Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Alternatives to the punitive

I used to regularly contribute to the Guardian's Comment is Free and did so again this week in a thread entitled: At least Bob Ainsworth dares to speak about drugs

Whilst on the site I started rereading my previous contributions and thought I would share this one from January 2008

@ BigFaceDog

"What do these young people have to guide them in life? What have faux liberals such as John Moore put in place of what he and his fellow travellers have destroyed? Perhaps one of you can answer that simple question?"

Two responses

I regret I have destroyed very little. We retain a punitive criminal justice system that fails to address the crimes of the powerful (which cause the greatest harms) and focus instead on the powerless and most vulnerable in our society. Criminal justice interventions create more crime than they solve. Politicians follow policies they know will increase the number of victims and then (often successfully) seduce those very victims with tough words and promises of more of the same.
On a personal level what have I tried to create as alternatives?
Well I spent 20 years working directly with men and women leaving prison and forensic mental health services, managing and developing services that enabled them to escape the destructive grip of the penal syste. Services that treated them with respect, helped them access community resources, find housing, get jobs, sort out their money, become integrated into our communities and live ok lives.
I know that there are a couple of hundred women and men living ordinary lives away from prison and contact with the police as a result of that work. They benefited from our efforts to create opportunities for them to become socially included AND as a direct result there are at a guess many thousands of other members of our community who as a result were never victimised.
Its easy to condemn, demand more violence and more pain, but if you want to make things better you have to admit that what works to stop the anti social behaviour of the vast majority of people in our criminal justice system is community based services that facilitate intergration, inclusion and which respects them as fellow members of our society.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Appeal re missing MPS Taser

Spotted this press release from the Met

Appeal re missing MPS Taser

Police are appealing for the assistance of the public in finding a Taser which has fallen from a police vehicle in Lambeth.

An officer from the MPS CO19 Firearms Unit had attended a briefing at a firearms base in Norfolk Row, Lambeth on Tuesday, 7 December, between 0700hrs and 0830hrs.

During the course of preparing the vehicle for operation after the briefing, the officer placed a Taser on the roof of a marked police vehicle. He then drove away from the base with the Taser still on the roof.

At around 1000hrs it was noticed that the Taser was missing. Despite extensive searches, we have been unable to recover the Taser and four cartridges which were with it.

Officers believe the Taser would have fallen from the vehicle in the Norfolk Row area of Lambeth, and almost certainly before reaching Vauxhall Cross where the vehicle stopped for fuel.

We are appealing for anyone with information as to the Taser's whereabouts to call the Metropolitan Police on 0300 123 1212.

The Taser broadly resembles a handgun in shape, but is constructed of bright yellow plastic.

We would ask anyone in possession of the Taser not to handle it, but to call police immediately.

An internal investigation is underway. The Directorate of Professional Standards has been informed. The officer has been removed from operational firearms duty.


No image available overnight.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Student Protests -v- McDonald's Prospects

I was reading up on yesterday's student protests when I noticed the advert the Guardian was running on that page.

UPDATED 2 December

From today's Guardian

Leo Tolstoy

Last month saw the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Novelist Leo Tolstoy.  To celebrate a couple of quotes from his last novel Redemption

And he ran over in his mind the people he knew who were suffering from the activity of the various institutions for the re-establishment of justice, the support of religion and the education of the masses … and he saw with remarkable clarity that all these people had been arrested, locked up or exiled, not in the least because they had transgressed against justice or committed lawless acts but merely because they were an obstacle hindering the officials and the rich from enjoying the wealth they were busy amassing from the people.’ (pp 386-387)

‘there was no man living who was guiltless and therefore able to punish or reform.’ (p. 565)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Monday, 22 November 2010

Students set up education camp at UWE

Mondays are my long day, with seven hours of teaching from 11am to 6pm I drag myself in at an ungodly hour to ensure I am well prepared for my teaching. Normally come 6pm the University is relatively quiet.   Not today as a group of students had set up camp inside the main communal area Core 24 and establish a free education camp. There were talks and discussions planned for the night mixed up with practical workshops and practical activities like making banners.  The mood was positive and as a student activist from the late 70s and early 80s it warmed my heart to see students refinding the confidence to engage in direct action.  Whilst the focus is clearly the fees increase this is seen in the context of the overall cuts package in education and beyond. 

I left them just after half past seven and I hope they keep going through the night.  There was about 50 students involved and from my experience these actions need to be grown and although they often start with relatively small numbers other students will, once they see others taking action, join and get involved. 

This action is planned as the first in a number with the following planned for later in the week.

  • Tuesday 23 November, 2:30pm: rally with UCU to make some noise for and put pressure on the meeting of UWE’s board of governors.
  • Wednesday 24 November, 11am: national walkout. Meeting with students and lecturers from other colleges and universities in Bristol for a march in the centre.
  • Thursday 25 November, 5:30pm: vote of strong motions against fees and cuts at the AGM of the student union

Hat tip to UWE students + lecturers against the restructure and cuts! Facebook Group

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

London - 6.30pm Friday 18 Nov. 2010 - Remember the Suffragettes

A Suffragette being forced fed in an English prison

A Vigil – Thursday 18th November – 6.30pm, College Green, Westminster.

100 years ago, on 18/11/10, two women were injured and later died because they tried to enter Parliament. They were part of a group of Suffragettes who went to the Houses to demand a debate on the Conciliation Bill, a bill that would have given some women basic voting rights.

Of the 300 who came, 200 women were arrested that day. There were 6000 police. We call it Black Friday.

100 years have passed. Fewer than 1 in 5 MPs are women. Only 1% of the world’s money is controlled by women. For every 10 people displaced by climate change, 7 are women.

We stand in vigil to remember the brave women who fought so we might vote. We stand to show solidarity with women across the world who don’t know justice. We stand for those that can’t.

Join us at 6.30pm on 18/11/10 to remember Black Friday.

Bring a candle, a jamjar, a banner and a veil.

Hear Caroline Lucas MP and Dr Diane Atkinson.

Hat Tip - Climate Rush

Monday, 15 November 2010

Drug Policy Harm Part Five: Conclusion (and bibliography)

Please note this paper was drafted April 2009 and has not been updated

Continued from ... Drug Policy Harms Part Four: The Legal Harms


There is a clear relationship between violence and illegal drugs and alcohol. Indeed alcohol and illegal drugs contribute to a range of social harms. In exploring these harms we need to differentiate between those which are consequences of the substances and those which are generated by policy. We can not completely remove the harms of drugs; but an effective drug policy, covering both currently legal and illegal drugs can minimise the harms these substances cause.

