Sentencing guidelines or a perverse incentive to take or sell drugs!

On the 24th January, while the rest of us were still trying to shift the January blues, the courts in England and Wales were issued with new guidance for sentencing drug offenders – click here to see the press release


The stated aim being to, bring sentencing guidance together for the first time to help to ensure consistent and proportionate sentencing for all drug offences that come before courts in England and Wales” – if only everything in the criminal justice system was so uniform.


The publication of the guideline follows a public consultation on the Council’s draft proposals, which heard from nearly 700 members of the public, criminal justice professionals and other interested parties”  


So it seems that 700 people and a few special interest groups can change sentencing policy and yet 100,000+ people recently asked for a referendum on Europe but were refused


This is a policy that is designed to keep Tristram and Porsche out of jail for being in possession of so called small amounts of all sorts of drugs and sharing it with their friends in the student dorm or in mum and dads holiday home.  Its for the city trader and the North London set that need a whiff of danger but want to remove the risk of going to jail as it just wouldn’t do – dont you know!!I feigned a Noel Coward accent for the underlined bit of that sentence


Do the sentencing geeks really think that the dealer that sells to Tristram and Porsche, the North London set or the city trader is somehow disconnected from the major or mid level importer or dealer?  Do they think that these are somehow, responsible dealers, that don’t get involved in other crime, like transforming replica guns into real guns that fuel gang and other violence in our towns and cities – I wonder, are they “green or ethical” dealers, do they eat Tofu?


If the guideline allows a defence that there was no intent to sell, make a profit etc and if the amounts allowed are as described in the Guardian newspaper e.g. 100 grams of cannabis (nearly 4 ounces), 20 tablets of ecstasy or 5 grams of heroin or crack, then its quite worrying,  5 grams of a class A drug is quite a lot (as is 4 ounces of cannabis and 20 tabs of ‘E’).  


5 grams of heroin or crack/cocaine, bought wholesale at £50 per gram would be the same as buying £500’s worth retail (i.e. in individual £10 bags) as 1 gram yields at least 10 x £10 bags.  


Drug users will probably pool resources and buy wholesale and split the savings.  They will in effect be able to get £500 worth of drugs for £250.  This may increase individual use?  If users pool resources they may use more in company with others, as occasional use becomes addiction they may move from smoking to injecting, and on and on we go.  


Is this about keeping Porsche and Tristram out of court, or is it sanctioned drug use, protecting the middle the class – whats the real story here


Any half serious criminal would look at this policy shift as a business opportunity and decide to get into drug supply – within the parameters of the policy guide – of course
They would organise supply to stay within the allowed limits, give it away or sell at a loss to create dependency (thereby staying within the guideline) and to ensure control of the newly created addict for all sorts of other possibilities, criminal of course
Organise the runners to have just enough to have the ‘gear’ taken off them but not to go to prison – not having to do long sentences takes away a vital intelligence gathering tool when low level dealers get arrested

These people, the MP’s, the Judges, the so called Advisers are meant to be clever people and yet they come up with the most stupid ideas.
The current health response to class A drug use is substitute prescribing.  Recovery from addiction is a recent feature of state policy.  Methadone prescribing has got so intense that it is now a contributory factor in drug related deaths!  The cure, in some cases, is killing the patient.  Lets get proper treatment for drug users – I had proper treatment (rehab) and 28 years later I am still well, not using any drugs, Im working, contributing to society (working in the drugs field in fact).  I want people to get help but I also want a credible deterrent

Rehab is dying on the vine while we spend millions on handing out methadone, and all sorts of other ‘treatments’ that do not result in the user stopping their use.  I caught a short clip of Richard Branson on TV and he said we should have a policy that helps people rather than imprisoning them.  We should treat people as we would treat our own family.  I cant disagree with that.  If my family or friends needed help with addiction I would do all I could to help them.  I would not use the current system mind you, I would pay for them to go to rehab somewhere, I’d mortgage my house, take a loan, whatever it took. 

Richard Branson needs to know that the health system as it is currently configured is found wanting and these new guidelines wont help as all they will do is undermine the Restricting Supply strand of the current drug strategy.  Treatment in prison is more available than ever but it also mirrors the community substitute prescribing system.  Addicts used to use jail as a break, a breather, somewhere to get clean, get healthy, go to the gym, put on some weight; it was like a break from addiction and a chance to start afresh, but prison is like the community now, and too many prisoners are on methadone.  

We need a fair and balanced drug policy, which includes enforcement as well as treatment.  

This sentencing guideline, I fear,  will create perverse incentives to take and sell drugs

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