Side event: Youth and law enforcement

Florian, Youth Rise (Moderator) I am starting with introduction and we will have questions at the end.

Morgana Daniele, International Coordinator of Youth Rise: I start with a short story from my country and then the Yoda context. Last year in my country (I come from Lithuania) for the first time drug use was criminalized a year ago. Since then over 1000 criminal cases were opened and I can tell you the profile of the criminal is more often he then she, 17-18 years old, usually possessing about 5 grams of Cannabis. Our government says you have to know what is awaiting you when you are caught. We know. Less opportunities, a short holiday in jail – 2-10 years and a brake in our studies and development. Several cases form Lithuania shows this. Emily, a 17 year old future programmer with good results in school bought 5 grams of hashish online and was charged with trafficking.

Milda, an art student was found with an ecstasy pill in her pocket and was detained and charged with possession. For this, 2 years in prison is usually the sentence. Question is the clash between youth and the police. They think they are saving us form bigger harms but the experience of being knocked to the ground, threatened, having to betray your classmates and wondering am i a criminal…that is very harmful too. It seems that our countries are different, but across our age group, experiences are similar. I asked Ishwor from Nepal, do you think you are a criminal? We discussed how we see the police, who supposed to help us and protect us and realized this will be our priority within youth rise: cooperation of youth and police.
I come from an environment where my parents believed beating children is educational. I remember each time when i was beaten, I don’t remember why. Now i read books about children development and if it can be done on a micro level of the family, it can be done on the state level. Giving children the knowledge and skills to make good decisions is crucial.

Ishwor Maharjan, Youth Rise: I am from Nepal and thank you for making this event possible and being part of it. Talking about youth experience in Nepal, I start with a story: 26 hundred years ago a young prince left his wife and children to seek for peace and enlightement… and a lot of teenagers leave home and their regular life to look for coping with modern life. The means have changed over time: drugs are a way of achieving relief and peace even though it is temporary. The prime place for youth is home, where they are safe, but when it becomes a place where loneliness lies, then it pushes a whole generation to behave differently.
In developing countries, our homes are not up to par to the definition of home, especially when you are using drugs. So the question appears: what to do, where to go? So in countries like mine, youth become victims, we are villains… people who use drugs are humiliated and even expelled. I was shamed at home, expelled from school, I’ve been sent to jail. My offence was just consumption of drugs… a different ritual to find inner peace. It continues, many youth carry similar weights. We feel society doesn’t care, the government doesn’t care. … Where is law enforcement? They are there but not for the victims, many policies contradict each other and leads to turmoil. Needle exchange is not unlawful but it’s considered to promote drug use and still many people get arrested for carrying syringes and government continues to prioritize law enforcement over health protection. We need to be a bridge to educate and support people who use drugs, their families and even law enforcement. Our prime objective should be safety in all walks of life, especially legal protection of human rights. We need nothing more in our policy but an open conversation, creating an environment based on compassion and not discrimination. Bridge family, schools, society, government, drug users.

Florian, Youth Rise (Moderator): You also worked for the night outreach when you were arrested for possessing syringes…. Moving on to law enforcement point of view.

Peter Muyshondt: I am a chief of police Belgium, active in service and I am advocating for legal regulation of drugs. It is a controversial thing, but I have been fighting the war on drugs for 25 years and in my free time, I advocate with you because when my brother died of overdoes and I had to rethink what we are doing. I remember when he was still alive, my colleagues asked me what to do with him when he got arrested. I knew perfectly well what is going on in jail and it was my brother but as chief of police couldn’t make an exception. It was difficult times. I acknowledge what Ishwor said to be true. It happens around the world, so let’s ask officers who are really into prohibition, they really believe what they are doing. This event is a good opportunity so ask me difficult questions, we should not just applaud each other. I heard people say they hate police and in this environment I am sure many of you have bad experiences. People who use drugs are criminals under these treaties, we have to arrest them, strip them, make them bend, check their bodies and I understand how the process is stigmatizing, it is humiliating, and as an advocate for Leap, I know we are part of the problem.

Joana Canedo, APDES: I go over quickly on decriminalization on Portugal. I would analyze the whole spectrum of policy and until the legalization point, there are several steps of regulation. I just want to stress some points. When youngsters are caught by police and even if they are not problematic users, it is an awful process. I was never caught, maybe because I’m not smoking publicly, maybe because I am white, but all my friends inside and outside school has had experience with police. The interventions by the police are very prohibition based and tell you, you are a criminal… often police are not aware of the laws they are enforcing. Police should know there exist people who use drugs and use harm reduction services. So we try to change these behavior by assistance of psychologists, but it is not changing. The number of youth arrested is not decreasing. Users are still punished, they are forced to go to treatment or go to court depending on the quantity they possess. Whenever people are taken, they are afraid of abuse of authority, so people usually lie to the psychologist, the treatment programmes are not trusted. I have stories of people getting arrested for two joints and detained in police station for many hours, several nights. I know a 14 year old guy who was caught smoking hash and they called the police on him, and it was not clear what to do with him in terms of legal process. Young people need to be safe and educated on the risks and pleasures, so we have to take the police to the process at the court, so they know how it looks after they arrest someone. I want to remind you that when you talk about decriminalization, it also a prohibitionist approach.

