Drug-related crime and sentencing policies from the perspective of the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme

Sections

ABSTRACT
Introduction
United Nations activities
Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders
Penal sanctions and sentencing policies
Measures against drug crimes
Committee on Crime Prevention and Control
United Nations Secretariat and institutes
Future United Nations activities
Preparations for the Seventh Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders
Divergencies in sentencing policies
Recent trends in sentencing policies

Details

Author: H. HANREICH
Pages: 47 to 57
Creation Date: 1984/01/01

Drug-related crime and sentencing policies from the perspective of the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme

H. HANREICH*

ABSTRACT

Owing to the incompleteness of available data, there is no conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of sentencing policies in various countries. Insufficient data at both the regional and international levels also make it difficult to draw any firm conclusions on general trends in sentencing policies for offenders convicted of drug-related infractions. Regional, and particularly national, circumstances influence the pattern of penal measures against drug offences in any given country. Thus, drug legislation reflects the socio-cultural, religious and other values of a nation. There is a growing tendency to apply measures of treatment and social reintegration to drug-addicted persons who have committed minor offences rather than to impose prison sentences on them. Drug addiction is increasingly recognized as a disease, which should be cured in an appropriate treatment setting, but the data available indicate that the application of this measure to drug offenders is rather restricted. Another apparent tendency is the move to decriminalize the simple use of drugs and, at the same time, to provide more severe penalties for drug trafficking. In certain countries, however, there is a trend towards increased penalties for illicit drug use as well.

Introduction

The growth of illicit traffic in drugs and the continuing spread of drug abuse are among the most pressing problems encountered by societies in many countries of the world. The extent to which drug problems are correlated with criminal activity has not yet been sufficiently clarified, owing to the multifaceted nature of the subject. Drug problems tend to affect social development and are associated with social disintegration and increasing criminality. The interrelation between drugs and crime is complex. A worsening of the drug-abuse situation may aggravate crime in a given community. Drug addicts are often prepared to do anything to procure their daily dose and a growing demand for illicit drugs can lead to an increase in the number of those handling and selling the drugs.

* In co-operation with the United Nations Secretariat, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch, Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs.

In discussing the interrelation between drugs and crime, the first task is to establish whether the phenomena involved are drug-related. Violence or traffic accidents that are directly induced by drug consumption may be defined as drug-related, as may crimes committed to maintain the functioning of drug-distribution channels and income-generating crimes committed by addicts to finance their drug habits ([1] , pp. 44-45).

Different types of drugs may be related to different criminal activities. The main distinction in this respect is made between opiate and non-opiate drugs. For instance, research does not seem to have clearly confirmed the correlation between cannabis use and delinquency. Delinquency patterns for both cannabis users and abstainers frequently run parallel ([1] , p. 50). There appears, however, to be a closer interrelation between criminality and the use of opiates, which regularly leads to physical dependence ([1] , p. 51).

It is still not fully clear in which way drug-use habits affect patterns of criminal behaviour. In this respect, further research is still needed to give adequate consideration to environmental factors, such as unemployment, social disadvantage and ethnicity, within the context of the addict's behaviour. Drug crimes may be seen as the result of an interaction of different factors. Such interaction is often based on the particular addict's background and the situation in which the crime is committed.

United Nations activities

Crime and illicit traffic in drugs transcend national boundaries and it is obvious that these problems cannot be considered as purely national or local anywhere in the world. For this reason, co-operation between Governments of Member States, through the United Nations system, is indispensable if such problems are to be tackled effectively. Continuous co-operation is therefore needed within the United Nations system, particularly in matters of crime prevention and criminal justice on the one hand and international drug control on the other. The priority areas for such co-operation have been identified by the United Nations policy-making bodies in the fields of both drug control and criminal justice as well as by the United Nations congresses on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders and special ad hoc meetings. The United Nations congresses on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders and the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control are the central bodies assisting the Economic and Social Council in matters of crime prevention and criminal justice.

The common location of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch (within the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs), the Division of Narcotic Drugs, the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control at Vienna favours a mutually beneficial collaboration between these units of the United Nations Secretariat.

Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders

The United Nations quinquennial congresses on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders are world-wide conferences designed to promote the exchange of expertise and experience among Member States and to strengthen international and regional co-operation in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice.

The Fifth Congress, held at Geneva in 1975, addressed itself to the different cultural, economic, social and political situations in various countries and pointed out that drug-related problems and policies to cope with such problems were both dependent on those situations and their particular stages of development. It was noted at the Congress that "combating drug abuse... might sometimes require changes in the social, economic and cultural structure of a country" in order to reduce drug abuse and remove the reasons for such abuse ([2] , para. 76). Governments were urged to co-operate with the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control in order to enable the United Nations to provide technical and financial assistance to Governments requiring it in order to help them to fight effectively against drug-abuse problems and related criminality ([2] , para. 28).

Penal sanctions and sentencing policies

The Fifth Congress laid special emphasis on sentencing policies and, in this context, on the distinction between minor offences, such as possession of small quantities of a drug for personal use, and serious offences such as drug trafficking or illegal drug producing, as stipulated in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 [3] , the 1972 Protocol amending the Single Convention [4] , and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances ([5] , [2] , paras. 69 and 70).

Although participants were aware of the difficulties in distinguishing clearly between drug abusers and traffickers, it was pointed out that under the above-mentioned conventions, penal provisions should be limited to serious offences. Persons involved in minor offences were considered to require measures of treatment rather than stringent punishment, as non-penal forms of social control might sometimes be more appropriate and effective against drug abuse. Attention was drawn to the need to distinguish between illicit producers and traffickers on the one hand and illicit possessors and consumers on the other hand ([2] , para. 70). Concerning minor offences, the Congress regarded drug abuse as part of the general health problem. Emphasis was given to measures of treatment and the social reintegration of drug abusers. Penal sanctions and sentencing policies should in no way prevent the application of such measures and should be restricted to ensuring their application, if appropriate. The Congress did not, however, elaborate on the different forms of treatment and noted that very little evidence of the success of treatment was available ([2] , para. 74).

Measures against drug crimes

The Fifth Congress considered measures to be taken against drug offences and identified the following priority areas:

  1. The drafting of an international convention on judicial assistance and the improvement of extradition procedures at both the bilateral and multilateral levels by reviewing and amending existing extradition treaties or by concluding new treaties which would include drug offences as extraditable offences;

  2. Consideration of illicit drug traffic as a transnational crime, which should be included in a list of such crimes to be drawn up by the United Nations;

  3. Ensuring, in conformity with national legislation, that drug offenders, having been convicted in one country but having escaped, serve the sentence in the country in which they have taken refuge or have been found, if extradition is not feasible;

  4. The sharing of knowledge in the drug law enforcement field and the exchange of relevant information, in particular concerning new methods and routes used by illicit traffickers;

  5. Improvement of the mechanisms for expeditiously disseminating and receiving evidence concerning drug offenders;

  6. Strengthening of all forms of border control;

  7. Ensuring by every possible means that convicted drug traffickers can not take refuge in other countries;

  8. Consideration of the desirability of increasing penalties for illicit traffickers and of decreasing penalties for users or possessors of small quantities of drugs for personal use if a Government considers use and/or possession as punishable offences;

  9. The possible destruction of seized drugs and relevant material connected with illicit activities and not needed for legitimate purposes, under strict supervision;

  10. Ensuring that any national drug policy, such as the decriminalization of activities concerning cannabis, do not adversely affect drug control in neighbouring countries and at the international level.

Committee on Crime Prevention and Control

The Committee is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, to which it reports directly. The main function of the Committee is to assist the Council in matters of crime prevention and control and, in particular, to prepare the quinquennial United Nations congresses on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders.

The Committee considered problems of drug related crime at its first three sessions[6] ,[7] ,[8] and expressed views similar to those of the Fifth Congress.

