Under the new plans the possession of NOS also known as laughing gas will be criminalised in a bid to ‘restore pride in our communities’.
The plan that promises to stamp-out antisocial behaviour via a zero tolerance approach has been widely criticised by experts and third sector organisations across the country for its draconian and archaic nature; reminding leaders that the age old ‘carrot and stick’ approach doesn’t work when: a- the stick receives all of the investment and emphasis and when b- the impact of the stick can potentially cause so much harm.
As a support provider to 18-25 years old in Wales – the cohort of people who’ll perhaps be the hardest by these plans – we feel it’s important for us to share our stance on these new measures and the likely knock-on effect we believe is possible as a result of their implementation.
From a substance use perspective, our views agree with those of the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in that an outright ban is not the answer. Implementing such measures will lead to more young people facing criminal sanctions that will damage their future prospects.
Our experience arms us with the knowledge and evidence that young people involved in unhealthy, antisocial behaviours can often be those who have faced trauma and deprivation (Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and social exclusion- barriers to accessing support services) and as a result they often struggle with symptomatic vulnerabilities. We also know that with the right support, delivered at the right time, they can and do go on to live positive and healthy lives. They can go on to develop skills and strengths that can make substantial contributions to their communities and to society as a whole.
It is a concern that the plan announced leads with sanction as opposed to support as a first response. Particularly when we know that local youth participation and engagement opportunities have been underfunded for many years and could be considered a contributory factor in the emergence of the difficulties this plan is intended to address.
It is also a concern that the plans to criminalise the possession of NOS, are accompanied with plans to implement a range of new punishments for anti-social behaviour and graffiti. These include:
Unlimited fines- Not easy to repay for younger people who are likely to be on low incomes.
Community members creating (designing and selecting) punishments for ‘offenders’ that they believe fit the crime- likely to create further division in our communities.
Mandatory wearing of high-vis clothing, for ‘offenders’ to be publicly identified and made an example of- The public shaming and degradation of a young person in response to a minor offence as they wash a Police Officers car or clean graffiti from walls is a huge step backwards in our opinion.
As a nation, Wales is more progressive than this. Such approaches will only push young people further away from healthy integration and engagement with their communities.