Figure 11 (Source TDPF 2009:21)

Controls over supplier

  • Hours of opening
  • Location/appearance of outlet, number of outlets
  • Licensing/training of vendors/staff
  • Controls over marketing/advertising
Controls over purchaser

  • Age controls (minimum age, ID / proof of age required for purchase)
  • Restriction of sale if purchaser is intoxicated
  • Volume rationing
  • Purchase tracking
  • Licensing of purchaser
  • Delay between order and pick up
  • Required membership of group or union for purchase
  • Consumption on licensed premises only
Controls over product

  • Packaging (plain packaging, tamper proofing, health and safety warnings etc)
  • Preparation, dosage, quantity
  • Coded for individual licensed purchaser
Such a policy must involve government taking responsibility for regulation of these substances markets. This would include intervention on pricing and would allow a range of controls, as set out in Figure 11 above.  Clearly treatment and law enforcement have a role to play under such a regime but they would no longer be the key to the minimisation of harm or indeed violence. By rejecting the idea that harm and violence is the consequence of individuals making irresponsible choices in an unregulated market we can adopt a new policy paradigm. The policy, based on scientific evidence, will allow us to significantly reduce violence and other harms by implementing effective regulation and control, based on the public health principles of promoting well being and minimising harm. Criminologists can contribute to this, but only if they escape the straight jacket of their discipline and approach the issues using a broader social harm perspective.

J.M. Moore

23 April 2009

Academy of Medical Sciences (2004) Calling Time: The Nation’s drinking as a major health issue, London, The Academy of Medical Sciences

AMCD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) (2009) MDMA (‘ecstasy’): A Review of its Harms and Classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 London, Home Office

BBC (2009) ‘Drug adviser criticised by Smith’ BBC News on-line 9th Feb. 2009. Online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7879378.stm (Accessed 11 April 2009)

Behr, E. (1996) Prohibition: thirteen years that changed America New York, Arcade Publishing

Brown, J & Langton, D. (2007) ‘Legalise all drugs: chief constable demands end to ‘immoral law’ Independent 15 October 2007

Burnham, A. (2008) Written ministerial statement by Andy Burnham on the Evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 Online at:
http://www.culture.gov.uk/reference_library/minister_speeches/1997.aspx (Accessed 23 April 2009)

Cabinet Office (1998) Better Regulation Task Force Welcomes Liquor Licensing White Paper, London Cabinet Office Press Release

Cabinet Office (2004) Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. London, Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit

Caulkins, J.P. & Reuter, P. (1998) ‚What price data tell us about drug markets’. pp. 593-613 in Journal of Drug Issues No. 28, Vol.3.

Dills, A.K., Miron, J.A. and Summers, G (2008) ‘What do economists know about crime?’ Working Paper 13759 National Bureau of Economic Research Cambridge, MA

Donaldson, L. (2009) 150 years of the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer, London, Department of Health

Dorling D., Gordon, D., Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Pemperton, S. and Tombs, S. (2008) Criminal Obsessions: Why harm matters more than crime. (2nd Edition) London, Crime and Society Foundation.

Easton, M. (2009) ‘Could we save billions by legalising drugs?’ BBC News online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2009/04/heroin_and_cocaine_cost_britai.html (Accessed 11 April 2009)

Glenny, M (2008) McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime London Vintage Books

Goodacre, S. (2005) ‘The Licensing Act: an act of stupidity?’ pp. 682 in Emergency Medical Journal Vol. 22

Gordon, L,. Tinsley, L, Godfrey, C and Parrott, S (2008) ‘The economic and social cost of Class A drug use in England and Wales, 2003/4’ pp. 41-45 in Singleton, N., Murray, R. and Tinsley, L. Measuring different aspects of problem drug use: methodological developments (2nd Edition) London, Home Office

Haldeman, H.R. (1994) The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House. New York, G. P. Putnams Sons

Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Tombs, S. and Gordon, D (2004) ‘Introduction’ pp.1-9 in Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Tombs, S. and Gordon, D Beyond Criminology: Taking Harm Seriously, London, Pluto Press

Hillyard, P and Tombs, S. (2008), ‘Beyond Criminalogy?’, pp. 6–23 in Dorling D., Gordon, D., Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Pemperton, S. and Tombs, S. Criminal Obsessions: Why harm matters more than crime. (2nd Edition) London, Crime and Society Foundation

Hoare, J and Flately, J Drug Use Declared: Findings from the 2007/08 British Crime Survey England and Wales London, Home Office

Home Office (2008) Drug Strategy Equality Impact Assessment Available Online at: http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/drug-strategy/equality-impact-assessment?view=Binary (Accessed 23 April 2009)

Hough, M., Hunter, G., Jacobson, J. and Cossalter, S. (2008) The Impact of the Licensing Act 203 on levels of crime and disorder: an evaluation. London Home Office

Howker, E. (2009) ‘The Big Question: Do we need a new debate about relaxing drugs policy in Britain?’ The Independent 11th February 2009

Human Rights Watch (2004) Not enough graves: The War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and violations of Human Rights, New York, Human Rights watch

Hunter, G. and May, T (2004) Solutions and Strategies: Drug Problems and Street Markets, London, Home Office

Independent (2009) ‘PM rejects minimum alcohol price idea’ Independent 16th March 2009 online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/pm-rejects-minimum-alcohol-price-idea-1646077.html (Accessed 23 April 2009)

Jason-Lloyd, L (2007) Misuse of Drugs: A Straightforward Guide to the Law Winchester, Waterside Press

Jones, S., Miller-Mack, E. & Ahrens, L. (2005) Prisoners of the War on Drugs, Northampton Ma, The Real Cost of Prisons Project

Joseph, M (2000) Ecstasy, London, Carlton Books

Labour Party (1991) Drugs: A Consultation Document London, Labour Party

London Ambulance Service (2009) ‘Alcohol-related calls’ Available online at: http://www.londonambulance.nhs.uk/news/alcohol-related_calls.aspx (Accessed 23 April 2009)

Marks, H. (1996) Mr Nice London, Secker and Warburg

McGreal, C (2009) ‘Retaliation theory as president of Guinea-Bissau is assassinated.’ Guardian 3rd March 2009 Online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/03/guinea-bissau-africa-president-assassination (Accessed 21 April 2009)

McSweeney, T., Turnbull, P.J. & Hough, M. (2008) Tackling Drug Markets and Distribution Networks in the UK: A review of the recent literature London, UK Drug Policy Commission

National Statistics (2009) ‘Alcohol Deaths: Rates stabilise in the UK’ online at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=1091&Pos=1&ColRank=2&Rank=1000 (Accessed 19 April 2009)

Newton, A., Sarker, S.J., Pahal, G.S., van den Bergh, E. and Young, C. (2007) ‘Impact of the new UK licensing law on emergency hospital attendances: a cohort study’ pp. 532-534 in Emergency Medical Journal Vol. 24.

