Repeat drug users could avoid court if they engage with diversion scheme
Expert tells Yahoo News UK the idea is sound but needs help from the Home Office
Home Office spokesperson says it expects forces to ‘enforce the law’
Drug users could avoid being prosecuted for repeat substance offences as part of new plans by West Midlands Police.
Under the scheme, adults and teenagers can avoid being arrested and taken to court as long as they agree to be diverted to rehabilitation, The Times reports.
An addiction and mental health expert told Yahoo News UK the idea is good “overall” but that the Home Office needs to create a coherent strategy instead of seeing a “patchwork” of police forces responding to drug abuse differently.
The Home Office said it expects chief constables “to enforce the law”.
The Times reports that West Midlands is one of eight forces using a diversion scheme, with forces deciding that criminal justice procedures were not working for some users.
The West Midland Police website says the concept will see people caught possessing a controlled substance – not those caught with intent to supply drugs – being placed in a programme designed to keep them away from going through the criminal justice system.
The £60,000 pilot scheme means those who would normally be charged with low-level drug crimes and appear in court could instead be sent on a course, avoiding a criminal record. It is hoped 1,500 people will be helped over a year.
West Midlands Police said a similar approach by Thames Valley Police found that 80% of people involved did not go on to commit another crime in the next 12 months.
Speaking to Yahoo News UK, Ian Hamilton, senior lecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, said police forces were being “pragmatic” and that it is better to treat drug addiction as a health issue.
“Rather than just going round and round in circles where we arrest people who go back to using drugs, then we arrest them again – how can we intervene at an earlier stage?” he said.
“I think overall it is a good thing – the devil’s always in the detail.
“It’s just a shame that local forces are left to do this, that there isn’t some steer from central government or the Home Office on this.
“The obvious problem is you then end up with a patchwork of differences across the country.
“I think it’s really telling so many forces and police and crime commissioners are now going their own way, I think they are pretty exhausted with the lack of steer from central government on this.”
Hamilton added that the health response will need to be sufficiently funded, something police forces don’t have control over, and the approach needs to be national, instead of various forces running different schemes.
“I think there’s enough police and crime commissioners and police forces now who are doing this that the Home Office must recognise they need to change their own position,” Hamilton said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our approach to drugs is clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.
“The police have a range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences in a way that is proportionate to the circumstances of the offender and in the public interest.
“How police choose to pursue investigations is an operational decision for chief constables, but we are clear that we expect them to enforce the law.”
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