Theft, Addiction and Prison

The guidelines say: "Many offenders convicted of acquisitive crimes are motivated by an addiction, often to drugs or gambling. This does not mitigate the seriousness of the offence but an offender\’s dependency may properly influence the type of sentence."

They suggest that rather than a prison term, "it may sometimes be appropriate to impose a drug rehabilitation requirement or an alcohol treatment requirement as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order in an attempt to break the cycle of addiction and offending, even if an immediate custodial sentence would otherwise be warranted".

Seems sensible enough, if the aim is to stop a recurrence of the theft then dealing with the addiction seems logical enough.

Patrick Mercer, a Tory member of the Commons home affairs committee, said: "Rehabilitation can go on in prison. I don\’t see why these are mitigating factors."

This is also true, it can…..but does it?

The little I\’ve heard on the subject implies that addictions get worse inside, not better, specifically, that heroin is easier to get and to use inside than cannabis is. So prison really isn\’t the place where rehabilitation does in fact happen.

Anyway, these are only changes to the sentencing guidelines: judges and magistrates still get to deal with each individual case on its own merits, as of course they should.

18 thoughts on “Theft, Addiction and Prison”

  1. The move from cannabis to heroin in jails was an unintended consequence of the introduction of random drug testing – cannabis stays in the system much longer than heroin, so you’re less likely to get caught if you jack up.

    Obviously, this is all fiddling with details – legalise drugs and this problem goes away.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    The fallacy is that offenders steal to support their habits. There is next to no evidence for this at all. A significant percentage of “addicts” report first trying heroin in prison – which means they were serious offenders before they ever touched the stuff. Giving addicts heroin reduces but not does not end their criminal behaviour.

    The truth is that low-life sociopathic scum bags are low-life sociopathic scum bags. They take drugs because they are criminals. Not the other way around.

    Whatever libertarian impulses I have in me also strongly objects to the term “addict” and I think it ought to be banned from political and legal discourse. Drug users make a conscious and voluntary choice. For which they ought to be held accountable. Not let off because they are even bigger scum bags and criminals than the non-drug user who, on an impulse, nicks a TV.

  3. “Giving addicts heroin reduces but not does not end their criminal behaviour.”

    If you admit it reduces their criminal behaviour, then it’s the sensible policy prescription, no?

  4. “”it may sometimes be appropriate to impose a drug rehabilitation requirement or an alcohol treatment requirement as part of a community order”

    So any sensible criminal will claim to have an addiction when he’s caught.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    John B. No I don’t think giving them heroin is a sensible policy prescription. The law has to deter others, punish the guilty and prevent the offender re-offending. Giving the scuzz ball free drugs undermines pretty much all of these. Even if it works I am not sure we ought to do it anyway. After all executing the little bastard would end his crime spree *and* his drug “addiction”. I would not recommend it on purely those grounds.

    Besides, what is his drug dealer going to do with the heroin he would have sold to that little prick? Flush it down the toilet? The price will drop, he will find a new customer – in fact the more the price goes down the more customers he is likely to have. So we have two or more “addicts” breaking the law instead of one. Not an improvement.

    I am also mildly concerned about “treatment” for criminal problems. As all libertarians ought to be. The Americans openly support Three Strikes laws. A little harsh but that is their right I suppose. But what is a “treatment” programme? Presumably it means indefinite jail time until the little bastard can show he is off drugs. That ought to have anyone concerned with civil liberties up in arms.

  6. This does not mitigate the seriousness of the offence but an offender’s dependency may properly influence the type of sentence.”

    The drug rehabilitation program may help cure their addiction, and thus prevent future offending, but when do they actually get punished for the crime(s) they have already committed?

    So prison really isn’t the place where rehabilitation does in fact happen.

    If this is the case, then a sensible sentence would involve prison then treatment. Perhaps locking criminals up all day in the company of other criminals is not conducive to rehabilitation – should we have solitary confinement for all prisoners?

    “Giving addicts heroin reduces but not does not end their criminal behaviour.”

    If you admit it reduces their criminal behaviour, then it’s the sensible policy prescription, no?

    What do we give to the gambling addicts? Free lottery tickets?

    How much is the reduction? From
    http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_2_a1.html

    “the rate of criminal activity among those drug addicts who receive methadone from the clinic, though reduced, remains very high. The deputy director of the clinic estimates that the number of criminal acts committed by his average patient (as judged by self-report) was 250 per year before entering treatment and 50 afterward. It may well be that the real difference is considerably less than this, because the patients have an incentive to exaggerate it to secure the continuation of their methadone.”

    Lets assume that these are real crimes (e.g. theft, muggings, burglary, perhaps with associated ABH, GBH etc) and not the recently created “crimes” such as “wrong type of rubbish in your bin this week”. A reduction from 250 to 50 crimes per year is a vast improvement, but will someone please explain to me why a person who has committed 50 such crimes, never mind 250, is not permanently removed from our society?