Newton, A., Hirschfield, A., Armitage, A., Rogerson, M., Monchuk, L. and Wilcox, A. (2008e) Evaluation of Licensing Act: Measuring Crime and Disorder in and around Licensed Premises, Home Office Research Study SRG/05/007 Final Report. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Applied Criminology Centre.

Norris, P, & Williams, D. (2008) ‘Binge Drinking, anti-social behaviour, and alcohol-related disorder: examining the 2003 Licensing Act’ pp. 257-272 in Squires, P. Asbo nation: The Criminalisation of Nuisance Bristol, Policy Press

Nutt, D.J. (2009) ‘Equasy: An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms’ pp 3-5 in Journal of Psychopharmacolgy Vol. 23. No. 3.

Nutt, D.J. (2006) ‘A tale of two Es’ pp. 315-317 in Journal of Psychopharmacology No. 20, Vol. 3.

Nutt, D.J., King, L.A., Saulsbury, W. & Blakemore, C (2007) ‘Developing a rational scale for assessing the risks of drugs of potential misuse’. Pp. 1047–1053 in the Lancet Vol. 369:

ONS (Office for National Statistics) (2005) ‘Alcohol related death rates in England and Wales, 2001 to 2003.’ Available online at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=8905 (Accessed 20 April 2009)

Pemperton. S (2007) ‘Social harm future(s): exploring the potential of the social harm approach’ pp. 27-41 in Crime, Law and Social Change Vol. 48, Nos. 1-2.

Phillips, M. (2009) ‘Drugs no worse than horse-riding? The folly of those ‘experts’ simply beggars belief’ Daily Mail 9th Feb. 2009

Rayner, G. (2006) pp. 174-182 in Griffiths, S. & Hunter, D.J. (2006) New perspectives in public health, Oxford, Radcliffe Publishing

Reuters (2008) online at http://africa.reuters.com/country/SL/news/usnL1148907.html (Accessed 19 December 2008)

Rolles, S., Kushlick, D. and Jay, M. (2006) After the War on Drugs: Options for Control Bristol, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Rush, B.R., Gliksman, L. and Brook, R. (1986) ‘Alcohol Availability, Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol-Related Damage: The Distribution of Consumption Model’ pp. 1-10 in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs Vol. 47, No. 1.

Sivarajasingam, V., Moore, S. and Shepherd, J. P. (2007) Violence in England and Wales 2006: an accident and emergency perspective. Violence Research Group, Cardiff University Available Online: http://www.cf.ac.uk/dentl/resources/Trends_violence_England_Wales_2006.pdf (Accessed 21 April 2009)

Smart, C (1990) ‘Feminist approaches to criminology or post modern woman meets atavistic man.’ pp. 70-84 in Gelsthorpe, L. & Morris, (eds.) A. Feminist perspectives in criminology. Milton Keynes, Open University Press

SU Drugs Project (2003) Phase 1 Report: Understanding the Issues Leaked to Guardian and available at: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2005/07/05/Report.pdf (accessed 11 April 2009)

TDPF (2009) A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of the Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs, Bristol, Transform Drug Policy Foundation Full Document Available Online at: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/TransformCBApaper.pdf (accessed 12 April 2009)

Tree, S. (2007) What Darwin teaches us about the drug war (online at http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/12/27/6018) (Accessed 12 April 2009)

Wilson, L. and Stevens, A. (2008) Understanding Drug Markets and How to Influence Them. Oxford, The Beckley Foundation

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Drug Policy Harm Part Four: The legal harms

Please note this paper was drafted April 2009 and has not been updated

Continued from ... Drug Policy Harm Part Three: The Failure to Regulate

Alcohol – A failure of regulation

Having highlighted the scale of the failure of prohibition and the ensuing violence in the case of illegal drugs my argument has been implicitly suggesting that these are problems that could be solved by abandoning the policy of prohibition. Using the example of existing policies applied to alcohol it is possible to highlight that whilst legalisation offers the opportunity of minimising harm, this potential can only be fully realised if the substances are subjected to a regime of control and regulation, driven by public health considerations which resist the pressure of commercial interests. As prohibition in America demonstrated alcohol would cause considerably more harm and generate a massive amount of violence if it was illegal. (Behr 1996) However it still causes considerable harm and generates levels of violence that could be significantly reduced by effective public health led regulation.

New Labour’s policy on alcohol has, since 1997, been driven by the demands of the alcohol industry and is characterised by progressive deregulation and a taxation policy that has led to alcohol becoming progressively more affordable. (Rayner 2006:179-181) The link between availability of alcohol, its consumption and alcohol related harms is clearly established. (Rush et al 1986) Availability can be controlled both by price and restrictions on where and when it can be sold. The 2003 Licensing Act was the culmination of the process of deregulation begun decades earlier. Public health considerations were effectively marginalised; when the 2003 Act was implemented in 2005, alcohol deaths in England and Wales had risen by 20% in the preceding five years. (ONS 2005) It was in line with the New Labour’s government’s commitment to the alcohol industry, summed up by its Better Regulation Task Force’s call for action to remove ‘unnecessary burdens from this important industry and allow it to grow in the modern world’. (Cabinet Office 1998) In an editorial in the Emergency Medical Journal the legislation was described as ‘an act of stupidity’ which, despite being unlikely to have an immediate impact, would contribute to the ‘continuing progression of an already depressing situation.’ (Goodacre 2005:682) But as we saw above when discussing ecstasy, alcohol kills on a scale that dwarfs the fatalities of all illicit drugs. Figure 8 below demonstrates how over the past two decades alcohol deaths have virtually doubled.

Figure 8 - Alcohol-related death rates by sex, United Kingdom, 1991-2007
(Source:  National Statistics 2009)
Despite an overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing links between availability, price, harm and death, the Government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy claims ‘our analysis showed that the drivers of consumption are much more complex than merely price and availability’. (Cabinet Office 2004:18) Figure 9 charts alcohol prices and levels of consumption. Price is showing a steady decline, consumption a steady increase and in Figure 8 we saw the upward trend of alcohol related deaths.

