Friday, March 13, 2009

The same-old, same-old futility

You may be aware an international UN conference on drug control has been taking place in Vienna. We sent Peter Dunne who has been talking about New Zealand's means and end approach, the end being 'ultimate abstinence' and 'the elimination of illegal drugs'.

Who is he kidding?

Consider efforts to date;

What has the Drug War done for you lately?

WASHINGTON--A decade ago, the U.N. General Assembly set an objective of "eliminating or significantly reducing" narcotics cultivation and trafficking "by the year 2008." According to the data of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the effort has been an unmitigated disaster. Opium and cannabis production has doubled, while cocaine has slightly increased. The same proportion of adults--5 percent--consumes drugs today, mostly marijuana, as in 1998.

As officials from around the world gather in Vienna this week to chart the next decade of the anti-drug effort, it may be time to rethink the entire approach.

Echoing the Prohibition era in the United States, illegality has engendered organized crime empires that, in order to supply narcotics, undermine the peace and institutions of many countries. The latest example is Mexico, where President Felipe Calderon has unleashed the wrath of the state against the drug lords. The war between the state and the cartels, and among the mafias themselves, has mostly taken place in northern cities such as Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Culiacan. Ten thousand people have been killed and drug-related corruption has been exposed at the highest levels, including the attorney general's office.

The anti-drug budget worldwide is staggering: The United States alone devotes more than $40 billion yearly to the effort. Yet whenever attempts to limit supply manage to raise street prices in one country, prices go down in other countries: In Europe, the price of cocaine has dropped by half since 1990. But the crackdown has reduced the purity of the drug, increasing the harm to people's health. According to the police, in Britain the purity has decreased from 60 percent to 30 percent in a decade.

Not to mention the consequences to individual liberty. Those who banned alcohol in 1920 felt compelled to amend the Constitution before they could pass Prohibition. No such amendment was ever presented to legitimize what Richard Nixon first called the "war on drugs" in 1971. The excesses committed in its name have created all sorts of social stigmas--including the fact that about 30 percent of black males in America spend some time in jail in large part due to drug-related offenses.

Three Latin American former presidents--Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo and Colombia's Cesar Gaviria--recently put out a report condemning the war on drugs as a counterproductive failure, advocating a public health-based approach instead of repression. In anticipation of the meeting in Vienna, the latest issue of The Economist magazine, the bible of many current and aspiring enforcers of the law, devoted its cover, a survey and an editorial to making the case for legalization. For years, conservative publications such as The Wall Street Journal have run articles expressing the same view, including those by its expert on Latin America, Mary O'Grady. Leaders on the right (Henry Kissinger) and organizations of the center-left (George Soros' Open Society Institute) have also spoken out on the issue.

No one knows exactly how drug use would be impacted by its legalization or its decriminalization. In countries where it is severely punished, consumption is high, which might mean that it would stabilize or even drop. Many European countries--Spain, Portugal, Italy, several Swiss cantons--have extremely lenient drug policies; consumption in those countries (except for Spain) is not very high. But even assuming a moderate increase in consumption, decriminalization or legalization would eliminate or substantially diminish the horrific side effects of the current war.

A movement in favor of legalization has existed in the United States for years. Because it is associated with the cultural war that has raged since the 1960s, its impact has been small. But the debate goes on. In many states the police do not go after personal possession of marijuana, and California is considering a bill that would make it legal. The vestiges of Puritan dogmatism--which H.L. Mencken memorably called the "inferior man's hatred of the man who is having a better time"--have made it difficult to open a serious debate nationwide.

Today we regard the Opium Wars of the 19th century--by which the British retaliated against China for clamping down on opium imports--as crazy. One and a half centuries from now, people will read in total amazement that so much blood and treasure was wasted in the failed pursuit of a private vice that a relatively small percentage of the world population was not ready to give up.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and the editor of Lessons from the Poor.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Victimless crimes and imprisonment

First I reiterate a part of a post from earlier in the week;

"The fact is: if you don't want to be assaulted - or worse - by a cellmate, avoid prison by not committing a crime," Mr Garrett said.

My response;

I wonder if Mr Garrett has forgotten that there are people in our prisons who are not violent; people who are guilty only of victimless crimes; people who should properly be in the care of psychiatrists and nursing staff; people who are on remand awaiting trial who may not even be convicted.

Mike E then referred to people imprisoned for "smoking pot" and was challenged by Mr Garrett to produce an example.

They may be unusual but certainly not unheard of.

This is from the 2002 Health Select Committee cannabis inquiry report:

p32: "Of the 9,399 prosecutions for the use of cannabis, 6,761 resulted in convictions, and 52 custodial sentences were imposed."

And from parliamentary questions;

Question 8479 (2004)

Question by Hon Tony Ryall to the Minister of Corrections:
June 14th 2004

How many inmates were imprisoned for possession of drugs but not manufacture or supply of drugs in each of the past five years, detailing how many had previous drug convictions and previous custodial sentences?

