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Article: Punitive law on drugs
« en: Octubre 22, 2017, 11:34:07 am »
Punitive law on drugs

What do we know, and how we react?

Developed countries all around the world started the so called “War” against the use, trade and making of drugs. We are able to find different examples and approaches for every country.

But that does not necessarily mean a good thing. The different ideas from every country does not only show how opinions differ everywhere and how difficult it is to coordinate for countries in order to stop this “threat”, but as well how extremely hard it is to actually agree in which of these substances are an actual problem. Although the number of drug related deaths from some of the most powerful drugs is lower compared to others like alcohol, they seem to attract the attention of the media and, therefore, cause a greater sensation on society.

For that reason, various questions appear. First of all, if any of the drug policies are right. We find the theorists debating on the best approach to treat with drug use, from Legalization to Prohibition. As well, the idea of having the news suffering a case of biased information, directly leading to making society misunderstand what drugs cause on people.

In the United Kingdom, we find an actual assessment over the issue of drug misuse and dealing that, compared to different European countries, seems to be more focused on treating drugs as a criminal matter than anything else. That does not mean, of course, that the English system won’t give any rehabilitation, but externally, their focus seems completely different.

The debate: Comparative between approaches

In the last years, the United Kingdom has had an estimated inversion of various billion pounds in order to continue war on drugs, although those quantities are, on some part, a result of drug-related criminality.

Drug policies aim to reduce the consumption or either reduce the criminal rates of drug users. Research shows how poor the strategies and investment on those are not a significant key of change. Instead, for the United Kingdom, it seems that the situation has been worsening from the end of the XXth century, being on top of the ladder in use and dependence in Europe.
Since the rates of use seem to be unaffected by those policies, what about the criminality?

During the last years, it’s been obvious how some changes shown up. From September, 2011 to October, 2015, the rates of drug-related crime in the UK have reduced an average of 3000 cases per month (UKCrimeStats, 2015), making as well a reduction on the costs of imprisonment as well.

What could, then, have been the trigger for this reduction? Evidence shows that the best tool is the use of treatment and restorative justice approaches. The existence of Risk and Needs programs with high responsivity towards criminals makes, as well, a good tool to fight these numbers.

An example would be the Offender Assessment System, whose main objective of this system is to manage the offenders’ needs during their sentences and target specific points in order to avoid or reduce reconviction. For that, it was a basic point to identify the risk factors and the needs of every offender undergoing the program as well as to know the risk of harm and recidivism with the idea of desistance from crime in mind.

But what happens to the general drug policy then? Does it show itself useless? Researches and comparative on Europe and America show how drug policies oriented on users show no sign of decreasing crime rates.

Not only that, but the debate on Legalization and Prohibition finds itself in a problem when European data on drug use is compared. As an example, Spain and the United Kingdom are two of the countries with most drug users but showing completely different policies. The Spanish Penal Code considers no higher than 5-6 year sentences for delinquency directly related to drugs (use and dealing). Although having the possibility of showing aggravating factors, the sentences are limited to 20 years per person. As well, there is a more liberal practice allowing even the farming of some drugs such as marihuana, with controlled amounts. On the other side, the English approach shows more punitive, with even life sentences depending on the type of crime and drug involved.

What does the theory say about this?

In the last point it’s been stated and clarified that drug use is not only a difficult topic to treat with in general policies, but also that the debate on legalization and prohibition seems to be stuck in a mere sociological context without a big repercussion on how the result would affect the users.

Even so, researchers find out that the best way to stop users is actually treatment, therefore the first reaction towards this statement is to think that rehabilitation and treatment are the keys to stop drug use and, therefore, dealing. After all, a good answer to drug dealing offenses is to end their market.

If we can consider that as a valid statement, we’d look into theoretical research to know what to do and how, to stop the root of this type of crime, instead of just starting a “War” on it.

Drug users have a reason to start consuming these substances, and it might be caused by availability and accessibility to drugs, social pressure, anomie and more. Even advertising becomes a risk factor when it shows stimuli and attractive emotions related to the use of drugs in social situations.

