Renowned clinical psychologist speaks at Notre Dame

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 22-11-2011

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



An increase in the mass incarceration of people for drug possession and use is breaking up communities across the United States of America according to New York clinical psychologist, Professor Ernest Drucker.

He argues that the prosecution and imprisonment of drug users leads them to experience increased psychological problems and a further hesitation in seeking help for their drug problems for fear of being arrested.

Professor Drucker was the guest speaker at The Dean’s Lecture Series, hosted by The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle School of Medicine. The lecture was based on his latest book A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America.

The aim of the lecture series is to provide an opportunity for visiting lecturers of a national and international standard to discuss diverse and challenging topics with the community.

A Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family and Social Medicine at the Montefiore Medical Centre/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Professor Drucker says America’s incarceration rates are at “epidemic” proportions and comparable to those found in Stalinist Russia.

Professor Drucker says that the population directly affected by the mass incarceration epidemic has increased from 250,000 inmates in 1970 to more than 2.5 million in 2009, with young men from lower socio-economic groups comprising most of the prison population.

He argues that drug use does not lead to further jail time; rather the incarceration of people for taking drugs changes their behavioural patterns which could lead to an increase in crime and longer periods of imprisonment.

”When you take someone off the street and put them in prison in a bid to stop them committing a victimless crime, such as drug possession, the results can be a lot different than expected,” Professor Drucker said.

“These people are more likely to commit crime when they leave prison as their ability to integrate back into society, and everything that could help them achieve that goal, would diminish.

“Former prisoners are socially marginalised and often become incapacitated for life – unable to find decent work, get proper housing, participate in the political system or have a normal family life.

“Above all, the children of family members who have been imprisoned have six or seven times the risk of being imprisoned themselves because their family network has been so seriously damaged as a result of incarceration.”

Professor Gavin Frost, Dean of the School of Medicine in Fremantle, said Professor Drucker’s lecture explored the complex interactions between health, poverty and education of the socially marginalised in America.

“He advocated in his lecture the approach to drug use as principally a health issue, rather than as a purely legal issue, with interventions such as methadone maintenance therapy demonstrating health benefits as well as reduction in drug-related crimes,” Professor Frost said.

“There was lively discussion about his paper, and obvious areas for beneficial research by the University became apparent to staff and students of both the Schools of Medicine and Law.”

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