The Council encourages member states to divert drug using offenders from the criminal justice system and refer them to educational and/or treatment programs.
Action 22 in the EU Action Plan on Drugs (2017-20) requires member states “to provide and apply, where appropriate and in accordance with their legal frameworks, alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug using offenders.” As part of the implementation of this action, the European Council adopted its Conclusions on the alternatives to coercive sanctions (ACS) on 8 March 2018. The Conclusions were previously discussed and approved by the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs, the monthly meeting of representatives of member states (usually chief government officials of national drug administrations) on March 1st in Brussels.
The Conclusions recommend member states make ACS available, to implement them effectively, and to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness. They describe five forms of ACS: 1) Education, 2) (Suspension of sentence with) treatment, 3) Suspension of investigation or prosecution, 4) Rehabilitation and recovery, and 5) Aftercare and social reintegration. These measures can be applied in different stages of the criminal procedure, including pre-trial referral of the offender to treatment. The Council invites member states to examine available data on ACS and share it with other member states and EU institutions – so that they can be promoted to countries outside of the EU.
The Conclusions reflect on the findings of a report on ACS produced by RAND Europe for the EU Commission in 2016. According to the report, “if member states wanted to increase the use of ACS, one route could be improving the knowledge of police, prosecutors and judges about what ACS are available, the evidence on the effectiveness of treatment, and improving feedback and information exchange between those imposing the sentence and those supervising the sentences.” So the Council invites member states to train law enforcement officials about effective ACS and to share good practices.
The text of the Conclusions is somewhat weaker than the provisions of the Action Plan. For example the AP talks about “increasing availability and implementation” while the Conclusions ask member states only to “promote the availability”. Still, this is a very important document which can be used as an advocacy tool for civil society in the EU and beyond. It is also useful for promoting research on the effectiveness of ACS. The evidence base is currently “promising, but equivocal” according to the RAND report.
What is the EU Council and what are its conclusions?
The European Council defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. It is not one of the EU’s legislating institutions, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead it sets the EU’s policy agenda, traditionally by adopting ‘conclusions’ during European Council meetings which identify issues of concern and actions to take. So the conclusions will not automatically become law in member states.
So is this a call for decriminalisation?
No. It is important to understand that while the Council conclusions support the introduction of alternatives to coercive measures it does not mean that the EU promotes or approves decriminalisation of drug use, that is, the removal of criminal sanctions for minor drug offences. It still remains the decision of national legislative bodies.
How many member states have Alternatives to Coercive Sanctions?
All member states have at least one ACS and the RAND study identified at least 108 ACS in the EU.
What types of ACS are available in the EU?
There are 13 types of ACS:
1. Caution/warning/no action
2. Diversionary measure
3. Drug Addiction Dissuasion Committees
4. Suspension of investigation/prosecution with a treatment element
5. Suspension of court proceedings with a treatment element
6. Suspension of sentence with a treatment element
7. Drug Court
8. Drug treatment
9. Probation with a treatment element
10. Community work with a treatment element
11. Restriction of liberty with a treatment element
12. Intermittent custody/release with a treatment element
13. Parole/early release with a treatment element
Posted by Peter Sarosi