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The tension between Law Enforcement and the treatment of Drug Addicts

The Hawth, Crawley
Communities Against Drugs Conference
22 February 2002


I am conscious that, always lurking behind the drugs debate, is the tension between enforcement and the treatment of drug addicts.

That tension has been there for ages.  It has always run through penology: do we stop offending by treatment or criminal justice interventions?  Should we build Broadmoors or Grendons, on the one hand – or prisons, on the other?

Since I spent nearly 20 years in the prison service as a psychologist, I know the tension well.  Were the prisoners I was seeing, patients or offenders?  Was I to act in their interests or on the side of law and order?

And, for as long as I can remember there has been (shall we say?) a lively debate between the Department of Health and the Home Office over drugs responsibilities.

This debate plays itself out in different forms.  Staff very often are much more comfortable on one side rather than the other, take up one kind of job, or join one service or another, as a result of where they stand on this.  And they take personally which side of the line they are on.

Because this issue so often gets in the way, I wanted to spend a few moments on it today. There is no way that I can resolve it: but I can say how I approach it.  That is from the part which enforcement plays in the handling of offenders.

It is an obvious point but, simply put, offenders don’t change their behaviour until they are found out and realise that they can’t go on offending.  Offenders are often very sorry for their crimes – but only after they are caught. It is only then that important change can begin to happen.

Being found out is an important part of the change process.  Offenders don’t change until they are found out.  Enforcement makes change possible. This is true for every kind of offending.

Drug offending differs from other offending mainly because of psychological/ physiological impulses to continue taking drugs – indeed, that is what much of drug treatment is about.  What you have to get right is a proper relationship between catching drug offenders and helping them past the physical and psychological concomitants of drug taking.  As with all forms of crime, treatment will stand the best chance when the offenders know that if they continue offending there will be unpleasant criminal justice consequences.

There is one other point we need to be clear about.  Sometimes drug offences are represented (even excused) as being victimless crimes, or even that the only victim is the offender.  But lots of crimes can be victimless – breaking the speed limit, for instance.  Just because some drug offending may be victimless, don’t let’s kid ourselves that most of it is. There are plenty of examples, including a good recent one here in Crawley, when the breaking of a drug ring resulted in a significant drop in burglaries.  All but the wealthiest of drug takers feed their habit through crime, from street prostitution to car crime, burglary, robbery and worse.  There are plenty of victims along that route.

So, for me, the debate is not about treatment of drug addicts or criminal justice interventions.  It is about joining up the detection and prevention of criminality with helping drug addicts normalise their lives.

That is why I was particularly keen to promote enforcement as a major plank in the Communities against Drugs initiative. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced Communities against Drugs, he announced at the same time increased resources for the treatment of drug offenders, to be channelled through DATs.  That makes up the other essential part of the package and it falls to us to make the best of joining up criminal justice and health service interventions.  They are not opposed the one to the other, they are not alternatives, but they are complementary and – most important of all -depend on each other for their success and their impact.


Excerpt from an Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East