Dealing justice?

I think it’s true to say that not many readers of this blog have me tagged as your archetypal, bleeding-heart, liberal lefty, but I do have concerns about this conviction.

A drug addict mother has been jailed for nine years for supplying heroin and crack cocaine to her son from the age of nine.

For nearly 3 years, Emma Kelly supplied drugs to her son until at 11, he was taken into care. He is now said to be clean, healthy and doing well at school, so it seems that for him, at least, there may be no long-term damage, at least of the physical kind. But what of Ms. Kelly?

Our criminal justice system is designed to perform two major functions: to dispense justice and deter would-be criminals.

Dispensing justice. Ms. Kelly’s drug dependency is traced back to the death of her partner in 1996 and she had been a heroin and crack cocaine addict for six years when she started supplying her son. There is a concept of diminished responsibility in our criminal justice system, and I’d like to know how we gauge the degree of diminished responsibility for, say, a paranoid schizophrenic versus a single parent with a crack and heroin dependency? I’ve had close relations with one heroin addict, and to say her responsibility was diminished would be to ignore the fact that it was gone completely.

Deterrence. Which demographic is this sentence intended to deter? The thousands of mothers who would otherwise be supplying their pre-teens with class A drugs? Ms. Kelly’s behaviour was irrational even for a drug addict. She could presumably have made a substantial amount of money supplying those who could pay for their drugs rather than giving them away free to her son. And how many drug addicts give away their drugs anyway? As a deterrence, I don’t see how this 9 year sentence has any application whatsoever.

Obviously, questions need to be asked about the role of the police and social services and, as ever, the primary concern must be for the child. I don’t dispute that Ms. Kelly in her current state does conceivably pose a risk to society and we are entitled to demand that the state takes steps to mitigate that risk. But tonight, shouldn’t Ms. Kelly be starting an extensive program of drug dependency treatment in secure accommodation, rather than a nine-year stretch in Holloway?