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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 11:47 GMT
Q & A: Caught with drugs abroad
Young people are being warned that using or smuggling drugs on their holiday abroad could end with a prison sentence or worse.

The charity Prisoners Abroad, which looks after Britons arrested and imprisoned overseas, answers questions on what holiday makers can expect if caught for a drugs offence abroad.

Q: Where are the most common places to be caught and how many Britons are being held there?

A: In total, Prisoners Abroad is supporting 1500 British nationals imprisoned overseas.

USA has the largest number of Britons, with 324 people incarcerated there. This can be attributed to the large number of ex-pats. France and then Spain follow with 193 and 146 respectively. The majority of these will be drug related charges due to the drug routes across Europe.

The most astonishing increase is in the number of Britons in Jamaica. We currently support 72. More and more women are becoming involved in trafficking drugs out of Jamaica and into England. The charity has seen a 43 per cent increase in the number of Britons arrested in Jamaica.

Q: Who are being arrested?

A: This really varies on the country.

Recently we have seen a huge rise in the number of young women being arrested in the West Indies on drug related offences, increasing the number of people becoming professional drug mules.

During the holiday periods we can anticipate an increase in the number of young holidaymakers being arrested for possession of recreational drugs.

Q: What are the most common drugs to be caught with?

A: Cocaine. Trafficking cocaine out of the West Indies has become a huge industry, at the same time, the authorities are extremely aware of it and more and more people are being caught.

Q: What's the worst place to get caught?

A: South East Asia has the harshest of sentences. The consequences of being caught with drugs in this part of the world can be devastating. The death penalty is imposed on all heroin charges and many people sentenced in Thailand may never see outside the prison walls again.

Q: Where are the worst prison conditions?

A: Prisons in Venezuela are amongst the harshest in the world. Prisons are run by gangs of prisoners; violence is rife; prisoners live in an extremely volatile environment. Prisoners also have to pay for everything from bedding to adequate food to supplement diets. Prisoners Abroad provides all British prisoners in Venezuela with grants to survive this experience.

Due to the climate, prisons in the West Indies are subject to infestations of cockroaches, mosquitoes and rats. Women tend to suffer from gynaecological problems because of the poor sanitation.

Japan's prisons may by physically better than many others, but the regime is extremely harsh. Many Britons return to the UK with psychological problems from being kept in solitary confinement for lengthy periods. Many have also reported that treatment from guards is harsh and humiliating.

Q: How much do penalties differ from country to country?

A: Sentences vary a lot depending on the country.

For example for trafficking cocaine, a sentence of up to 15 years may be imposed in Venezuela, but if the person were caught in Jamaica they would only receive two to three years and a substantial fine.

In South East Asia, sentences are much harsher as the death penalty can be imposed for drug charges.

Q: What can the British Government do to help people who are arrested?

A: The British Government cannot get a person out of jail, or get them better conditions than are provided for local or other nationals or give legal advice.

They can however, give you information on suitably qualified English-speaking local lawyers and the legal system; get a message to family and friends; ensure medical problems are seen to; take up any complaints of mistreatment.

Q: What are the long term effects of having a drugs conviction abroad?

A: The long term effects of having a drugs conviction abroad can be devastating. Many people find it extremely difficult to pick up their lives where they left off.

Being separated from loved ones for a long time puts pressure on relationships and many have a hard time adjusting to life outside of an institution.

We also see a lot of people suffering from medical problems on their return to the UK. This is due to the poor prison conditions and the lack of good health care in many prisons.

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