Four police forces offer junkies treatment instead of prosecution, sparking fears they are sending message that drug use is not dangerous
- Police in Avon and Somerset, West Berkshire, Durham, and Cleveland have introduced the scheme
- They hope it will avoid criminalising young people and will be more effective than prison
- But critics fear it sends a message that illegal drugs are slowly being decriminalised
Class A drug users are getting a free pass as some police forces replace prosecution with education programmes.
People caught with class A drugs for personal use, such a heroin, have avoided going to court if they agree to treatment by at least four police forces.
The quietly introduced policy avoids criminalising young people and is more effective than fining the offender or sending them to prison, police and crime commissioners say.
Users of Class A drugs such as cocaine (above) are being offered treatment instead of prosecution by four English police forces
However, there are fears from criminal experts that this may contradict the message that drugs can be dangerous and may lead to decriminalisation, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The four forces that have allowed class A drug users to avoid court by choosing an education programme are Avon and Somerset, West Berkshire, Durham, and Cleveland.
This comes as seven of the Tory leadership hopefuls admitting to trying illegal drugs. Leadership contender Michael Gove admitted to taking class a drug cocaine.
Ministers have dismissed the potential for decriminalisation and legalisation as Prof Dame Carol Black is conducting a review into drug policy for the Home Office. The maximum sentence for carrying a class a drug is up to seven years, or an unlimited fine.
Users of heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine have been allowed to choose between facing the court and an education programme in a pilot policy tested in Bristol. The pilot has been extended across the Avon and Somerset county this summer.
172 people chose the education option, with offenders aged between 18 to 29 making up almost half of those and 20 per cent using class a drugs.
Police and crime commissioner for the area, Sue Mountstevens, said results from the pilot seem to show almost no reoffending from users who chose the education route. However, the force will be conducting its own evaluation of the results.
While not pledging support to full decriminalisation, she told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I am very supportive of not criminalising people, especially our young people. Young people are always wanting to push the boundaries, particularly on drugs.’
‘Some won’t take the education route, but if we can give them another opportunity to look at changing their behaviour, a second chance, let’s do it.’
National Police Chief’s Council will be considering whether the potential expansion of a drugs ‘diversion’ programme tried in West Berkshire will be a model for other forces.