Mexico City — Today, the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) will release a series of new studies showing that mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses has increased across the region.
In recent years, federal sentencing guidelines have been revised, resulting in less severe prison terms for low-level drug offenders. But tens of thousands of inmates who were convicted in the "war on drugs" of the 1980s and 1990s are still behind bars. Harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, continue to have lasting consequences for inmates and the nation’s prison system. Today, prisoners 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their ranks having swelled by 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013.
Russia's Federal Drug Control Service's proposal to revive Soviet-era work camps in order to treat drug addicts was met with skepticism by leading health researchers and activists, who said that the state's insistence in linking addiction with criminality perpetuates inefficient drug control practices. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), said that 400,000 "ordinary" drug addicts serving prison terms had cost the justice and penitentiary systems more than 500 billion rubles ($10 million) during the last five years.
Across the Americas, an unprecedented debate on drug policy reform is underway. While a regional consensus on what form those reforms should take remains elusive, there are at least two issues where consensus is growing: the need to address drug use as a public health, rather than criminal, issue and the need to promote alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and ensure proportionality in sentencing for drug-related crimes. Draconian drug laws were often adopted in Latin American countries with the encouragement – if not outright diplomatic, political and economic pressure – from the U.S. government.