WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Supreme Court ruled today in Brown, et al. v. Plata, that the unconstitutional conditions of California's prisons were caused primarily by overcrowding and ordered California to reduce its prison population from over 200% of design capacity to 137.5% of capacity within two years.
"The U.S. Supreme Court was right to uphold the order to reduce California's prison population. Tough on crime policies have crowded prisons so severely with people convicted of nonviolent offenses, including drug possession, that they are not only unsafe and overly costly, but also a net negative for public safety," said Theshia Naidoo, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.
"To end prison overcrowding, California must reserve prison for serious offenses and that requires sentencing reform," continued Naidoo. "Even minor changes to sentencing laws could reap major rewards. By reducing the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, for example, the state would save $450 million a year and reduce the prison population by over 9,000. We urge California to take the logical step of ending incarceration as a response to drug possession, while expanding opportunities for drug treatment in the community," continued Naidoo. To learn more please follow this link
Source: Drug Policy Alliance
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, talks about overincarceration in the U.S. and how it's linked to the war on drugs.
Source: Drug Policy Alliance
Saul Lehrfreund MBE and Parvais Jabbar are Executive Directors of the The Death Penalty Project, which they have run since its inception. Based at Simons Muirhead & Burton in London, The Project works to promote and protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty. Although operating in all jurisdictions where the death penalty remains an enforceable punishment, its actions are concentrated in those countries that retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London and in other Commonwealth countries, principally the Caribbean, Africa and South East Asia. Alongside its activities representing individuals at risk of execution.
The Project also provides expert support to local lawyers and human rights organisations in bringing legal challenges to the application of the death penalty, with notable success in a variety of jurisdictions. The Project’s commitment to providing free legal representation to men and women on death row has been critical in identifying and redressing a significant number of miscarriages of justice, promoting minimum fair trial guarantees, and establishing violations of domestic and international human rights.
Lehrfreund and Jabbar have been involved in litigating or assisting in a number of challenges to the mandatory death penalty for drug offences. Most recently in 2010, they assisted in the Yong Vui Kong challenge in Singapore. The International Journal on Human Rights and Drug Policy sat down with them to discuss their experience in these cases. Download the full interview, published in Vol I of the International Journal on Human Rights and Drug
In days, we could finally see the beginning of the end of the ‘war on drugs’. This expensive war has completely failed to curb the plague of drug addiction, while costing countless lives, devastating communities, and funneling trillions of dollars into violent organized crime networks.
Experts all agree that the most sensible policy is to regulate, but politicians are afraid to touch the issue. In days, a global commission including former heads of state and foreign policy chiefs of the UN, EU, US, Brazil, Mexico and more will break the taboo and publicly call for new approaches including decriminalization and regulation of drugs.
This could be a once-in-a-generation tipping-point moment -- if enough of us call for an end to this madness. Politicians say they understand that the war on drugs has failed, but claim the public isn't ready for an alternative. Let's show them we not only accept a sane and humane policy -- we demand it. Sign the petition and share with everyone --if we reach 1 million voices, it will be personally delivered to world leaders by the global commission. To learn more, please follow this link
In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that prison conditions in California are so bad that they violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Opining that the prison system produces "needless suffering and death" through its failure to deliver minimal medical and mental health care to serioiusly ill prisoners, the court ordered California to cut its massive prison population by more than 30,000 prisoners (still 137.5 percent over capacity) within the next two years. Rather than releasing prisoners outright, the state can ship them to other states or keep them in county jails. As Adam Liptak of the New York Times reports:
The majority opinion included photographs of inmates crowded into open gymnasium-style rooms and what Justice Kennedy described as 'telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets' used to house suicidal inmates. Suicide rates in the state's prisons, Justice Kennedy wrote, have been 80 percent higher than the national average. A lower court in the case said it was 'an uncontested fact' that 'an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.' To learn more please follow this link
Source: In the News
PHOENIX — The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.
The state’s experience has particular relevance now, as many politicians have promised to ease budget problems by trimming state agencies. Florida and Ohio are planning major shifts toward private prisons, and Arizona is expected to sign deals doubling its private-inmate population.
The measures would be a shot in the arm for an industry that has struggled, in some places, to fill prison beds as the number of inmates nationwide has leveled off. But hopes of big taxpayer benefits might end in disappointment, independent experts say. “There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” said Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center. “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.” To learn more please follow this link
Source: New York Times
As federal, state and local governments across the nation slash their budgets to close looming shortfalls, there is one clear winner in the budget battles: correctional systems, which cost the nation nearly $70 billion annually. During the last two decades, funding for prisons eclipsed spending for higher education sixfold.
