As it currently stands, anyone from a user, to a dealer, to a supplier of drugs can be sent to prison for involvement with any illegal substances that are out there. I often wonder however, as I’m sure many of you do: how useful really is this approach? Are we actually tackling what the Government is calling the “war on drugs”?
In recent weeks, Richard Branson, yes, the famous Virgin Airways boss, has taken a stance on what he believes is an entirely failed attempt to confront and attack drug issues in Britain. Rejecting the current method for stomping out drugs, he suggests that both the Government and society look at drug offences in a different way, to try to combat the severe problem our country has with illegal substances.
In this new proposal, Branson advocates that rather than sending drug users and dealers to jail, we place them in a strict rehabilitation scheme; enabling them to combat their addiction.
I personally take quite a liberal stance on particularly lower class drugs, but am fully aware and in agreement that many class A drugs are dangerous and their effect on the individual can be detrimental to both the abuser and the community, for me at least, rehabilitation could potentially help drug offenders more so than prison.
It is inevitable that substance abuse is a particularly grave issue which is challenging to tackle however, with drugs more than anything else; it seems we forget that substance misuse really is a stifling addiction that renders a person helpless. Moreover, the general consensus often seems to exhibit that substance abuse requires punishment not help. However, any form of addiction needs appropriate care doesn’t it?
I mean, we don’t send individuals who misuse alcohol or have gambling addictions to prison do we? No, instead we give them the help needed to gain a certain level of control and attain a better quality of life. The Government’s job is surely to protect public health and although drug offenses are illegal, shouldn’t we be dealing with fighting the problem from the root; which in my opinion is the addiction.
In his campaign, Branson turned his attention to countries such as Portugal and Switzerland who have decriminalised drugs and have had seemingly successful results, with rates of HIV/AIDS significantly lower and drug-related crimes reduced. Surely this is substantial enough to showcase that treatment of drug offenders may in fact assist the problem of drugs to a greater extent than simply trying to remove them from society and placing them in an environment that is already laden with dodgy drug dealings.
Prison itself is often a breeding ground for secret drug use, so can we really say that sending a person hooked on cocaine to prison means they will not be in contact with the substance for the duration of their sentence? I think not. Moreover, sending drug offenders to jail also has a financial implication; last year, statistics showed that following crimes of VATP (violence against the person), drug offenders made up the second highest percentage of people in prison, over taking sexual offenders and robbers.
Understandably, drugs are dangerous to the individual but I’d rather see more space in jail for those who, in my opinion, are more at risk of physically harming others. Housing drug abusers in prison costs an absolute fortune; rehabilitation would cost significantly less and it seems from the statistics given by Branson concerning other countries that this too would be a more effective method of helping control drug-related problems.
Yet in spite of all the positivity moving towards Branson’s notion for decriminalising drugs, you do have to acknowledge that the substances are classed as illegal. After all, drugs like heroin, crystal meth and so on are all categorised as class A and so I can understand why some people feel it is more than appropriate to send them to jail as prohibited activity should be punished in some way or another.
Many may also argue that prison acts as a stronger deterrent to dealers or perhaps younger people who dabble in the drug world, as the reality of being trapped in an environment riddled with extremely dangerous people could potentially be enough for people to want to change their lives around.
One thing is for sure however, drugs are heavily peppered throughout our society and fighting the most severe and detrimental of them will be a long and perhaps never-ending challenge.
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