As a parent you teach your children to tell the truth. You don’t expect it to land them in prison.

James and his housemates were relaxing in their new shared student house in Manchester when they heard an almighty thud on the door. Someone was trying to break in. James called the police. Moments later the door broke open and into their house stormed a gang of police officers.

James’ parents Mick and Hope received a call from the police. At first they couldn’t really register what was going on. What sort of trouble was he in? James had never been in trouble before.

The police had raided James’ house under a warrant for a previous tenant. Upon searching the flat the police found a bowl containing 53 ecstasy pills and a small amount of cannabis. James had never previously been in trouble with the police and he was quick to explain that he had bought the pills to share with his housemates. The admission of intent to supply all but ensured that he would be convicted of a serious offence with a mandatory prison sentence. Hardened criminals and problematic drug users are aware that staying quiet is almost always the best course of action when speaking to the police, but James was neither and as such he was vulnerable to incriminating himself.

Shortly after James’ arrest, the nation mourned the tragic death of Leah Betts who drank 7 litres of water in 90 minutes after consuming MDMA. Public sentiment was vehemently anti-MDMA and politicians and civilians were lining up to demand long sentences for those caught supplying MDMA.

When sentencing James, the judge seemed reluctant to give a custodial sentence but said that “Parliament in its wisdom” had mandated that he send James to prison. James received a 2 ½ year sentence of which he went on to serve 15 months. He began his stretch in the notorious Strangeways. His cellmate was a Moss Side gangster who had chopped off the fingers of his victim.

Over 20 years later, ecstasy deaths are at an all-time high in the UK and our drug laws remain comparatively unchanged. Enforcement remains capricious, and has had little if any impact on the scale of the market.

Hope and Mick Humphries are ambassadors for Anyone’s Child – a group campaigning for a drug policy that better protects young people in the UK.

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