The NAACP is looking to reverse this trend with their new report, "Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate," a 57-page examination of how our nation invests more in the prison system than in the education of our youth. This prioritization, kicked into hyperdrive during the last two decades, has led to a disturbing trend: Many of the neighborhoods that have the lowest rates of education have the highest rates of incarceration, with generations entering the same failing school systems before exiting to the criminal-justice system. To learn more please follow this link
A new study has called for ‘outdated’ UK drug laws to be re-examined. The co-publication between the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) and Demos demonstrates that the continued rise in the use and ease of availability of ‘legal-highs’ underlines the fact that the 1971 UK Misuse of Drugs Act is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.
The timing is right for a re-examination of what many view as inadequate and ineffective legislation, specifically the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Misuse of Drugs Act was created in 1971 at a time when new drugs appeared every couple of years. This is compared to the current situation in which new drugs become available over the internet almost every week. In the words of Professor David Nutt, former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), “Banning without evidence of harm is misconceived and may cause more problems than it solves. What we need is a complete review of all drug and alcohol legislation, not tinkering at the edges.”
Data shows that young people continue to have a desire to experiment with psychoactive substance. Having reached a high-level of public infamy in 2009, the case of mephedrone* (or ‘meow meow’ as it is additionally known) has demonstrated the completely new challenge that faces modern drug control agencies. Some have even felt that the vast amount of media coverage of the drug encouraged a greater number of inquisitive partiers to experiment with it. The speed of the marketing and manufacture of new legal highs vastly outstrips the rate at which the legislation, designed to deal with drugs, can accommodate them. With many of these legal-highs relatively easy to purchase over the internet it is becoming increasingly harder to clamp down on them. To deal with and reduce the harms associated with this new era in drug-use a more intelligent and modernised response is needed. As times change, so must legislation. To Learn more please follow this link
Source: The Beckley Foundation
Earlier this month, a Louisiana judge sentenced a 35-year-old man to prison for the rest of his life—for marijuana. According to the Times-Picayune, Cornell Hood II was charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute after law enforcement found approximately two pounds of marijuana and $1,600 in cash in Hood’s home. The jury convicted him of a lesser charge, but the prosecutor used Hood’s prior convictions to seek a life sentence anyway, arguing Hood was a “career criminal.”
What were Hood’s prior convictions? In 2005 and 2009, he pled guilty to selling marijuana. Obviously, Hood has been making his living selling marijuana for the past half-dozen years, and selling marijuana for recreational use is still a crime in this country. But Hood’s offenses involved no violence, no damage or theft of property. He was sentenced to probation in each of his prior cases.
Setting aside the question of whether jailing a person for life for marijuana can be ethically justified, let’s look at whether it’s smart. In 2003, the Louisiana Department of Corrections estimated an average annual cost per prisoner of $30,000, but also explained that costs can balloon to $70,000 per year for prisoners over the age of 50 due to medical expenses. So, Hood’s life sentence could easily cost the taxpayers of Louisiana upwards of $2 million—and that’s without taking into account the rising cost of health care. To learn more please follow this link
A Letter From Executive Director Neill Franklin and Board Chair Jack Cole: 2010 saw huge strides in drug policy reform. Federal and local initiatives, particularly California’s Proposition 19, brought the failure of prohibition into the mainstream. Media interest intensified, public opinion continued its increasing support of reform and US and international leaders spoke out about the damage done by the “war on drugs.” Legalization has clearly been recognized as a topic worthy of legitimate debate.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition led the way by presenting drug policy reform from a law enforcement perspective, and our speakers’ impeccable credentials lent credibility to an issue that may not have been previously seen as mainstream or commonsensical. LEAP’s longstanding advocacy for the legalization and regulation of all drugs has been adopted by an increasing number of reformers, policymakers and law enforcers over the past few years. We are always there to provide support to all who are willing to come forward and take a stand against the destructive and wasteful policy of drug prohibition, as we were able to do in 2010 by standing behind Alice Huffman, the California NAACP State Conference president, in her endorsement of Proposition 19. LEAP presented at several California NAACP conferences as the NAACP prepared to move forward in support of Prop 19, and we were glad to be able to offer our expertise and support.
