During the launching of the Institute for Drug Control and Human Security Research Report on the Impact of Sierra Leone’s Drug Laws on Minor Non-violent Drug Offenders and the State, which was held at the CCSL hall at King Harman Road in Freetown on Friday 30th November 2018, the Regional Health Officer–West of the Correctional Service said 85% of the prison population is made up of youths, out of which 50% of these inmates are there for drug-related offenses.
Delivering the Key Note address on the Impact of Drugs on Society, the CS Officer said that abuse of drugs is a societal menace and the cause of so many offences. Drugs, when taken judiciously for their intended purposes, do not inherently pose any danger to the individual or society, but when it is abused, it becomes a cause for concern, he said. He further stated that the rate at which youths are abusing drugs is alarming and much needs to be done to rectify this situation. In this regard, he suggested the inclusion of drug use, misuse and abuse in the school curriculum.
This, he stressed, is necessary as school-going children are deeply involved in drug abuse. He further proposed for the reduction of inmates in the facilities, the introduction of sentences like community services to minor offences which are inherently non-violent. This, he said, will reduce the cost of taking care of inmates in terms of feeding, health care and other services offered in the facility. It will further decongest the facility, he added.
Making his presentation on behalf of the IDCHS, its Director said that research done across the country by the institution includes visits to 10 correctional facilities across the country, visits to ghettos, colleges, chiefdoms, the SLP and other vulnerable groups.
In their research, he said they were able to glean that “we live in a community of suspicion” and that there is heavy stigmatization of people believed to be smokers of Marijuana. This stigma invariably prevents the victims from accessing health care facilities, he said. These, he added belong to the vulnerable group. In their findings, they said that 80% of the less privileged do not have access to health care facilities and that 92% who happen to go there are discriminated against because of the stigma of Marijuana.
During their visits to the Correctional facilities across the country, they were able to discover that most of the youths arrested with Marijuana are sent to prison.
This, he maintained is contrary to the dictates of the law, which says that drug addicts/convicts should be given treatment and rehabilitated.
He stressed that there are no rehabilitation centres in the Correctional Service to treat and rehabilitate convicts sent there. They further discovered in their research that the only centre that does some bit of counselling and rehabilitation is the City of Rest.
In their view the victims are being kept in prisons where expertise does not exist to give them the treatment needed for rehabilitation. They maintained that after being released from prison, 90% of the convicts still smoke Marijuana, an indication that incarceration is not the answer to the problem.
They further discovered through interviews held with inmates at the Correctional Service that they were told by arresting officials to plead guilty so as to get a lighter sentence and when they did that they were whisked off to prison.
1% of the convicts had legal representation whilst the rest were simply sent to jail based on such advices proffered by the police.
Speaking on the issue of Marijuana legalization, the Chief High Priest of the Rastafarian religious faith said Marijuana is their sacred sacrament and that being arrested for that is effectively denying them of the right to practice their faith as stipulated in the country’s constitution.
He gave example of an incident where he was arrested and kept in police custody for 5 days on charges of being in possession of Marijuana. The said package of Marijuana in his possession was confiscated and sold to the others in the cell for Le1, 000 by the police and when he appeared in court to answer to the charges, the police could not produce the Marijuana, because they had sold it all.
He called on the authorities to legalise the plant and institute strict measures to monitor its sale and use. Strict action should be taken to ensure that all interested cultivators and dealers in the plant should be given licence. He called for the demarcation between Marijuana and other drugs like Tramadol etc.