Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Pure waste

Stuff this morning reports on the waste of the war on drugs: every year, we imprison hundreds of petty drug users:

Hundreds of people are locked up for petty drug offences every year - many for crimes our top legal body says should not exist.

Justice Ministry figures show a significant amount of court time is taken up by minor drug cases, with nearly as many people imprisoned for possessing a small quantity of cannabis as for dealing.

Among these offenders are hundreds imprisoned for possessing a pipe or a needle, an offence the Law Commission recommended legalising last year.

The figures also show fewer than one in three minor drug offenders is offered diversion, allowing them to avoid a criminal record.


Imprisonment for petty offences almost equals the number locked up for more serious crimes.

This isn't just a tremendous waste of court time, prison space, and ultimately public money - it tremendously socially harmful and may contribute to the problem. These criminal convictions have lifelong consequences, affecting employment prospects and travel. And sending people to prison for such bullshit can actually turn them into real criminals. In the words of Drug Foundation director Ross Bell, "You send someone away for a minor drug conviction and they can come out a meth cook".

Last year, the Law Commission recommended that we stop imprisoning people for minor drug offences such as low-level possession and possession of implements, and instead introduce a mandatory cautioning scheme including referrals to treatment agencies. This would reduce the social harm created by current policies, and save public money into the bargain. But it wouldn't be "tough on crime", so our Justice Minister (then Police Minister) has rejected it out of hand. She'd rather waste tens of millions of dollars of our money and ruin hundreds of lives a year to retain her image as "the crusher".