LEAP continues to grow and thrive, expanding our international branches, continuing our community outreach and spreading our message of law enforcement-endorsed legalization and regulation. Recently, LEAP asked President Obama for his perspective on whether there should come a time for a national debate on legalization. In response, Obama conceded that legalization is “an entirely legitimate topic for debate,” marking the first time a US president has acknowledged the legitimacy of a national discussion about drug legalization. Our speakers and staff could not accomplish all that they do without the unwavering dedication and generosity of our supporters. And so, on behalf of all of us at LEAP, we thank you. To learn more please follow this link
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, talks about individual rights and how the war on drugs oversteps those bounds.
Source: Drug Policy Alliance
Three important bi-partisan bills pertaining to state-authorized medical marijuana programs were introduced in Congress today, by three different Members of Congress. The legislation sends a clear signal to US Attorneys, the Department of Justice, and the DEA to stop trying to undermine state laws designed to provide cancer, AIDS and other medical marijuana patients with safe and legal access to their medicine.
"The Justice Department thinks it can bully not just state elected officials but also patients and those who provide for them," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Members of Congress need to stand up for patients and the will of the American people and push back against this federal overreach."
Combined the three bi-partisan bills would protect medical patients, caregivers, and providers from ongoing federal arrests, prosecutions, harassment, and intimidation:
- Rep. Barney Frank's States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 1983) explicitly exempts people in compliance with their state medical marijuana law from federal arrest and prosecution.
- Rep. Jared Polis' Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011 (H.R. 1984) protects banks that accept deposits from medical marijuana dispensaries from federal fines or seizures.
- Rep. Pete Stark's Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011 (H.R. 1985) allows medical marijuana dispensaries to deduct business expenses from their federal taxes like any other organization or business.
During his 2008 campaign, President Obama said he would end the Bush Administration's policy of attacking state medical marijuana programs. Attorney General Eric Holder said shortly after taking office that he agreed with Obama's position. In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department sent U.S. Attorneys across the country a letter directing that they "should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." To learn more please follow this link
Source: Drug Policy Alliance
New York, NY – Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side house was surrounded by City Council Members and fifty community members this morning demanding an end to illegal marijuana arrests, which have led to staggering racial disparities and significant financial cost to the City. Carrying signs highlighting the racial disparities, fiscal waste and constitutional violations associated with these arrests, the community members were joined by City Council Members Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Jumaane Williams.
"The mayor wants to leave a legacy as someone who promoted greater freedoms in this City, but his record around marijuana arrests tells a different story," said Robert Tolbert, a VOCAL-NY leader and Board member. "Rather than subject our youth to criminal records that can close doors on their future, Mayor Bloomberg should be investing in building up and stabilizing our communities. Instead, he is engaging in wasteful spending on these arrests while programs that I and others in my community rely on are being cut."
In 2010, over 54,000 people were arrested in NY for possessing small amounts of marijuana – over 50,000 of those arrests occurred in New York City alone. Marijuana possession is the number one arrest in the City, comprising 15 percent of all arrests. The arrests are largely the result of illegal searches, have led to staggering racial disparities, and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year. To learn more please follow this link
Source: Drug Policy Alliance
As has been demonstrated by the recently launched Count the Costs campaign, the war on drugs detrimentally impacts on numerous policy areas – Crime, Development, Security, Health, Expenditure, Stigma and Discrimination, Human Rights and the Environment. Some of these policy paths have been well-trodden by reformers; others have witnessed almost no footfall. Whilst all of them have the potential to engage policy makers, the question we have been asking is, which of them has the potential for the most engagement and concern? We have come to the conclusion that demonstrating the negative impacts of the war on drugs on security, and bringing security and intelligence agencies into the debate, has substantial untapped potential tomove the debate forward. When current and former military and intelligence personnel critique the war on drugs or indeed, explicitly call for reform to the status quo, formerly uninterested policy makers are likely to pay attention.
Up until relatively recently it had been received wisdom that drugs, crime and insecurity were inextricably linked. As the reform agenda gains traction, it is increasingly understood that the drugs/crime nexus is created, not by primarily by drug use/misuse, but in substantially part by the the prohibtionist policy environment; the war on drugs itself. To learn more please follow this link
The Nossal Institute for Global Health, based at the University of Melbourne, has recently signed up in support of the Count the Costs campaign. Established in 2006, the Institute is committed to improving global health through research, education, and inclusive development practice, focusing its activities on priority areas within the Asia Pacific region and Southern Africa.
