It’s not the drugs, stupid. – Commission on justice in Wales: A Blog
“So why did you turn to drugs?”
“I was prescribed drugs as a child for my anxiety by the GP, and I found after a while they were not working for me and so I tried other drugs which did help me at the time.”
“The voices in my head just got too much and the heroin when I tried it gave me peace no other drug has managed.”
“You tell me how it feels when you were abused at church, when no one wanted to know what I had to say about the saintly Vicar. I was both angry, confused, and in pain. And now that I’m older, no one gets why I take drugs.”
“Have you ever experienced bullying, when every day you live in fear? And then when you go home, well, what home living in care? – You are moved from place to place.”
These are the voices of people in drug and alcohol treatment. All too often, there is a lack of support for young people with mental health issues and ‘easy fixes’ are on the rise. Prescribing medication to young people rather than finding other methods of therapy can be incredibly damaging and in some cases may drive young people to try and find relief in other substances with stronger effects. According to this article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44821886, there has been a 15% increase in anti-depressants prescribed to children in England since 2015.
So why has there been such an increase in mental health problems in young people?
The following articles may begin to answer the question. According to this article by the Independent, there are a record number of children in the care system, with 90 children going into the system every day: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/social-care-crisis-uk-children-figures-per-day-a7995101.html. Sadly, the abuse of children continues, with more and more tales of abuse coming to light: https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/company-boss-jailed-for-trading-child-abuse-images-1-4773529. Bullying is also a big problem for children and young people in the UK with 1.5 million young people having been bullied in the last year. 44% of young people who have been bullied experience depression, 41% social anxiety and 33% experience suicidal thoughts. https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/The-Annual-Bullying-Survey-2018-2.pdf
The majority of people who have issues with addiction are in that situation because they are struggling with unresolved issues often caused through a traumatic childhood. The government views drugs as ‘evil’ and blames illegal substances for the problems that exist within our society, but the reality is that these problems are caused by failed government policies put in place in struggling communities. A struggling individual’s drug use is declared illegal by the state and as such increases the stigma that these vulnerable people face. These people are also more likely to face prison sentences because of their drug use, rather than receive the help they need. UK prisons are overcrowded, full of violence where rehabilitation is a rare thing. In prison sentences related to drug use, 71% of prison sentences involved class A drugs, 28% class B and 1% class C. What success does a prison sentence have in changing someone’s drug use? According to this article, it leads more people to take drugs than to finish their drug use. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/10/prisons-degrading-inmates-driven-to-drugs-says-chief-inspector
The UK has a failed drug policy because it finds it politically expedient to have a drug problem in our society. Why successfully treat drug issues when you can use that problem to hide the failures of your policy in alleviating child poverty, poor housing, a lack of youth provision wrapped up in the flag of austerity?
In Wales there is a call to look at how the Justice system could look like if powers were devolved. A bold and brave government can in this instance provide much more by spending less. In the UK there is an acceptance that short prison sentences do not work. The huge amount of money spent could be better used in community services.
The example of women and prisons is a good one. In Wales there has been calls for a women’s prison as at present they have to go to England. This of course is not a good thing and it is easy to call for a facility in Wales. The reality however is this would be a wrong call. When we consider women and prison, we should look at their offences and then ascertain what the need is. In 2016, the Guardian published an article that indicates we should be shutting women’s prisons in favour of community sentences. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/01/why-we-should-close-womens-prisons-and-treat-their-crimes-more-fairly
The Government have at last woken up to the fact that prison does not work for the vast majority of women and is a very expensive approach: https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/women/why-the-government-is-planning-to-send-fewer-women-to-prison/ The cost of building 5 prisons would have been at least £50 million, where community facilities would cost £5 million. The reality is however to provide real support, £5 million is far too low and therefore the gains that could be made by such a provision may be less than we could have hoped for.
In Wales we need a change to drug policy. To imprison someone who is using drugs to medicate against their pain is inhumane. The nonsense of the UK policy has been highlighted by the recent medicinal cannabis issue where there are proven health gains. The use of illicit drugs is not limited to this, as we find that LSD and Ecstasy have valuable uses. According to David Nutt the decision to ban LSD was purely political: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=266yxtYzcLg
It is our view that drugs that are presently illegal should be regulated. So the public can be protected, but the vulnerable helped rather than further hurt by the Criminal Justice System. We believe that such an approach means there will be a reduction in the expensive prison system, and that we’ll be able to treat the mental health issues of people with drug and alcohol addiction.
Kaleidoscope’s approach to the Welsh Governments Commission on Justice in Wales can be downloaded from: https://beta.gov.wales/node/1880/latest-external-org-content