Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1540 - 1559)



  1540. Is that possible for all the sentence as well as part of the sentence?
  (Mr Löfstedt) In court the judge could say that there is another sentence which might be called in English a "contract treatment". That person makes a contract with the court so that instead of going to prison, he will go for treatment.

  1541. That would be residential treatment?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Or open care treatment and it is up to the judge or the court to decide whether that is sufficient. There are not limits to that. The court is free to decide, depending on what they think about the programme or the plan for that person.

  1542. Do you have plenty of facilities to enable courts to do that? Are there enough resources to enable the courts to pass that sort of sentence?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Yes. The good thing with contract treatment is that the court decides and the municipality pays.

  1543. Is there some evidence that this kind of approach is more effective than simply locking the person in a prison for two years?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Once again, it is very difficult to provide proof or scientific evidence. It is our experience that this is a very good model.

  1544. Do you have any concerns about the ability of people to get hold of drugs whilst in prison? That has been quite a big problem over here. Is it the same with your country?
  (Mr Löfstedt) It is a problem occasionally, but not all the time, and certainly not in all prisons. It does occur now and then. It is a problem but it is not a major problem.


  1545. Can I put this to you again? One of the arguments that people have put to us for reducing the seriousness with which we treat, for example, possession of ecstasy is that you are criminalising a generation of young people who are actually likely just to be playing with the drug, which is not addictive, and they will grow out of it very shortly. What do you say to that?
  (Mr Löfstedt) I think it is more a matter of how you treat criminals. The basic idea in Sweden is that by criminalising the use of drugs, society and the Government or Parliament will send a very clear message: "We do not want drugs in society". It also gives the authorities, for instance the police, the possibility to investigate drug use, which means it is possible to detect drug use at a very early stage. That does perhaps make it easier for the social authorities to try to help this young individual. That is our purpose. I do not recognise as a problem for young people or elsewhere in society that it would be harmful to them to be criminalised. That is not a problem. We are not placing a stamp on that person.

  1546. You do if you send him to jail?
  (Mr Löfstedt) We do not send drug users to jail. We send criminals to jail.

  1547. What about the drug user? We are talking about three friends who go for a night out to a club in Stockholm. One of them is carrying ten ecstasy tablets and he shares them out amongst his friends and they pay him back the cost. Is he a drug dealer?
  (Mr Löfstedt) We would see that person as a drug dealer.

  1548. So he is going to go to jail?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Probably.

  1549. So he has been criminalised?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Yes.

  1550. That would be for doing something that many young people would not regard as a very serious crime and which will have no lasting damage?
  (Mr Löfstedt) What is the alternative? Should we accept drug dealing under certain circumstances? I think this is a problem but it is the same problem we have with many other laws. There is always a border. In our system we have tried to build in safeguards that hopefully should take care of the main problems that might occur along the borders of what might be acceptable. Certainly, possession and drug dealing are criminal and one of the main objectives of the policy is to deal with that. We also place the importance of drug trafficking at the street level, small scale trafficking at the street level, and also large scale trafficking. It is equally important to deal with both aspects. Part of prevention is avoiding the open drug scene where everyone knows where to find drugs.

  1551. We have something called the Misuse of Drugs Act which categorises drugs according to the seriousness with which the law treats them. Do you have any equivalent to that in Sweden?
  (Mr Löfstedt) I know that the courts have a list of various drugs but I am not a lawyer so I am not familiar with the details of that list. I know that courts make reference to the kinds of drugs sold and so on.

  1552. And they vary the sentence according to the type of drugs? Here, for example, we would say that heroin or crack cocaine are Class A drugs and that is the most serious; if you are caught dealing with those, you receive the most serious penalty.
  (Mr Löfstedt) We do not have the same system. Within the law, there is a list of drugs not acceptable in medicine and then another list of drugs that are used in medicine but are seen as dangerous drugs, and then a couple of other lists of psycho-active substances. According to the law, there is no difference between various types of drugs. The way you sell them is important, whether that is large scale or small scale, and the circumstances. I know that they follow a list in the implementation of the law and practice in court. It is more practice than law.

  1553. There is surely a recognition that if you are selling heroin as opposed to ecstasy, that is a far more serious crime and you are liable to be doing far more serious damage and therefore far larger penalties should be incurred?
  (Mr Löfstedt) I think that is the case even in Sweden.

David Winnick

  1554. As you will know, there is very much an ongoing debate in this country about changes in the drug law. Can you tell us if any such debate is taking place in Sweden or is the policy that you have outlined to us pretty unanimous?
  (Mr Löfstedt) I would say it is pretty unanimous, but there are some signs of what occurs here in the UK, a group of intellectuals, scientists and journalists discussing the problem and saying the policy is too restrictive, or whatever. So far, that is a very small group and only one of them advocates legalisation. They think that the policy is too strict and too repressive. Basically I would say we have very strong support for the policy.

  1555. Amongst the political parties represented in the Parliament, there is no division of opinion at all?
  (Mr Löfstedt) No.

Mr Cameron

  1556. I would like to ask some question about health but, just before that, I am still a bit confused as to whether you think the Swedish policy has been a success. What we are looking at is: is our policy working? I want to know, given that the level of drug abuse among 15 to 16 year olds has more than doubled in Sweden over the last nine years, if you think your policy is working?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Yes.

  1557. Why do you think drug use has gone up then?
  (Mr Löfstedt) I am sure that things other than policy influence the prevalence of drug taking amongst youngsters. We have a youth culture as well as the influence of the policy of other countries, et cetera. As I have tried to show, we have put a lot of effort into this particular policy during the Eighties and the prevalence of drug taking went down. What has happened over the last ten years during which the prevalence of drug use has gone up is that we have not been working so hard as we did in the Eighties. If we are doing what we say we are doing, I think that will have an effect and success. We have failed in that during the past ten years. That will partly be the reason for the increase in numbers.

  1558. I would like to look at some of the health outcomes because the figures—and I know we have already discussed the problems with the figures—on the health outcomes do look very bad. What emphasis generally do you place on harm reduction in your strategy?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Harm reduction is a very difficult area. One problem is that at the political level in Sweden harm reduction is seen as the first step towards legalisation. I know that is not the whole truth but it has been used in that way in the European debate. That is a political problem. We also have what could be called harm reduction activities in Sweden. We even have a needle exchange programme, methadone and adjuvant activities of that type. The problem is: firstly, how do we do that without making it any easier to use drugs? That is the first conflict we have to deal with. Secondly, we do not think there is a problem with harm reduction as part of a comprehensive policy. Today the risk we see is of more and more countries concentrating their policies only on harm and harm reduction instead of facing the drug problem as a whole. That is a problem. Briefly, that is our view on harm reduction.

  1559. Surely in the Ministry of Health one of the greatest concerns must be the health of your citizens. From the figures I have here, it looks as if the number of problem drug users in Sweden is higher than in the Netherlands and other countries. Would you agree that the figure is 4 to 5.4 per 1,000 in Sweden, compared with 2.5 per 1,000 in these countries?
  (Mr Löfstedt) Once again, I am scared to use figures from various countries and compare them. I have been to Amsterdam and it seems strange that their figures should be so much better than ours.

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