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Matters of Substance

The cost of our convictions

Every year there are two and a half thousand convictions of people aged 25 and under for possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil in New Zealand.

Between 2007 and 2011, there were 12,895 convictions in this age range. Over this period, New Zealand has spent more than $59 million imprisoning those who are convicted of minor drug offences and have to serve custodial sentences. This money is spent on imprisonment costs alone – it does not include costs to Police, the courts, treatment or probation.

With an average cost of over $18,000 per person imprisoned for minor drug offences, we have to start asking, what is the cost of convicting young New Zealanders?

The reality is that lots of New Zealanders will use drugs at some stage in their lives.

According to a Ministry of Health survey, about half of all adult New Zealanders – or around 1.4 million people – have used illegal drugs. Around 485,500 had done so in the past year.

Most people will use drugs when they are young. The Ministry of Health found that over half of those aged 18–24 and almost two-thirds of those aged 25–34 admitted to using illegal drugs.

Data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study found the rates of youth drug use to be even higher. By the age of 25, over 77 percent of the young people in their study admitted to using illegal drugs.

Ever used any drugs for recreational purposes in lifetime, among total population aged 16–64 years, by age group and gender (unadjusted prevalence).

graph

Unsurprisingly, young New Zealanders are often the ones being caught up in the criminal justice system.

This is a bad thing for many reasons. It severely narrows opportunities: it’s harder to get a job, harder to travel, harder to get credit and harder to do many things most of us take for granted. It also exposes them to a negative environment, and it puts them in prison – a university of crime where drug use is rampant and joining a gang is often necessary for protection. All of this at a time when their brains and identities are forming.

We are stacking the odds against our young people. Almost half of all people convicted of possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil are aged between 17 and 25.

Number and percentage of 17–25-year-olds convicted of possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil.

Year

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

44

45%

45%

44%

41%

4,456

2,662

3,020

2,702

2,055

Gender and ethnicity plays a role too. Significantly moremales are convicted every year than females.

                                                                        Year

Gender

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Female

351

363

394

366

277

Male

2,103

2,297

2,623

2,336

1,1778

Unknown

2

2

3

0

0

Total

2,456

2,662

3,020

2,702

2,055

Despite Maori making up 15 percent of the population, Maori aged 17–25 make up 37 percent of those convicted of possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil.

                                                                        Year

Ethnicity

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Pakeha

1259

1391

1605

1501

1112

Maori

965

990

1131

989

765

Other

80

73

94

69

68

Pacific

103

143

159

130

99

Unknown

49

65

31

13

11

Twelve percent of all people under 25 who are convicted are given a jail sentence.

                                                                        Year

Sentence type

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Imprisonment

13%

11%

11%

12%

12%

Community work

28%

28%

30%

30%

30%

Monetary penalty

37%

33%

31%

27%

25%

The average sentence that comes with a conviction is short but just long enough to mean loss of job, loss of flat or failure of study courses.

Age group

Mean sentence (days)

Under 17

30

17-25

64

Also, there are discrepancies between the sentences for various drugs.

Drug type

Class

Mean sentence (days)

BZP

C

425

Cannabis

C

49

Cocaine

A

60

Ecstasy

B

131

Methamphetamine

A

75

Heroin

A

75

The mean sentence for possession of BZP is 425 days, while people who are in possession of heroin or methamphetamine get 75 days. This is obviously not a system based on relative harms.

All this is costing us.

Putting people in jail costs us. The Department of Corrections puts the cost of imprisoning one person at around $250 per day.

Age group

Number of people sentenced

Mean sentence (days)

Cost per person

Total cost

Under 17

3

30

$7,500

$22,500

17-25

1278

64

$16,000

$20,448,00

Per drug, the costs are even more astounding. These are the costs of those imprisoned between 2007–2011 for minor drug offences, broken down by drug type and sentence.

Drug type

Number of people sentenced

Mean sentence (days)

Cost per person

Total cost

BZP

2

425

$106,250

$212,500

Cannabis

1,050

49

$12,250

$12,862,500

Cocaine

4

60

$15,00

$60,000

Ecstacy

21

131

$32,750

$687,750

Methamphetamine

387

75

$18,750

$7,256,250

Heroin

11

75

$18,675

$206,250

That means we spend over $4 million a year imprisoning young people for minor drug offences. This is just the cost of imprisoning. It does not include Police costs, court costs, legal aid costs, probation costs or social costs.

The costs

$250

to imprison one person for one day.

12,895

number of convictions for minor drug offences between 2007 and 2011.

$59,000,000

spent between 2007 and 2011 imprisoning people for minor drug offences.

$20,470,500

spent between 2007 and 2011 imprisoning people 25 and under for minor drug offences.

425

average number of days people are in prison for possession of BZP.

049

average number of days people are in prison for possession of cannabis.

075

average number of days people are in prison for possession of methamphetamine.

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