get information out of the guards, have there been attempts to get that kind of information?
Johnny: Well it’s not something ... I mean the IT system in the guards has improved dramatically, in the PULSE system – Police Using Leading Systems Effectively – it’s called. That has improved dramatically but it was never introduced for the journalists and for researchers, it was introduced as an operational factor. Now something that is improving is the connection between the different parts of the system, for example, the police, the prosecutor’s office, the courts and the prisons because there’s no connection, in terms of trying to understand it from a research perspective or a journalistic perspective. You can’t follow people through the system, you know, and that’s something that we have been very weak at, it is to improve and it is improving slowly but it doesn’t ... and also let’s say if you go deeper than that, like there’s a huge amount of what we would refer to as captured data, for example, those being prosecuted, you know, the sort of research that I’m interested in and the guards worked very closely with this research project in a huge way. They have cooperated with it. So I think it is not only about that resistance because it’s not their ... like this is something now that is not only an Irish thing, this is something that the European Commission, Europol and an organisation called the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon are now collaborating on developing indicators to understand the connections between drugs and crime and supply reduction efforts and that is only now really developing. And that’s the other point, we don’t know how many people are committing offences as a consequence of a drug addiction, we don’t know that, what we refer to as the attributable cause of the offence. So, you know, in prison they are drug offenders but most of them, as I said, are in there because of an addiction and a crime committed as a consequence of that addiction but we don’t know how many. We know the numbers using methadone within the prison system so clearly they are people who have a very serious drug problem. But in terms of understanding crime and offending and criminal justices responses to it our understanding is very limited and from a democratic or accountable perspective huge resources go into this area and have always gone into the area. There’s almost never been any sort of cutback on spending on law and order but there’s very little understanding of how that money is actually spent in practice so that is a very important issue.
Participant 2: And are you saying there isn’t a culture of ... in my dealing with the Gardaí there was a cultural issue about giving information, the guards are very closed and compared to many other societies, I include military dictatorships.
Participant 2: Very secretive.
Participant 2: So you’re saying that the lack of information from your point of view is not a cultural issue?
Johnny: I didn’t say that but the culture, there is of course a cultural issue and policing studies have shown a very inherent conservatism and a great wariness of potential criticism etc. Now what we’ve had here up until very recently, up until about the mid 2000s, was that the guards would never give any information on say things like seizures, drug seizures, or things like that in the local area until the Garda Commissioner’s Report was published. Now the Garda Commissioner’s Report was usually about 2 years out of day so it was of no use in terms of understanding what was going on locally. I was involved in setting up a community policing system in the north inner city in 2000 with the late Tony Gregory and local guards in Store Street and it’s still functioning very effectively. But it was I think January 2000 when a member of the local Garda Drugs Unit stood up and he explained to the local people, about 300 local people, the number of seizures that had been made in the last 3 months in the area. Now I was flabbergasted at the time because that was something that had never been done before. Now it didn’t tell them a huge amount they didn’t know anyway because they live there but I think what the Gardaí didn’t realise was the importance in terms of communicating to people of just showing them that you’re actually doing something rather than just saying it but showing that you ... and it is a form of accountability. I think what you could probably say is, and this isn’t only just institutions like the Gardaí, there has never really been accountability in that sense here in any of the institutions that have sort of formed the identity of the State and that is something that I think is now breaking down. Clearly it is breaking down and people are demanding it. But I think that probably is part of the picture.
Now in terms of our debates about drug related crime and drug crime and all of these various things I think one thing that has often been missing is a perspective on those who are most affected by drug related crime. The drug problem has always disproportionately impacted on the most vulnerable communities in the sense that they are already suffering numerous aspects of socio and economic problems – low education levels, early school leaving, high levels of unemployment, etc. And they are also the greatest victims in terms of drug offending. There isn’t this romantic idea that people in certain areas go out to other areas and rob from other areas and that is one of the things I think that really led to the huge marches that emerged in inner city Dublin in the 1980s and the 1990s was that heroin changed the complexion of crime in a lot of these areas because people were now robbing on their own people whereas traditionally there had been a sense of well you don’t rob on your own. But the drug problem it completely undermined that whole romantic notion and I think that is a perspective that responses have to look at it. For example, one of the major issues at the moment I believe – and this was sort of a picture of how communities responded at that time, you know, having marches, marching on Government Buildings, setting up vigils out on the street to stop people dealing, marching on people’s houses who they alleged were drug dealers and evicting them from their houses and on one occasion killing somebody who was an alleged dealer – and that’s the whole aspect of vigilantism as well, there is that potential but what it did show was a serious crisis where a lot of communities felt we’re not noticed and our problems are not addressed. And I think there is a sense that their problems, as the saying goes, they were over policed but they were under protected in that their priorities, their crime priorities, were not really being reflected in what was happening and what the criminal justice system was doing. After Veronica Guerin the State response was to symbolically assert itself, that we are winning the war on drugs. The Criminal Assets Bureau was something that was quite original and was something that has been followed up in many other countries and a range of new drug laws were introduced in the wake of that, of Veronica Guerin’s killing. But again communities were asking when you actually look at the legislation in practice are our priorities actually being reflected in the policing process? And the police initiative I mentioned there earlier, in 2000, was the first time that you really had a sort of form of local democratic accountability in Store Street which is still going on.