Figure 9 (Source: The Academy of Medical Sciences 2004:18)
  Andy Burnham, the relevant minister, in a statement last year claimed a review of the 2003 Act’s impact revealed a ‘mixed picture’, highlighting its successes as being ‘a considerable reduction in red tape – estimated at £99m per annum’ and that ‘millions of people have been able to able to enjoy … socialising in restaurants, bars and cafés beyond 11pm.’ (Burnham 2008) His main conclusions were

that people are using the freedoms but people are not sufficiently using the considerable powers granted by the Act to tackle problems, and that there is a need to rebalance action towards enforcement and crack down on irresponsible behaviour. (Ibid)
In support of the Minister’s statement was a body of criminological research. (Hough et al 2008, Newton et al 2008) Hough et al (2008) conclude that there are not ‘any clear signs yet that the abolition of a standard closing time has significantly reduced problems of crime and disorder.’ (Hough et al 2008:1 Emphasis added) This report is unfortunately typical of much Home Office funded criminological research. For example it refers only in passing to the Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign, a Home Office funded operation carried out by 43 police forces following the implementation of this legislation, implying it was an ‘existing … initiative’ and fails to consider the possibility that it potential caused a short term distortion to levels of alcohol related crime. (Norris & Williams 2008:264, Hough et al 2008:4) In looking at information from attendances at Accident and Emergency Departments Hough et al (2008) highlight the research of Sivarajasingam et al (2007) which reported on serious violence recorded by a sample of A&E departments. None of its data is specifically about alcohol and although it makes a number of assertions about the 2003 Act, there is no evidence base to sustain these. Research carried out in hospitals showing significant increases in alcohol related A&E attendances and by ambulance services is also mentioned although its evidence is not adequately explored. (Newton et al 2007) The London ambulance service figures at the time Hough et al (2008:9) completed their report showed during the first ten months following implementation of the Act, alcohol related call outs had increased by 2%. A year later they had increased by 12% and the most recent figures show a 28% increase. (London Ambulance Service 2009) The evidence, particularly from medical sources, suggests that the impact of the Act has been consistent with overall alcohol policy, and is contributing to increased harm and violence.

Regulating the legal harms
Earlier this year Liam Donaldson, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor recommended a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. His advice was clear

Quite simply, England is drinking far too much. England has an alcohol problem. Alcohol is not simply a problem for the minority who are dependent on it - it is a problem for everybody … There is a clear relationship between price and consumption of alcohol … Price increases generally reduce heavy drinkers' consumption by a greater proportion than they reduce moderate drinkers' consumption. (Donaldson 2002:22)

Figure 10 (Source Donaldson 2009:21)
 Figure 10 illustrates this. The benefits of this policy would be considerable; the Chief Medical Officer argues that a 50p minimum unit price would reduce crimes by 46,000 a year and reduce hospital admissions by 100,000 a year. (Donaldson 2009:22) However the minimum price has been rejected by Prime Minister Gordon Brown because

It is right for society to bear down on, and deal with, anti-social behaviour that is associated with drinking ... (but) it is also right that we do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more, or suffer, as a result of the excesses of a small minority. (Cited in Independent 2009)
Yet again the problem is presented as being about individuals and the evidence of government policy generating harm and violence is ignored. Alcohol policy is more sensitive to the producers, distributors and retailers of the drug than it is to both the Government’s Chief Medical Officer and the substantial body of scientific research supporting his arguments.

Continued ... Drug Policy Harm Part Five: Conclusion (and bibliography)

Friday, 29 October 2010

Drug Policy Harm Part Three: The Failure to Regulate

Continued from ... Drug Policy Harm Part Two: Misrepresenting Harms

Prohibition – Generating Harms

If we look at other aspects of prohibition we see the generation of significant violence and harms.  The MDA makes all consumers criminals. A third of the population admits drug use in the British Crime Survey. (Hoare and Flately 2008:5) Of course all these people are not subjected to criminal justice intervention, the system simply couldn’t cope, but all of them are liable to arrest, a criminal record and imprisonment. Events that could have a dramatic bearing on their lives. Jobs and homes are lost regularly by consumers who come into contact with the criminal justice system.  The impact of this is not spread evenly across the community. I have not been able to calculate the racial profile in the UK but figure 5 below shows how this process plays out for African-Americans.
Figure 5 (Source Jones et al 2005:13)
The war in drugs was launched by Richard Nixon. His Chief of Staff recorded in his diary, that Nixon had ‘emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognises this while not appearing to.’ Halderman 1994:53) The war on drugs has proved to be such a system.

The inequality generated by the selective enforcement of drug prohibition in Britain urgently requires detailed research. The Home Office was required to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on their new drugs strategy in 2007. The first section of the assessment, titled Preliminary Screening, includes the question: ‘Could the aims of the policy be in conflict with equal opportunity, elimination of discrimination, promotion of good relations?‘ (Home Office 2008) To which the Home Office replied ‘NO’. This and the document in general demonstrate contempt for equality, which is reduced to a form filling exercise cynically ignoring a considerable body of evidence of inequality generated by the war on drugs.

The illegality of substances does not just impact on crime by criminalising their consumers. It has much wider impacts both within the UK and internationally and generates dramatic levels of harm. Central to this generation of crime and violence is prohibition, which in terms of policy, places the entire market, production, distribution, wholesale and retail, into the hands of organised crime. The illegal drug market is a state sponsored, tax free monopoly for criminals. The consequences of this are dramatic; however because of limited space I will restrict myself to a few examples

1.    Generation of acquisitive crime

Figure 6 below shows the cost of drug use for a heavy user in 2003. Having a Cocaine or heroin habit is expensive, raising £300, £400 or even £500 a week is impossible for most people through legal means. They resort to crime. The Strategy Unit estimated that 56% of the total number of crimes; some thirty six million crimes, are ‘drug-motivated crimes’ committed by drug users. (SU Drugs Project 2003:22) This is illustrated in Figure 7, again copied from the Strategy unit report to the cabinet.

Figure 6 (Source: SU Drugs Project 2003:12)

Figure 7 (Source: SU Drugs Project 2003:22)
Home Office Research has estimated that drug-motivated crime in total costs victims just under ten billion pounds per year and the economic costs to the community of the average ‘problematic drug user’ is in excess of £44,000. (Gordon et al 2006:44 & 41) In this market, unregulated prices emerge which lead to increased crime. The government’s own analysis finds that over half of all crime and victimisation are linked to behaviours generated by the economics of this market - which the government chooses not to regulate.

