— NZ Drug Foundation (@nzdrug) September 6, 2016
If we correctly conclude that many drug problems stem from underlying social conditions, including such things as poverty and marginalization, then would we think that harsh, punitive law enforcement approaches are the right way to address these? We must also contend with the fact that convictions and prison sentences damage people’s life chances, making it more difficult for them to participate in society. The courts and prison systems are very expensive and scarce resources would be more effectively used elsewhere, including on treatment and social support.
Fortunately, there are many innovative and supportive law enforcement approaches that can achieve more positive outcomes for people convicted of drug offences. In New Zealand, these include pre-charge warnings, drug treatment courts and Community Justice Panels. The trial of panels is being run in Christchurch and involves representatives openly discussing with offenders the options that exist outside the court system for support, redress, reparation and appropriate punishment. The panels can make orders, which could include drug and alcohol rehabilitation for drug offenders.
Internationally, Portugal has established a particularly successful approach where low-level drug offences are decriminalised and offenders are instead seen by regional panels – Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. These panels assess an offender’s drug use issues, encourage the user into treatment if necessary, provide health advice if there are no serious problems and can also refer to social support agencies around issues like housing and employment. In Seattle the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEDA) has been underway since late 2011. Diversion into the programme occurs prior to a booking being issued. Participants don’t enter the criminal justice system, but are instead directed to a case manager to enroll in services such as treatment and social support programs as appropriate.