Barlinnie Prison where 605 people were sent instead of receiving drug treatment.
By Rory Murphy
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie today said the next Scottish Government will only end the drug deaths crisis through compassion and health treatment, not prosecution, as he revealed new figures showing 605 people convicted of possession without intent to supply being sent to prison.
Meanwhile, only 108 people received a Drug Treatment and Testing Order during the same three year period (2016/17 to 2018/19).
Willie Rennie said the SNP’s drugs failure cost the lives of hundreds of people. 1,264 people died of drug-related deaths in 2019, the highest number since records began and three times the rate of England, Wales and the rest of Europe.
In the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto, the party commits to:
- Reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution.
- Take radical steps with the prosecution authorities and the Lord Advocate to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces.
- Establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, learning from best international practice such as that in Portugal.
- Divert people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances.
- Protect and enhance drug and alcohol partnership budgets, and adopt the principle that individuals and families shouldn’t have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs or alcohol.
- Use emergency housing funding to help people keep their homes and tenancies while they undergo treatment and rehabilitation.
Willie Rennie said: “The SNPs failure was more than just a political failure, it was a failure that cost the lives of hundreds of people.
“Not only did the SNP fail to take the necessary action to save lives, they made it worse by cutting the alcohol and drug partnership budgets, surrendering services and expertise.
“It was admitted in 2017 that essential drug reforms weren’t pursued because it wasn’t seen as a vote winner. This is political negligence of the highest order.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will put recovery first. We will reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution. After years of being told no, Scottish Liberal Democrats have just won cross-party agreement for that important principle.
“However, these new statistics show how far off that is from happening. The same number of people are being imprisoned for personal possession as a decade ago. The police have spoken about having a sense of hopelessness and helplessness when they see people being sent to prison because they know this doesn’t help save lives.
“We need to target the dealers and get vulnerable people into treatment, not prison.
“People are desperate for the next Scottish Parliament to put recovery first and that’s precisely what Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs will do.”
Meanwhile, the new statistics can be found here: https://betaproxy2.parlamaid-alba.scot/chamber-and-committees/written-questions-and-answers/question?ref=S5W-36040. An average of 200 people a year were imprisoned between 2010 and 2015 because of possession of drugs for personal use.
In 2017, Kenny MacAskill, the SNP Justice Secretary for seven years acknowledged “…silence may have been understandable when the referendum was ongoing, now it’s simply cowardly as tragedy unfolds”.
Scotland has a drug-related death rate more than three and half times that of England and Wales, or indeed anywhere else in Europe.
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in July 2019. He told MPs:
“It is just a matter of time: they come through the custody door, they get processed through the criminal justice process, they go in through the Sheriff Court, they go into prison. Of those people that come out of prison, 11% of them will die within the first month of having been released…The police officers get used to this carousel, this sense of hopelessness and helplessness. The first duty of every police officer is to preserve life and when people do not come back through the doors with that alarming frequency, it is probably because the person is dead. It is not because there has been a successful intervention through the criminal justice process. That is a sense of foreboding within law enforcement.”