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For those who are new here, drug policy is my field of expertise - Tactical Ninja

Jul. 26th, 2013

10:13 am - For those who are new here, drug policy is my field of expertise

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Wow. I just pulled an inch-long hair out of the skin over the bridge of my nose. It wasn't an eyebrow hair, it was just a normal fine face one, but OMG LONG.

It's my winter coat shedding, right? Right?

Meanwhile, this morning's musing: When I was a kid, my folks got a dog. She was a sheepdog, one of those ones that was never going to be any good at working sheep, so she ended up as our family pet. When she arrived, she had floppy ears. After about 6 months of Mum-style TLC, her ears pricked up and she was a prick-eared dog for the rest of her life - about another 12 years. Mum reckoned she must have had something wrong with them when we got her and when that came right, they went back to their natural position, but there was never a definitive answer and why it happened is a mystery to this day. Prick-eared sheepdogs are not impossible, but they are rare.

Anyone else ever have a dog that's suddenly pricked its ears up for no reason?


Possible triggers because of talk of food and drugs.

New Zealand is introducing drug courts. What a drug court is, is a special form of court where people are sent for specifically drug-related offences. So, if a person is addicted to a substance and commits a bunch of robberies to finance their habit - drug court. If a person is caught in possession of an illegal substance - drug court. If a person kills another person while driving under the influence of alcohol - drug court. Yes, our drug courts are to be called Alcohol and Other Drug Courts. But we all know they'll actually be called drug courts.

One of these offences is not like the others. Can you guess which one? If you guessed "Possession" then you're right. The other two crimes are drug related - crimes that occur in association with the use of a drug. Robbery would still be a crime without the drug connection, killing someone in your car would still be a crime if you weren't drunk. But possession is a drug defined crime. Possessing a thing is not a crime, the crime of drug possession only exists because the law deems the drug illegal, therefore the crime is defined by the drug. However, they all land in the same court nowadays.

The idea of these courts is to channel people who exhibit problematic drug use away from prison and into treatment. It's a noble goal - we all know that prisons are more likely to fuel problematic drug use than fix it, and the idea of offering treatment instead of punishment falls very much on the side of harm reduction. So yay drug courts!

Only, not so yay, and here's why.

First, there's the problem of drug-defined crimes. Yes, I would agree that someone who did the robberies or the vehicular manslaughter is exhibiting problematic drug use. These are the people the courts are designed to work for. However, the third person, not so much. Having something in your possession is not a sign of problematic use, even if it's a Class A drug. There is no evidence that this person is an addict, or that the person will go out and commit a crime while under the influence, or has committed a crime to pay for their drugs. They just have them, and in the eyes of the criminal justice system, that means they are problem drug users and they get sent to drug court too. So we end up with people in the system who don't need rehabilitating because they don't actually have a problem*.

In addition to this, there's a thing called the 'net widening effect'. What happens with this is that because drug courts exist and the general perception is that they are a good thing, people who would normally be let off with a warning or a 'misdemeanour' charge, are instead sent to the drug courts and coerced into treatment. So you end up with more people in the system than previously, simply because the system exists. And this is where the real problem with drug courts emerges.

Instead of going to jail, people sent to drug court get offered suspended sentences in return for engaging in treatment programs. Yay, that's great! Except that all of the treatments on offer are abstinence programs with testing. What this means is that the person is expected to remain completely free of any drug (not just the one that they had the 'problem' with) for the duration of their treatment in order to be considered successful. This is supported by a testing regime to police the person's habits. If they are found to have drugs in their system at any time during the treatment, the sentence comes into effect and they go to jail.

Here's where the dieting analogy comes in. Anyone who's been overweight due to overeating** and tried to diet it off, will know that changing a habit isn't just a matter of going "Right then, I'll stop." There are psychological papers out the wazoo about this - backsliding is part of the cycle of changing a habit. When you're dieting and you fall off the wagon and stuff your face with ice cream, it's generally accepted that the worst thing for your continued healthy eating is to make that backslide the important thing and punish yourself for it. Your self-esteem nosedives, you see yourself as a hopeless case, you think "Why do I even bother?" and this cycle of self-beration tends to lead you straight back to overeating because clearly that's who you are and there's no point trying to change it.

