By Hebe Fryer
After an emerging drug issue in the region, North Wales Police have recently launched Checkpoint Cymru, a new programme they believe will impact how the Police deals with minor drug offences.
The programme in question allows those in possession of drugs to be spared jail time, instead being offered a year-long education and rehabilitation scheme. Offenders are now being given the option to sign a four-month contract, pledging to accept help from rehabilitation services. If this is successfully completed, the offender is able to leave the scheme without the pressure of a criminal conviction or further legal ramifications.
At the forefront of this scheme, known as Checkpoint Cymru, is Arfon Jones, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Police, and member of Plaid Cymru.
Jones himself has served as a police officer for over 30 years in North Wales Police before taking on the position of Police and Crime Commissioner and knows first-hand the effect drug abuse has for the emergency services in the area.
Speaking about Checkpoint Cymru, Arfon said, “[The programme] may even save lives by directing people away from criminality and substance abuse and it could also save the public purse a lot of money because the cost of imprisoning someone now costs £65,000 and £40,000 for every year after that.”
The system was originally conceived at Cambridge University and has already been put into practice at Durham Constabulary where the reoffending rates speak for themselves, dropping from 30% down to 18% following the implementation of the programme.
Jones’ aim as Police and Crime Commissioner is to see the eventual decriminalisation of all drugs. Although this endpoint is seen as extreme and unnecessary by some, Jones remains strong in his belief that this is “not a soft option” and that “decriminalisation equals diversion”.
Anna Baker, the Manager of Checkpoint Cymru, is also quick to defend the programme and challenge the stereotype surrounding those with drug abuse issues, having been raised herself by a grandmother with a prescription drug addiction. Speaking of her own experience, Baker says, “the Valium my grandmother took gave her a sense of escape from her worries and fears but I’ll never forget finding her when she had overdosed.”
It is worth noting that those who have committed more serious offences, including rape and murder, will not be eligible for this scheme, nor will those involved in domestic abuse offences and violence against emergency service workers.
Checkpoint Cymru is namely aimed at giving second chances and is seen by Jones to be “a far better system than blighting someone’s career, someone’s life, someone’s future with a minor conviction on their record.”
As well as helping those suffering with addiction, this programme also sets out to cut crime in the region whilst simultaneously reducing reoffending rates. So, not only does it help the individual but it also takes the weight of these lesser offences off the shoulders of the police and judicial system.