The first possibility I’d like to explore is Control. Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theories on control and self-control, based on the availability of crime and the predisposition to commit crimes, as also the concept of opportunity (Grasmick, H., et. al., 1993). The concept of drug use does not usually sound attractive for people, but there are some background motivational risk factors, being social or personal, that can lead to the start of substance abuse.

After considering variables and factors from other theories, it’s easy to find the conclusion that the interaction between those opportunities and the use of drugs is not made just of two variables, and the explanation of crime needs the interaction of different variables in every circumstance, therefore it’s impossible to talk and discuss drug abuse with only this basic idea in mind.

For that reason, we find another theory that seems to have a better explanation on drug use, which is Anomy, in which the person commences crime because of being unable to achieve the social standards that has been pre-stablished. If we consider anomy as the main motivation of why people start using drugs, social support could be the first step to avoid this kind of delinquency.

Cullen defines social support as “the perceived or actual, instrumental and/or expressive provisions supplied by the community, social networks and confiding partners", and mentions the possibility of social support as a protective factor against crime. He uses as an example the American society, which has higher rates of serious crimes than any other industrialized nations because of its less supportive society, explaining how social support has an effect on the ecology of crime, acting against it. The variable of social support as a protective factor is really strong in criminological texts, that argument in favor of measures that increase the presence of social support on delinquents and risk groups. From an ecological approach, economical aid, educational help, giving resources... are factors that help to decrease and even minimize risks. (Cullen F., 1994). This statement is as well presenting the idea that a supportive policy has a better effect on the ecology of crime in order to prevent it than the punitive policies.

What happens, then, with those actions not categorized as crimes, but that involve drug use? Alcohol and its consumption is part of the drug problem and it has a lesser representation on the media than other drug incidents.

Reporting: biased news

Campaigns against drugs try to create a sensation of fear in society in order to stop their use. It is not only the idea to avoid drug consumption, but as well to use extreme visual signs to produce fear on people. Overreaction from the media is one of the examples  on how drugs appear represented in society.   

During certain times, a new trend appears and dominates the media and public opinion, based on stereotypes and aided by the media on great extent. It wouldn’t be odd to consider media and social networks as the triggers of these mass panic attacks. Cohen (1972, quoted by Garland, 2008) defined this as moral panics. Those were recognizable for the disproportion, alarm and exaggeration out of all proportion when reacting to a person, group, or series of events, giving an over-dramatic feeling of fear. These panics, as well, can be a sudden high response for a short time, though they can as well develop into long-lasting reactions with even repercussions on legal and social policies, and even on the moral and the way society. Moral panics have the ability to find points in common with wide anxieties of the society in order to spread better and have more repercussions.
The original definition of Cohen includes as well a “Folk devil”, a person or group onto which the situation, context or condition projects their anxieties and, therefore, are the original triggers of these overreactions. Even so, Sean P. Hier (2008) considers that even if moral panics have a particular folk devil, the source of the general fear is found elsewhere, since those are just a symbol of what happens when the morals are threatened, subsequently presenting the problematic nature of activities as facts by the media.

Garland presents some of the moral panics that went through the US media and their reactions. From 2007, a sole incident about a teenager dying as a victim of gun crime became the obvious main reason why some of the British adolescents are close to asocial and antisocial behavior more than on different countries. With this example, Garland gives us as well a brief explanation of how Moral Panics have repercussions on policies, placing the answers from the government to that topic.
Are there, moral panics in drug-related issues? We can find some evidence.

First of all we find normalization. Alcohol has been found as one of the most harmful drugs in general, with delinquency and incidents that greatly surpass others such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin. Even so, issues with alcohol seem to have been normalized in society and it’s odd to find sensationalist articles talking about the effects of alcohol as a potent and dangerous drug. On the other side, we have heroin, which is even used as a health remedy and sold in pharmacies when prescribed, but any incident on it becomes a greater fuss with enormous repercussions compared to alcohol.

Conclusions

Drugs have never stopped being a problem which concerned population and policies reacted how it was necessary.
There are different debates opened about topics such as they are Legalization and Prohibition, how to stop drug misuse and more.