2. Prostitution of drug users

For many women and girls and a few men and boys, fundraising is achieved not through acquisitive crime but by prostituting themselves. Research carried out for the Home Office has shown that the drug and sex markets are intrinsically linked. (Hunter and May 2004) The same factors detailed above for acquisitive crime drive adults and children into prostitution. The Home Office’s Equality Impact Assessment makes no mention of the contribution of drugs policy in generating supply within prostitution nor does it acknowledge the gendered status of prostitution. (Home Office 2008)

3. Generation of Violence

In a review of economists’ contribution to the study of crime, Dills et al (2008:3) concluded that ‘economists know little about the empirically relevant determinants of crime.’ Applying various hypotheses on subjects as varied as arrest rates, capital punishment, gun laws and abortion rates, to an examination of aggregate data over long time periods and across countries exposed the various theories as wanting. However, they did ‘find one theory that is consistent with the aggregate time series and cross-country data on crime: the view that enforcement of drug prohibition encourages violent dispute resolution.’ (Ibid:22) Drug markets operate outside the law and have no recourse to legal procedure to resolve disputes. Drug dealers use violence to collect debts, they use violence to resolve disputes between themselves and they use violence to resist law enforcement efforts. Prohibition makes violence a cost effective business strategy. It introduces guns and knives on to our streets as routine business tools. Sometimes the state responds with violence. China celebrated UN world anti-drugs day in 2002 with the mass execution of 64 drug offenders. (Rolles et al 2006) Thailand’s security services murdered almost two and half thousand alleged drug dealers in just three months, in pursuit of the war on drugs. (Human Rights Watch 2004) Even lawful criminal justice responses generate perverse outcomes. As Sanho Tree has argued, law enforcement operates as a Darwinian natural selector removing less ruthless and less violent market participants. (Tree 2007) Over time law enforcement has driven out the non violent hippys like Howard Marks and replaced them with brutal, callous and vicious gangsters. (Marks 1996, Glenny 2008) The violence of the market raises prices; Caulkins & Reuter (1998) estimate that 33 per cent of the retail price of cocaine is paid to compensate dealers for their risk of death or injury. This in turn increases the fundraising requirements of problematic users, thus increasing crime and its associated victimisation.

4. Destabilisation of producer and transit countries

As well as generating considerable levels of violence in consumer countries like the UK the drug business has a far more dramatic impact on producer and transit nations. In Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia nations have been destabilised as a direct consequence of the so called war on drugs. Last year Michael Schulenburg, the UN Mission Chief in Sierra Leone observed ‘that the exposure to the international drug trade is the single biggest risk affecting the future of Sierra Leone’. (Reuters 2008) Guinea-Bissau has seen both its President and army chief murdered this year, killings directly linked to the country’s status as a transit country for the cocaine trade. (McGreal 2009) Internationally the war on drugs has subjected many poor nations to wave after wave of violence.

Continued ... Drug Policy Harm Part Four: The legal harms

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Drug Policy Harm Part Two: Misrepresenting Harms

Continued from Drug Policy Harm Part One: Social Harm Theory -v- Criminology

The Myth of the Misuse of Drugs Act and Harm

The prohibition of certain classes of drugs is a policy decision which has cross-party consensus with both the last Labour and the current Conservative/Liberal Democratic Governments supporting this arrangement and indeed keen to include any new drugs that emerge on the market.  The core piece of legislation underpinning this policy is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA) which seeks to control specific drugs through criminal justice interventions based on the scientific classification of their harms. (Jason-Lloyd 2007) Although harm appears to be an established component of this regime this is an illusion than needs exposing. To do this I want to highlight the work of David Nutt, an eminent scientist and former chair of the scientific committee, established by the MDA, to advise the Home Secretary on drug policy.

Nutt (2009:4) raises ‘the critical question of why society tolerates –indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others’, highlighting the comparative risks of ecstasy and alcohol, ecstasy and horse riding and the relative harms of legal and illegal drugs. (Nutt 2006, 2009 & Nutt et al 2007) In figure 1 below Nutt (2006:316) compares the relative harms of the two E drugs, ethanol, better known as alcohol, and ecstasy and his figures make clear that the harms caused by alcohol are dramatically greater than ecstasy. 
Figure 1 (Source: Nutt 2006:316)
In fact what is clear from this is how much harm alcohol causes; twenty two thousand premature deaths, one thousand five hundred road traffic deaths and over 10,000 cases of interpersonal violence per annum, and how little harm is caused by ecstasy. Yet earlier in 2009 the government choose to retain ecstasy’s classification as a class A drug under the MDA. (Home Office 2009, ACMD 2009)

In an interesting analysis Nutt et al (2007) attempted to incorporate both legal and illegal drugs in a single hierarchy of harm. The results, published in the Lancet and shown in figure 2 below, clearly demonstrate the lack of any clear correlation between a drug’s harm and it’s classification under the MDA. Methodologically this study is not unproblematic and remains trapped in the paradigm of prohibition. For example, considering the most harmful drug, heroin, it fails to separate those harms intrinsic to it as a chemical substance and those harms that are generated by its legal status. (TDPF 2009:12-13) Hopefully this exercise will be repeated with the harms directly attributable to prohibition disaggregated. Would illegal street heroin have exactly the same level of risk of harm as prescribed heroin?

Figure 2 (Source Nutt et al 2007:1050)
 In an editorial in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Nutt returned to comparisons of the relative harm of two ‘e’s, this time Ecstasy and Equasy (Equine Addiction Syndrome). Figure 3 below summarises his results. The legitimacy of his comparison of their respective harms generated a strong backlash with, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, declaring that she was  ‘sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.’ (BBC 2009) 
Figure 3 (Source: Nutt  2009:4)

Melanie Phillips (2009) commenting on Nutt’s paper declared ‘The only reason there are not many more deaths from ecstasy is that unlike horse riding, it is illegal.’ In fact the relationship between ecstasy’s illegality and fatalities associated with use are more complex. Its illegality removes the opportunity for any quality controls, it has led to moral panics, misinformation and has potentially impacted on levels of consumption. Lack of quality control means the consumer has no reliable information about ingredients and this lack of regulation leaves the control of the exact composition of the product retailed, and the health and welfare of consumers in the hands of organised crime. Moral panics over ecstasy have undoubtedly created harm; Leah Betts, the iconic ecstasy victim, died from water intoxication, consumed on the misunderstanding promoted by the press that vast quantities of water were the antidote to ecstasy. (Joseph 2000:91) Illegality therefore certainly increases the risk of death but does it deter use, thereby reducing the risk as well?

The Home Office claims that ‘(d)rugs are controlled because they are harmful. The law provides an important deterrent to drug use and legalisation would risk a huge increase in consumption’; though they provide no evidence to support their assertion. (Easton 2009) The Number Ten Strategy Unit, whose confidential report on drug policy to the cabinet in 2003 was leaked to the Guardian, concluded that ‘attempts to intervene have not resulted in sustainable disruption to the market at any level.’ (SU Drugs Project 2003:104) This conclusion was backed up by the UK Drug Policy Commission whose research concluded that ‘seizures and enforcement efforts have had little adverse effect on the availability, purity and price of illicit drugs in the UK ‘ and that ‘(s)ince 2000, average street prices in the UK have fallen consistently for heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.’ (Mc Sweeny et al 2008:48 & 40)

Figure 4 below is reproduced directly from the Number 10 Strategy Unit’s report to the Cabinet. It demonstrates how effectively use of Heroin has been controlled since the introduction of the MDA. Illegal drugs are today widely available, at historically low prices, suggesting that prohibition has neither reduced supply nor demand, both of which have actually grown dramatically over the last forty years. Whatever their ambitions it is clear that the MDA and the prohibitionist paradigm in which it operates have not reduced harms.

