Quakers in Criminal Justice Conference 2019
The Decriminalisation of the Personal Use of Drugs –
An Inspiring, Challenging & Motivating Weekend
Held at Hinsley Hall on the 22nd to the 24th of February. The theme came from a concern of Cornwall Friends; members of the steering group were present. We have been supported and assisted in organising this by the Quaker Decriminalisation Network, a national Quaker body. By the end of this conference we had all developed a clear knowledge and understanding of the issues involved. Moreover we discerned a Minute which we hope Local Meetings will consider and which is being forwarded to our Recording Clerk.
Speaker 1 – Alex Stevens, Professor in Criminal Justice at the University of Kent
This was an expert presentation bringing out key factors in this complicated situation. Currently, anyone in possession of an illegal substance can be prosecuted. There is some tolerance toward some drugs in small quantities but it is not regularised. Some countries have legalised personal consumption of some drugs and we heard how the Portuguese system works.
In general, there seemed to be several approaches. One was licencing the supply of drugs, thus “making drugs so boring no-one is interested” and hitting the black market – there would be various outlets where drugs could be available, depending on the rating of the drug. Drug-taking could become a health issue, rather than a criminal one. Alex showed us that generally liberalisation did not give a rise to an increased “problem” and certainly eased police and court work.
He also showed us the rating of the harm caused by drugs which is no way correlates with their Class A-C rating – one of the most harmful, alcohol, is not rated.
Speaker 2 – Peter McCall, Cumbria Police & Crime Commissioner
We were given an overview of this PCC's work, focusing on one particular area: Barrow in Furness. This “remote town” comprised two classes of workers: highly paid technical staff working for BAE and a little low-paid employment. Substance abuse problems in the poorest estates, including drug-related deaths, had been highlighted by BBC news. In an imaginative approach, the Police had bought a flat on one estate as a focal point of help called The Well.
Staffed by enthusiastic helpers, it housed a wide range of community organisations at a cost of £98,000. Peter pointed out that it costs £50k per year to keep someone in a low security prison. “Save two people and you are winning”. The success rate was impressive.
He did impress upon us that nothing will happen unless you can prove its financial effectiveness and get people behind you. However it was disheartening to hear how all the “county lines” suppliers from outside the area had been arrested only for a new group to establish themselves within three days – an example of the ineffectiveness of the “war on drugs”.
Speaker 3 – Danny Kushlick, Head of External Affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation
Danny's concern was related to uncontrolled drug supply. His charity is campaigning to make dangerous practices safer. He told us that stopping drug-taking altogether is not an option but we can ensure that users obtain a safe and a known substance.
This is closely allied with the organisation Anyone's Child which campaigns for getting drugs under control to protect our children. Their website features many people who have lost loved ones though poisoning either by pollutants in the drugs or not knowing the strength of what they were getting. However we were reassured that things are beginning to move in a positive direction, both in the UK and internationally.
A number of further links were supplied by Danny:
- United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961)
- Common United Nations System Position On Drug Policy (2019), including a call to decriminalise personal use drugs
- Extraordinary statement of the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda
- Prison Governors Association calling for reform in 2013
- Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform, coverage by The Guardian
The Conservatives will launch their own campaign for reform soon
- Home Office trying to keep evidence out of the public domain in 2010
- Independent Review of Drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black
Issues Arising from This Conference
- If you get a criminal record, even in your youth/teenage years, it will follow you for the rest of your life. It doesn't matter what the crime was or, in the case of drug taking, how “transient”. So, we need to decimalise personal drug taking as matter of urgency.
- There was a recent report that many users of cannabis in their youth went on to develop depression and other mental health problems. How is that connected to this concern?
- Buying an unregulated substance from an unlicensed dealer means that you do not know what you are getting!
- The adversarial nature of politics means that if any political party changes its approach from the current hard line, this will be used as a weapon by opposing parties.
We have a challenge: This decimalising of drugs for personal use via licenced regulation is an achievable objective. It is very different from “Legalising Drugs”. The two must not be confused – as this conference made clear. So Friends, the matter is before you.
Justice Matters by Teresa Parker, Quaker Peace & Social Witness
Teresa demonstrated the approach of Justice Matters towards a transformative justice system – this is one of the key strands of the work of the Crime Community & Justice Group. This workshop will be run at BYM and elsewhere. In addition, Teresa has forwarded details of international examples of public health and social justice approaches to drug-taking.
Current Prison Reforms by Melanie Jameson, member of the Ministry of Justice Practice & Development Group
From April 1st 2019, a new prison framework will be in place. Many of the recommendations from Dame Sally Coates' Review have been taken on board, allowing groups of governors to commission the provision they need for their establishments. Reforms also affect employment, prisoners' contacts with families, the female offender strategy, “digital change”, security and the upgrading of the prison estate. Melanie's contribution will be written up in the BYM edition of our newsletter.
Conference report edited from a contribution by William Waddilove.