Poland Eyes Alternative Strategy for Policing Drugs

Polish lawmakers are looking at replacing a failed strategy for policing drug offenses with a groundbreaking model pioneered in Seattle.

Legislators in Poland recently hosted James Pugel, former chief of the Seattle Police Department, in order to study the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. The program, which was introduced in 2011, involves steering low-level drug and prostitution arrestees into community-based treatment and support services, instead of processing them through traditional criminal justice system avenues.

Unlike drug courts, which require appearances before a judge, the LEAD program directs people to services at the point of arrest without entanglement in the criminal justice system.

Pugel presented to the Polish parliament, met senior law enforcement officials, and addressed national public health advocates to consider what aspects of the LEAD program are applicable to Poland.

The lessons of Seattle are particularly relevant to Poland.

In 2000, the country introduced one of the most punitive drug laws in Europe criminalizing possession of any amount of drugs and making it punishable by up to three years imprisonment. The law resulted in 100,000 Poles suffering criminal penalties for possession of illicit drugs in the following decade. Most of these people were young men between the ages of 17 and 30.

The law has since been amended to include some prosecutorial discretion; however, in many parts of the country drug offenders are still subject to arrest and severe punishments.

There are around 30,000 people arrested every year in Poland for minor drug offenses, roughly one every three hours.

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