Figure 4 (Source: SU Drugs Project 2003:38)
The lighter columns are addicts notified to the Home Office, and the darker columns from 1997 when the HO notification system was shelved, are numbers in treatment.

Continued ... Drug Policy Harm Part Three: The Failure to Regulate

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Drug Policy Harm Part One: Social Harm Theory -v- Criminology

This post is based on a paper I delivered at the University of Wales, Newport in 2009.  I am delivering a modified version at the University of Bath this Friday.

The Elephant in the Room: Drug and Alcohol Policy as Generators of Violence and other Social Harms

The wide-scale use and abuse of legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco inflicts far more harm on individuals and society than illicit drugs … We need a calm non-sensational approach to policy development in this area and one which places these serious problems in context. (Labour Party (1991) Drugs: A Consultation Document)
Things have gone from bad to worse; there is no possibility of an honest discussion now. Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet and calls for a rational consideration of the drug laws gets it shot off and kicked around by a horde of lunatics (Austin Mitchell, Labour M.P. 10 Feb. 2009 cited in Howker 2009)
This paper seeks to do two things. Firstly to introduce an emerging theoretical paradigm, social harm theory, which seeks to refocus our attention from behaviours defined as 'crime' to a wider set of behaviours, those that generate harm. Secondly it seeks to rethink the issues of alcohol and drug harms and violence by incorporating those caused by state policy alongside those generated by individual consumers, producers and suppliers of currently illegal drugs and alcohol.

My conclusion is that violence and other social harms associated with illicit drugs and alcohol could be dramatically reduced. However this reduction will not be achieved through a focus on the individual user or indeed on drug and alcohol services. Such initiatives, whilst undoubtedly making significant positive contributions to the lives of individual problematic consumers, are effectively swimming against the tide of avoidable violence and other harms generated by existing policy. Reducing violence and other social harms associated with both legal and illegal drugs requires the government to accept its responsibility for public health and to implement an effective framework to regulate all drugs.

Social Harm Theory

Criminology focuses on crime, the criminal and the resolution of problems through the criminal justice system. However, the events and actors we label crimes and criminals operate in a wider context that criminology often ignores. As Carol Smart (1990:77) has observed, the great weakness of criminology is that it:
cannot locate rape or child sexual abuse in the domain of sexuality or theft in the domain of economic activity or drug use in the domain of health. To do so … would involve abandoning the idea of a unified problem which requires a unified response.
This limitation has inspired the development of a social harm perspective which seeks ‘to move beyond the narrow confines of criminology, with its focus on harms defined by whether or not they constitute a crime’ and instead calls for ‘(a)ll forms of harms’ to be ‘considered and analysed together.’ (Hillyard et al 2004:1,2) We are all vulnerable to a wide range of social harms throughout our life course and social harm theory argues that to separate out crimes from other harms considered ‘outcomes of the market economy, … accidents or mistakes’ creates ‘a very distorted view of the world’. (Ibid:1,2) Social Harm approaches lead away from a focus on individual blame and towards policy responses designed to minimise future harms. (Dorling et al 2008)

Social harm theory rejects the boundaries of criminology and the exclusive focus on crime and criminals. It seeks to place crime in the context of other harms, an approach which allows us to respond to the totality of harms generated by a particular problem. For example it allows us in the case of alcohol to consider the harms generated by deregulation alongside the harms caused by the individual drunk and the harms suffered by the solitary middle aged heavy drinker in the quiet of his own home alongside the harms caused by the drunken teenager disturbing the peace of her local community. Social harm theory seeks to embrace not only physical harms but also financial/economic, emotional and psychological harms. (Hillyard & Tombs 2008:15)

Simon Pemberton (2007:33-36) has highlighted the potential of the social harm perspective to explain the failure of criminal justice policies and generate the space for alternative social policies which, freed from the rhetoric of law and order, can genuinely reduce the harm communities experience. Relating this paradigm to alcohol and unlawful drugs provides the opportunity of exploring the impact of these substances within a much wider perspective than criminology offers. It enables us to give equal consideration to legal and illegal acts, explore individual, corporate and state behaviours and to measure the harms directly associated with the drugs alongside the harms generated by failures to control and regulate their market places.  Most significantly for this talk it allows us to look at all drugs, both legal and illegal, within the same paradigm.

Continued ... Drug Policy Harm Part Two: Misrepresenting Harms

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Statistics - Do they just make them up? Part Two

Searching for material for my teaching I came across a BBC Radio Four programme A Baby ASBO first broadcast in 2009. About five minutes into the programme a new initiative aimed at Primary School Children called Growing Against Gangs is introduced. The programme ran by an organisation called Gang Resistance Education and Training and is adapted from a similar scheme in the United States. The programme involves police officers delivering lessons to primary school children. In this programme we hear PC Emma Hart "teaching" some young children. She tells the children she is "going to through some facts" with them. She checks that they understand what facts are before telling them:
Most gang members make very little money ... 95% of drug dealers are working for less than the minimum wage you could earn at McDonalds ...
What PC Hart fails to tell the children that her "fact" is based on a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2000 by Steven Levitt and Sudhir Venkatesh An Economic Analysis of a Drug Selling Gang's Finances. The paper is based on data collected by Venkatesh on a Chicago gang in the mid 1980s whose activities included dealing crack.  In fact the paper although showing that the rewards for drug dealing were very much concentrated at the higher levels had concluded that average rewards were better than the participants would have gained in legitimate occupations. However these rewards were not sufficiently high as to justify the risks involved in gang activity. The activity could be better explained they argued by gang members hopes of high future earnings (when and if they made it higher up the drug dealing ladder) rather than current earnings.

This research has featured in Levitt's best selling Freakonomics and Venkatesh's Gangleader for a Day and have become generalised both in terms of all drug dealers and all places.  Although I am not a great fan of either book at least reading them meant I could spot the dodgy source being used by PC Hart as having established that the children knew what a fact was then provided them with at best spin, at worse a lie.  The sad news is I only heard it on the radio and was not present to point out to the kids the dangers of trusting what a police officer tells them.  A valuable lesson in Lambeth!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Statistics - Do they just make them up? Part One

One of the advantages of spending an unhealthy proportion of your life absorbing information about the criminal justice system is you can often spot the origins of statistics that appear out of no way.  Two examples:

Yesterday the Government issued a press release announcing "Government is tackling homelessness to stop the revolving door of re-offending".  Reading through this rather poor attempt to spin (failing) policies inherited from the previous Government I came across this claim:
Getting ex-prisoners into stable homes could reduce re-offending rates by as much as a fifth.

