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April 27, 2017

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Experts evaluate drug laws in an era of surging substance use and overcrowding

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The dark legacy of Taiwan's war on drugs is ever-rising drug use and desperately overcrowded prisons. While measures to ease the overflow of inmates get under way this year, experts are weighing the merits and costs of time-honored laws.

A life sentence, like the size of a galaxy, is hard to fathom, even for an inmate serving one. Paul Douglas, a middle child from a middle-class family raised in the middle-of-the-road town of Wokingham, England, pleaded guilty to trafficking 1.9 kilos of heroin out of Bangkok for US$4,000 in 2002.

"I made a very bad decision," said Douglas, 45, who has struggled to find peace, watching his early 30s drift into his mid-40s in gray prison garb, serving life at Taipei Prison for a first-time offense.

His peculiar hobby — collecting news clippings of "bizarre" court verdicts he reads about in Taiwanese newspapers — has only confused his understanding of local justice.

"It makes no sense," Douglas said, comparing his case — a life sentence for trafficking a grade-one narcotic — to a March story in The China Post about 13 military officers sentenced between three to eight months for their roles in an army conscript's death. "What I ask is, does the punishment fit the crime?"

Taiwan's trafficking laws are relics of the 19th-century Opium Wars, when addiction raged along Asia's seafaring trade routes according to Edward Lai, professor at Central Police University. A state-run system of opium licenses, not the laws, eventually quelled the local epidemic, but popular fears that the "nightmare" could return are driving current policies, Lai said.

"The laws and policies for drug trafficking are too harsh," said Lai, a former corrections officer at Taipei Prison, until ten years ago. "However, most citizens support 'get-tough-on-crime' policies, so politicians support those policies to win the votes."

May 27, 2014    curtisakbar@
Can't do the time don't do the crime. However, I oppose drug laws and would prefer a drug licensing system that makes purchase and consumption legal only if you have the correct paperwork stating that you have completed a knowledge based course stating the side effects and places where you can get help. These licenses would have to be renewed after X amount of years depending on what drug you wanted and would have sell limits to help prevent abuse of the system. Income would be reinvested directly into police, health and education.
May 27, 2014    thomaslagrua@
The "War on Drugs" will never be won because instead of accepting responsibility, it projects only blame and inflicts only punishment. To win the war is to end it by society accepting responsibility as cause so to change the effect. Release those who have not committed violent acts, for they are not criminals but pawns of an unequal economic system.
June 5, 2014    edann77@
NT$22,000 per prisoner each year is good value for money. How much would it cost for police investigations, and drug rehabilitation? What is the untold cost to families and people's lives who are seduced into drug use? What is the economic damage to a society for easing the availability of illegal drugs by destigmatizing the usage of illegal drugs?

It's dangerous when moronic liberals go espousing their draconian ideology of more, but supposedly regulated, societal damaging drug use.
November 7, 2014    tonym2523@
Life should mean Life in all drug cases in Ttaiwan....!!
November 11, 2014    curtisakbar@

I take it from your attitude your don't use any legal drugs then? No alcohol, tobacco, caffeine? I won't mention medical drugs as they have a purpose, the 3 mentioned are recreational drugs that have no purpose except to alter the mind of the user, just like the so-called 'evil' illegal drugs.

You are moronic in thinking that you can win the war against drugs by building prisons and increasing sentences. When you make something illegal then you are making normal people criminals and allowing organised crime to exist. Prohibition in the USA, is the perfect example.

Alcohol a legal drug, was made illegal and thousands of people were arrested for using alcohol but did the problem disappear? No! The war on alcohol was a failure and resulted in it becoming legal again. Even in countries like Saudi Arabia, there is an organised black market for booze.

Instead of thinking the drugs you don't like are bad because of some hyped up media story of heroin addicts torturing a child. Consider the facts that more injuries and deaths are due to alcohol than any other drug.

The only difference between caffeine and cocaine is society's attitude. How many people wake up needing a coffee? This is addiction and to say it's ok because it's legal is a fallacy. Cocaine is more powerful than caffeine, but it is a stimulant just the same and can be enjoyed responsibly. The problem with all drugs isn't people using them but with people abusing them.

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