Jail-time a must for drug offenders, says lawyer

PETALING JAYA: A campaigner against drug abuse has come out in support of a jail sentence imposed on a 17-year-old drug addict who had been found guilty of having 1kg of ketum.

However, a criminal lawyer disagreed with the sentence. He said young offenders should only be required to undergo counselling and rehabilitation, not imprisonment.

The activist, Christina Teng, who is also a lawyer, said all drug-abuse victims should undergo counselling and rehabilitation, but punishment by imprisonment was still necessary as a deterrent.

She said the justice system showed more leniency for young offenders, and as a result young people were often used as mules by crime syndicates.

Teng said counselling and rehabilitation facilities should be provided for all prisons or youth correctional centres. “Unfortunately, is there budget and enough facilities to do that?” she said.

She said imprisonment would teach young offenders a lesson. “This kid will be out in less than nine months (given a one-third remission of his sentence for good behaviour), hopefully he can be rehabilitated while he’s in jail,” she said.

The bigger issue was how to combat the rise in the number of drug abuse cases. “Even privileged kids are taking drugs, as they can afford them,” she said. Measures such as better education, welfare and better community support for victims would be needed.

Teng said young people were easy prey. “Drugs come too easily. Our aim is to stop drug offences first. A gentle slap on the wrist won’t help. Punishment, rehab and counselling must all go together. But at present, prisons are struggling to house and care for all the inmates,” she said.

Former inspector-general of police Musa Hassan said young people addicted to drugs would often influence others.

Imprisonment would prevent a convicted youth from associating with other drug addicts thus making rehabilitation easier, he said.

However, criminal lawyer S N Nair, opposes imprisonment of young people.

Children have been recognised as a highly vulnerable category of persons, and many laws treated them differently from adults,. Such laws included the Child Act 2001, Children & Young Persons Act 1966, Juvenile Court Act 1947, and certain provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code.

He said young offenders should be required to undergo “counselling and rehabilitation only” and no penal or custodial punishment should be imposed.

The 17-year-old jailed for ketum possession had achieved 7As at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination. In an interview with Bernama, he said he regretted his actions, more so since he was an exemplary and excellent student at a secondary school in Kota Bahru, Kelantan.

He admitted that his predicament was his own doing, and had come through being lonely but finding companionship in five friends who had spoken to him.

“I saw them taking horse pills (ketamine) and consuming ketum water several times. At first, I did not follow them but my curiosity got the better of me and eventually, I was hooked and was willing to spend all my money to buy the stuff,” he said.