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June 23, 2020
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June 24, 2020

Drug use in prisons

One-third of convicted persons in T&T prisons were incarcerated for drug offences. A researcher from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine found that while inside, drug use continued among some inmates.

Dr Randy Seepersad, lecturer and coordinator of the UWI Criminology Unit shared the findings of a survey conducted a few years ago at The Catholic Commission for Social Justice’s June 5 virtual symposium ‘Marijuana and cannabinoids: Health, research and regulatory considerations’.

Although drug use inclusive of tobacco and marijuana is illegal in prison, Dr Seepersad said, “The data showed 66.5 per cent males and female inmates in the Trinidad and Tobago prison service actually use drugs in prisons; the data showed as well… it is fairly easy to acquire drugs while in the prisons”.

The drugs most often used were marijuana 49.8 per cent, tobacco 54.3 per cent and alcohol 17.5 per cent.

The survey comprised a random sample of 623 inmates, convicted and remanded; this was about 17.1 per cent of the prison population.  The average age of respondents was 35.9 years, 5.6 per cent were female.

Dr Seepersad’s presentation was titled ‘Drug use and crime among prison inmates’. He contextualised the findings as limited to the prison population and cannot be used to generalise for the “public at large”.

The one-third of persons incarcerated for drugs was “pre-decriminalisation laws” [i.e. before the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Bill 2019]; this would impact on the data. From the sample 75 per cent used “some type of drug” during their lifetime.

Drug use levels were “fairly low within the women’s prisons” but higher at the prison in Tobago, Golden Grove and Maximum Security.  Dr Seepersad’s survey looked at the relationship between drug use and crime. The percentage of persons who thought their crime was related to drugs: 30.1 per cent were male, 40 per per cent female.

Crimes which respondents related to drugs included: miscellaneous damage 57.1 per cent; stealing 40.6 per cent; attempted murder/manslaughter 26.7 per cent; and robbery 25.8 per cent. An average of 22.3 per cent convicted persons said they were under the influence when they committed the crime.

On the question of if they would have still committed the crime if they were not under the influence of drugs, 71.6 per cent convicted persons and 56 per cent remanded said they would not.

Dr Seepersad conducted a multiple varying regression analysis “to determine whether drug usage was a significant predictor of criminal behaviour”. He explained this quantitative analysis approach tried to determine predictor variables which have the strongest relationship with a particular outcome.  However, more research had to be done.

Independent variables included: employment status prior to incarceration; age of committing first crime; gang membership; family members involved in crime and total drug use. Dependent variables included sentence length, number of times imprisoned, and current offences.

Dr Seepersad highlighted that total drug use stood out as an important predictor of number of times imprisoned, previous offences and total offences. Dr Seepersad explained, “persons who use more drugs are imprisoned a larger number of times, persons…are incarcerated for more serious offences…have committed a larger total number of offences”.


Marijuana use not for everyone

There were two personal testimonies about marijuana use, from television and radio presenter Errol Fabien and ‘Mr X’, a UWI lecturer and PhD candidate.

Mr X told of his drug use starting while a student at Fatima College. “At that time of my life I think I was at the starting stages of puberty along with trying to discover myself along with other things like my own personal problems home, family, rebellion etc.,” he said.

He added he was looking to trying the next new thing among his friends. “In Form Three, I started to use. I started off once a week, then it became twice, then three times a week, then after my modus operandi was marijuana every day”.

He began getting “lazy”. He delved deeper into use as “one spliff” no longer satisfied. Mr X experimented with other drugs like methamphetamine and LSD for a short time but decided these were not for him; he continued with marijuana from age 18.

He continuously looked for a “high” and admitted to stealing from family members, begging, “doing something wrong for that smoke, that quarter ounce of weed”.

Mr X realised he got irritated and angry when he could not access marijuana. “I had withdrawal symptoms… I would sleep in the night, get the sweats. I say this thing is really taking over my life”.

He reached out to his family and got into a rehabilitation programme with New Life Ministries. It helped but he had a relapse. The 28-year-old told listeners that he used marijuana recreationally three times weekly and more when he was not working. He is in a “much better place” managing his life.

Mr X was candid about possible effects— “different mental stuff”, fluctuating feelings— from psychosis of earlier marijuana use. He sometimes has to battle excessive worrying about things happening such as the COVID-19 pandemic. He warned marijuana is not for everyone. For millennials using “edibles” to follow a new trend or part of a healthy diet, he said these could be much stronger than a joint. Aside from recreational use, Mr X said persons using marijuana should “Have an idea what you think is the problem, it will stop for you”. —LPG