'Jail no good for drug offenders'

CONVICTED drug offenders should be punished in the community rather than sent to jail, it has been claimed.

James Hore

CONVICTED drug offenders should be punished in the community rather than sent to jail, it has been claimed.

The chief probation officer in the county, Mary Archer, said it was “doubtful” that prison was the best place for many inmates who have a drugs problem and have been convicted of minor offences.

She said prisoners serving shorter sentences often come out with nowhere to go and nowhere to turn but more crime, so are more likely to re offend.

Mrs Archer was responding to a report from the UK Drug Policy Commission which concluded community sentences were “more appropriate” than imprisonment for most drug-using offenders.

The comments were echoed by North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin who said he believed people addicted to drugs should be treated as mental health patients.

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The analysis of UK Drug Policy looked at options for preventing drug use and what has the best effect for addicts.

Mrs Archer said: “Drug abuse is fuelling much of the crime that takes place in England and Wales.

“We know that 70% of new prisoners go in with a drugs problem. Whether prison is the best place to get them to stop is doubtful.

“While community sentences are not appropriate for some offenders, there are many drug offenders in prison who should be dealt with in the community - to better effect.

“We are all aware of the difficulties faced by prison colleagues - it is not possible to deliver good programmes with overcrowding as high as it is.

“We know that short-term sentences increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood of re-offending.”

In Essex, a drug rehabilitation requirement has given to 319 offenders serving community orders this year, above the Government set target, with 92% of offenders had stayed on the program.

“Given the disproportionate number of offences committed by this group, that can mean a big reduction in the number of victims.

“We have expanded drug services to meet the demand over the years,” said Mary Archer. “While nobody has all the answers to this difficult problem, this report confirms how important it is to provide the right kind of programmes for offenders who either commit drugs offences, or commit crime to finance their addiction.”

Mr Jenkin added: “I think people with drug addictions should be treated as though they have a mental health problem.

“Someone who has only committed the offence of abusing drugs needs as much help as possible and a non custodial sentence must be more appropriate.

“The big time drug dealers must be banged up, but I believe drug use is worse in some of our prisons.”

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