Nick Croft, Harm Reduction Australia: Quick story form the other end of the spectrum. I worked with a lot of refugees after the Vietnam war in Australia and I remember one bloke at the age of 15 who finished his schooling, literate in 2 languages, suffered racism all of his life. He chose the route of heroin dealing because it was a profitable business. The more I look at drugs,  the more I see the people and how we are good at making things worse. Two case studies: harm reduction journal of youth who use illicit drugs in Canada and why they get hospitalized. I did a study 20 years ago about starting to inject drugs, a lot of them started with amphetamines and our national drug strategy at the time was about “stopping drugs from destroying lives of children”. Well, by the time they came in contact with drugs, they already had pretty destroyed lives, mental health issues, traumatic childhood experiences. Their problems had to do with society more than drugs. If we look at the drugs, and all the things behind young people getting involved with drugs, it is pretty clear that most of them have no problematic patters until we interfere, and those who are problematic had problematic lives before they even started taking drugs. Why is the government not interested in providing services but rather looking at making things more difficult for drug users?
I am very involved with law enforcement and public health and within this 2 sectors we prevent crime, catch criminals, cure disease and prevent disease. I would like to try a new way, where we bring together all of these, involving a whole range of disciplines. Whose responsibility should that be? Police should not be in… there is a huge overreach. I think they should be partners, and we should look at restructuring, prioritizing human rights and collaboration.

I told Peter I used to hate police, but also there is a huge relationship to ethnic profiling.

Florian, Youth Rise (Moderator) Why is there such a bad relationship between youth and police? How do we improve that?

Peter: It’s difficult to answer because on the one hand I am advocating for something I am not supposed to as a police officer. If I was on duty, I would talk about democratic values and community policing but I agree with professor Croft. Yesterday we talked: does youth need specific policing? Do we? I think we should police public life, and not interfere with what you do in your free time. Until you jeopardize other people’s safety, we shouldn’t interfere. In using drugs, there are no external victims involved usually, if you are not harming anyone else, i don’t believe police should be involved. When it comes to any societal matter, police is always somehow involved and I think we have too much voice sometimes. We should stick to fields where we have expertise. There are a lot of police “experts” on drugs… we know the ways they are smuggles and seized, we don’t know about consumption, the causes, the safe ways, so this is something we should work on.

Florian (Moderation) You mentioned partnership as a way forward…

Nick Croft,Harm Reduction Australia Around the world, multi sectoral approaches are explored, the Amsterdam police have a top600 project: we should apply that in other areas, we should be operating on level, where partnership can be successful: mental health partnership, lot of the times when police responds to a mental health crisis, the person ends up dead. When health professionals work together with police, public safety and health is effectively protected. It worries me that a lot of programs in the world, diversion programs are used for advocacy.

Audience: Thank you for the panel. When I was 17, I had 5 felonies in one evening and found myself in the 12-step program of AA and because I was white and parents had money I only spent 5 days in jail and treatment for years and after that, I believed in completely abstinence. My experience now says there are different ways to integrate medicines in a responsible way to my life. I am focused on education and if you interject them before people reach the legal system, it is inspiring but there are still addicts out there and many people will not have the experience I had… are there any examples out there for treatment that is about education and not abstinence?

Joana: Civil society and law enforcement talking together, training each other is very important. I had a friend who had to help officers identifying substances they were arrested for… I think the problem will never only be drugs. It can be drugs, it can be the approach, but when we talk about these issues, we talk about human lives.

Moderator: As our colleagues from SSDP has said before, just say KNOW is important.
In Portugal, decriminalization is a huge step moving away from abstinence, do you think that is not implemented usefully for youth? Switzerland publicized seizures for public harm reduction…any other examples?

Nick: There are several examples. There has been drug checking going on in the Netherlands for a while, I have no idea why it’s not done more.

Peter: There are early warning systems in Europe, but frankly, it is harm reduction for policy. If we go into the market for legal drugs, you just have to check the bottle. Focusing on harm reduction is not always helping the cause. Harm Reduction is a way to fix the problems drug policies cause.

Nick: If we had good policies, we wouldn’t even need harm reduction.

Eva Césarová: We are waiting for the evaluation of the now expiring drug strategies. We are distributing I <3 Evaluation 2019 sticker. The stickers are transparent as we expect policies to be.

Audience: How do state sponsored drug checking work?

Audience: In Spain it began in 1997 and we expanded with the support of the government. This is an important and necessary aspect. To Energy Control, an international drug checking services, people send a lot of samples by post from all over the world.

Audience: On global drug survey we have a lot of data on drug checking.

Audience: Viennese drug checking is covered by the city, because they want data about demand and its run by an NGO.

Eva Césárová: Youth Rise is now starting to focus on drug checking. The Czech government wants to support it but law enforcement are against it. A program was shut down under legal threat. There is a huge discussion about it.

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