Subsequently now since 2005 there has been the Garda Act, this is quite an ambitious poster of the Labour Party in 1997, yeah the 1997 elections, “1992 drug barons reign, 1997 drug barons run”. Now there’s a number of reasons why they might have run, one reason is that the source of drugs are not in Ireland they are often in Spain or they’re in Portugal or they’re in the Netherlands so there’s a logical reason to move. Now recently I believe as a consequence of the organised crime legislation that is something that seems to be causing some concern and also the ability to use different forms of evidence, particularly photographic evidence and telecommunication evidence in prosecutions, is something that is apparently causing some concern. But drug markets have changed as well, they’ve become more hidden and, as I said, the mobile phones facilitated this. They become more credit based where people are giving drugs on tick or on credit, more mobile, but they become more violent. A lot of research has shown that. And they become much younger, much younger people being involved and much younger people being brought in to keep a look-out, to hold on to drugs, to run drugs between various people but being brought into the enterprise at a much younger age and some say that is one of the reasons it has also become more violent. And where people to get debts of very small amounts of money are prepared to use levels of violence that historically only 10 years ago you wouldn’t have seen in the Irish drug scene.
And some of the issues that are there of course that need to be addressed, one of the major issues I think that hasn’t really sort of got national headlines as of yet I think is the issue of intimidation and violence. Drug related intimidation of not just users but their families in response to drug debts and economically as the market decreases people’s determination to recoup their debts becomes much more heightened and there have been some studies done by the Family Support Network and by Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign which has been trying to put some sort of focus onto this really serious issue. But again I think the fact that it isn’t really in the mainstream yet shows you the way in which the drug related crime problem how it’s prioritised. This, I think, is the main priority for a lot of communities around the city, addressing the issue of intimidation, but it’s not really on the national thing. There’s an article at the back I wrote there in our journal Drugnet Ireland, which you can get your hands on, where I’ve written up on a recent conference which looked specifically at this issue of intimidation.
No-go areas, community stigma, the development of gangs, particularly the involvement of young people and the emergence of sort of gangs around drugs, fear of reprisal which is a major issue in terms of the State, and the drugs strategy, a lot of it is based on local drug taskforces requiring people in local communities to work with the organs of the State to address the various problems but fear of reprisal and the fear of seeing to be associated with responses of the State breaks down that cooperation or that willingness to cooperate and there’s a major democratic problem in relation to that. So in terms of things like intimidation and drug related crime and fear there is a serious requirement of the State, if it wants to sustain some sort of policy response, it has to address issues of intimidation.
Okay, I’m going to move on and conclude. I think one of the things we have to question in terms of responses is on whose response is the behalf being made and how do we prioritise this issue? First looking at it, analysing it and then prioritising, what is the important thing to start with because you do have to prioritise. You can get a copy of this presentation. I just want to just finish with this slide. Some of the debates of course doing the rounds of course are like legalisation of drugs and some argue that will take the market from underneath the gangs and the dealers, decriminalisation where you introduce different sanctions. Portugal is the first country certainly in Europe if not in the world to decriminalise all drugs and so people are now sent to a form of sort of committee that deals with issues of treatment etc., but they are taken completely out of the criminal justice system. De-penalisation where you don’t send people to prison if they have a health problem, that’s what you address, you don’t incarcerate them as a consequence. The Dutch solution which has virtually legalised the consumption of drugs in regulated conditions in what they called ‘Coffee Houses’ but a very interesting solution in that in the Netherlands the front door is legal but the back door is illegal, as they say. The supply of drugs to the coffee house remains illegal but the consumption of drugs in the coffee house is legal. So this is a sort of a form of, you know, and then you’ve things like community-based mediation, problem solving, local community policing, etc. I’m going to finish on that. So feel free to question or comment about it.
Participant 3: What’s the data from the Portuguese solution and the Dutch solution? Is it helping?
