The more we make drugs illegal, the more people end up in jail, supported by the taxpayer at the cost of $300 or more a day. That’s right, we pay about the equivalent of a top class hotel room every day for each person in jail over drugs. It’s crazy, says Brian McConnell, who proposes a three-step solution.
Jails burst at seams over drugs
Are politicians serious about looking for alternatives to putting more people in jail?
If so they need to examine the prohibition drug laws, according to Brian McConnell of the Family and Friends of Drug Law Reform.
State and Territory drug law changes have always ramped up the penalties, thus widening the net, reclassifying many practices from use to drug trafficking or production. For example in the ACT, growing one or two pot plants in the shower in the dead of winter was once a minor offence…but is now a serious offence attracting harsh penalties.
All this ramping up contributes further to the workload and cost of police, courts, and prisons. Drug cases overload the criminal justice system (CJS). Of all the arrests for drug offences, some 80% are of users.
Over 60% of Australia’s prisoners are locked up because of drug related issues. At costs of up to $313 per prisoner per day – paid by the taxpayer – it is a costly way to castigate use of some drugs.
Has it been effective? Use and availability of drugs is unchanged but now there is more use of designer drugs (that is, the so-called ‘legal’ highs) and prescription drugs. Any test of effectiveness demonstrates that financial and manpower resources are wasted. Contact with the CJS means users’ lives are damaged more, sometimes more than by the drugs. And associated stigma creates barriers to help and treatment.
The solution? Ideally, regulate the drugs and their production and sale to:
- take them out of the hands of criminals reducing the drug market and making the drugs less dangerous,
- limit sales to mature people: that is, impose age limits, introduce user-registrations and other restrictions reducing the number of juvenile users, and
- reallocate the savings to improve the effectiveness of health and social services including breaking down the barriers to treatment.