Social workers slam lack of help for drug offenders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 August, 2006, 12:00am

Arrests, fines not enough; they want compulsory counselling

Mandatory counselling for young drug offenders should be introduced to help them give up the practice, say a group of social workers who will submit their proposal to the Security Bureau's Narcotics Division this week.

The group, brought together last year by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service to look at youth drug abuse, accused the courts and police of fostering drug use by not sending users to counselling.

It said the present practice of arresting offenders, making convictions and ordering fines only encouraged youngsters to continue taking drugs.

Its concerns followed a spate of high-profile raids in Mongkok and elsewhere following the July 26 death of 13-year-old Chek Wai-yin, who allegedly took a mixture of Ecstasy and ketamine in a Mongkok disco before collapsing and dying.

Police Commissioner Dick Lee Ming-kwai later said the number of teenagers arrested for using drugs had jumped more than 34 per cent in the past year.

Mongkok district operations officer Tony Li Kam-piu, who heads the area's anti-drug operations, said that in many cases, police could clearly tell youngsters had taken drugs, but could not detain them unless drugs were found in their possession. He said that even those who were found to be carrying drugs would not be referred to social workers.

Officers said counselling and follow-up services by non-governmental organisations, such as social workers, were only given at the discretion of superintendents to first-time offenders under the age of 18 and in possession of a small quantity of drugs. The remainder were charged and sent to court, where they were normally fined and released, said Mongkok assistant district commander Stephen Chalkley.

A judiciary spokeswoman said the court relied on probation officers' recommendations in pre-sentencing reports to provide young offenders with counselling services.

The spokeswoman said the judiciary did not have figures on how many convicted offenders were given probation orders recommending social workers follow up the case.

Youth worker Ken Chan Kam-ming, co-ordinator of the Council of Social Service team, which joined forces with 16 outreach teams from NGOs to look at youth drug abuse, will this week submit their proposal of compulsory counselling for young drug offenders to the Narcotics Division.

Mr Chan said compulsory counselling had been effectively adopted in some American states, and should also be introduced in Hong Kong.

'During the counselling, we can tell the youngsters their problems and help them change their values. We will emphasise to them that drug-taking damages their brains. Then we will put them through a motivation programme to quit,' he said.

But Michael Blanchflower SC, a former Justice Department official, warned that social workers had to be careful in their recommendations.

He said mandatory counselling for those who had not been convicted could seriously infringe on youngsters' human rights.

Mr Blanchflower suggested the government explore methods in place in other countries to help young drug offenders join drug-quitting counselling programmes voluntarily.