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Posted on behalf of Susie Pascoe, RSA Recovery Community Organiser (Maidstone)

Today I will be voting in the Kent County Police and Crime Commissioners Election. This seems to have been looming for a long time and yet has suddenly arrived.  I hope everyone has been avidly reading the candidates’ manifestos. I have had a grand total of one leaflet dropped through my door, which served only to convince me not to vote for that candidate!

Having worked in the recovery sector for a number of years now, I recognise the importance of getting this right, and so have been trawling the internet for more information about where my local candidates fall in regards to drugs and alcohol, before I cast my vote. It seems a mixed bag of opportunity.

Some people feel that politicising the Police is the wrong move, but even so, these elections are coming and given that all candidates have attempted some point of policy around drug and alcohol related crime, the ramifications for criminal justice and recovery sectors are likely to be significant.

A single focus on punishment for substance misusers will do little to break the cycle of addiction or indeed the crime it can often lead to – all too often we hear of people being repeatedly sent to prison for short sentences where they may get little opportunity to make changes.

We know what works is a more nuanced focus on engaging substance misusers in treatment and working in partnership with local agencies to enable more people to recover and sustain their recovery. We need a PCC that will take the time to understand these complex issues and listen to the evidence. But that means we have to get out there and vote for the person most likely to do that.  Yet the elections seem to be being met with disinterest at best, and at worst, abject apathy, even amongst those working at the coalface of this sector.

In Kent, the Conservative, English Democrat and UKIP candidates promise a zero tolerance attitude towards drug related crime.  The Labour candidate states that ‘drug usage still blights lives’, but it is not clear what her intentions are around addressing this. Is her priority the blight to the general public in terms of crime, strain on healthcare and resources, or the catastrophic effect of addiction on the addicted and their families? An Independent candidate suggests a ‘total focus on cutting crime and catching the criminal’. Recidivism rates for drug users are high when you do not involve treatment in the process.

So the questions that face everyone in this sector in Kent are; how high is recovery on your agenda? One in five of us are affected by our own, or someone else’s substance misuse at some point in our lives. Who will meet your policing priorities? Have you even considered what they are?

I’ve found my ballot paper. Have you?

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