Instead, we are encouraged to accept backsliding as part of the cycle, forgive ourselves, and go "Oh well, I'm human and fallible, but I can still pick up where I left off, no real harm done." To make the backslide an inconsequential part of the process instead of a life-changing event that defines your identity.

Unless we're talking about drugs and drug courts. Because in the case of drug courts, backsliding is picked up by testing and punished by prison. Which I'm sure the psychological experts would agree is pretty much the absolute worst outcome for someone trying to improve their life. And given that backsliding is as much a part of breaking a drug habit as breaking a food habit, it happens pretty regularly.

The result of this is that people are being set up to fail - and because of the net-widening effect I mentioned earlier, even more people are likely to end up in prison for failing their drug court sentence than would have if they'd just gone through the normal criminal courts. Don't believe me? this google book excerpt is part of only one of many, many studies that demonstrate exactly this effect happening in countries where they already have drug courts.

And then you add into the mix all those people whose crimes are drug-defined - remember our friend up there with the Class A in her pocket? Who has a steady job, smokes a bit of pot sometimes, and decided to score some acid for herself and her friends for a holiday treat? Who got sent to rehab for her 'problem' and who's now likely to go to jail if she has a toke on a joint at a party one night? Exactly how has drug court helped her? Because in the eyes of the drug courts, everyone who uses drugs has a problem with drugs, and abstinence is the only solution.

Frankly, even with net-widening I think that drug courts could be a good thing. But in order for that to occur, three things need to be implemented:

1. People sent into the system need to be thoroughly screened by trained staff to identify those who actually do exhibit problematic drug use. There is absolutely no point coercing people into treatment for a problem they do not have.

2. Programs that are not abstinence/testing based. It is ridiculous to bust someone for a cocaine-related crime and then send them to jail for having smoked some pot, and it's even more ridiculous to expect someone with problem drug use to quit cold turkey from the get-go. Accepting backsliding and dealing with it in a supportive way needs to be part of rehab, not irreversible punishment.

3. Follow-up support for those completing programs. Sure, we hear about the celebrities - Amy Winehouse, Cory Monteith - but how many other people complete programs and then OD because they have lost their tolerance and lack support that can help and guide them through the tough reintegration stage? And even those who don't die, how many go back to their problematic drug use because of lack of support for a full lifestyle change after getting clean?

I strongly believe that without these three things, drug courts are likely to create more harm than they solve. And the evidence in other countries backs up my opinion. But, like everything else, they look like a good idea until you look more closely, and will no doubt be a popular policy. *sigh*

* Unless you consider the desire to use drugs to be a problem in itself, in which case you'd better chuck out your tea, coffee and that bottle of wine you've been saving for a special occasion.
** Acknowledging that overeating isn't the only cause of weight gain here - it's just the relevant one to this analogy.


Last night I finished the leather prep! I R EXCITE because that means dyeing this weekend. The YoT is working and Dr Wheel will be out of the country, so I'll stink out the house on Sunday when it won't bother anyone. Yay!

This morning I felt the wheel turn. I know it's only the end of July, but something feels a bit different. Maybe it's because it's sunny, I don't know, but I'm feeling spring around the edges of my winter right now. More yay!

Comments:

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From:pombagira
Date:July 25th, 2013 10:33 pm (UTC)
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you know my first thought when i read Drug Courts, was 'umm.. is Mr key still working on privatising prisons? cause if so this will be a way that said private prisons, which lets face it are all about making money which is done by having people in cells, will be earning such money.. which means that drug courts will have a stronger propensity to fuck it all up rather than doing the hard yard and making it an excellent way of using palliative instead of punitive for actual drug addicts, and like you said differentiating between drug users and drug addicts, while also treating drug addicts as actual people true and whole...

