Challenges In Caribbean Drugs

Book Title: 
Caribbean Drugs
Axel Klein, Marcus Day and Anthony Harriott
Book Publisher: 
Rickey Singh
Trinidad Express

Faced with the dangerous link between illicit drug consumption and the HIV/Aids pandemic, Caribbean Community governments are now challenged to also intensify efforts to deal with overcrowded prisons where significant percentages of inmates are young people and women convicted for using or running marijuana and cocaine.

How to help reduce the tremendous harm from illicit drugs to family life and the social and economic consequences to society, with a shift from traditional punitive penal custody that is an increasing burden to State resources, requires a fresh look at alternative policies and programmes, according to penal reform and human rights specialists and professionals of regional and international institutions and agencies.

To add to the literature, relevant policy documents and proposals that may already be available from their own specialists and policy advisers, is a just-released book which the Community’s governments should find as a very useful tool in the fight against the costly social and economic consequences of illicit drugs.

Caribbean Drugs, authored by Axel Klein, Marcus Day and Anthony Harriott, with a stimulating collection of essays by regional and international experts, provides refreshing insights on moving the enormous problem of drug abuse from “criminalisation” to the challenge of “harm reduction”.

It is the general understanding of Caribbean people that the crimes of narco-trafficking and gun-running have significantly contributed to the curse of armed killings, violence and fear that afflict so many nations of our region, including Trinidad and Tobago.

There is also increasing awareness, resulting from the frustrating complaints of criminologists, sociologists and prison authorities, of overcrowded prisons in societies where the focus remains too heavily on “jail them”, instead of enlightened alternatives to custodial sentencing, such as community services, rehabilitation and education.

In such a situation, young and first offenders serving drug-related sentences, often become more prone to criminality in overcrowded prisons with atrocious facilities and hardened criminals, as others in society engage in passionate debates on social issues such as introduction of condoms in prisons.

While some of the major Caricom states talk about plans for new prison facilities and pursuit of alternatives to custodial sentencing, the governments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States ( OECS ) are vigorously working on common policies and strategies to deal with penal reform and new approaches to addressing illicit drugs-related problems.

They are expected to have a new assessment of this policy when they meet tomorrow in plenary session for their 40th summit that opened today in Tortola.

Caribbean Drugs, which includes among Caribbean contributors specialists also from United Nations agencies, international human rights and research organisations and universities, has been offered by its authors as a product that throws “fascinating light” on the difficulties facing drug abuse and rehabilitation centres and the dilemmas they throw up.

Denis Benn, Michael Manley Professor of Public Affairs/Public Policy of the University of the West Indies, Mona, tells us in a preface, that the editors and contributors deserve to be commended for shedding light on the challenge from “criminalisation to harm reduction”.

This, he said, has emerged as a “major public policy concern in the Caribbean that will continue to demand the urgent attention of governments and regional institutions and international agencies...”

For the executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Madlemann, only rarely do edited volumes, with multiple essays by scholars, exercise any influence on public policy. But, as he said, if he had to choose one book that might achieve such an objective, it would be Caribbean Drugs-From Criminalization to Harm Reduction.

In his analysis, Axel Klein, one of the three authors and Head of Research at DrugScope-which is regarded as the United Kingdom’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs-has traced the search by the Caribbean for a new drug policy framework from the “Barbados Plan of Action” to the “Ganja Commission of Jamaica”, and emphasised:

“The need for action is urgent and professionals are looking for strategic direction. We propose the adoption by the Commonwealth Caribbean of a policy of harm reduction within the room for manoeuvre allowed by the United Nations Convention on drugs regulation and outlined by the ‘Ganja Commission ( of Jamaica )’...”

Klein’s companion editors, Marcus Day, coordinator of the St Lucia-based Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition, and Anthony Harriot, senior lecturer in government at the UWI ( Mona ), have been joined with a team of professionals and researchers with hands-on experience of the Caribbean reality in dealing with the complexity of problems associated with narco-trafficking, illicit drug consumption, overcrowded prisons and the dilemmas in responding to the challenge for change.

Barry Chevannes, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the UWI, shares his insights into the ganja culture and criminalisation in Jamaica; Wendy Singh, human rights consultant and former Caribbean director of Penal Reform International, offers an overview of “drugs and the prison system”, with a focus on impact of legislative changes.

Other contributions that would also be of much interest to policy advisers and lawmakers, as well as members of the public with a general interest, would include: Howard Gough’s “drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation in Jamaica and the Caribbean”; Jennifer Hillebrand’s “ethical dilemmas in drugs research”; Philip Nanton’s “rethinking privatisation-the state and drugs in the Commonwealth Caribbean”; and Catherine Chestnut’s focus on “practising harm reduction in a zero-tolerance society”.

In the view of the director of Drug and Alcohol Studies at the University of Delaware, James Inciardi, the authors and contributors of Caribbean Drugs have succeeded in filling “a major gap in providing substance abuse researchers, clinicians, policy makers and general readers, on both sides of the Atlantic, with a collection of interesting and highly provocative essays...”

Caribbean Drugs was published by Ian Randle Publishers ( Kingston, Jamaica ); and Zed Books ( London and New York ) in association with DrugScope, UK.