Drug trafficking in jail under scrutiny

PORTUGUESE courts have handed down prison sentences to 628 convicts for drug trafficking offences in jail in the period between 1999 and the end of last year. The figures come from the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction (Instituti da Droga e da Toxicodependencia), which keeps records of drug-related court judgements.

One recent example is that of Uribe and Melo, who were sentenced to more than five years in jail for trafficking relatively insignificant amounts of drugs inside prison. Magistrate Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque says judges tend to consider such cases as “aggravated drug trafficking crimes”, even when the quantities involved are small.

The law stipulates that trafficking is aggravated when carried out “in prison establishments”, but this is open to interpretation. “There are two schools of thought in court,” explained Albuquerque, who says the subject merits special attention. “One says that any amount of trafficking in jail is an aggravated offence; the other says that this does not make any sense when the quantity of drug concerned is diminished. The prevailing attitude maintains that trafficking inside jail is aggravated in any situation.”

But, even so, there are those who impose less severe sentences. Carlos Pinto de Abreu, from the Human Rights Commission of the Order of Lawyers, said judges should be particularly careful when contemplating this issue: “An individual, who makes trafficking in prison a way of life, is different from a prisoner who gives a small amount of a drug to another inmate.”