Johnny: Yes, I think the data is generally fairly positive. There’s a few articles have been written about that. Say the Portuguese situation first in that there has been no increase in drug use, that’s one thing. There has been no increase in drug related deaths which is a very important indicator. And the Netherlands has shown a consistent decrease in drug related deaths. Because what the Dutch were doing, and this was as early as 1966, was it wasn’t about legalising drugs, that wasn’t their interest, their interest was about separating markets so separating the cannabis market from more serious drug markets and that is something that they have succeeded in doing. Now they’re under a lot of pressure. One of the problems at the moment is because of the much higher purity of cannabis and in the Netherlands in particular and that’s a concern that a lot of other countries would have. A problem for the Dutch of course is they’ve come under huge pressure from other European countries to reverse their approach and they seem to be yielding to that pressure and there’s some internal pressure as well, there is some political division. Now as far as I’m aware there’s no political party in the Netherlands that wants to reverse that general approach but what they’re talking about doing is making them only accessible to Dutch people, for example, so that they’re not a tourist attraction for non-Dutch people. So those are the sort of issues. The Portuguese process I’ve read everything that’s been written about that and that also seems to be a very ... and I’ve seen them actually working and it seems to be a really interesting process. Now one of the problems associated with this and like it’s about 10 years now in operation is the message it gives out to young people and this is often a very difficult thing to address, does that mean drugs are okay and that is something that they’re sort of looking at at the moment. And it’s a very difficult one to square, how do you actually ... because you don’t know what message the more deterrent or prohibitive approach is giving, what message is that giving? But the more liberal approach that is also giving a message that needs to be considered and I think also the coffee shop phenomenon is a very interesting concept that I think challenges anybody who calls for a liberalisation of drug laws because one of the concerns about that here was that a lot of people could avail of drugs in these coffee shops that mirrored, for example, cocaine, mephedrone. But many people started using mind altering substances who would never have done otherwise except alcohol so they would never have experimented with substances like that but the fact that you could go into the city centre and go into a main street and go in and buy your drugs and go into the night club next door it did give a message to people that that’s okay and that was a major issue. Now they’ve been pretty much all closed down but I think anyone in a free market economy who argues for legalisation must also confront the fact that people will then sell aggressively. They will sell aggressively. Look at alcohol, you know,
alco-pops, people are making profit and there’s huge amounts of profit to be made. Of course there’s massive profits in an illicit market but there’s also massive profits in an illicit market. Like one of the things about the head shop phenomenon was the amount of money that was seized. Like, for example, there was one burned out in Capel Street and they seized I think it was half a million from that shop and if you observed them there was a huge trade so there’s a lot of money to be made and this is a free market economy so ... and there will be aggressive advertising and so people who argue for a more liberal approach have to look at that. Now that is not to say that those arguments aren’t valid but people come often from a harm reduction approach and they’re saying that the current system isn’t working because people are generally ignoring it and so the harms of their use is hidden so we have to try and bring it more out to the open so we can address these harms. Another argument about the coffee shops was that once you made them illegal all the substances would simply be transferred into the illicit market. I don’t think that has really happened. Mephedrone I’d say it is very likely it has happened but a lot of other substances seem to disappear. And then of course there’s the reality that people are getting drugs over the Internet so how do you challenge that? How do you legislate for the Internet?
Participant 4: Just around the thing around the inelasticity of heroin in particular and it’s kind of counter intuitive to think that it would be elastic because it’s like the archetypal drug of addiction and people are very dependent on it but interestingly about this time last year or a little bit later there was a good 6 month drought of the availability of street heroin and it just became unavailable really, now that threw up its own consequences like people getting ripped off buying stuff that just wasn’t heroin and whatever heroin was around became very, very pricey but one of the things I would have expected and you heard anecdotal evidence of it happening but it didn’t come across in the statistics that people hammered treatment centres then, the people that would have been addicted to street heroin then all of a sudden would have gone to their local treatment centre but the statistics at the treatment centres didn’t reflect that so.
Johnny: And they’d be going there for Methadone, yeah?
Participant 4: Yeah. So I don’t know what that was about, maybe some of it is to do with some heroin use being discretionary, maybe people using heroin on top of their methadone maintenance and using heroin on dole day or when they’ve had a few bob extra, you know.
Participant 4: And then that discretionary use went out and it might have diverted into other drugs, you know, if you like benzodiazepines and things like that.
Johnny: That’s what I was just thinking that it’s probably I would say I mean that drought they say was because of a drought in Afghanistan, the crop being affected in Afghanistan how that then rebounded here, but that I would see it as the polydrug issue, that was very interesting, there was a study done in the south inner city called A Dizzying Array of Substances which showed how in a very small ... and often people there’s a perception sometimes that you’ve got a heroin market and you’ve a cannabis market and never the twain shall meet but I think you know yourself better than I do that that’s not the case and so it is probably that people were moving maybe for a similar hit or something similar but it’s an interesting like factor, did that increase the number of people seeking methadone? People who were happy to use heroin and weren’t interested in methadone.
