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 229 people in possession of drugs for personal use were imprisoned in 2016-17.
The figures, acquired through a parliamentary question, show that among 4,400 convictions for possession, without intent to supply, just 31 people were given drug treatment and testing order.
Research by the Scottish Public Health Observatory previously found that 30% of people leaving jail tested positive for illegal drugs. This increased to 50% among those leaving Addiewell Prison.
Responding to the new figures, Mr McArthur commented:
“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 that it exacerbates the problem.
"Prison is the last place vulnerable people struggling with addiction should be. Research previously found that half of those leaving HMP Addiewell tested positive for illegal drugs.
“It would make sense to end the use of imprisonment for people who are found in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. 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.
"Of course, drug dealers should continue to face up to life in prison.
“With drug-related deaths at record high, it is time for the Scottish and UK Government to recognise that the 'war on drugs' is a failure. It’s time to rebuild the system from the ground up."