Research about investment on drug policies has shown how drug users seem to be unaffected by the modifications. From a country working on Decriminalization such as Spain, the rates of drug abuse are between the top ones in Europe, where we can find as well the United Kingdom, where Prohibition works. Therefore my opinion on this issue has been to consider using policies focused on social practice and to find a different approach. After all, those drug users who are treated already in prison have contributed to the crime rates, and the objective is to reduce those.

Social policies can be focused on ideas from theories such as Anomy and Control in order to understand better the root of drug use. Those theories are just a hypothetical approach and they need an empirical research in depth. Even so, we must consider that drug misuse is a complex problem with, probably, dozens and even hundreds of variables playing their part. For that reason we cannot just give a simple answer which will solve every single one of these problems, but imagine the better approach in order to reduce the risks.

But again, social policies have a problem founded with the apparition of Moral Panics. In the actual society, the amount of information received might be too much and cause those anxieties. Sources are not always reliable and sensationalism gets always its way to the scene, giving people concerns on policies and social issues.

After talking about those mass panic attacks that can even influence how a government acts and works, it’s easy to see how they have an important repercussion on drug policies. Moral panics are now used by the media, politicians, commercial promoters and journalists.

For that reason I’d consider that the sensationalist attacks that the media can offer to serious topics, creating misunderstandings and the general feeling of fear, is part of the issue that the United Kingdom’s government (and any other government) has to deal with when taking decisions on drug-related policies.

There is not only now the problem itself of drug abuse, but if we try to treat it as the social issue it’s become, the answer relies on moral and how well people react to changes in legislation. Avoiding the massive waves of fear caused by media and misinformation flooding by the social networks is a big problem to deal with, maybe at the same level than drug dealing is, since both would become pillars of the same crime and its continuation.

If drug users cannot be helped by the prison and its system, it should be already time for the society itself to lend a hand to those who are asking for help.

References

Andrews, D. A., Bonta, J., & Wormith, J. S. (2011). THE RISK-NEED-RESPONSIVITY (RNR) MODEL Does Adding the Good Lives Model Contribute to Effective Crime Prevention?. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 38(7), 735-755.

Cullen F (1994). Social support as an organizing concept for criminology: Presidential address to the academy of criminal justice sciences. Justice Quarterly 11 (4), 527-559.

El Mundo (2015) España se mantiene como líder de la UE en consumo de cocaína y cannabis. Article on http://www.elmundo.es/espana/2015/06/04/55703f86e2704e6e5b8b4571.html

EPIDEMIOLOGÍA, D. C. D. A. Y. (2003). Adolescencia: consumo de alcohol y otras drogas. Papeles del psicólogo, 23(84), 9-17.
Garland, D. (2008). On the concept of moral panic. Crime, Media, Culture, 4(1), 9-30.

Gobierno de España (2015). Código Penal y legislación complementaria.

Grasmick, H.; Tittle, C.; Bursik, R y Arneklev, B. (1993). Testing the core empirical implications of Gottfredson and Hirschy’s general theory of crime. Journal of research in crime and delinquency, 30/1: 5-29.

Hier, S. P. (2008). Thinking beyond moral panic Risk, responsibility, and the politics of moralization. Theoretical Criminology, 12(2), 173-190.

Kothari, G., Marsden, J., & Strang, J. (2002). Opportunities and obstacles for effective treatment of drug misusers in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. British Journal of Criminology, 42(2), 412-432.

McKeganey, N. (2011). Where is the morality in UK drug policy?, Criminal Justice Matters, 84:1, 36-37

Moliné, J. C., & Pijoan, E. L. (2001). Teorías criminológicas: explicación y prevención de la delincuencia. Editorial Bosch.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Estadísticas sobre los tratamientos para la drogadicción Obtenido de http://www.drugabuse.gov/es/publicaciones/drugfacts/estadisticas-sobre-los-tratamientos-para-la-drogadiccion

Reuter, P., & Stevens, A. (2008). Assessing UK drug policy from a crime control perspective. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8(4), 461-482.

UKCrimeStats (2015) National Picture. Extracted from http://www.ukcrimestats.com/National_Picture/