This claim normally phrased as "almost 20 per cent" can be found in almost any document about the accommodation of homeless ex-prisoners. But where does it come from? 

Whilst in the last 5 or 6 years I have never seen this claim referenced it was footnoted in the 2004 Home Office publication "Reducing Re-offending: National Action Plan" which identified the source as
HO OAsys pilot study, 2001 (unpublished). Data only covered 1 year after release and studied those with severe accommodation problems.
So a small unrepresentative survey, not worth publishing, is nearly ten years later the evidence base that is being relied upon.

Even more interesting is that whilst there is considerable evidence that housing is a key factor in allowing ex-prisoners to escape the criminal justice system the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have not commissioned the research to provide an adequate evidence base on which to base policy.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

John Pilger - Chile's Ghosts are not being Rescued

In his latest column for the New Statesman, written as the 33 Chilean miners are brought to the surface after ther epic rescue, John Pilger describes the unspoken life in Chile behind the media facade that the government of President Sebastion Pinera has skilfully exploited.

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a façade.

The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is Chile’s gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits. There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile’s privatised mines. The San Jose mine, where the men work, became so unsafe in 2007 it had to be closed – but not for long. On 30 July last, a labour department report warned again of “serious safety deficiencies ”, but the minister took no action. Six days later, the men were entombed.

For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a country of the unspoken. At the Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the capital Santiago, a sign says: “The forgotten past is full of memory.” This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that General Augusto Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beauty of the Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams.

I was taken there one wintry morning in 2006 by Sara De Witt, who was imprisoned as a student activist and now lives in London. She was electrocuted and beaten, yet survived. Later, we drove to the home of Salvador Allende, the great democrat and reformer who perished when Pinochet seized power on 11 September 1973 – Latin America’s own 9/11. His house is a silent white building without a sign or a plaque.

Everywhere, it seems, Allende’s name has been eliminated. Only in the lone memorial in the cemetery are the words engraved “Presidente de la Republica” as part of a remembrance of the “ejecutados Politicos”: those “executed for political reasons”. Allende died by his own hand as Pinochet bombed the presidential palace with British planes as the American ambassador watched.

Today, Chile is a democracy, though many would dispute that, notably those in the barrios forced to scavenge for food and steal electricity. In 1990, Pinochet bequeathed a constitutionally compromised system as a condition of his retirement and the military’s withdrawal to the political shadows. This ensures that the broadly reformist parties, known as Concertacion, are permanently divided or drawn into legitimising the economic designs of the heirs of the dictator. At the last election, the right-wing Coalition for Change, the creation of Pinochet’s ideologue Jaime Guzman, took power under president Sebastian Piñera. The bloody extinction of true democracy that began with the death of Allende was, by stealth, complete.

Piñera is a billionaire who controls a slice of the mining, energy and retail industries. He made his fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup and during the free-market “experiments” of the zealots from the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys. His brother and former business partner, Jose Piñera, a labour minister under Pinochet, privatised mining and state pensions and all but destroyed the trade unions. This was applauded in Washington as an “economic miracle”, a model of the new cult of neo-liberalism that would sweep the continent and ensure control from the north.

Today Chile is critical to President Barack Obama’s rollback of the independent democracies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. Piñera’s closest ally is Washington’s main man, Juan Manuel Santos, the new president of Colombia, home to seven US bases and an infamous human rights record familiar to Chileans who suffered under Pinochet’s terror.

Post-Pinochet Chile has kept its own enduring abuses in shadow. The families still attempting to recover from the torture or disappearance of a loved bear the prejudice of the state and employers. Those not silent are the Mapuche people, the only indigenous nation the Spanish conquistadors could not defeat. In the late 19th century, the European settlers of an independent Chile waged their racist War of Extermination against the Mapuche who were left as impoverished outsiders. During Allende’s thousand days in power this began to change. Some Mapuche lands were returned and a debt of justice was recognised.

Since then, a vicious, largely unreported war has been waged against the Mapuche. Forestry corporations have been allowed to take their land, and their resistance has been met with murders, disappearances and arbitrary prosecutions under “anti terrorism” laws enacted by the dictatorship. In their campaigns of civil disobedience, none of the Mapuche has harmed anyone. The mere accusation of a landowner or businessman that the Mapuche “might” trespass on their own ancestral lands is often enough for the police to charge them with offences that lead to Kafkaesque trials with faceless witnesses and prison sentences of up to 20 years. They are, in effect, political prisoners.

While the world rejoices at the spectacle of the miners’ rescue, 38 Mapuche hunger strikers have not been news. They are demanding an end to the Pinochet laws used against them, such as “terrorist arson”, and the justice of a real democracy. On 9 October, all but one of the hunger strikers ended their protest after 90 days without food. A young Mapuche, Luis Marileo, says he will go on. On 18 October, President Piñera is due to give a lecture on “current events” at the London School of Economics. He should be reminded of their ordeal and why.


Monday, 4 October 2010

Some photos from my trip to Mytilene

Last month I spent a week at the European group's conference in Mytilene. A few pictures to remind myself of the place before my memories are totally buried under the new terms teaching!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

H3 now available through Amazon

I first saw H3 when I attended the European Group Conference in Belfast in 2005. As I recorded at the time
Next stop was the Conway Mill community centre where we got to see H3 a film about the hunger strikes in the early 1980's when Bobby Sands MP, and nine of his comrades died in a protest at the removal of political prisoner status. I am normally good at controlling my emotions but I found this film overwhelmingly powerful. At times I was unable to watch the screen and like many others ended the film with red eyes. But before I could recover we were introduced to the films writer Lawrence McKeown, and Seanna Walsh. Lawrence McKeown had been the eleventh hunger striker, and in a coma, when the action was called off. For years IRA statements have been issued in the name of P O'Neil, but the recent announcement of the end of the armed struggle had a human face, Seanna Walsh, a former cellmate of Bobby Sands, had made it. Yet again we were involved in dialogue with major actors. Listening to their stories and their responses to challenging questions from conference participants from across Europe was a real privilege. We then had the best food of the conference, cheap wine, passionate debate, local music and a late night.
When I got back to the UK I tried to get a copy without any luck eventually buying my copy through a Northern Irish political group.  I was pleased to notice recently that it is now available through Amazon at £5.99 including postage.  A strongly recommended viewing

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Symposium on controversial issues in prisons

I will be speaking in Preston this week.  Full details of the event are:

British Society of Criminology (NW Branch)
Symposium on controversial issues in prisons
Harrington Lecture Theatre, University of Central Lancashire,
September 22nd 2010


9.00 – 9.30 - Welcome and registration

9.30 - 11.00 Morning Session: Exploring controversial issues in prisons (part 1)
  • David Scott, University of Central Lancashire -Thinking about controversial issues in prison
  • Deborah Coles, INQUEST - Self inflicted deaths of women in prison
  • Barry Goldson, Liverpool University - Child incarceration, state-sanctioned violence and cultures of impunity
11.00 – 11.30 Coffee Break