Participant 4: You would imagine there would have been a spike and there wasn’t in the statistics according to the treatment centres.
Johnny: Yeah. Have those statistics been published yet, have they?
Participant 4: Yeah, for that time period it must have been about 8 months ago now or 10 months.
Johnny: Okay, yeah. It would be very interesting to check it out.
Participant 5: Johnny hiya.
Participant 5: You mentioned about the drugs taskforces earlier and I know that a lot of the funding was cut very recently and most of their funding I think would have been cut in most of the organisations and I wonder is there any statistics or data out there yet about the impact that’s having on communities? I mean I’ve read anecdotal stuff but I don’t know if there’s anything ... is it too early even to say?
Johnny: Well you see there’s a guy, is it Harvey, I know his second name is Harvey, who has written a lot on this, on the actual social infrastructure of communities or the social capital as Putnam would put it and how those taskforces and all of the voluntary work around those taskforces is so important for those communities and so that tiny amount of money that they’ve cut back the effect that has, it has a multiple corrosive impact. Now he’s the only one I’m aware who has really written about that so far but in terms of other like data has that ... I don’t know, I think that would require that type of sociological analysis that he applies. And the thing is that it’s probably the most well spent money is money spent at that local level.
Participant 6: In your recent research is there much evidence of crystal meth use?
Johnny: No, there was a lot of fear of crystal meth and crystal meth was something ... like in a European context the main area, or main country, is the Czech Republic and I think Norway or Sweden were sort of standout countries in terms of crystal meth. The UK has had a big problem with it as well but there was a concern about 2 years ago that because it was sort of emerging in the UK that the guards felt there’s an 18 month transfer period but UK have had crystal meth problems since the 80s and it’s never really taken off as a big problem here. Now there have been a number of seizures but it hasn’t seemed to have taken off and any research I have done it’s been talked about and mentioned but nothing like say crack cocaine has been mentioned and there we’ve seen since it emerged really in 2005 it is now available certainly in all taskforce areas around Dublin and it is a market that is a very stable market and a very lucrative market. Like while prices have fluctuated in other drugs crack is something that has been very steady and very lucrative because people are, you know, there’s such a demand for it, such a repeat demand. But in terms of crystal meth and it’s also probably more concealed, you know, if you can call it a market because it can produce it in their home. Like I remember watching a video once where the only way police seized crystal meth was when houses blew up because of the mixture of chemicals and so it might be something that is concealed possibly within certain ethnic groups who have a cultural background of using crystal meth but I don’t think it has transferred across to mainstream Irish society.
Participant 7 Yeah, I was just wondering and it’s the same as you were talking about just now, I’ve read in the media about this new phenomenon in the UK that they label it as bath substance but ...
Johnny: Bath salts, yeah.
Participant 7: ... yeah, yeah has that reached Ireland already because it’s a very strong substance?
Participant 4: Been and gone.
Johnny: It’s been and ... yeah, it’s been and gone in that like the substances in what were referred to as head shops were nearly always marketed as something else like bath salts and things like that so that’s how the head shops were sort of getting around it. Now the new legislation that was passed in 2010 prohibits that so now most head shops – and I think there’s about 10 of them out of whatever there was 80 or 90 or more are remaining open and that’s largely because of that new legislation that was introduced, the Psychotropic Substances Act, 2010. We’ll just take one final quick one there.
Participant 8: Just very quickly, are you optimistic or pessimistic for the future?
Johnny: Optimistic. (laughs)
Participant 8: In relation to drugs? (laughter)
Johnny: I think one issue that I’ve mentioned that I think is really an important one is the issue of intimidation because that is really breaking down families in ways that mainstream society and the government doesn’t seem to really appreciate yet. And I think there really needs to be a concerted response to that because once that is allowed and particularly if the whole concept of gangs and territorial control is allowed to develop well then it’ll turn a corner and it will really be very difficult to come back. I mean there was a study done recently in Limerick called Understanding Limerick and it showed the way in certain parts of Limerick and it was a very organised destruction of a community to facilitate drug dealing. And there was a very sort of conscious disintegration of areas to assert control by people involved in the drugs trade and I think if that’s not grasped, you know, we have a sort of a ... I think we can see what can happen and if that isn’t grasped and I think the issue of intimidation is something that really has the potential to, you know, where you have people coming together in the past in large groups and sitting in meeting rooms like the photographs I’ve shown you, it’s very difficult to get that because people are so fearful but I think without that, without that willingness of people to come together and to address it the State can’t address it on its own, they certainly can’t. So that would be ... I wouldn’t be optimistic unless that is addressed.
Facilitator: So I’d just like to say thank you very much for coming along and thank you very much to Johnny for giving the talk.
Johnny: You’re very welcome. Okay. (clapping)
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