Summary of an eleven-country study of socio-legal measures to combat drug abuse and related crime

Sections

ABSTRACT
Introduction
Purposes of the study
Focus of the study
Methodological remarks
Conclusions and discussion
Future research

Details

Author: T. ASUNI, F. BRUNO
Pages: 3 to 8
Creation Date: 1984/01/01

Summary of an eleven-country study of socio-legal measures to combat drug abuse and related crime

T. ASUNI
F. BRUNO
United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, Rome, Italy

ABSTRACT

In a comparative study of a group of experimental and control subjects in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Japan, Jordan, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States of America (State of New York), and of the results of independent studies conducted in Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a rather close association was found to exist between drug abuse, criminal behaviour and social attitudes to such problems. Both drug abuse and the sociolegal systems varied greatly in the countries involved. No correlation was found between the level of foreseen or actual harshness of the sociolegal system and the level of seriousness of drug abuse and its associated criminality, but there was a significant correlation between knowledge of the law and the efficacy of the socio-legal system. In each country informal control systems, such as the family, church, school, neighbourhood and work environment, were active. Approximately one half of the subjects that were interviewed from countries with the most punitive socio-legal systems perceived informal controls as harsh and punitive while in the other countries such controls were generally perceived as positive. The study encouraged the review, testing and implementation of alternative measures to penal sanctions, particularly with a view to creating a genuine therapeutic approach to correcting the deviant behaviour of drug abusers.

Introduction

Comparative research on the effectiveness of socio-legal preventive and control measures on the interaction between criminal behaviour and drug abuse was carried out by the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (UNSDRI) and funded by certain Member States participating in the study and by the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control. Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Japan, Jordan, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States of America (State of New York) participated in the study, while Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland carried out independent studies. The full report on the study was published in 1984.1

In spite of the unavoidable problems encountered in the execution of such a major undertaking, the research has certainly shed some light on the issues it addressed. The conclusions have been cautiously drawn. There are areas which need to be more thoroughly investigated and some of these areas have been suggested. There are also areas with tentative policy implications - tentative in that it is for the policy-makers to see how these fit into the overall national philosophy; tentative also in that the policy-makers may wish to seek a confirmation of the findings of this study through deeper study of particular issues.

In most countries drug abuse is a violation of the penal law, which is inevitably linked to a range of other offences directly or indirectly connected with the production and the distribution of illegal substances. This form of criminality is commonly found in the behaviour and life-style of the habitual drug user. An individual may frequently manifest both drug dependence and criminal behaviour. Clinical experience and direct research confirm the existence of an association between drug abuse and crime, although the nature of the relationship is not clear.

The relationship between drugs and crime is not only interesting from a purely scientific standpoint, but may also be useful in identifying and adopting an adequate crime and drug control policy in society.

It is obvious that for the legislator and the administrator it is important to understand if, how and to what extent crime favours drug abuse, or drug abuse causes crime, or whether both behaviours are caused or facilitated by other intervening factors.

A final answer to these questions has so far not been found. Very important studies recently carried out suggest a probability of a causal relationship between drug abuse and crime, but do not exclude a purely correlational link between the two phenomena. In any case, countries with different drug legislations show very different crime rates in their population of drug addicts.

The complex interplay of the various factors that influence the association between drug abuse and crime is not known. The question may be raised as to whether the normative and control measures have the possible criminogenic effects and, if so, under which circumstances and to what extent. The question may also be raised whether such measures can demonstrate preventive efficacy and, if so, what is the cost-effectiveness involved.

1F. Bruno, Combating Drug Abuse and Related Crime: Comparative Research on the Effectiveness of Socio-legal Preventive and Control Measures in Different Countries on the Interaction Between Criminal Behaviour and Drug Abuse, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (Rome, Fratelli Palombi Editori, 1984).

Purposes of the study

The data collected were analysed with a view to achieving the following three purposes:

  1. The analysis and assessment of the general situation existing in each country with regard to the phenomenon of drug abuse and related crime, and to the socio-legal system operating in that country to combat and control this phenomenon;

  2. The analysis of the perception of the system on the part of the subjects who are on the receiving end of the action;

  3. The analysis of the impact of the system with regard to its direct effect on the criminal activity of drug addicts.

Focus of the study

The focus of the study was on the direct impact of the functioning of the socio-legal system on drug abuse and criminality of abusers. The study assessed and compared such impact in various countries.

Three main assumptions were agreed upon and verified in each participating country. The first presupposed an association between crime and drug abuse; the second was the existence of a more or less structured system made up of different formal or informal medical and socio-legal elements, which in each country opposed the diffusion of drug abuse and the association between drug abuse and crime. The third was the possibility of building a dynamic model of the interaction between the socio-legal system and the phenomenon of drug abuse and related crime.

