This blog is written by Hope Humphreys, one of the members of the Anyone’s Child project.
It is said that prison is only used as a last resort. So, if someone gets a criminal record and is sentenced to two and a half years for a first ever offence, they must have done something pretty terrible. Not true.
Our drug laws are so draconian, so indiscriminate, that a student taking his turn to get drugs for his adult friends is treated like an evil drug dealer. Every year, thousands of young people have their lives blighted with a criminal record for possession of cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy. This means they will never be able to travel the world freely, and may have trouble getting a job, for the rest of their lives. Some, unlucky ones, like our son, get sent to prison.
When something terrible happens you have to deal with it the best you can. After the first shock comes anger and disbelief. Finally there is a deep but almost unbearable pain and a feeling of complete helplessness. Then you start to think. Is there anything I can do? It is the injustice that really rankles. You know your child is not wicked or dangerous. You know that it can’t be right that he is in prison, sharing a cell with someone who has chopped someone’s fingers off. You try to make sense of something so nonsensical, and you simply can’t.
And then you look at the evidence. How dangerous are these drugs that people are getting such dreadful punishments for? In almost every table showing the harm caused by both legal and illegal substances, alcohol is put above everyone, including heroin. Cannabis is below tobacco. What? So the law is acting in an arbitrary way, not based on scientific evidence, making justice automatically unjust. And our children are the victims.
I have joined a group of families who have all been harmed by our drug laws, as part of the Anyone’s Child project. Most of them have lost children or other loved ones because the drugs they took were unregulated and they died from poisoning or overdoses. And, as long as the supply of drugs is left in the hands of criminals this will continue to happen: about 50 deaths a week in the UK at the last count. But there is no one besides our family in this group that is fighting for the laws to be changed because their son or daughter was treated unjustly. There must be thousands and thousands of people out there whose child has been given a criminal record and maybe as many who have been sent to prison. We need their help.
I can understand why people keep quiet about their child being criminalised or being sent to prison. There is a stigma about drug taking that is sometimes hard to overcome, especially when parts of the media insist on demonising drugs just to make sensational headlines. But we have to look past that at the facts. And the facts are that until a large number of us get together to force a change in the law, people will continue to die and be punished unfairly. Parliament does not want or like to change laws.
They do not like to be wrong. They are too cowardly even to have the review of the laws which our group have asked them for. They are scared of the media and petrified of the electorate. They fail to realise that we are way ahead of them and would rather see them do something because it is right, even if it’s not popular in the tabloids or among the uninformed. The government relies on the fact that most of us are too ashamed or frightened to come out and fight for change. We need to prove them wrong.
It was quite scary, at first, to stand up and tell the truth about what happened to our son. The stigma, and fear of getting him in even more trouble was strong. But when you know in your heart that what you are doing is right, it feels remarkably good to do something positive. There have been many bad laws over the years, laws on abortion and homosexuality, for example. They were only changed when people got together and spoke out about how dangerous and cruel they were. We can do the same with our drug laws but we need your help.
Please get in contact with Anyone’s Child and join us in this fight to save lives and get rid of our blinkered, unjust, drug laws. They are far more dangerous than any drug – except, perhaps, alcohol.