United Nations Secretariat and institutes

In accordance with the policy described above, the United Nations Secretariat, and specifically the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch of the Department for International Economic and Social Affairs, has reflected in its work programmes the need for more effective ways and means of coping with the increasing problems of drug-related crimes. One of its main functions consists in assisting the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control in the preparations for the quinquennial congresses. In this context, it has produced a number of working papers on drug-related crimes. Crime, in general, and drug crime in particular has been considered to be understandable only within the context of a given social situation and its unique and specific characteristics. Thus, priority has been given to crime prevention strategies which consider the socio-economic and cultural context of the development of a country, including such efforts as preserving healthy family structures, enlisting the help of the mass media and improving the quality of relevant information. The interrelated activities and functions in such areas as legislation, law enforcement, the judicial process and the treatment of offenders are viewed in a dynamic perspective to ensure coherence and consistency between national planning and crime prevention and criminal justice planning.

This general view of the crime problem was also adopted by the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute at Rome, when it addressed itself to the problem of the illegal use of drugs. In 1972, the Institute began its work on drug abuse, suggesting an integrated approach to research planning and activities. This work took into account the specific cultural characteristics of each individual country, such as the values, traditions, political structures and the social responses to problems [9] -[12] . The Institute continued to carry out its research studies and in 1983 published a comprehensive report on the impact of the various national control systems on the relation between drugs and criminality [13] .

Several regional institutes, affiliated with the United Nations, are also actively involved in dealing with drug-related crime. For instance, the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) was established in 1961 to promote regional co-operation in the joint fight against crime and delinquency through the training of criminal justice personnel and through research carried out in Asia and the Pacific. The Institute, in its annual Resource Material Series, has published valuable contributions to drug-abuse control in the region [14] .

The United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD) was inaugurated at San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1975. Its aim is to collaborate with Governments of the region in achieving harmonious social and economic development through the formulation of policies and programmes for crime prevention and criminal justice and their incorporation in national development plans. Like UNAFEI, ILANUD has paid considerable attention to the prevention and control of criminality associated with drug abuse and illicit drug traffic.

The Helsinki Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI), which was established in 1981, provides for the regular exchange of information and expertise in crime prevention and control among European countries. The Institute is also expected to collect and disseminate information on drug-related crime.

Future United Nations activities

The activities described above clearly indicate that there are many areas in which the goals and objectives of the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme and the United Nations drug abuse control programme meet. A further strengthening of co-operation in this sphere and the development of a long-term strategy with regard to international crime and drug control are, therefore, of great relevance to both programmes in the future, in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 34/177, 35/195, 36/132, 36/168, 37/198 and 38/122. Similarly, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in its resolution 3 (S-VIII) of February 1984 requested the Secretary-General "to continue, within available resources, to develop all avenues leading to further improvement of regional and international co-ordination of activities against drug trafficking and related serious illegal activity, including the illicit traffic in firearms, subversion, international terrorism and other organized criminal activities, especially through the development of co-ordination mechanisms where these do not already exist, bearing in mind, in particular, the need to alleviate the special problems of transit States" ([15] , chap. VIII).

Preparations for the Seventh Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders

Co-operation within the United Nations is likely to be particularly important and fruitful for the preparation of the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, to be held from 26 August to 6 September 1985 at Milan, Italy. The United Nations drug abuse control programmes and the specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations concerned are expected to make significant contributions to the Congress regarding the control of drug-related crime. The main topics of the preliminary agenda of the Congress are listed below:

  1. New dimensions of criminality and crime prevention in the context of development: challenges for the future;

  2. Criminal justice processes and perspectives in a changing world;

  3. Victims of crime;

  4. Youth, crime and justice;

  5. Formulation and application of United Nations standards and norms in criminal justice.

The Secretariat organized a number of preparatory meetings in 1983 and 1984, which made significant contributions to these topics from a regional and interregional perspective. In accordance with the Caracas Declaration ([16] , chap. I, sect. A), adopted by the Sixth United Nations Congress in 1980, it was suggested at all the regional meetings held since then that crime prevention and criminal justice should be considered in the context of economic development as well as in the context of the new international economic order. More concentrated and systematic efforts to intensify technical and scientific co-operation and co-ordination of policies for crime prevention were proposed to counteract certain criminogenic influences, such as economic recession, unemployment, poverty and the lack of social and economic justice. It was also proposed that much greater attention should be given to drug-related crime.

