January 10, 2013
Prison for petty crimes destroying lives
A leading lawyer and prison reform advocate is calling for an expert review of drug policy.
Justice ministry figures show more than 400 people a year are going to prison for minor drug offences that the Law Commission wants wiped off the statute books.
But the Government has refused to heed the commission’s recommendations, and Justice Minister Judith Collins says all drug offending – no matter how minor – should be dealt with through the criminal justice system.
Peter Williams QC says the heavy-handed approach to petty drug offences is a waste of public money and it wrecks lives.
“I have seen cases over the years where people were put in prison, they lose their jobs and they lose their way. Being in prison it sets them down a slippery slope.”
With more than half the prison muster being Māori, Mr Williams says people need to work out how New Zealand’s war on drugs is contributing to that.
“The laws give the police a reason to search people, to exercise their power, and to do deals where it suits them. It’s another weapon in the hands of the police.”
He says Ms Collins is looking at the issue politically, rather than its merits,
“Let’s set up a committee of experts, doctors and lawyers. It’s time we took a more considered approach, look at what is happening in other countries,” Mr Williams says.
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