11.30 – 13.00 Morning Session: Exploring controversial issues in prisons (part 2)
  • Toby Seddon, Manchester University - Mental health in prison
  • Elaine Crawley, Salford University  - Elder prisoners
  • Helen Codd, University of Central Lancashire  - Families of prisoners
13.00 - 14.00 Lunch Break

14.00 – 14.55 Afternoon Session: Responding to controversial issues in prisons (part 1)
  • Joseph Trueman - A view from an ex-prisoner
  • Jamie Bennett, HM Prison Service - Prison Managerialism: How prison managers respond to controversial issues
14.55 – 15.05 Short Interval

15.05 – 16.00 Afternoon Session: Responding to controversial issues in prisons (part 2)

  • Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University -We Are All Liberals Now: Science, prison staff and the Prison-Welfare Industry
  • John Moore, University of West England  - The limits of penal reform
16.00-16.15 Close of symposium

For further information and / or to register for your free place and free buffet lunch please contact David Scott

Mumsnet -v- M&S

"Hooters" a nasty sexist "family" restaurant who require their staff to be sexual harassed has recently decided to move into the UK.  Bristol is one of the cities they want to open in.  They have managed to sublet a former Marks & Spencer's "Simply Food" outlet on the harbour-side.  Bristol Council have agreed the necessary planning permission.

The plans to open the branch seemed to steamed ahead when one local Bristol woman, JessinAvalon decided to express her opposition on Mumsnet, a social network for predominately affluent middle class women in their 30s and 40s. I have been watching the responses and the tactic of the mumsnetters have been to target M&S, where I suspect many of them spend rather a lot of money.  M&S has resisted to date, claiming their decision to sublet to Hooters is commercial and in no way endorses the company, its sexist employment practices or its sexist products.

M&S have an existing relationship with Mumsnet and are listed on their front page as supporter of the Let Girls be Girls campaign.

If this is true it will be interesting to see if this decision really was in M&S's commercial interest.  Whatever rent M&S is getting for their Bristol property is likely to be dwarfed by the amount charged to the high credit limit plastic the mumsnet women flash in their stores.  If the boycott takes off expect a rapid retreat by M&S.

The campaign is now spreading into the broadsheets with the Indie on Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph both running stories today.  Both stories provide excellent publicity for Mumsnet and very bad publicity for M&S.

M&S were earlier this month one of the British retailers caught up in a sweatshop scandal with workers at their suppliers forced to work 18 hours a day at rates as low as 25p an hour

Sharing the pain? Pull the other one!

David Cameron, George Osbourne and Nick Clegg have claimed time and time that we must all share the pain of sorting out public finances. But how does the coalitions walk compare to its talk.  Unfortunately the evidence is increasingly that it doesn't.  Whilst the weakest and most vulnerable are being targeted to take the brunt of the cuts the richest and most powerful are continuing to be allowed to plunder the public finances.

Whilst public attention over recent weeks has focused on Government attempts to cut a further £4 billion of disability benefit with Nick Clegg telling the disabled that benefits were not there "to compensate the poor for their predicament" Private Eye this week revealed that the Government had agreed to let corporate giant Vodaphone off a £6 billion tax bill.

The Eye also reveals the deal was negociated by Vodaphone by a former senior HMRC official who moved to the darkside to head the team seeking the tax windfall.  Vodaphone's Finance Director is also an unpaid (sic) advisor to the Chancellor on corporate tax.

If it stinks it is likely to be because it is rotten!

PS Well done to the Indian Tax Authorities.  On a very similiar deal they refused to cave into Vodaphone and took the tax cheats to the courts and won this month.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Rousseau on private property

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, “This is mine”, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars and murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared if some one had torn up the stakes, or filled the ditch, and cried out to his comrades; “Beware of heeding this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the ground belong to all, and the ground itself to no one”

(JJ Rousseau, ‘Discourse upon the Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Men’, in The Social Contract and Discourses, trans GDH Cole. (London 1966) p. 192)

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Adam Smith Institure argues for legalisation of drugs to reduce prison population

From the Adam Smith Institute's blog

The Adam Smith Institute has advocated a more sensible policy, involving the medicalisation of addictive and damaging drugs, and the legalisation of recreational drugs. Such a policy would eliminate the financial burden of incarcerating drug offenders, as well as the need to expend precious resources to police drug-related crimes. The decriminalization of drugs, as has been successfully completed in Portugal with positive results, has the potential to save the British taxpayer money, and simultaneously improve the security and health of the general public. The coalition government should use this opportunity to inject sensibility into the criminal justice system and eliminate costly penalties for drugs

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Ketamine is 'magic drug' for depression

Claims the Daily Telegraph
A single dose of the drug Ketamine acts like "magic" lifting people out of depression in hours and lasting more than a week, scientists claim
Full article here

Whilst the Independent reports
Ecstasy can help the victims of post-traumatic stress overcome their demons, research has shown. In tests, the illegal dance drug had a dramatic effect on previously untreatable patients who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Is it any surprise that the drugs do work?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Fair Fines

The fine as a punishment has many advantages, it is swift, cheap to administer and does not have the labeling consquences of other criminal justice interventions.

However its main problem is fairness. A £1,000 fine is a minor inconvience to a rich person but has a massive impact on someone on benefits.  One way around this is the idea of "unit fines". Essential this results in the level of fine reflecting the income levels of those who are convicted.

The impact of this approach is highlighted by this BBC news story
A Swedish motorist caught driving at 290km/h (180mph) in Switzerland could be given a world-record speeding fine of SFr1.08m ($1m; £656,000), prosecutors say.

The 37-year-old, who has not been named, was clocked driving his Mercedes sports car at 170km/h over the limit.

Under Swiss law, the level of fine is determined by the wealth of the driver and the speed recorded.

In January, a Swiss driver was fined $290,000 - the current world record.

Local police spokesman Benoit Dumas said of the latest case that "nothing can justify a speed of 290km/h".

"It is not controllable. It must have taken 500m to stop," he said.

The Swede's car - a Mercedes SLS AMG - has been impounded and in principle he could be forced to pay a daily fine of SFr3,600 for 300 days

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Conference Time

Over the summer I try to get to a few conferences to hear reports on others research, catch up on old friends and meet new people.  This coming week I will be in Greece for the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control's annual conference. If I can get access to the web I will post some updates on the conference.

Earlier in the year I went to a interdisciplinary conference in Bristol entitled Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below. It was a really enjoyable few days with some excellent papers.  These are now available to listen to on the website of the wonderfully named Backdoor Broadcasting CorporationI strongly recommend a listen.