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Drugs Policy

Archive of the UKDPC and ongoing responses





  • Prateek Buch
    Prateek asked for evidence on proposals to move away from imprisoning people for possessing smaller quantities of drugs.
    “Nick Clegg proposed that people convicted of possessing small amounts of illegal drugs should not be put in prison, to cut reoffending. I asked him whether this had been tried elsewhere around the world and what evidence had been gathered if it had.”

    Nick’s adviser replied to say:

    “We don’t know of a direct comparator in terms of another country that has removed the penalty of imprisonment while keeping in place other criminal penalties.

    What we do know is that, broadly speaking, those countries that have removed criminal penalties and replaced them with administrative sanctions (such as those Australian states that have decriminalised cannabis) have not seen a significant increase in overall drug use as a result. This was also one of the findings of the UK Drug Policy Commission in their final report in 2012 (“A Fresh Approach to Drugs", p.20). There is therefore a legitimate question mark over the efficacy of criminal justice systems in general to reduce overall drug use in society.”

    It’s good to see policymakers acknowledging when there’s no direct evidence, and referring to the best available relevant data.
    Chris Peters
    Chris asked for evidence behind claims about prison sentences for drug possession and reoffending rates.
    “I read an exclusive in The Sun where Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed "throwing [drug] users in jail only hooks them on harder drugs or turns them into professional criminals". I contacted Clegg’s advisors to ask for the evidence behind this claim.

    They got back to me very promptly with this evidence, which seems consistent with the claims if not definitive.

    “We know that imprisonment can seriously disrupt individuals’ lives by increasing the risks that they will lose their housing, employment, and social networks while inside. This is a particular problem for drug users who may need treatment. The UK Drug Policy Commission found that community punishments are likely to be more appropriate than imprisonment for most problem drug-using offenders.”

    “In relation to drug use while in custody, we know that a large proportion of prisoners are addicted to drugs, and that drugs are readily available in prison (see for example the evidence cited in chapter 6 of the Home Affairs Select Committee report “Drugs: Breaking the Cycle” (2012)). The HASC report references a 2012 survey by the Prison Reform Trust which found that 19% of prisoners who had ever used heroin reported first using it in prison, and a report on HMP Durham by HM Inspector of Prisons in which 13% of prisoners told inspectors that they had developed a drug problem while in prison.”

    It's good to see policymakers referring to a reliable source of evidence to inform a policy proposal. One of the reasons that it's hard to compare prison with other methods of tackling reoffending by drug users is that there are very few well-designed trials with appropriate controls. It will be interesting to see if Clegg's proposed changes are trialled and evaluated, as this is a chance to add to the evidence base for drugs policy as well as putting the currently available evidence into practice."