Issue 67 Questioning Drug Policy

Working Notes Issue 67 Editorial

on Thursday, 29 September 2011. Posted in Issue 67 Questioning Drug Policy

pdf icon

Working Notes:Issue 67 Editorial

Two of the three articles in this issue of Working Notes deal with the distinct but not unrelated issues of drug policy and prison overcrowding; the third with the broader topic of the reform of public services generally.

In the opening article, Fr Peter McVerry SJ calls for a radical appraisal of current approaches to dealing with illegal drug use. Pointing out that ‘drug policy’ encompasses both policies to deal with the supply of drugs and policies to deal with demand, he says that addressing supply absorbs by far the greater share of public expenditure. Yet, despite successes by the authorities in intercepting supplies, the inflow of drugs continues, with powerful criminal gangs controlling this trade. Fr McVerry says there is need for a serious rethink of policy in relation to how the State can control the supply of drugs and suggests that the findings and recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, published in June 2011, provide some useful guidelines for the much-needed public and political debate on the issue.

In relation to policies to control demand, Fr McVerry highlights the importance of addressing demand among those who are habitual users or who are addicted to drugs. He emphasises the need for a comprehensive range of detoxification, rehabilitative and after-care services, and says that it is essential that these be accessible without undue delays. While the importance of all these elements has long since been recognised in official policy and strategy statements, provision falls far short of need, and existing services are endangered by current cutbacks in public funding.

Overcrowding is widely recognised to be a core problem of the Irish prison system, one which affects every aspect of prison life.This issue is addressed in an article by Patrick Hume SJ who notes that many Irish prisons are overcrowded even in terms of the most basic level of ‘bed capacity’ – simply the number of beds which can be fitted into a prison building. Moreover, he says it would appear that the prison authorities have now abandoned the principle that ‘one person per cell’ should be the norm. 

Fr Hume shows that international human rights agreements provide only general guidance as to what constitutes ‘desirable’ cell capacity and that in any case the provisions of such agreements can be appealed to in Irish courts only if they have been explicitly made part of domestic law. He shows too that while judgments of the Irish courts have upheld the basic rights of prisoners it is clear that the courts are unwilling to meddle in the administration of the prison system by specifying the conditions under which prisoners may be detained. He concludes that there is limited scope for a legal route through the courts towards ensuring that our prisons provide adequate accommodation, and argues that there is need for an informed public to advocate strongly for the changes necessary to close the gap between the prison conditions to which we should be aspiring and the reality of the conditions now prevailing.

The economic crisis of the last few years has focused increased attention on the importance and urgency of reform of Irish public services. In the third article in this issue, Dr Fergus O’Ferrall points out that the outcomes of services are in fact ‘co-produced’ by users and providers and so it makes sense to ensure public participation in the design and implementation of public services. However, he says, too often services are based on ‘passive models of delivery and narrow understandings of solidarity’, with citizens being seen as dependants or clients. Dr O’Ferrall argues for a ‘human development and capability approach’ to public service reform, one which would see citizens as ‘active, creative and able to act on behalf of their aspirations’, and which would allow for ‘participation, public debate, democratic practice and empowerment’ in the framing and implementation of services. He suggests that a capability approach is particularly necessary in relation to the reform of our health services, pointing out that effectively addressing the key public health problems of our times – obesity, harmful alcohol consumption and socio-economic differentials in health – will depend not on spending ever-increasing sums on health services (even if that were possible) but on the active commitment of informed and engaged citizens.

Drug Policy: Need for Radical Change?

on Thursday, 29 September 2011. Posted in Issue 67 Questioning Drug Policy

pdf icon

Drug Policy: Need for a Radical Change?

Introduction

What began as a heroin problem in inner-city Dublin in the 1980s has now spread like a cancer throughout Irish society. A wide variety of drugs, from cannabis to heroin to cocaine and on to crack cocaine, are now available in almost every town and village in Ireland. Crystal meth will probably be the next wave of drugs to hit our shores. While many of us have lived our entire lives without ever seeing an illegal drug, this most certainly cannot be assumed to be the case for the children and young people now growing up in our society.

The monetary value of the illegal drug trade in Ireland probably runs to hundreds of millions of euro per year.1 This ‘business’ has created about twenty violent drug gangs, who import illegal drugs and control their sale. Despite the successes of the Gardaí in seizing huge quantities of drugs and arresting those who are dealing in this trade, there is no shortage of drugs on our streets. As long as a kilo of cocaine can be bought in South America for €700, and sold on the streets of our cities and towns for €70,000, there will be no shortage of people willing to risk imprisonment – or worse – for this kind of profit. Each new generation of drug dealers is more violent and more alienated from the society around them than those who went before, and the factors which trigger their violence are becoming more and more trivial. Their violence and threats of violence discourage all but the bravest from providing information or evidence to the Gardaí.

Public Participation:Involving Citizens in Designing Public Services

on Thursday, 29 September 2011. Posted in Issue 67 Questioning Drug Policy

pdf icon

Public Participation: Involving Citizens in Designing Public Services

Introduction

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’, the famous maxim of Kurt Lewin, has particular relevance for the reform of our public services. In that challenging task, there is need for a coherent theoretical perspective and clarity as to the fundamental goals we as a society wish to strive for in the coming decades. I want to argue for a radical new paradigm for public services and to describe such a paradigm. I will discuss the implications of this paradigm using the case example of health services and will seek to draw some broad applications for the community and voluntary sector in relation to the design and delivery of public services.

I believe that the OECD Public Management Review, Ireland: Towards an Integrated Public Service, completed in 2008, has a failed paradigm at the heart of the thinking it presents. The very opening sentence of the report is illustrative of this:

Ireland’s economic success story is one that many OECD countries would like to emulate. While the reasons underpinning Ireland’s success are varied, the Irish Public Service has played a central role in ensuring that the right economic, regulatory, educational and social conditions are in place to facilitate growth and development.1

Even without the benefit of hindsight, this would have to give rise to serious questioning.

Overcrowding and Cell Capacity in Irish Prisons

on Thursday, 29 September 2011. Posted in Issue 67 Questioning Drug Policy

pdf icon

Overcrowding and Cell Capacity in Irish Prisons

Introduction

Any discussion of prison conditions or overall prison policy in Ireland cannot but give close attention to the question of the overcrowding that is pervasive throughout the prison system.

This overcrowding starkly reflects the reality that the numbers imprisoned, both on remand and under sentence, have grown significantly over the past thirty years, with the daily average number of people in prison increasing more than three-fold, reaching well over 4,000 in 2010.

There has been an expansion in prison places – with, for example, the building of large extensions to many prisons, but the number of additional places has not matched the increase in the number of people detained. The result is that, in most of the country’s prisons, cells designed for one person now routinely accommodate two or even more people. On 7 December 2010, 63 per cent of those detained in Irish prisons – 2,762 people out of a total prison population of 4,416 – were not accommodated in a single cell.1

Issues Before 1997

Click here for a selection of articles from before 1997