AS the election draws closer, we’re again witnessing the old promise to get ‘tougher on crime’ by parties of all persuasions.
The latest is a so-called ‘war on drug dealers’. Whilst no one would argue that drug dealers promote misery on those wanting to buy drugs or maintain a habit, are the ‘toughest sentences yet’ the best way to tackle this issue?
For example, the new proposals mean possessing a small quantity of amphetamine can now get you a jail sentence, and for larger quantities, up to 25 years. That’s more than for murder.
The cost of incarceration is not cheap. It costs well over $100,000 per prisoner annually. I’d argue that money would be better spent providing services to help problematic users kick the habit and put dealers out of business.
Would that money not be better off for residential treatment facilities and funding more professionals to assist users to resist drug use? We know one of the best ways to tackle drug dealers is to remove their market; if there is no demand, there is no one to sell to.
Whilst I am not suggesting that we leave drug dealers unpunished, I am convinced that tougher mandatory sentences are not the most effective way to deal with the problem.
After the furore over the death penalty in our neighbouring countries for drug dealing, whilst murder sentences are significantly less, we may question whether we too are going down the same path. These mandatory sentences take away a judge’s discretion and will result in overloading our prison system with low-level drug users, not just the high-end dealers who are the real problem.
In an era where many countries are closing down jails, we seem to be ready to build more and pay through the nose for them.
Dr Gately is senior lecturer in criminology at Edith Cowan University