At the African regional preparatory meeting, a recent increase was reported in the abuse of drugs, which had brought in its wake many drug-related crimes; intergovernmental co-operation to deal with such problems would seem to be required (A/CONF. 121/RPM.4, para. 13).

At the Asia and Pacific regional preparatory meeting it was pointed out that the most noticeable increase in criminogenic activity and crime throughout the region in the last decade was in the traffic in and abuse of drugs (A/CONF. 121/RPM.2, para. 13). The problems were related mainly to narcotic drugs, such as heroin, opium and cannabis, but also to psychotropic substances such as amphetamines. Drug-related crime was considered to be particularly complex because of the two quite different types of activities involved: trafficking and abuse. Several countries of the 54 region were producers of various kinds of drugs, especially opiates, much of the production being under official control and supervision. The controls limited supplies, with consequent increases in prices on the illegal market (up to as much as 1,000 times the original price). This encouraged illicit trading, which could not be stopped unless illicit demand and supply were reduced simultaneously. In turn, drug trafficking gave rise to organized smuggling, often involving violence against, and corruption of, the authorities.

Particular concern for the future of the young drug user was expressed by participants in the Western Asia regional preparatory meeting (A/CONF. 121/RPM.5, para. 66). Special legislation in the region had been adopted to deal with drug-related problems. In some countries an attempt had been made to adopt a treatment rather than a purely penal sanction approach to the drug addiction of the young. A distinction was, however, being made between drug abuse and drug trafficking. Heavy penal sanctions, including capital punishment, had been prescribed by legislators in some countries for illicit trafficking in drugs.

At the Latin American regional preparatory meeting it was emphasized that, in some cases, drug traffic had "reached such proportions as to constitute a threat to the established authorities, since the profits of such activity were so high that criminals corrupted the police and even the judiciary through substantial bribes. Even where the law was applied impartially, judges tended to impose lenient measures because prisons did not have the capacity to house additional offenders" (A/CONF.121/ RPM.3, para. 50).

In summary, at all the regional preparatory meetings there was general agreement on the urgency of finding appropriate measures to counteract an increase in drug-related problems. Corruption of the authorities and misleading of the young were seen to be the essential threats to the societies represented at those meetings.

Under the agenda item entitled "Criminal justice processes and perspectives in a changing world", the Seventh Congress might consider the possibilities for improving the systems of drug control and promoting the exchange of expertise at an international level. The Seventh Congress is expected to address itself to current criminal patterns and trends in respect of drug production and trafficking, as well as national and international efforts to enhance co-operation between drug-law enforcement officers and other sections of society involved in combating drug-related problems ([17] , pp. 22-24; [18] , p. 43). The regional institutes for the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders might be able to contribute to the Congress by designing appropriate preventive educational and training programmes. It is therefore hoped that the Seventh Congress will provide a useful platform for closer regional and international co-operation, and for exchanges of meaningful information about preventive programmes and sentencing policies that can help to combat drug-related crime.

Divergencies in sentencing policies

The evaluation of research findings on the effectiveness of sentencing policies for offenders convicted of drug-related crime is affected by considerable discrepancies in the information available on the subject from different countries. Such discrepancies hamper the collection of reliable data and make it difficult to obtain conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of different sentencing policies. Because of the scarcity of relevant information, it is not possible, therefore, to give preference to any of the sentencing policies adopted to combat drug crimes in any particular country. In effect, the cultural, social, religious and even linguistic differences in the Member States lessen the comparability of the information that is available.

