Monday, August 31, 2009

Savage sentencing shames Australia

Sydney Barrister Charles Waterstreet, writing in yesterday’s Sun Herald, compares Australia with Indonesia in the extreme severity of its sentencing for drug offences. He tells of two Dutch police here to testify in an ecstasy importation case who were "astonished at the savagery of our sentences for large ecstasy importations from Europe."

"We send them away for 20 years," wrote Waterstreet. "In the Netherlands, ecstasy supply is treated as a tax offence – offenders are dealt with for the taxes they avoided in the supply. They get a couple of years."

"The Netherlands regards Australia as the Indonesia of the Pacific," he wrote in the context of Schapelle Corby's 20-year sentence there.

Our sentences are severe by any standard, but considering that drug offences are victimless crimes, this sentencing is deeply unjust and therefore immoral. Local hard-heads with an empathy bypass (usually alcohol drinkers) dismiss this with the line "Well they knew it was against the law so tough luck."

But that doesn't make the law right or justify giving someone an effective life sentence for a victimless crime. At the very least, it mocks the punishment we hand out for real crimes such as rape, assault and murder, which are often shorter than drug sentences. An unjust life sentence steals a life, so it's comparable to murder. The state is the real criminal here.

The War on Drugs is a civil war, a cultural battle between a hard right ideological hangover from the 1950s and a sizeable subculture of people who simply prefer safer, better quality drugs than alcohol. As Waterstreet says:
Blood tests of everyone in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and the rest of the city at a weekend would be over 50 per cent positive to ecstasy, cocaine, speed and/or cannabis. Sniffer dogs would be at risk of overdosing if unleashed and given their heads in public streets at weekends in the inner city.
The War on Drugs is a civil war, a war against our own people. The stupid thing is, it doesn't even work. As Albert Einstein said: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Australian governments should be ashamed of themselves.


Unknown said...

Perhaps those who complain about the severity of punishment for drug trafficking should go see some of the families everywhere who have been destroyed by drug addiction. There is a sign at every checkpoint in Asian and Australian countries: DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS.
Which of those four little words don't you understand?

Unknown said...

Well, perhaps not Australia - but maybe they should bring back the rope for these drug trafficking killers?

Anonymous said...

I don't think more killing is a solution.

shamaniam said...

Mr Darby... I wonder if you would have that same attitude if it were YOUR daughter who was being sent away for 20 years for possession of marijuana...

It's very easy to sit back in a lounge chair and condemn other people, but we are talking living breathing potentially productive people who are now being modified into the criminal code... where is the rehabilitation in that Mr Darby...?

The Editor said...

Thanks for the interest, Darby -- but I think you miss my point. Firstly you will find that 'families destroyed by drug addiction' are not that easy to find. Only a tiny proportion of drug users are actually addicted, and many of those manage their lives despite that. The real drug casualties usually have unfortunate backgrounds in the first place which is why they have nothing better in life than drug addiction.

However you can find plenty of families destroyed by alcohol or gambling addictions. So according to your point of view we should also be imprisoning or executing publicans and casino operators, the analogue of drug dealers. But we tried that. It was called prohibition and it resulted in armed gangs driving around shooting people and endemic corruption funded by the illicit profits. I guess that ruins families too.

Another point -- all the damage ascribed to drugs is happening under prohibition, so the more you talk about harms, the more you undermine the effectiveness of prohibition.

The Editor said...

Another thought, Darby... speaking of families whose lives have been ruined by drug addiction, I wonder if you know about Tony Trimingham who lost his child that way. His response was to set up an organisation, Family Drug Support for such families. They oppose the War on Drugs because they realise many overdoses occur BECAUSE heroin is illegal. The fact is that medically supervised heroin use is very safe.

James said...

By your logic, there is going to be a lot of people hanging at the end of a rope.
At the end of the day, drug use is a personal choice, the "traffickers" are just supplying a demand, a VERY large demand.
Cars kill many people each year, should we hang car dealers and manufaturers? Skydiving is not the safest pursuit out there, should we ban that and hang anyone who makes parachutes?
Unfortunately in the real world, people die prematurely everyday causing grief to many families, it's not pleasant but it is just the way it is. Why is it that in this modern era, we still cling to illicit drugs as the root of all evil?