Why spend money fixing someone’s drug problem when you can spend much, much more imprisoning them and not resolving anything?

In Victoria, we have an excellent bail support program called CREDIT. (Or CREDIT/BSP. Or CISP. There’s some slight bureaucratic confusion over the name depending on the court.) The idea is to get drug-using offenders to learn to conquer and then resist their addiction, whilst in the community – a carrot-and-stick approach, in which the stick is that they’ll go to jail if they don’t do it successfully, and the carrot is, we can help you get off this substance and, if you do, you might be able to do your sentence in the community.

Locking an illicit drug user up only delays the problem: it doesn’t solve anything. They learn no useful techniques for dealing with their problem in the real world, and when they’re eventually released, many inevitably fall back on substance abuse – with the obvious consequent results for the rest of the community. A much better and more effective approach is to put them on a very tightly-monitored form of bail, monitored by experts in the field of drug addiction, in which their problem is managed very strictly, out in the real world where they will ultimately need to apply these strategies. The program takes place over some three months, with offenders being brought back to court every month to see how they’re managing: if they do not engage, or reoffend, then they go back inside and are sentenced accordingly; if they do well, and are clean by the time they are sentenced, then it is strongly mitigating against their sentence. If they were looking at a jail time to be served in custody, they might, for example, be able to do that as an Intensive Corrections Order, which is a form of jail served in the community. The idea being that, if drug use is the reason for the offending, then once that drug use is managed their threat to the community is greatly reduced.

Having a jail sentence hanging over someone’s head is an excellent motivator, but once they’ve been doing the program they often find that the techniques and habits they’ve developed actually stick. In reducing reoffending, the program really works – which is not just to the benefit of the offenders, it’s to the benefit of all of us. Fewer costs of crime (victims, police, courts, lawyers), and, as a side note, it’s much much cheaper to put someone on CREDIT and then an ICO than it is to keep them in prison. It’s also more just, and more constructive – rather than condemning people with what are, by the stage they reach court, effectively serious health problems, to a painful, useless life of offending and imprisonment, it gives them a way to become positive, constructive members of the community again.

The only problem is that it’s ridiculously underfunded. Increasing funding for bail support programs doesn’t get a Minister (in this case, Bob Cameron) a positive headline in the Herald Sun – quite the reverse. WHY ARE WE SPENDING MONEY ON CRIMINALS, the paper would angrily scream, completely ignoring that locking everyone up costs a vast amount more. And gutless Ministers are more interested in pandering to the ill-informed mob than advocating for policies and programs they know actually work.

The upshot of which is that the CREDIT program at many courts is full-up by the middle of each month, with the queues lengthening and the problem escalating as they struggle to cope with the unmet demand. Prisoners who could benefit from the program sit in prison because whilst they would be fine in the community with proper supervision, they’re too much of a risk to release with no supports – despite jail not necessarily being the appropriate sentence in their case. People serve time that is excessive compared with the offence they’ve committed. And they lose the chance to actually address the problem that’s put them in there. And we lose the chance to effectively get them clean while the opportunity is greatest.

CREDIT isn’t the only important such service that’s being left by the government to atrophy, of course. Part of the problem it faces is that many of the services on which it relies – drug and alcohol counsellors, in particular – are also under-resourced and stretched to the limit. Many are simply not taking new cases at the moment, meaning that we have people in the community with serious problems, ready and desperate to get the help they clearly need – that we simply are unwilling to provide. And then we complain when we read of drug-related crime!

The only way this situation will improve is if increasing numbers of citizens make our voices heard on the subject. We don’t want money wasted on more jails: we want sensible, proven, effective programs that actually reduce offending and lessen our risk of being victims of crime (and cost us much less as taxpayers) to be expanded to meet the obvious need. Programs like CREDIT.

Good luck getting that message through the tabloid gatekeepers, though.

ELSEWHERE: California proposes to legalise marijuana: beer companies spend money opposing it. Either they suddenly believe in restricting intoxicating substances or – well, you can draw your own conclusions as to their motivation. (They couldn’t be seeking to uphold a ban because they’re afraid of the competition, could they?)

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9 responses to “Why spend money fixing someone’s drug problem when you can spend much, much more imprisoning them and not resolving anything?

  1. Wisdom Like Silence

    That program does sound brilliant. Cheap and clean, what more could one ask for?

