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April 23, 2009

Proposal to cut drug offense sentences in the UK

Especially during National Call-In Day in the US (background here), folks might be intrigued to see this report of a significant development in drug offense sentencing in the UK:

Long prison sentences for drug barons are ineffective as a deterrent and should be cut by up to two years, according to official proposals published yesterday.  Sentences for drug couriers who import small amounts of heroin or cocaine but are very often "naive and vulnerable" women from the developing world are also to be reduced under the recommendations.

But the advice, from the panel that draws up sentencing guidelines, says that heavier sentences should be given to dealers who focus on psychiatric hospitals, drug treatment centres and bail hostels, or who try to smuggle drugs into prisons. 

The proposals feature in a consultation paper published yesterday by the Sentencing Advisory Panel.

Its proposals will be considered by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is chaired by Sir Igor Judge, the lord chief justice, and includes the director of public prosecutions. The council lays down the sentencing framework for all the courts in England and Wales.

Prof Andrew Ashworth, the chairman of the panel, said the point was not that a robust approach to sentencing drug barons was inappropriate: crown court judges were giving longer sentences in the most serious cases of importing drugs than they were for adult rape or causing death by dangerous driving....

The panel recommended that the starting point -- when sentences are decided for those guilty of the most serious cases of importing or supplying drugs (bringing in at least 5kg of heroin or cocaine, or 50,000 tablets of ecstasy) -- should be cut from 14 years to 12 years. The final sentence, depending on the nature of the case, should be in the range of 10 to 14 years.

The members advise that the shorter sentences should be accompanied by much more extensive use of asset confiscation orders, which can cover not only ill-gotten gains but also legitimate assets such as houses, cars and yachts.  Confiscation orders are only used in one in eight serious drugs cases at the moment....

The panel also suggested that the sentences for drug mules or couriers should be much shorter. Often their role in criminal organisations was a minor one.  "They are very often naive, vulnerable, men and women from third world countries whose fates are totally disregarded by those at the top of the drug supply chain," said the panel members.

April 23, 2009 at 04:34 PM | Permalink


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This new class of drug dealers is very different from the drug lords and their heavily armed and impoverished youth gangs in the slums, where the Brazilian police sent small armies to fight deadly battles against them. Rather, accused of trafficking ecstasy often are frequent customers of nightclubs in the raucous atmosphere of the electronic dance music, imported from Europe and the U.S..

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