Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today called for serious drug and sentencing reform after it was revealed 231 people in possession of drugs for personal use were imprisoned in 2015-16 instead of being sent for treatment or education.
The figures, acquired through a parliamentary question, revealed a 25% increase in the number of people being sent to prison for these reasons, including 38 people imprisoned for possession of cannabis.
In contrast, just 42 people received drug and treatment testing orders among more than 5,000 convictions.
Earlier this week a new study by the Scottish Public Health Observatory found that 30% of people leaving jail tested positive for illegal drugs. This figure has been steadily increasing since 2009/10 when it stood at 17%. More than half of those leaving HMP Addiewell tested positive for illegal drugs.
Responding to the figures, Mr McArthur commented:
“These new figures show that ineffective custodial sentences are increasingly being dished out in response to people possessing drugs for personal use.
“Earlier this week we learned that a third of people leaving prison are addicted to drugs. It is clear that putting those people facing personal battles with drug misuse behind bars isn’t the answer. Locking them up won’t help them get clean and get on in life.
“The approach of the Scottish and UK Governments simply isn’t working for individuals or the communities blighted by drugs right across Scotland. Drug-related deaths are at record high and the services people rely upon have been cut.
“That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed ending the use of imprisonment for vulnerable people who are misusing drugs. It should instead be treated as a health issue, with people diverted into undertaking mandatory education or treatment. It is more effective in rehabilitating people and costs a fraction of the £37,000 a year a prison place costs.
“We can also do more to break the grip of criminal gangs and protect people by introducing a legal, regulated market for cannabis. Of course, those dealing drugs illegally should continue to face tough criminal sanctions. Alleviating the burden on our police would give them more time to deal with these serious and organised crime groups.
“This is an approach that is line with the mainstream medical and scientific evidence of what works and the experiences of other countries. It is time that the UK and Scottish Governments took this seriously.”