    The punters want PUNISHMENT for people, and Gaol is a nasty place. Anyone who’s ever been to even a medium security facility knows how truly souless they can be. Punters don’t care though. They don’t want junkies to get better. They don’t even really want less crime. If they did they wouldn’t have their heads so far up their own arses the lump in their throat is their nose.
    Maybe that’s not fair. It’s not punters in general. It’s right wing people. If there was less crime and more healthy people they could be out of jobs real fast.

  2. A similar system has been in place here in NSW since 1999, which is somewhat surprising, given the Laura Norda mentality that paralyses this state. We have the Drug Court which has been remarkably successful, having something like a 60% success rate. Unfortunately like the Victorian system, The Drug Court is appallingly underfunded, and only exists in one location in the entire state, at Parramatta. It is incredibly frustrating to listen to the crime auction year after year, as shock jocks pronounce the escalation of crime, knowing that perfectly viable and effective solutions are there and waiting to be expanded.

  3. Wisdom Like Silence

    60% success in rehabilitation?

  4. The thing about gaol is there are no drugs there. Really. None at all.

    “The idea being that, if drug use is the reason for the offending, then once that drug use is managed their threat to the community is greatly reduced.”

    These are great ideas and programs compared to the wingnut paradise, but drug use itself shouldn’t be a crime, and drug use itself poses a minimal threat to the community, possibly the greatest threat to the community from drug use comes from alcohol, which is legal.

    The threat posed by other drugs stems mostly from the problems associated with artificial increases in price. Perhaps stimulant use poses a real threat to the community in a similar way that alcohol does.

    “The only way this situation will improve is if increasing numbers of citizens make our voices heard on the subject. We don’t want money wasted on more jails: we want sensible, proven, effective programs that actually reduce offending and lessen our risk of being victims of crime (and cost us much less as taxpayers) to be expanded to meet the obvious need. Programs like CREDIT.”

    Really even programs like CREDIT, tho far better than the current alternatives are a way of avoiding the real solution, which is legalisation of some (or all) drugs.

  5. Wisdom Like Silence

    Uppers and downers both pose threats to the wider community, and perpetual health problems for their users.

    Pot included.

    How to prohibit access to drugs that fuck someones brain up without making it illegal is a prickly issue. I believe MP N. Otta from the seat of Snowballs Chance is currently the minister in charge, he took over from Up Shikreek from the seat of Withouta Paddle.

  6. “Uppers and downers both pose threats to the wider community, and perpetual health problems for their users.”

    Illegal drugs have also provided benefits to the community. The influence of psychedelic drugs on … well pretty much everything in the last 50 years but specifically the IT revolution, and the rave movement, mass ecstasy use and the decline of the football hooliganism in the uk and parts of europe in the early nineties spring to mind.

    “How to prohibit access to drugs that fuck someones brain up without making it illegal is a prickly issue.”

    Thats complete bollocks.

    I reserve the right to fuck my brain up whenever and however I like. Thats one of the most fundamental sovereignty issues out there. Who is allowed to control your state of mind is a fundamental human rights issue, and drug prohibition is an infringement upon a fundamental right. Thats inalienable as far as I’m concerned.

    But if you want to deal with the specifics of this issue reflect on this. Right now at this very moment I’m detoxing a nearly 20 year (over half their life) heroin addict off a 2000 dollar plus a week habit. Privately at my home with no support at fucking all, save a GP once a fortnight and local medical staff who I know socially who know my situation and have offered their help if I need it. Which to me means when it all goes to shit and I can barely cope, but to them probably means much earlier.

    But this is a private thing so how I see it is how it’ll go. Cos there is no effective public support at all. None. Fuck all.

    Individual ants piss more in a millisecond than there is effective support.

    If the person I’m helping could get heroin on the PBS they’d be an effective human and function in society. Instead we have this situation, and even it would be happening if they hadn’t dug so deep, and cos they are lucky.

    After nearly 20 years of heroin use they still have people who care enough to go through this shit with them.

    Most don’t.

    Ok I’m stressed as fuck. Cos I’m going through this. If I drop round to my friends for a rum or two cos I need a break for a couple of hours from an intense situation thats cool. If we then roll a joint, which is, in the real world, a far better option for that sort of stress dumping then suddenly we’re criminals.

    Fuck!

    I don’t really want to say any more cos this situation is a little close to home right now. But prohibition is a fucking disaster as far as I’m concerned and has done exponentially more harm than good and exponentially more harm than if it’d never happened.

    Anyone who says otherwise simply doesn’t know what the fuck they are talking about.