Methodological remarks

The implementation of this comparative and transcultural research encountered many theoretical, methodological and practical problems. Nevertheless, adequate homogeneity and comparability were obtained. Homogeneity was achieved by standardizing the research instruments and data collecting methods, by centralizing data analysis, and by exchanging views and information among researchers in the course of their work. Comparability was achieved by quantifying one of the qualities of the systems (harshness) by means of a specific scale and by constructing hypothetical harshness and seriousness scales, the scores of which were compared with the scores of other countries.

The selected samples were very small, with an average of 30 subjects in each country. The total sample consisted of 167 experimental and 81 control subjects. Consequently no general decisive conclusion could be drawn. However, some interesting considerations can be formulated on the basis of the results interpreted from a qualitative rather than a quantitative point of view.

Conclusions and discussion

The main conclusions drawn from the results of the study are summarized below:

  1. The association between drug abuse and criminal behaviour is rather close in each country. This association seems to be related with the nature of drug abuse, the reactions of the social environment to such abuse and the general crime trends. Generally, social factors appear to have greater impact on such association than personal elements.

  2. Drug abuse has different characteristics and gravity in the various countries, and the socio-legal systems also vary. However, the variations of the systems are more theoretical than practical and are more relevant at the legal level than at the socio-medical level.

  3. No correlation exists between the level of foreseen or actual harshness of the socio-legal system and the level of seriousness of the phenomenon, but the systems which appear to have the greatest influence on the general phenomenon and on the specific individuals are those which are perceived as harshest and where laws are best known. The actual harshness may be evaluated on the basis of the suffering of the subject during his encounter with the system; foreseen harshness may be evaluated on the basis of the legal provisions only.

  4. In the majority of the countries the direct impact of the system on the subject does not appear to influence the association between drug abuse and criminal behaviour.

  5. In each country studied several informal control systems, such as the family, church, school, neighbourhood and work environment, are active. These control systems have been perceived as harsh and punitive by approximately one half of the subjects interviewed from countries which have the harshest and most punitive socio-legal systems, whereas in the other countries such control systems have generally been perceived as positive.

The primary drug abused varies from one country to another as follows: cannabis and psycho-pharmaceuticals in Argentina and Costa Rica; amphetamines in Japan; cannabis (hashish) in Jordan; heroin in Italy, Malaysia and Singapore; and psycho-pharmaceuticals, heroin and cocaine in the State of New York (United States).

Alternative measures to penal sanctions and incarceration should be seriously studied, tested and implemented in order to create a genuine therapeutic approach to correcting the deviant behaviour of the subjects concerned. In this way, the simple repressive aspect of the penal law could remain, without in any way undermining the rehabilitative aims of health care. By keeping the two regimes separate, penal and health care, it might be possible to maximize the advantages of each without confusing either the public or the addicts concerned as to what these separate enterprises are designed to achieve.

While this research was being carried out, a dangerous new phenomenon appeared: the abuse of cocaine, which has spread to the point that in many countries it now competes for supremacy with the abuse of opiates. The illicit supply of this drug has been widely increasing, conquering evergrowing drug markets and inducing a demand for the drug that appears inexhaustible. This presents serious problems in national and international efforts to counteract cocaine abuse and trafficking and their associated consequences. Certain cocaine-related problems can be linked to the following three important issues:

  1. Scientific issue. Some of the characteristics of cocaine abuse are not yet well known from a scientific point of view, particularly in terms of neurobiological, neuropsychological and behavioural mechanisms of action;

  2. Social issue. The multidimensional programme supported by the United Nations in the coca-producing countries is designed to encourage socio-economic and cultural development in the coca-growing areas in order to achieve the substitution of coca with alternative crops. It is believed that this programme can be effectively implemented by means of integrated information and co-ordinated intervention to favour solidarity between countries;

  3. Legal and criminal issue. Cocaine is suspected to be a particularly strong criminogenic drug. Its abuse may stimulate aggressivity and therefore have a direct effect on criminality. The high cost of cocaine can indirectly induce criminality and satisfy the economic interests of large criminal organizations that control its traffic at national and international levels. The need to know on a scientific basis the phenomenology of the interacting relations between the abuse of cocaine, criminality and socio-legal systems appears therefore to be of importance in order to combat this new danger effectively.

Future research

As already indicated, because of the small samples involved, the findings of this study need to be verified through replication and larger samples.

In future, the study could continue along two lines: one to confirm statistically the definite hypotheses; the other, to assess the extent to which the various penal, social and cultural factors can influence preventive, control and treatment interventions and their impact on the association between drug abuse and crime. It is for this reason that the proposed second phase of the research has been oriented towards the study of the actual efficacy of the control measures of the socio-legal, prevention and treatment system in relation to the criminality involved in trafficking and abuse of cocaine.

A comparative research project is being planned to be carried out in various coca producer and consumer countries. This project foresees the analysis of how the system functions in each country in relation to the phenomenon of cocaine abuse and trafficking and the evaluation of the efficacy of possible factors capable of opposing the phenomenon. The methodology is similar to that applied in the research the results of which have been summarized in this article.