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With Reference To Both Legal And Illegal Drugs, Critically Assess The Casual Relationship Between Drugs And Crime?

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With reference to both legal and illegal drugs, critically assess the casual relationship between drugs and crime?

The role of drugs in crime causation is a regular feature in public and political debate and plays a considerable role in UK drugs policy. There are numerous questions to be asked when considering the drugs-crime link, the first and perhaps most puzzling question is, do drugs cause crime or does criminality come first? However, it can be argued that the existence of illicit drugs and crime simultaneously is just a quirk, a fluke, purely coincidental and there is no correlation (or only a statistical link) between the two and if there is, common sense reasoning can be applied. Research on this statistical association uses three methods of investigation. The first is referred to as �national and regional trends’ and follows relationships between �broad movements in drug use’ and broad movements in crime. The studies of �drug-using criminals’ examine drug use among samples of criminals. The third method, �criminal drug-users’, explores criminal behaviour among addicts and other drugs users (Hayles, 2000:78)

Although �there is a widespread belief that addiction to illegal drugs is the cause of a significant proportion of acquisitive crime’ (Seddon, 2000), �causal connections are difficult to determine’ (Bond and Sheridan, 2007).

Not all drug use is illegal, the role of alcohol as a factor implicated in criminal behaviour has long been a topic of research interest. This accumulation of evidence supports the notion that alcohol plays a role in the commissioning of offences, however, there are several possible types of relationships (Collins, 1982; Roberts et al, 1999 cited in McMurran, 2003:2). According to McMurran (2003:2), alcohol may cause crime directly (e.g., disinhibition; cognitive impairment); alcohol and crime may be linked through a shared third factor (e.g., personality; social disadvantage); alcohol and crime may be in a conjunctive relationship, connected by social and contextual factors (e.g., being in a pub with other drinkers); crime may lead to drinking (e.g., having the money; to assuage guilt); or the relationship may be spurious (e.g. lying about drinking to mitigate crime). Within any population of drinkers, each of these will apply to some proportion, and even within any one drinker, each of these relationships may apply at some time.

To assess the link between illicit drugs and crime, numerous researchers from various schools of thought have proposed different theories and explanations on the correlation and the casual relationship between drugs and crime. Drugs and violence can be said to relate in three possible ways: the psychopharmacological, the economically compulsive, and the systemic. Bean (2002:8) states that some of these explanations are �psychological, some sociological and some economic’.

As illustrated by Goldstein (1985:145), the psychopharmacological model suggests that some individuals, as a result of short or long term ingestion of specific substances, may become excitable, irrational, and may exhibit violent behaviour. The most relevant substances in this regard are probably alcohol, stimulants, barbiturates and PCP. The model hypothesizes that drugs may contribute to both violent behaviour and to the likelihood of a person becoming a victim of such behaviour. This hypothesis also holds out the potential for some psychoactive substances to reduce violent behaviour (NIDA, 1992).

The �economically compulsive model’ suggests that some drug users engage in economically oriented violent crime (e.g., robbery) in order to support costly drug use (Goldstein, 1985:145). This �economic model’, �holds that the pharmacological properties of illegal drugs create an uncontrollable need in users which, in the absence of any significant legitimate income, compels them to commit crime to finance their habit’ (Seddon, 2000:97). Seddon (2000:97) goes on to assert that �causality is conceived by proponents of this model as an essentially mechanical process whereby one set of circumstances inevitably leads to (or causes) another’. Basically the economic model argues that drug users commit crime to fund their habit. Offenders themselves often say they committed their crime to fund their habit, even going so far as to say, were they not drug users they would not be offenders (Bean, 2000:8). Support for this view comes from Newcombe and Parker (1987, cited in Bean 2002:9) who studied heroin users on Merseyside and found that �burglaries increase when heroin use increases’. In Goldstein’s (1985 cited in Welte et al, 2001) �second classification’, there is also substantial evidence that heroin addiction promotes property crime to raise money to support the heroin habit. Further evidence comes from a study of heroin users in Baltimore by Ball et al (1981 cited in Welte et al, 2001); they reported rates of remunerative crime six times higher when the user’s habits were at peak level than when they were abstinent.

However, the intricacy with this approach is that �it is difficult to disaggregate the crimes committed qua offending and the crimes committed because of drug taking. Offenders may say they burgled because they were drug takers but they were burglars in any case’ (Bean, 2000). This view is supported by Hammersely et al who assert that, �the vast majority of user-offenders were in fact involved in property crime before their first use of heroin or crack-cocaine’. According to Seddon (2000:97), an implication of the �drugs-cause-crime’ model, if correct, would be that a free supply of drugs to �addicts’ or successful treatment should remove the need to commit crime. However, several studies show that although prescribing heroin or methadone can reduce criminal activity, it does not stop it altogether (Bennett and Wright, 1986; Jarvis and Parker, 1990 cited in Seddon 2000:97). The drugs-crime link has also been challenged by research on recreational use of illicit substances that may not necessarily be problematic for the individuals or society beyond the illegality of possession and supply (Peelo and Soothill, 2005: 95).

According to Goode (1997) the criminal model argues that it is not addicts who turn to crime but criminals who turn to drugs. Long before they become dependent on heroin and cocaine, those who eventually do so were already engaging in a variety of criminal activities. Persons who eventually become drug addicts and abusers were delinquents and criminals first;



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