Conservative writer and former (thank fuck) Coalition advisor John Adams has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Australia to tackle the ‘drug problem’. He has pointed to Singapore as the country we should model our drug policy on. This extremism, this call for brutality, demands an immediate response. Just about everything he has written is ill-informed and dangerous. Let’s dismiss it quickly and move on with a sensible debate.
The only point any intelligent human being should agree with him on is that by “any possible objective measure, Australia’s current approach to the war on drugs is an example of gross public policy failure.”
As noted, he thinks this should be solved by modelling our policy on Singapore’s. This is a ‘multi-pronged approach’ consisting of:
a) Education in schools.
We already have this. Sadly, it’s mostly scaremongering and misinformation. Education amongst the drug using population, rooted in the concept of Harm Reduction, would be a much more successful approach than telling 9-year-olds that drugs are bad.
b) Mandatory rehab for first and second time ‘offenders’ (people caught using drugs).
This is the most humane of Singapore’s policies, but it is still problematic. It assumes that drug use is ipso facto bad, and therefore makes no distinction between addiction and casual use. Presuming that it was only applied to addicts, there is still great doubt about the efficacy of mandatory rehab.
First of all, I have seen several people go through rehab programs in Australia, and they are in need of serious improvement. The failings of these private and public institutions is beyond the scope of this article, but you cannot simply propose to shove people against their will into rehab without first making an extensive study of the rehabs themselves and how well they presently work.
Secondly, of those that I have seen go through rehab, those that took the step themselves because they genuinely wanted to recover had the best results. Those that were forced to attend rehab, either through pressure from their families, or to avoid jail sentences, did extremely poorly – because they did not want to recover, and you cannot force somebody to recover if they don’t want to. Even more problematic, is that people who are forced in rehab institutions without a genuine desire to recover have an adverse effect on those institutions, because they bring with them a negative attitude which is harmful to other clients, and sometimes even have drugs smuggled in, which is even more harmful to other clients.
This was starkly demonstrated to me recently when a friend recounted their experience in a simple detox facility. Most of the clients were there voluntarily, and brought with them a positive and hopeful attitude. But two of them were forced into detox, and complained endlessly about the institution, talked about drugs and drug culture, and generally made it a toxic environment. Worse than that, one of them had a friend toss a syringe over the fence in front of everyone, and was subsequently removed. The other smuggled in methamphetamine and a pipe. This individual was sharing a room with a mother of two who was scheduled to enter rehab 6 days later, and was trying very hard to recover from a problem with methamphetamine. The other client smoked meth in front of her all day, and then offered her a hit of the pipe. Being an addict, against her better judgements and against her deepest, sincerest wishes, the mother of two accepted. I do not know if she passed her drug test and got into rehab, but I have a sick feeling when I think of it. She may just have had her life and her family ruined by a careless ass who was forced into rehab.
If people don’t want to rehab, for the love of God, and for the sake of those who do, don’t make them.
c) Mandatory death penalty’s (with a reverse onus of proof) for anybody caught with “with a prohibitive substance above a legislatively prescribed weight.”
I should sincerely hope that I don’t even need to address this one. I hope that all Australians see the state sanctioned murder of human beings as a barbaric act that should remain a dark memory in our collective past. It’s a hideous concept. But I’ll address it anyway, especially the assault on the Justice system this particular approach entails.
Mandatory sentencing removes the discretion of individual judges, which we count on for a fair and just legal system. This is an affront to our ideals even when applied to less serious penalties, but mandatory death sentences is beyond disgusting.
Reversing the onus of proof is an outright repudiation of the rule of law as we have understood it since the Magna Carta in 1215. This means that somebody accused of a crime must prove that he is innocent. The way court works for everybody else accused of a crime in the Western world is that we must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they are guilty before we impose any sentence on them much less a death sentence.
As for the sentence itself, his only argument is that it would act as a deterrent. It may do, if we are willing to sacrifice our principles to put a deterrent in place, but it would have adverse consequences as well. People will still deal drugs, make no mistake, but the stakes will be higher and therefore the business will be immensely more dangerous. A drug dealer, knowing that if he gets caught he will face a mandatory death sentence, has literally nothing to lose. He may as well open fire on arresting officers to defend his life. And if you’re already risking a mandatory death sentence for possessing drugs, why the hell not throw a gun into the mix? There is literally no reason not to; it can’t worsen your sentence.
“Singapore’s policy approach is brutal, but it works.”
Portugal’s policy approach is humane, and it works better.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this:
“Peoples without political organisation, and therefore less depraved than ourselves, have perfectly understood that the man who is called “criminal” is simply unfortunate; that the remedy is not to flog him, to chain him up, or to kill him on the scaffold or in prison, but to relieve him by the most brotherly care, by treatment based on equality, by the usages of life amongst honest men.”
- Law and Authority, Pyotr Kropotkin
Remember that addiction arises from abuse and neglect, and that many people who deal drugs are doing so only to maintain their own habit. I knew a man who dealt drugs to feed his own habit. He was kind and sincere, told his clientele to be safe, and did nothing more than cater to an already existing and mostly inelastic demand. He had a girlfriend and a child. He eventually stopped dealing, and is trying to recover.
Do you really think he ought to have been murdered? Should we have put his head on a pike in a public place, if deterrence and brutality is our aim? I sincerely hope that no Australian’s really believe this.