oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of July 05, 2010

A weekly summary of news and developments in drug policy and criminal justice reform in the US & UK.
Charles Shaw
5 July 2010
  • In a shocking but not surprising turn of events, The Supreme Court has decided to hear California’s challenge to a federal court order ordering the California Department of Corrections to release 40,000 nonviolent offenders. This may, at best, hinder efforts to reduce the state’s dangerously overcrowded prisons, and at worst, create a dangerous precedent for future efforts to release the nearly 1 million nonviolent drug offenders languishing in American prisons. 

Two years ago U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who has issued a series of decisions over the past 20 years outlining constitutional violations in the California prison system, found that one inmate was dying in the California prison system each week because of neglect. He subsequently took away state control of the prison system. Last year a three-member panel of federal judges (including Judge Henderson), convened in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act to address the health deficiencies in California’s system, ruled that the state would have to reduce its prison population by nearly 40,000 prisoners to bring it within 137 percent of the system’s intended capacity. In its decision, the panel determined that overcrowding in the prisons was directly connected to the dangerous health conditions it found there.

Advocates of criminal justice reform lauded the decision, but so did many others. Like so many unjust laws, California’s over-incarceration policies were financially bad for the entire state. California simply can’t afford to maintain its bloated prison population. As a result, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had already agreed to a plan to release elderly and ailing inmates. But he decided to challenge the authority of the federal court to impose its prisoner-reduction plan on the state, calling it a “sweeping intrusion into the state’s management” of its prison system. And so the Supreme Court will hear Schwarzenegger v. Plata in this year’s October term.

The case will test the authority of federal judges hearing challenges brought pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Of course, states remain free to decide on their own to reduce their populations of nonviolent inmates to more humane, cost-effective and manageable levels. Some states, like Virginia, have also been compelled by their budget shortfalls to initiate the release of low-risk prisoners. Of course, it would make more sense if we pursued alternatives to incarceration at the front end, rather than engaged in periodic releases when our wrongheaded policies result in a system that is unsustainable.

(Source: http://prisonmovement.wordpress.com)


A video for anyone who wants to better understand the failures of prohibition and learn more about alternatives that have proven to be more cost-effective, safe, and humane. Brought to you by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy -- where science, not ideology, drives illicit drug policy.

(Source: Transform UK)

Relentless is the pack in search of prey, relentless are the wolves.

Meticulous is the disclosure of truth about the real “war on drugs,” as chronicled by Douglas Valentine in THE STRENGTH OF THE PACK (“PACK”). There may be other historians out there with Valentine's attention to detail and access to solid resources, including interviews with agents themselves, but if there are, I haven't read them.

This isn't the standard “history,” it's not about a series of splashy drug busts or heroism, though those elements are there; mainly, it's about inner and outer dynamics, where inner workings interact with outer forces. PACK is a complex book, as complex as the interlocking systems that define it. It is Valentine's thorough examination of how the gears mesh.

The "wolf pack," which distinguishes “PACK” from Valentine's previous book, THE STRENGTH OF THE WOLF, is the multitude of agencies, and the agents and bureaucrats within them, that comprise “The System” (not only of Federal Law Enforcement, but U.S. adventures abroad).

Once, The Wolf, the lone Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) agent, last of the noir cowboys, hard-boiled and streetwise, stalked his prey: Mafiosi, drug dealers both national and international (the French Connection), the occasional street junky, many of whom were useful as informants, and other ne'er'do-wells. But the rise of the American Superpower in the fifties and early sixties, saw the Lone Wolf FBN replaced by a bureaucratic system more suitable to Empire: The Pack. The wolf pack includes the FBI, Customs, BNDD, numerous other agencies with acronyms too numerous to mention, and eventually, the DEA, created specifically for the purpose of "winning the war on drugs."


  • California Decriminalization Bill Headed for Assembly Floor Vote.

    Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is already quasi-decriminalized under a decades-old state law, but now, a bill that would complete that process has passed the state Senate and on Tuesday was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill will now go for an Assembly floor vote and, if passed, will then head for the governor's desk.Under current law, people caught with an ounce of less of pot are charged with a misdemeanor, even though they are subject to a fine of no more than $100. The bill, SB 1449, would maintain the maximum $100 fine, but would downgrade the offense from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.The bill was introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and passed the committee on a 4-1 vote with no discussion.Similar measures have been introduced at various points over the years and have passed the Senate three times, only to fail in the Assembly. This time around, sponsors are hopeful that, given the cost savings in the bill (no court costs), the state's ongoing budget crisis, and the support of prosecutors and the court system, the Assembly will finally approve the measure.