Staff, students and associates at the Institute conduct international public health research with the objective of contributing innovative solutions to influence health policy and planning in local settings. As a proponent of evidence-based policy, the Institute therefore recognises the failure of the war on drugs and the need for an alternative drug control framework.
In a recent article for the Guardian, Nick Crofts, a senior research fellow at the Institute, said:
"The world is gradually awakening to the reality that our current drug policies have failed. They have not achieved their stated goals and perpetuate conflict, violence and poverty. ... Though we understand the system is broken, little is done to change or fix it. Development agencies frequently skirt their role in helping to change the environment in which the drug economy flourishes and drug control agencies rarely consider the development context in which their activities take place. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the global war on drugs, the world can no longer ignore the intricate links between drugs, development and conflict." To read the rest of the article, visit the Count the Costs resource library here.
Source: Count the Costs
The Global Commission on Drug policy aims to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and society. It is composed of a number of high level policy officials, including among others former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Colombia, Cesar Gaviria, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Kazatchkine.
The Global Commission will present its conclusions to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in New York, on 2 June. The event will be accompanied by a major international campaign led by Avaaz, which aims to gather 500,000 signatures for its new petition 'End the war on drugs!' by 2 June. IDPC has been actively supportive of the work of the Global Commission since its inception.
Ahead of a visit from Barack Obama, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has signed an amendment to his country's drug law.
The newly amended law, approved on Wednesday, May 25, is a small step forward in liberalizing Poland's drug policy. Overall, it aims to draw a greater distinction between drug user and drug dealer. For example, public prosecutors will now have the option of not bringing people to court on possession charges under three circumstances: if the quantity is small, if it is a first-time drug offense, or if the person has a drug dependency.
This change is largely thanks to ongoing advocacy by Polish and international civil society groups. The next steps will be to ensure that prosecutors are aware of these exceptions and that they are used, as experience from other countries shows that amendments often go unnoticed. Also, on the basis of the Czech Republic's experience, threshold quantities of illicit drugs should be drawn up with the aim of focusing a public debate on decriminalization. Click here for more on changes to Poland's drug law.
Several Commissioners have pointed out the need to ensure that theGlobal Commission on HIV and the Law reach out broadly and seek views from as diverse a range of stakeholders as possible, thereby ensuring that the Commission gives adequate attention to due process.
Consequently, a Specialist Call for Submissions to elicit the views of experts/specialised agencies or groups has been launched. This call aims to reach out to a range of actors, including bar associations, trade unions, pharmaceutical industry/associations, medical and research associations, public health institutions, parliamentary groups, other UN agencies such as WIPO, and non-UN agencies such as WTO.
The Specialist Call for Submissions is based on the format used by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, i.e., a two- or three-page missive, describing the evidence informed policy position/change sought, in the form of a letter addressed to the Commission. The deadline for receiving submissions is Friday, 8 July.
Your submissions should be sent to: [email protected], or by mail to:Global Commission on HIV and the Law - Secretariat, United Nations Development Programme, BDP, HIV/AIDS Practice, 304 East 45th Street – FF1180, New York NY 10017, USA.
In a commentary in The Lancet medical journal, Daniel Wolfe and colleagues called into question the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to approve the efficacy of once-monthly, injectable form of the medication naltrexone for opioid users based on one trial in Russia. Mr. Wolfe’s article is available below:
In an era when politicians pledge allegiance to a "drug-free" world and Big Pharma seeks new markets for new products, addiction research is a tricky business. A study published this week in The Lancet found that people abstained from using heroin and other opioids when taking a once-monthly, injectable form of the medication naltrexone. Disturbing, however, was the decision of study sponsors to offer nothing more than a placebo and counseling to some trial participants, and not to report what happened to the many who dropped out of the trial.
Researchers also didn't detail whether follow-up was done to monitor for post-treatment opioid overdose among participants. As I and other co-authors argued in a commentary linked to the Lancet article, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approved the efficacy of the medicine for opioid users based on this one trial in Russia, should have demanded more data and higher ethical standards before giving marketers the green light. To learn more please follow this link
Founded after the terrible medical experiments of the Nazis in World War II, the World Medical Association has been the leading international voice on ethical medical practice ever since. WMA declarations have set the international ethical standard for clinical trials and practice on issues ranging from medical experimentation without consent to doctor participation in torture. Today, the WMA focused on a little-known and abusive practice that is too common: detention and degrading "treatment" of people who use drugs in the name of rehabilitation.
