Nice try, judge, but…

Judge Nicholas Crichton

There’s a judge in England who’s got plans for heroin users in this little north-eastern corner. No, that’s unfair – he has plans but he’s implementing them in England and he thinks it would be a good idea to implement them here as well. I’m not nearly so sure.

Why so? Well, the judge’s plans are focused on pregnant heroin-users, which means he’s ignoring some four-fifths of the heroin-using fraternity (or sorority, if you prefer), since four-fifths of heroin users are male. That said, the judge does claim some success with these women, who give birth to babies that have to be detoxified because they’ve developed a drug habit while still in the womb. Pretty ghastly, eh? Normally the child is taken from them and put into foster care, which leaves these unhappy women mad with rage and grief, and many of them go on to have another child to replace the one taken away – or so the judge intimates. His system is one where the mother is supported by social workers and the judge himself and a coterie of people who try to help the unhappy mother turn her life around. The judge claims that, based on a very small sample, they have success: one in three of such mothers  takes on her responsibilities and stays clean, whereas in a control group without that kind of support, only one in five or six is rescued from despair.

I don’t agree with the English judge – one Nicholas Crichton –  for several reasons. While one out of three is better than one out of five or six,  it still means it’s a system that fails two out of every three mothers involved. It’s also a system that hasn’t been properly researched – even Crichton admits his faith in it rests on a very small sample. With another judge, for example, the whole thing mightn’t work (apparently  Crichton is highly charismatic). So to start rolling it out in other areas at public expense sounds a bit shot-in-the-dark to me.

But there are two other, even bigger reasons why I don’t feel overly excited by his programme. One, it doesn’t question the fact that drugs are illegal. The war on drugs has been fought for decades and even governments themselves now admit that it’s an abysmal failure. Until some form of legalisation is thought out, we’re only codding ourselves and using massive police resources sending people to prisons – which are, invariably, stuffed with drugs. Clever.

The second reason I think the judge is missing the point is that he doesn’t really address the whole drug-abuse link with poverty. Put bluntly, people who have little or no money are more likely to try to escape from their ghastly surroundings by drug abuse.  Until the poverty issue – in short, inequality in society – is tackled head-on, progress on the drugs front will make little headway. But do you see any signs that our society is becoming more equal? Nah, me neither.

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