The Government has been forced
to settle out of court and pay compensation to prisoners who were forced off heroin, and had to undergo cold turkey in prison. The prisoners had claimed that this amounted to ‘assault’ and a breach of their human rights.
My first reaction on hearing the news was one of incredulity. However, after considering the facts, I think the Government was right to settle the case, at least in the case of any prisoners who were already undergoing treatment before incarceration.
If we are to take the view (which many do) that drug addiction is an illness, the Government should have ensured that the prisoners continued to receive ‘treatment’ after they were locked up. In just the same way as someone being treated under the NHS would continue to receive treatment in jail, the appropriate authorities should have ensured that treatment continued in prison.
There is, of course, the argument that ‘cold turkey’ could be considered a form of treatment, albeit not the one that the prisoners were undergoing before being jailed. The Government could have argued that it was not up to the prisoners to choose which method of treatment they received; ie continued methadone versus cold turkey. This argument would have been bound to fail, however, as it would probably have been impossible to show that cold turkey treatment was given as a deliberate, coherent and informed strategy. Chances are that the prisoners were just thrown into jail, and that was that.
I am not against cold turkey per se, and in future, the Government may well win such a case on similar facts, if they can show that that was the most suitable treatment available, taking into account all the circumstances of the case.
Getting people to come off drugs is a Good Thing, not only for the addicts, but for society as a whole. For one thing, the crime rate would come tumbling down, as many who commit crime to fund their habits would do so no longer. If we are to be serious about the drugs problem, we need to adopt proper methods for detoxifying drug addicts, whether in or out of jail. If a drug addict who is receiving treatment is sent to jail and the treatment is discontinued, this is of no advantage to anyone. For one thing, the investment in his treatment up to that point will have been wasted. I suppose what today’s news should highlight is the need for prison authorities to ensure that convicts already undergoing treatment be allowed to continue receiving such treatment. By all means, impose cold turkey in future, but let this be the result of a properly thought-out drugs policy. What a prison authority must never do is deny basic health care to its inmates.
UPDATE. Every blog I read on this topic yesterday was of a contrary view to mine (see, for example, Ellee Seymour, West Brom Blog and The Thunder Dragon). I hadn’t seen Tim Worstall’s post, which argued on broadly the same lines as mine. He states (in my view, rightly) that it is not altogether unreasonable to expect the Home Office to take responsibility for the standard of medical care received by prisoners in their care. It really is not about the heroin at all. It is about treatment.