Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Drug Use and Crime

Every looked at the court pages in the newspaper? Have you noticed how often the people in the courts for violent crimes are drug addicts? These days in Aotearoa New Zealand it's largely "P" (Meth amphetamine), but a few years back it was heroin. It makes sense for "P" users to be violent, but ever wonder why a sedative would make people violent criminals?

The answer is very simple. If you're addicted to a drug, you have to have it on a regular basis. If it's an illegal drug you have to get it from the black market, if you're getting it from the black market you are going to pay an outrageously inflated price. If you're a manual worker with a $500 / day habit there is no way you are going to make that money legitimately.

What's worse, the profits from that illegal drug trade go straight to the criminal gangs. Ever watched the Sopranos? If you didn't it tells the tale of a fictitious New Jersey, US, Mafia "Family". The series concentrated on the murders and interplay between the gangsters, but always in the background were the ways they raised their money. They make money from hijackings, gambling, loan sharking, prostitution and they make a lot of money from drugs both directly by dealing in them and indirectly by "taxing" other illegal activities in their area. Women turning to prostitution to finance their drugs pay protection, and so forth.

Here in New Zealand, the drug trade is firmly in the hands of the gangs and in any area one gang has a monopoly, they just set the price at what ever they want and every time there is an illegal drug purchase the gangs profit.

So what can we do?

History teaches us that simply prohibiting drugs doesn't work. As long as there is a market, someone will step up to supply that market. In the USA prohibition failed because there was a market for alcohol and the Mafia stepped in and had that market. As long as I can remember, there has been an attempt to deal with drugs in the same was as the US dealt with alcohol, and it simply hasn't worked. It's just made the criminal gangs richer than they could ever imagine.

Some people suggest "decriminalizing" drugs in the hands of the users. That would be worse than what we have now. It would still be illegal to sell them and so the supply and distribution would remain in the hands of the criminals. It would probably increase use and give them even more money.

To stop more people becoming hooked on addictive drugs we have to stop the criminals from running their distribution networks, and the only way we are likely to achieve that is to stop people buying from them. Once they stop making money from drugs, the criminals will move onto something else. That's right, to end the drug black market we have to stop people buying drugs from the black market.

There's really only two options for doing this, and neither of them are particularly nice. We either need to stop people using drugs, or we need to legally supply addicts with the drugs they crave.

Information campaigns haven't stopped drug use, so the only way I can see to stop addicts using drugs is to get them off the streets: compulsory rehab on a huge scale and if that doesn't work we send them back again and again until they are clean. Somehow I can't see this being at all popular.

The other option is to supply addicts with maintenance supplies of their drugs. Until 1968 Britain did exactly this with heroin (Wikipedia), if you could prove to a specialist doctor that you are an addict and you don't intend giving up you could get a prescription to get your heroin from a pharmacy. While they were doing this it worked quite well, unfortunately (as I understand it) it was only for opiates, and it was politically unpalatable so the scheme was always being fiddled with. Starting from the late 1960s they kept changing their approach and the black market came back to life. Some other European countries are experimenting with it.

I think it's time we tried this, and not just for heroin. We need to accept that the addicts of both opiates and stimulants are going to continue being addicts and move to a sensible solution that will stop them having to lead lives of prostitution or crime to pay huge amounts to the illegal gangs to finance their habits.

Originally published on Qondio

Monday, April 6, 2009

Three Strikes Law

There's an old joke that goes
Two mathematicians are having coffee at a table outside their local cafe. While they are there they see two men walk into the empty building opposite and after a while three men leave. The mathematicians look at each other puzzled until one says "If someone else goes in it will be empty again."
Obviously there's more going on than the mathematicians want to admit, they didn't consider the possibility that there may have already been someone in the apparently empty building, or perhaps there is another entrance they can't see. Either way, the mathematicians are obviously experiencing flawed logic in their attempt to preserve their original beliefs and their proposed solution makes little sense.

The currently proposed law to send people to jail for 25 years on their third major crime suffers from the same type of flaws. Our prisons are full to the point of overflowing and the government is having to spend a lot of money on new prisons or working out how to get more people into the current ones. This law will only add to the number of people in our prisons, consuming tax payer dollars and adding noting back to society.

To me the logic flaw is so obvious I don't understand why nobody is pointing it out. Serious criminals don't happen overnight, they start out as petty criminals and get away with it. It's just human nature to always press against the boundaries, and for over a generation we have been pretty much ignoring the petty crimes. At the bottom of the heap is graffiti vandalism and general loutishness by children and teens. Even if they are caught nothing is done, so they do it again, nothing happens, and they keep going, gradually getting worse.

Soon they are in youth gangs and things just get worse. Burglaries, stand-over tactics, violence yet they are still under age and the police and youth courts effectively do nothing. When they become of age, judges start giving them minor penalties ... community service that they don't perform and fines they never pay.

Sooner or later they put someone in hospital, do an armed robbery, or kill someone. Finally something is done, but by now the criminal associates only with other criminals, are regarded as a "big man" for their criminal level and as soon as they are on the street again they go back to their life of crime.
At this point, after dozens of burglaries (hundreds of houses burgled if they are drug addicts), dozens of peoples lives ruined the Three Strikes rule would finally kick in and they will be gone. For every habitual criminal removed by this, there will be plenty of people waiting to step into their place in the criminal underworld.

Just like the mathematicians that can't understand where the third man came from, our politicians can't seem to understand that these adult criminals came from somewhere.

Wouldn't it make much more sense to stop the offending early. Take the young graffiti vandals and kids who do minor theft and give them an appropriate punishment. No I don't mean throw them in the cells with adult offenders, I mean give them a penalty that will make them think twice about doing it again; and what's more let them know that if they do it again, next time it will be worse.

Surely a lot cheaper than building more prisons.

Originally published on Qondio


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