Meth imprisonment policy opposed

Gareth Thomas and Talitha WolfeAlbany Advertiser

Drug and alcohol treatment service providers in the Great Southern are pleading with politicians to place more emphasis on treatment and prevention of methamphetamine use rather than sending users to prison.

While both major parties do have policies dedicated to increasing the number of rehabilitation beds, professional carers and education, the prominence of increased judicial punishment is worrying some treatment service providers.

Palmerston Great Southern manager Ben Headlam said he did not support the life sentences proposed by the Liberal and Labor parties.

“I believe in rehabilitation — I don’t see how life incarceration can rehabilitate someone,” he said.

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Mr Headlam said evidence from around the world showed deterrence was not an effective measure against meth use.

“Supply reduction doesn’t work or a litigious war on drugs doesn’t work; we’ve been doing the same thing again and again and again,” he said. “In some countries, it’s the death penalties, does that work?

“This is the ultimate punishment ... I don’t see that it has worked.”

Margaret Gordon, manager of the Albany-based meth treatment program Ice Beakers, said people with an addiction or violent behaviour needed ongoing support.

“They have maybe stopped the using or stopped the violence but it doesn’t just stop there — you’ve got to change the way people think and feel about things,” she said.

The Liberals’ policy document touts that the party has “the toughest penalties in Australia for dealers”, while outlining “compulsory treatment and a massive investment in rehabilitation” as the centrepieces of their $190 million plan to combat meth use in WA.

Deputy Premier and Police Minister Liza Harvey said the mandatory minimum jail terms of one-15 years would force judges to send even the lowest-level meth dealers to jail.

“My message to meth dealers is simple: you have dealt misery to families, and if we are re-elected, we are going to deal misery to you,” she said.

“WA will have the toughest drug laws in Australia by far. If you are a dealer, WA will be the most dangerous place to ply your trade.”

The “tough on meth” rhetoric continues with Labor’s pledge to increase the maximum penalty for meth trafficking to life in prison, which the Opposition party said in its policy document would “send the strongest message yet to the community and to the judiciary that methamphetamine traffickers will not be tolerated in Western Australia”.

WA Labor leader Mark McGowan said he had heard stories of meth dealers who were giving meth to children to get them hooked.

“That sort of stuff is so shocking that it deserves an extreme response from the law,” he said.

Shadow attorney-general John Quigley said it was Labor’s intention to “cut the head off the snake and people will get life, make no mistake”.

Meanwhile, the Greens have taken a starkly different approach, suggesting illicit drugs including meth and ecstasy be treated as a health issue rather than criminal.

Ms Gordon said she did not think locking people up in prison would solve the problems with meth use in the community.

“All these punishments, it sounds good ... if you get the right people, lock them away forever I say, but you are not going to get the right people. You are going to get the person that is really struggling that’s doing it because they’ve got this addiction,” she said.

While not endorsing the Greens’ policy, Mr Headlam said treating drug use as a health issue and not a criminal one was a key to success.

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