    Ok one further point for people especially when it comes to heroin addiction. Heroin is a pain killer. Addicts either have physical pain issues, or other non physical pain issues. Thats all there is to it. Criminalising this is beyond counterproductive, beyond stupid. Its nasty.

    More often than not addicts use it as a psychological pain killer, for want of a better term. If you don’t understand that then you need to. If you don’t want to understand it then you’re probably not much of a human. (Thats a general reflection on people not on you wls, in case it comes across that way.)

    If you really want to understand this stuff ts worth reading this blog post too:

    http://theaustralianheroindiaries.blogspot.com/2010/09/heroin-addiction-is-bitch.html

    I might not get back to this if anyone replies to that comment, cos I have other things that are taking my attention right now. So sorry in advance.

  7. Wisdom Like Silence

    I work in a mental health where most of the clients are involuntary, chronic abusers turned schizophrenics. When you’ve seen that end of the rabbit hole, you do get extraordinarily frustrated when you see things like “emotional pain killer” or “my right to abuse myself”. It’s life avoidance and unfortunately in some cases, life termination.

    However, I understand where you’re coming from, and where they’re coming from. I also understand, and agree, with the idea of taxation/regulation rather than criminalisation, as would most mental health ward cleaners, let alone mental health care providers. Making them criminals makes it awfully difficult to make them healthy.

    I was acting as a spokesman for the right honorable Laura Norder in my last post. I thought MP N. Otta and Up Shikreek gave me away.

    PS jules, I would strongly reccomend accepting as much help as is offerred. Taking on something as incredibly difficult as detoxing a herion addict is hard enough in a facility with everything at your disposal.

  8. BTW – who here supports the tax increases on tabacco? What happens when it is made illegal (if it ever is).

  9. How many of those chronic abusers are “turned schizophrenic” and how many have turned to chronic abuse (and I’m talkng mostly about heroin and alcohol abuse, but also pot users) as an attempt at self medication?

    The way I see it you’re putting the cart before the horse, tho you may think that of me too.

    “I was acting as a spokesman for the right honorable Laura Norder in my last post. I thought MP N. Otta and Up Shikreek gave me away.”

    Yeah I know, most of the anger in that last post wasn’t aimed at you, tho the first bits were. I was just venting a bit, cos its been stressful, and its more than one person hanging their hopes on this.

    I can understand the frustration of the term “emotional pain killer”, but its not a cop out, its a medical need and as a society we aren’t addressing it. The problem of heroin addiction is a symptom of a greater problem and the illegality of it sweeps it under the carpet.

    Addicts won’t deal with their addiction until they can confront and deal with, or at least recognise that emotional or psychological pain, and that pain may be due to mental illness. Illegality hides the problem and makes it harder for them to access treatment, tho I guess you understand it.

    As for the my right thing. It is. Tough shit. If there are consequences then as a society we need to find ways to deal with and mitigate these consequences. I fully accept that some people shouldn’t use pot for example, but that no reason for its illegality, some people shouldn’t drink, and I doubt anyone should smoke cigarettes. Same applies.

    But other peoples discomfort isn’t an excuse to violate my rates (tho my opinion on another thread about some people stealing other peoples magic might contradict that.)

    The only drug I have serious worries about (thats in Australia) is crystal meth, as far as legality goes, but even then … I doubt the problem could be any worse. Its certainly not as bad as media hysteria would have you think.

    BTW I have been accepting help where necessary. This isn’t easy, and I’ve done it before, years ago when I was young, and seen my limits. This person is probably one of two or three I’d do it for, possibly the only person. They are highly motivated, and in all objective honesty I’m probably good at it, cos I feel about as in control in this situation as I could hope to expect. I didn’t know if that’d happen. It wouldn’t be if they weren’t highly motivated.

    In that sense it might be easy in a facility. I have this person to myself. They aren’t in an institution full of addicts swapping stories and making contacts with other addicts. Constantly reinforcing their drug use and the associated lifestyle. (IE every time an addict hears someone talk about heroin it triggers the desire to use. Even the most motivated addict will struggle to resist that trigger, especially if they are hanging out or stressed.)

    In that sense this is a good environment, tho heroin is everywhere so nowhere within cooee of civilisation is an ideal place, but then again at some point that person has to make the decision, to choose not to score and not to use. And they will constantly face opportunities to relapse for the rest of their lives, so they HAVE to develop that resilience.

    Anyway I’m rambling,.

    Cheers.

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