UK drug addicts fuel jail overcrowding - top judge
Drug addicts are deliberately committing crime to receive treatment in prison, fuelling chronic overcrowding, the top judge in England and Wales said.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said short sentences were pointless and that drug users convicted of less serious offences should receive treatment outside prison.
Overcrowding was “absolutely fatal” for the treatment of inmates, he added.
“We need much better drug rehabilitation facilities in the community,” he said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday. “It should not be necessary to commit an offence in order to get drug treatment.
“I am afraid the reality in many parts of the country is that it is.”
A spokesman for his department said Lord Phillips was concerned people would commit offences to be sent to prison because they had had trouble receiving treatment within the community.
“They think ‘my best way of sorting this out is to commit another offence,’” the spokesman said. “Obviously he doesn’t condone that thought process. There needs to be more community rehabilitation to stop that mind-set.”
Drugs education charity DrugScope said his comments confirmed anecdotal evidence from drug treatment workers.
“Treatment waiting times have fallen, but more needs to be done to improve access, choice of treatment and retention,” the group’s Chief Executive Martin Barnes said in a statement.
Prison campaigners called for more investment in support services for addicts.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, an independent charity, said no one benefited from sending people to jail for short sentences. There is growing evidence drug users are dying from overdoses once they are released from jail, it said.
“They go back on the drugs and their first fix kills them because they’ve been off it for six months,” a spokeswoman said.
The Home Office said it was working closely with drug treatment centres to help prisoners with drug problems.
“The aim for the prison service is to work closely with local community drug treatment centres so that those who arrive into prison with drug problems may receive continuity of care both on arrival and on release,” a Home Office spokeswoman said.
Lord Phillips urged judges to consider giving people community sentences instead of sending them to jail.
In a speech earlier this month, he said short jail terms served as “apprenticeships for serious crime”.
Keeping someone in prison costs more than sending them to Eton, the leading public school, he added.
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