  7. @ SMFS: that’s not how it works, except in the very short term. Customer acquisition is an expensive and risky process in drugland; you make your money from loyal, price-inelastic consumers (i.e. addicts). If they no longer require the services of heroin dealers, heroin dealing is no longer a profitable activity. Problem solved.

    @ Ed: methadone isn’t heroin. Methadone is a crap version of heroin which gives you dirty comedowns and nothing like the same high, so people who are prescribed methadone take it alongside heroin, which they still need to steal to afford (also, the majority of junkie crime is shoplifting, which is why people who do it 50 times a year aren’t ‘permanently removed from society’).

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Johnb, while my initial response is to defer to the experts, I find this hard to believe. Why would customer acquisition be hard? Crack dealers in the US hang out on street corners. Heroin in Australia went up a lot in price the last few years and addicts had no problems going over to the alternatives. Which suggests that they are not indifferent to price shifts.

    The problem with drug crime is that these people have learnt that we don’t have to obey the laws or do what normal people think we ought to. They have no shame torturing each other to death, sticking heroin packets up the anuses of infants, murdering each other in reasonable numbers. Why on Earth would anyone think that their attitudes wouldn’t take them to new and more profitable criminal enterprises rather than to an office job? Why wouldn’t they make the effort to find a new customer base?

    As for methodone, taking heroin as well is risky because of overdose and some how the idea of an addict financing their habit by nicking CDs from HMV seems a little unbelievable.

  9. “Crack dealers in the US hang out on street corners. Heroin in Australia went up a lot in price the last few years and addicts had no problems going over to the alternatives.”

    This suggests that you really don’t know very much about how drug crime works. In general in the US crack dealers hang around on particular street corners in particular territories that they ‘own’ at particular times to deal with particular customers who know they’re coming, not random passing trade. And if you can show me a study that rising heroin prices in Oz had a significant effect on the drug choices of existing junkies, then I’ll be very surprised.

    The problem with drug crime is that these people have learnt that we don’t have to obey the laws or do what normal people think we ought to. They have no shame torturing each other to death, sticking heroin packets up the anuses of infants, murdering each other in reasonable numbers.

    This is true for some of the gangsters who are attracted to the drugs trade by the large financial rewards that its illegality can product (it was also true for the gangsters attracted to the alcohol trade during US prohibition, etc, etc). It is not true for your average junkie, whose crime is petty.

    Why wouldn’t they make the effort to find a new customer base?

    Because legalising drugs for addicts means that there is no comparable customer base out there. Even if you start targeting stockbrokers or accountants or sailors or teachers or whoever, you still run into the problem that the “loyal income source til death” model no longer exists, instead it’s the “as soon as you turn someone into a loyal customer the NHS steals them” model. And since the more people you do business with to shift the same amount of heroin, the less profitable your enterprise is and the more likely you are to get caught, this is a crap model.

    As for methodone, taking heroin as well is risky because of overdose

    Right, and you think “elevated risk of death” is a good deterrent among people whose preferred recreational pursuit is being high on heroin all the time?

    and some how the idea of an addict financing their habit by nicking CDs from HMV seems a little unbelievable.

    Unbelievable to you perhaps, but true. Shoplifting doesn’t require any particular skill or physical presence, whereas burglary requires the former and robbery the latter. Heroin addiction is not condusive to either…

  10. john b: I’m confused about a couple of points.

    it’s the “as soon as you turn someone into a loyal customer the NHS steals them” model.

    Are we talking about legalising drugs for addicts i.e. prescription on the NHS? Or legalising drugs completely? If the former, I refer again to Theodore Dalrymple:

    “In fact Britain, which has had a relatively liberal approach to the prescribing of opiate drugs to addicts since 1928 (I myself have prescribed heroin to addicts), has seen an explosive increase in addiction to opiates and all the evils associated with it since the 1960s, despite that liberal policy.”

    so not much change needed. If we are legalising drugs completely, the competition for the now (potentially) legal street dealer would more likely be Boots or Tescos.

    It is not true for your average junkie, whose crime is petty.

    Shoplifting doesn’t require any particular skill or physical presence, whereas burglary requires the former and robbery the latter. Heroin addiction is not condusive to either…

    Does this mean the Telegraph is exaggerating when they talk about “Burglars and thieves could escape jail” and “The document, from the Sentencing Guidelines Council, details how serious offences should be assessed”?

    If the heroin addicts are harmless, what about the crack and meth addicts? The gambling ones?

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “This suggests that you really don’t know very much about how drug crime works.”

    I claim no specialist knowledge.

    john b – “In general in the US crack dealers hang around on particular street corners in particular territories that they ‘own’ at particular times to deal with particular customers who know they’re coming, not random passing trade.”

