ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 57 NOVEMBER 2009
BEHIND THE WALLS OF PROHIBITION
Prisons are a disgrace to modern democratic societies. The involved authorities know full well that prisons are useless for the task that they claim as their purpose, which is the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the prisoner. Their real purpose is to hide away all the conflicts that are created by an unfair, unjust social model that excludes people.
In fact, prisons are used to bury marginalized people alive. The majority of prisoners are products from society’s more difficult environments, their behaviour is often related to addiction problems. Most of them are in prison for small robberies, the rest because of crimes against Public Health (possession of small quantities of illegal drugs). In fact, most female prisoners are involved in these crimes, small versions of large scale drug trafficking operations, with penalties that are completely disproportionate.
Frequently, people with drug addiction problems receive large sentences, often based on the fact that they are “recidivists”. This makes it impossible for them to benefit from alternative programmes to avoid prison.
Prisons are destructive areas for people with a socially weak profile. The presence of serious diseases in prison is absolutely disproportionate compared with the general population. For example, with regards to Hepatitis C, there are reports from Spain that show a percentage of infection of about 38%, while in the general population, the statistic is only 2,6%. The increasing prevalence of mental health diseases in prisons is alarming. Prisoners are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop a psychotic disease and a depression than the general population.
A prison is not an adequate place for a person with drug problems to carry out a process of social reintegration or come to terms with his/her drug use. Even general health conditions are worse in prison than outside. Health personnel in prisons are not prepared to treat infectious diseases or mental problems. Often, treatment of prisoners by specialists in hospitals is difficult, while the ambulatory presence of these specialists in prisons, in spite of what is written in the prison codes, is not always promoted.
Another phenomenon of concern is the increasing trend of torture being mentioned in official reports. In Spain alone, at least 579 persons suffered from torture or rough treatment in 2008, some of them while under the custody of prison guards.
The situation in prisons causes extreme levels of stress, leading to an increasing number of deaths related to the clandestine use of drugs, often a mix of several substances, or to AIDS. Furthermore, the suicide rate among prisoners, 10 times greater than in the general population, is scandalous.
What is needed is the integration of prison and general health services, in order to ensure that prisoners receive health care and therapies on a par with those of the general population, with a guaranteed access to specialists. Above all, the justice apparatus needs to develop a more social approach, through the application of alternative programmes instead of prison sentences.
Drug mafias are more powerful then ever. The force of the law does not even scrape the surface of the illegal drugs market, while its claws affect almost exclusively the weakest people in the drug trafficking chain, including drug consumers. The final effect is that a reality is being hidden while additional problems are being created.
To change the basis of current drug policies, to create new ways of regulating and controlling drugs that are currently illegal will serve, on one hand, to reduce the harms related to prohibition. And on the other, to ensure that the intervention in drug related problems is guided by the needs of the affected persons and not by the limitations and impositions of a prohibitionist policy.