(Source: Drug War Chronicle)


Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

(Source: Drug War Chronicle)


Women who take illegal drugs while pregnant cannot be charged with child endangerment crimes for doing so, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last Friday. The court held that such prosecutions are unlawful under the state's Maternal Health Act of 1992, which expressly forbids charging women with a crime if they drink or do drugs during pregnancy.

The case is Cochran v. Kentucky, in which Casey County prosecutors charged Ina Cochran with first-degree wanton endangerment after she gave birth to a child who tested positive for cocaine in 2005. Cochran's attorney moved to have the charges dismissed, and a Casey Circuit Court judge agreed, but prosecutors appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which held that the charges could be allowed.

(Source: Drug War Chronicle)


  • UNDOC World Drug Report: Peru Supercedes Colombia as World's Largest Coca Producer

Peru has regained its traditional role as the world's leading producer of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). UNODC noted the shift in its World Drug Report 2010, released this week.vPeru now accounts for 45% of the global coca crop, compared to 39% for Colombia and 15% for Bolivia. This marks the first time since 1997 that Peru has eclipsed Colombia as the world's largest producer. Unlike Peru and Bolivia, Colombia had not traditionally been a coca producer, but that changed in the 1980s as Colombian drug trafficking groups began encouraging the planting of the crop at home.UNODC cited a steady decline in production in Colombia over the past few years for the shift and argued that it showed the Colombian government's US-backed anti-drug policies were working. Coca cultivation declined by 16% in Colombia last year, according to the UNODC, marking a decline of 58% since production peaked a decade ago.


  • The Vienna Declaration: A Global Call to Action for Science-based Drug Policy

    The Vienna Declaration is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), the biennial meeting of more than 20,000 HIV professionals, taking place in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 23 July 2010. 

    The Vienna Declaration describes the known harms of conventional “war on drugs” approaches and states: “The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fueling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed… Reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches that respect, protect and fulfill human rights has the potential to reduce harms deriving from current policies and would allow for the redirection of the vast financial resources towards where they are needed most: implementing and evaluating evidence-based prevention, regulatory, treatment and harm reduction interventions.”

    The Vienna Declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, to take a number of steps, including:

     The International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS today launched a global drive for signatories to the Vienna Declaration, a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies.

  • undertake a transparent review the effectiveness of current drug policies;
  • implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the harms stemming from illicit drug use;
  • scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options;
  • abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
  • unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the drug treatment and harm reduction measures endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.

The Declaration also calls for the meaningful involvement of people who use drugs in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.

Those wishing to sign on may visit the official website for the Vienna Declaration, where the full text of the declaration is available in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, along with a list of authors. The two-page declaration references 28 reports, describing the scientific evidence documenting the effectiveness of public health approaches to drug policy and the negative consequences of approaches that criminalize drug users.

(Source: International Drug Policy Consortium)

  • Crime report shows crime fell in 2009 as prison growth rates decreased

Reported violent crime in the United States fell by 5.5 percent and property crime by 4.9 percent in 2009, according to an analysis released by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). The analysis, which was based on the FBI's Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report, also found that this drop in crime coincided with decreasing use of prisons from previous years. This corresponds with a national trend of states seeking ways to curtail corrections spending in light of the economic downturn. JPI applauded the news, saying it highlights that states can save money, promote alternatives to incarceration and still maintain public safety.

"Increased incarceration does not increase public safety," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. "The FBI's report shows that we can improve public safety and put fewer people in prisons, which means savings for taxpayers in addition to stronger communities. Investments in jobs, education and treatment are areas where states should focus their dollars, as all of these will help reduce crime more effectively and fairly than building more prisons."

(Source: Justice Policy Institute)


As part of its latest promotional campaign The Economist magazine has launched a series of  'where do you stand?' debates built around a billboard poster campaign outlining opposing views on a series of contentious issues. One of the issues they have chosen is whether drugs should be legalised and regulated, perhaps unsuprising given their prominent interest in this debate, and indeed support for the reform position (see below) over the past few years.


The campaign is supported by  series of twitter debates - the drug legalisation debate taking place tonight at 6pm (see @TheEconomist for details or follw the  #WhereDoYouStand hashtag) and a facebook page where you can even comment with more than 140 characters, if not a fan of new media concision.

(Source: Transform UK)




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