Hon Paul Swain (Minister of Corrections) replied:

The total number of inmates imprisoned for possession of drugs but not manufacture or supply of drugs in each of the last five years is as follow:

1999 431 inmates
2000 430 inmates
2001 443 inmates
2002 386 inmates
2003 411 inmates
2004 157 inmates (up to 31 May 2004)

While most sentences would have been for drugs other than cannabis, these substantial numbers represent the victimless crimes alluded to.

(Many thanks to Chris Fowlie of NORML for the speedy provision of information)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Absenteeism. It's long been the bane of employers.

Lost productivity. The direct and indirect impact on profit.

Paying people to do nothing.

The impaired mental health and motivation of absentees.

Now suddenly it is the saviour. Now it is to be encouraged.

And on the tenth day God ... sorry, government, created a hand-out.

Behind the double-bunking debate

The debate about double-bunking and Greg Newbold's opinion that rapes would increase, being discussed at a number of sites, is certainly revealing some deeply ingrained attitudes. I have just commented on the feminist site, Hand Mirror. Cactus is over there asking this question;


So would you shed a tear if a man who has violently raped an innocent woman, is then raped in prison?

Honest answer please.

I'll answer it for you Cactus. I wouldn't shed a tear but I wouldn't be cheering either.

I have always accepted the idea of safe and secure preventive detention for the most dangerous criminals. But the tough on law and order brigade are starting to show their true colours. They are retributionists.

Think about where the strong culture of retribution has gotten many a Maori.

Retribution sits at the start of the problem - not the end. As Lucy says, this is eye-for-an-eye stuff. Where is the logical conclusion?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Antagonism for the sake of it

I have a bit of time for criminologist, Greg Newbold. When he shares an opinion I listen. But his latest comments, that double-bunking in prisons will lead to more violence and more rape, have wound up ACT's David Garrett.

Mr Garrett obviously believes that the state has no responsibility to keep people who are sent to prison safe. His latest statement, by way of response to Greg Newbold, is quite bloody-minded.

"I am further interested to note Dr Greg Newbold's remarks about homosexual rape – an issue he is on record as saying has never been a major problem in New Zealand prisons. Rape is a crime wherever it occurs, and can be dealt with in the same way as any other offence committed in prison.

"The fact is: if you don't want to be assaulted - or worse - by a cellmate, avoid prison by not committing a crime," Mr Garrett said.

I wonder if Mr Garrett has forgotten that there are people in our prisons who are not violent; people who are guilty only of victimless crimes; people who should properly be in the care of psychiatrists and nursing staff; people who are on remand awaiting trial who may not even be convicted.

Note too that he has now gone beyond the idea of prison as a means to keeping the public safe, his overriding rationale for the three strikes policy. It is now a place where you can get a taste of your own medicine, perhaps? Where you get what is coming to you.

Double-bunking may be a necessary and/or temporary last resort but it is a far cry from grudging or regretful acceptance to positively relishing the prospect.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Long-term ACC claimants

Prompted by Monkeys With Typewriters I had a look at the ACC 2008 Annual Report to ascertain how many long-term claimants there are. Here is what I found (and duly related at MWT's blogsite.)

Number of long-term claims

The number of long-term weekly compensation claims (i.e. claims in receipt of weekly compensation for more than 12 months) increased by 827 during the year to 30 June 2008 (compared with 580 during 2006-2007).

The figure of 14,755 has been sort of niggling at me. I had a vague idea that it was more than this from some earlier research. Sure enough in 2007 I found quite a different figure and cited ACC Injury Statistics 2006 (First Edition). So I went to the ACC site only to find the page is no longer available. Fortunately I had filed a hard copy for my records. Here it is;

That shows a total of 47,584 claims have been paying out for a year or more.

That's a big discrepancy. I cannot reconcile the 2 figures and believe the 2008 Annual Report is very misleading.

Very young mothers - a risk factor for criminality

Monday, March 9, 2009

A report recently released by Corrections New Zealand, which explores the "alarming" over-representation of Maori in the criminal justice system, has identified very young parents as a risk factor for potential criminality. Welfare commentator , Lindsay Mitchell, has welcomed the recognition of this fact but asks what government is going to do about the policy that encourages early parenthood.

"According to the report, traditional models of Maori family may well have been better able to support young mothers. This is , in part, a reference to whanau structure before it was undermined by welfare, in particular, the domestic purposes benefit. Along with welfare reliance comes poor educational attainment, exclusion from paid employment and disrupted home environments."

"Also explored are the compounding factors of impaired foetal neurological development which are associated with maternal smoking, alcohol and/or substance abuse, and low birth weight. It points out that Maori experience a higher rate of low-weight births than non-Maori."

"The report goes on to show that the rate of birth to Maori mothers under the age of 18 is five times that of non-Maori. "

"There is no doubt in my mind that the combination of the rising teenage birthrate and subsequent welfare dependence is contributing to the over -representation of Maori in prison or serving community sentences. We can continue to ignore this pattern and forget about reducing crime and the prison population, or, we can look seriously at reforming welfare. The matter becomes more urgent with each passing day."