    I find this hard to believe. In fact I don’t. If this were the case they would wait indoors where they are not subject to Drive Bys or Probable Cause searches. And it is warmer. The only reason to tout on the street is the passing trade.

    john b – “And if you can show me a study that rising heroin prices in Oz had a significant effect on the drug choices of existing junkies, then I’ll be very surprised.”

    It is not hard to find them. Just google. Australia seems to be unique in having had a massive reduction in heroin use caused by a heroin drought caused, at least in part, by more law enforcement. A shallow and a deeper article:

    http://www.uq.edu.au/news/?article=2630

    http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/cfi/cfi012.html

    Download the full report.

    john b – “This is true for some of the gangsters who are attracted to the drugs trade by the large financial rewards that its illegality can product”

    And clearly these people are not going to give up crime just because their main source of income dries up. They have become sociopaths and the only path is law enforcement.

    john b – “It is not true for your average junkie, whose crime is petty.”

    Again there is plenty of evidence that low life scum balls continue to be low life scum balls before during and after their drug use. Enough petty crime has an impact all its own.

    john b – “Because legalising drugs for addicts means that there is no comparable customer base out there.”

    If that is what they were doing. I thought we were just talking about methadone. There is an obvious market – children. Tell me how these fine upstanding citizens would not stoop that low?

    john b – “And since the more people you do business with to shift the same amount of heroin, the less profitable your enterprise is and the more likely you are to get caught, this is a crap model.”

    I find this argument persuasive, but I still don’t see what is to stop them moving into some other criminal enterprise. You seem to be supporting the NHS medication model. I assume that is not quite legalisation? Or is it? There is a secondary market for methadone. I assume there would be for legal heroin too.

    john b – “Unbelievable to you perhaps, but true.”

    For some definition of “true”.

  12. “In fact Britain, which has had a relatively liberal approach to the prescribing of opiate drugs to addicts since 1928 (I myself have prescribed heroin to addicts), has seen an explosive increase in addiction to opiates and all the evils associated with it since the 1960s, despite that liberal policy.”

    Mr Daniels seems to be ignoring the bloody enormous elephant, which is that while it is true that heroin use rose substantially since the 1960s, this rise nearly all took place *after* the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which abolished that liberal policy.

    If that is what they were doing. I thought we were just talking about methadone.

    No, I’m suggesting we should prescribe heroin to addicts, like we used to before making a daft law which was a major factor in creating today’s heroin addiction problem.

    There is an obvious market – children. Tell me how these fine upstanding citizens would not stoop that low?

    They probably would. However, children combine a low disposable income with a high level of external dependence (i.e. if a 20-year-old living on their own on benefits becomes a junkie, nobody with the power to do anything about it will know or care. No matter how bleak your view of society, this is not the case for a 13-year-old), and so again are a rubbish target market for profit-seeking types.

  13. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “which is that while it is true that heroin use rose substantially since the 1960s, this rise nearly all took place *after* the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which abolished that liberal policy.”

    Well perhaps but correlation is not causation.

    john b – ” I’m suggesting we should prescribe heroin to addicts, like we used to before making a daft law which was a major factor in creating today’s heroin addiction problem.”

    Perhaps that would work. But the real problem remains – addicts are not forced to be scum bags, they are scum bags who choose to be addicts. Giving them smack doesn’t stop them commiting crimes. We have not seen an expansion in “addicts” but in sociopaths. Why do you think they are “forced” to steal and rob?

    john b – “However, children combine a low disposable income with a high level of external dependence … and so again are a rubbish target market for profit-seeking types.”

    Depends how many friends and how much disposable income Chris Langham has. I expect your average 13 year old can nick CDs from HMV too.

  14. So much for subtlety some of your arguments are deeply disturbed. I am a heroin addict – but commit no crime (other than the unfair ‘crime’ of possesion (of heroin) itself. I cannot understand why people like you think that yourselves or any other right-wing lunatic can determine which substances I am allowed to use, when it has no effect on anyone else.
    I am not just a minority either, in fact the majority of heroin users are in employment and are generally considerate people who get on with their own lives. Of course there is no reason why you would come across these people because they keep themselves to themselves, and would never even think about telling you or any other adult what they can do with their own bodies when it has no effect on anyone else…

  15. So much for subtlety some of your arguments are deeply disturbed. I am a heroin addict – but commit no crime (other than the unfair ‘crime’ of possesion (of heroin) itself. I cannot understand why people like you think that yourselves or any other right-wing lunatic can determine which substances I am allowed to use, when it has no effect on anyone else.
    I am not just a minority either, in fact the majority of heroin users are in employment and are generally considerate people who get on with their own lives. Of course there is no reason why you would come across these people because they keep themselves to themselves, and would never even think about telling you or any other adult what they can do with their own bodies when it has no effect on anyone else…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *