Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today called for serious drug and sentencing reform to “rebuild the system from the ground up” after it was revealed 178 people in possession of drugs for personal use were imprisoned in 2017-18.
The figures, acquired through a parliamentary question, show that among 3,604 convictions for possession, without intent to supply, just 37 people were given drug treatment and testing orders (though some community payback orders may also include a drug treatment requirement).
The research comes ahead of the release of new figures expected to show a steep rise in the number of drug related deaths in Scotland. In an appearance before the Scottish Affairs committee, public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick said Scotland was facing an “emergency”, with drugs deaths expected to rise from 900 in 2017 to about 1,200 last year.
Responding to the new figures, Mr McArthur commented:
“With drug related deaths on the rise once again, it’s clear that we should be taking every chance to help people get off drugs and into treatment.
“Locking people up for the possession of drugs for personal use is a losing battle. It’s ridiculous to think that prison will help them to get clean and get on in life, when all the evidence suggests it makes things worse.
“It is bonkers that more people are imprisoned for drugs possession than given treatment orders. When half of those leaving HMP Addiewell test positive for illegal drugs, it’s clear that prison is the last place vulnerable people struggling with addiction should be.
“For decades the Scottish and UK governments have fought a futile war on drugs. It’s time for a new approach, not one that piles misery on misery. We should be focused on treating this as a health issue, rather than spending millions on ineffective custodial sentences.”