As many as an estimated 400,000 people worldwide are currently held in drug detention centers— sometimes for years at a time— on suspicion of using drugs or because of a positive urine test. Most get no medical evaluation, and no treatment—for drug addiction, TB, or HIV. Though these centers are called "rehabilitation," "treatment," or education centers, what goes on inside is not based on research or accepted medical principles so much as the desire to discipline and punish.
Patients' human rights are frequently violated, said the WMA and theInternational Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations(IFHHRO). Drug users are beaten, starved, and forced to labor—often in the service of private companies. The number of such "treatment" centers has continued to grow in recent years. The two prominent medical organizations today denounced the practice of involuntary drug detention and called for all compulsory drug treatment facilities to be closed. To learn more please follow this link
New Zealand’s 35-year-old drug law is in for a major shake-up if the New Zealand Government adopts all recommendations for reform made in a recent drug law review conducted by the independent Law Commission.
The report, released earlier this month, contains 144 recommendations to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The Commission noted that: "There are adverse social consequences from a distinctly punitive approach to lower level offending. Quite large numbers of young New Zealanders receive criminal convictions - which might subsist for life - as a result of minor drug offences. This is a disproportionate response to the harm those offences cause.”
Among the key proposals contained in the report are:
- A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.
- A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug’s risk of harm, including social harm.
- Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems;
- Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of some offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment.
The full report can be accessed here.
20 May 2011 - During a visit to Switzerland this week, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov forged closer cooperation with the heads of organizations active in many of the major fields of work of the United Nations, including health; labour; human rights; humanitarian action and disaster relief; saving endangered species; and development. He also met officials of the Government of Switzerland, a major UNODC donor.
Geneva is the second largest United Nations duty station after United Nations Headquarters in New York and is acknowledged as the humanitarian capital of the world. Two thirds of the activities of the United Nations system take place in Geneva and much of the work of UNODC relates to those mandates. Mr. Fedotov therefore visited intergovernmental organizations, specialized agencies, programmes, funds, offices, research institutes and related organizations with a view to bringing added value to their work and drawing upon their wide expertise.
Specifically, the Executive Director sought to draw attention to the importance of the fight against drugs and organized crime given that those phenomena impede development. By mainstreaming those issues in every sphere of activity, development agencies and peacekeeping operations could improve their chances of achieving long-term success and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. To learn more please follow this link
Brought up amidst a good deal of violence, Andria started experimenting with drugs from an early age. In her teens she found opiates – and loved them. She spent the next 15 years in the mire of heroin addiction, subjecting herself to all kinds of violence and brutality throughout. It took her a number of attempts to finally kick her habit. Now heroin free for 16 years, this is her story.
Source: Know Drugs
The political debate in this country can be depressingly constrained; its boundaries drawn and policed by “common sense” populism on one side and political correctness on the other. Yet there are some problems where the search for a solution, were we to follow the evidence, would almost certainly lead us beyond the thin strip of permitted opinion on which our politics takes place. One such problem is drugs.
In the world of Westminster politics, the prohibition on drugs extends to talking about them as well as taking them. For any politician with any ambition, the issue is simply out of bounds. When the Lib Dem conference voted, in 1994, to establish a Royal Commission to look at the case for decriminalising cannabis, Paddy Ashdown was so exasperated by his party’s tendency to political self-harm that he kicked over his chair and stormed off the conference stage. The following morning’s papers showed he hadn’t over-reacted.
Which is what makes the expected call for a radical rethink of our approach to drugs from the Global Commission on Drug Policyso remarkable. For these aren’t Lib Dem activists we’re talking about. The commission is made up of a clutch of South and Central American former Presidents, a former US Secretary of State, a former European Union High Representative, a former UN Secretary General and a former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Even the publicity shy Richard Branson has been persuaded to get involved. To learn more please follow this link
Source: The Telegraph
The International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy will be speaking as part of a public lecture on the topic of ‘Drugs, Social Control and Social Exclusion’. This event is part of the Law on Trial seminar series, organised by the School of Law, Birkbeck College, London.
Law on Trial provides a platform on which academics, trade unionists, practitioners and activists can present alternative and progressive thinking about law and its relationship to society and economy. The events are free and open to everyone.