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Drug reform and prisons

 

In 2015-2016 there were 1452 cannabis arrests in Tasmania, a staggering figure that must consume a huge amount of police resources. By legalising cannabis, not only will police and court resources be relieved of a considerable burden, adult Tasmanians won’t have to suffer the stigma of arrest and prosecution for a relatively trivial decision. Organised crime networks will also be deprived of a significant source of their income. The propagation, possession, use and sale of cannabis should be legalised, for recreational use as well as for medical use.

There are drugs that subject the user to greater risk of harm than cannabis, however punishing drug addicts for possession and use only exacerbates their problems – making it even less likely that they overcome their habit. The ‘war on drugs’ approach is not the answer, and has been a significant reason why the USA has such a high prison population – the highest in the world relative to population. Instead, efforts should focus on rehabilitating users into the community, rather than ostracising them as criminals. As such, drug use and possession should be de-criminalised.

The state government has signalled an intention to build a second prison in the north of the state, with a projected cost of over $300M. Instead of rushing to spend this huge sum of money on a prison, we should analyse why it is that the number of prisoners is increasing. Decriminalising drugs is a part of the solution to lowering prisoner numbers, however the analysis should include an examination of broader society. Crime is, by definition, a rejection of societal norms. As Tasmania degenerates into a faction of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, there is every likelihood of increased crime levels, as rejection of society takes hold and people with little to lose break the law. Increasing levels of financial stress, as the costs of living get higher and higher (being dominated by housing costs), puts extra stress and strain on people, furthering the risk of them breaking the law and ending up in prison.

Today, having a criminal record is itself a form of punishment, one that can be even worse than the term of incarceration. Re-integrating into society, which is crucial to avoiding recidivism, for a person with a criminal record is a difficult task. Tasmania should consider deleting recorded convictions from ex-prisoners who have committed relatively minor offences. Caveats to this action should be considered of course, such as a requirement of not re-offending for a certain period of time. Needless to say, any such deletion of records would not apply to sex offenders, child abusers, murderers and other serious criminals.