There is an obvious need for more conclusive evidence to be derived from comparative studies on the effectiveness of national sentencing policies. Two reports seem to have provided useful models for such studies, one referring to comparative research carded out by the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute [13] , and the other to penal sanctions for narcotics offences, prepared by the Division of Narcotic Drugs [19] . These two reports underline the divergence in existing practices, which inhibit the harmonization of legislation in different countries and prevent the formulation of international standards. For example, in some countries, such as Australia [19] , the use of cannabis is regarded as a relatively minor offence in relation to other narcotic drugs; in others, such as in Italy, possession of a small quantity is not punishable by law ([13] , pp. 34, 35), while in some others the law does not distinguish between the use of cannabis and opiates. In Japan, drug legislation is divided into three parts, namely, the Stimulants Control Law, the Opium Law and the Cannabis Law [20] .

Recent trends in sentencing policies

There is also a considerable diversity of legal approaches to different types of drug offences. A review of legal systems and practices reveals a general tendency to differentiate drug users from drug traffickers. There is also a move to decriminalize the simple use of drugs and to increase the penalties for illicit drug trafficking. In this respect, a radical change has taken place over the past 10 years in some countries [13] . Drug addicts are subjected to treatment and rehabilitation measures rather than being sent to prison. Most of the legislation reviewed provides for measures of treatment and social reintegration of drug abusers. A further distinction may be noted between the application of treatment measures in addition to and as an alternative to prison sanctions; these two measures are both applicable under the laws of some countries, for example Australia, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Sweden and the United States of America [19] . Some other countries put emphasis on deterrence, imposing statutory punishment for any kind of drug-related crime, with a view to combating violations against drug legislation. Capital punishment has been prescribed in several countries, such as Malaysia, Egypt (only in connection with murder), Burma and Turkey [19] (mainly for trafficking in or producing illicit drugs); the Islamic Republic of Iran has prescribed capital punishment in the case of personal use or possession of a certain amount of drugs of any kind [19] .

References

001

J. C. Weissman, "Understanding the drugs and crime connection", in Criminal Justice and Drugs, J. C. Weissman and R. L. DuPont, eds. (Port Washington, Kennikat Press, 1982).

002

Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Geneva, 1 - 12 September 1975: Report Prepared by the Secretariat (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.76.1V.2).

003

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (United Nations publication, Sales No. 62.XI.1).

004

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as Amended by the 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.77.XI.3).

005

Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.78.XI.3).

006

Report of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control on its first session, held from 8 to 16 May 1972 (E/AC.57/7).

007

Report of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control on its second session, held from 14 to 23 May 1973 (E/CN.5/494) (E/AC.57/14).

008

Report of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control on its third session, held from 23 September to 3 October 1974 (E/CN.5/516) (E/AC.57/21/Rev. 1).

009

A Programme for Drug Use Research, Publication No. 6 (Rome, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, 1973).

010

Psychoactive Drug Control: Issues and Recommendations, Publication No. 5 (Rome, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, 1973).

011

Investigating Drug Abuse, Publication No. 16 (Rome, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, 1976).

012

Research and Drug Policy , Publication No. 19 (Rome, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, 1979).

013

F. 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).

014

United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Resource Material Series Nos. 6 (1973), 9 (1975), 12 (1976), 21 (1982).

015

Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, Supplement No. 3 (E/1984/I 3), chap. VIII.

016

Sixth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Caracas, Venezuela, 25 August - 5 September 1980: Report prepared by the Secretariat (United Nations publications, Sales No.E.81.IV.4).

017

International Strategy and Policies for Drug Control (NAR/INF/1982/3).

018

R. Blum, J. Kaplan and R. Lind, "Elements for drug policy: international implications for crime and justice", International Review of Criminal Policy No. 32 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.76.IV.3).

019

"Penal sanctions for narcotics offences: a comparative study of selected countries", unpublished paper prepared by the Division of Narcotic Drugs in November 1982.

020

Laws and regulations promulgated to give effect to the provisions of the international treaties on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances: Japan, Law No. 252 of 30 June 1951 - Stimulants Control Law (E/NL. 1979/15, 8 July 1981); Law No. 14 of 17 March 1953 - Narcotic Control Law (E/NL. 1979/16, 8 July 1981); Law No. 71 of 22 April 1954 - Opium Law (E/NL. 1979/17, 8 July 1981).