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Commission recommendation on the implementation of alternatives to coercive sanctions as response to drug law offences and drug-related crimes.

The European Commission has started an initiative regarding an alternative response to drug law offences; these alternatives will be evidence-based and their recommended implementation is designed to provide essential support to people who need assistance due to drug use or problems with addiction. The below exert details the aims of this initiative.

“According to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, people who use drugs are eight times more likely to commit a crime than those who do not. Similarly, people in prison are substantially more likely than their peers in the community to have used drugs, to use drugs regularly or to experience drug-related problems. Indeed, some start using drugs while in this setting. There is, therefore, a vicious and costly circle of crime and drug use; nevertheless, drug-related treatment can be effective in breaking it. Furthermore, alternatives to coercive sanctions can contribute to alleviating prison overcrowding, recidivism, addiction, and problem drug use and related negative health effects. They may also have a positive economic impact since they are generally less expensive than incarceration.

Currently, alternatives to coercive sanctions are underused. Sometimes, they face problems and barriers linked to their design, implementation and delivery, and fail to deliver on their intended outcomes. One barrier to the implementation of alternatives to coercive sanctions is a lack of local coordination between stakeholders. For example, those deciding on the sanctions often do not learn about the outcome, and stop applying them in subsequent cases due to lack of feedback. Furthermore, availability of data on the implementation and outcomes of the various alternatives to coercive sanctions needs to be improved.

Experience of drug use is more frequently reported by males (50.6 million) than females (32.8 million). At the European level, 62% of women in prison and 41% of men in prison have used an illicit drug before imprisonment. The increase in drug use during imprisonment is more pronounced in women than in men. Thus, women in prison are disproportionately affected by drug use compared with the general population.

This initiative is necessary to fulfil the intention, under the EU Drugs Action Plan 2021-2025, to ‘scale up the availability, effective implementation, monitoring and evaluation of measures provided as alternatives to coercive sanctions’. Without action at EU level, alternatives to coercive sanctions will remain underused and the barriers they face will remain. Their design, implementation and delivery will remain fragmented. They will continue to be applied imprecisely and therefore ineffectively. The differential effect on marginalised groups will remain dependent on societal attitudes.”

The feedback period for the initiative is open 26 August 2022 – 23 September 2022  (midnight Brussels time), the Commission would like to hear your views to help further develop and fine-tune this initiative.

View details of the full initiative and how to provide feedback here.