*breathes*

which just makes me want to hide under my desk...

also it makes me wonder who is doing the advising, cause really they have the shitests skills at research and analyasis.. and they have not read anything drug related beyond the Nancy years...*coughs*
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From:pombagira
Date:July 25th, 2013 10:34 pm (UTC)
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and then i though.. OMG i hope its not that dude from the universtiy whos lectures you went to.. cause he is not so good with the critical eye and references. ohh..that would be bad

O.O
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From:tatjna
Date:July 25th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
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Nope, not him. And the Head of Criminology at Vic (which is the only university in NZ that has a Criminology department) is Julian Buchanan. If they ask him, he's even further on the "Don't do it!" side of the drug court debate than I am.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 25th, 2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
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I think in terms of policy creation, it's a case of a few factors in play:

1. Being seen to be doing something - something that looks good on the surface. "Look, we are helping all these people get treatment!"

2. The fact that Ministers only get bullet-point summaries of research documents, and about 2 minutes to read them.

3. A general trend towards penal populism in NZ over the last few *cough*National Government* years being fed by the 'give them a chance, then whack them if they don't take it' rhetoric of conservatism.

4. The fact that a number of countries we like to copy have adopted drug courts.

5. A general lack of understanding of addiction and drug policy issues in the first place. After all, our Minister of Health is a businessman with no background in health, and our Minister of Justice is Judith "All Drug Users Are Criminals" Collins.

Mix all that together, and drug courts seem like a pretty liberal response to the Law Commission's report tbh. Just, not very well thought out. Which, given this government's track record, is actually a huge improvement on their usual MO of 'borderline corrupt and self-serving'. Although, you make a good point about the private prisons. Hmm..
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From:siobhan63
Date:July 26th, 2013 11:12 am (UTC)
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Re: #4, I was curious about that as I've never heard of these drug courts before, so I googled. And was very surprised to learn that Canada has some. Truly surprised - I had no clue. I'm also rather surprised that the current Conservative government we haven't hasn't killed them off completely since they aren't fans of anything other than the "throw 'em in jail/drugs are bad" school of idiocy. They've been trying so hard to kill of the country's one government funded safe injection site, but the courts won't let them. They've also recently toughened the penaltiesfor all sorts of minor possession charges, so yeah, rather surprised they've not killed off the funding for these courts.
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From:dianavilliers
Date:July 26th, 2013 03:02 am (UTC)
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Just because advice is given, doesn't mean that advise is taken.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:July 25th, 2013 11:43 pm (UTC)
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There are buds...on trees...it's all good

now if the tiny quakes would stop I would be really happy
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From:tatjna
Date:July 25th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, it's weird. Not once have I been truly frightened by this spake of quakes, but every time one happens now I get a rush of adrenaline that almost hurts. O.o
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From:fairwells
Date:July 26th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)

drug courts

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I agree from what you explained that the drug courts may compound the existing problems instead of helping it.

People do backslide. It's inevitable. Perhaps the rules and regulations of these drug courts are unrealistic as it is.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 26th, 2013 01:43 am (UTC)

Re: drug courts

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I think they are. It wouldn't take much to implement a less rigid structure. The testing could still happen, but without the immediate extreme consequence and more as an indicator of what to work on as part of the treatment rather than a policing of behaviour with punishment, you know?
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From:meathiel
Date:July 26th, 2013 07:13 am (UTC)
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I know that German Shepherds come with floppy ears as pups and the ears only prick up when they get older ...
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From:brynhilda
Date:July 26th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC)
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Or they are pricked up by people glueing playing cards inside :(.
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From:meathiel
Date:July 26th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
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What???
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From:tatjna
Date:July 26th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
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I didn't know that. Thanks!
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From:dreadbeard
Date:July 27th, 2013 08:56 am (UTC)
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there are buds on trees waiting to become leaves
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