On drugs; an aim on which we all might agree would be to cut crime, take needles off the streets and save lives.

There are two alternative views on how this can be done.

One approach has been tried for decades with imprisonment. It’s a simplistic message. To the man with only a hammer every problem is a nail. So we hammer on yet fail to make progress. We have the highest prison population in Western Europe.

Imprisonment of locals sees dealers replaced within hours by more violent gangs from cities. A previous Conservative home secretary observed that prisons are an expensive way of making bad people worse.

There is another approach called harm reduction. It may sound soft but it works. Instead of punishment it is a medical treatment model.

The PCC recently backed safe rooms.

This means somewhere clean, with sharps bins and Naloxone antidote available to treat overdoses. Also co-located treatment services would offer a way to get clean. Drugs become dangerous due to unknown impurities or HIV contamination.

Margaret Thatcher was trained in chemistry and understood scientific evidence. The Iron Lady recognised the value of a civilised approach and introduced needle exchanges. This meant England avoided a major AIDS spread through contaminated needles. She saved many lives through this “soft” approach. Harsher nations like Russia who stuck to prisons saw many deaths.

As a nation we’re heading backwards with 27 % cuts to drug treatment services in the last three years, with a 17% rise in deaths.

A home secretary calls for more prisons. Yet we could save taxes from being wasted on private prisons, get needles off the streets and save lives by maintaining Thatcher’s legacy of a treatment approach. Safe rooms and harm reduction with rehabilitation schemes cut crime.

Jon Orrell

Crescent Street,