Sentencing for drug offences in England and Wales has recently undergone a wide-sweeping review and public consultation. The purpose of this report is to examine and evaluate this mechanism for law reform, without the need for legislative reform, and to consider the specific discussion around sentencing for drug offences which it has led to.
The Sentencing Advisory Council has released a report on community attitudes towards the use of alternatives to imprisonment in Victoria. The report is based on the Victorian component of a national survey of public attitudes to sentencing, supported by the Australian Research Council. Survey participants were asked about the use of alternatives to imprisonment as a way of addressing the increasing number of people in prison and as a way of dealing with certain types of offenders. The prison alternatives suggested to participants included supervision, counselling, treatment and community work.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales initiated a consultation process in order to produce definitive sentencing guidelines for drugs offences for the UK in the future. In order to feed into this process, IDPC, in collaboration with TNI, held an Expert seminar on proportionality in sentencing for drug offences, on 20th May 2011, in London, UK. The seminar was an important gathering of international experts on the subject of proportionality and provided a space for fruitful and in depth discussions on sentencing experiences from around the world. A draft report of the meeting was sent to the Sentencing Council as part of the consultation process on 20th June.
Distinguishing between drug possession for personal use and supply and trafficking is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult and controversial issues facing drug legislators and policy makers. To address the problem, two solutions are typically enacted: the threshold scheme and the "flexible" model.
The Supreme Court agreed to resolve a question that has vexed the lower federal courts since Congress enacted a law to narrow the gap between sentences meted out for offenses involving two kinds of cocaine. Selling cocaine in crack form used to subject offenders to the same sentence one would get for selling 100 times as much in powder. The new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reduced the disparity to 18 to 1, at least for people who committed their offenses after the law became effective on Aug. 3, 2010.
Rafael Lemaitre (Communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy)
02 December 2011
The complexity and scale of our drug problem requires a nationwide effort to support smart drug policies that reduce drug use and its consequences. The Obama Administration has been engaged in a government-wide effort to reform our nation's drug policies and restore balance to the way we deal with the drug problem. We have pursued a variety of alternatives that abandon an unproductive enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach to drug control and acknowledge we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem and, further, that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, not some "moral failing."
People who smuggle drugs will face more lenient sentences if they have been exploited, under new guidelines. The change in approach on "drug mules" forms part of new comprehensive rules on drugs offences from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. The council said judges should distinguish between those who have been exploited by gangs and criminals heavily involved in the drugs trade. But it said large-scale drugs producers should expect longer jail terms.
What's the smallest unit of celebration? A whooplet? I need one to mark the news that sentencing for drug offences, in some cases, will be shortened. Following new guidelines from the sentencing council from the end of February those found to have bought drugs to share with friends rather than to profit from them, and those found to have imported drugs under duress, can expect to be locked up slightly less often, and for slightly less long.
On a recent evening, some 50 people turned up for their weekly reckoning at Judge Joel Bennett’s drug court in Austin, Texas. Those who had had a good week—gone to their Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stayed out of trouble—got a round of applause. The ones who had stumbled received small punishments: a few hours of community service, a weekend in jail, a referral to inpatient treatment. Most were sanguine about that. Completing the programme will mean a year of sobriety and the dismissal of their criminal charges.
A high-profile group of current and former U.S. law enforcement officials has written to the Conservative government with a surprising message: Take it from us, the war on drugs has been a “costly failure.” The officials are urging Canada to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for “minor” marijuana offences under its “tough-on-crime bill” and say a better approach would be to legalize marijuana under a policy of taxation and regulation.
A number of leading figures in Canadian public health are criticizing the federal government's approach to drug policy, suggesting political ideology is trumping scientific evidence. In a two-pronged attack, the chief medical officers of health for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are publishing a commentary in the journal Open Medicine that calls on the government to rethink strategies like minimum mandatory sentences for minor drug-related offences.
Evan Wood, Moira McKinnon, Robert Strang, Perry R. Kendall
28 March 2012
The use of illegal drugs remains a serious threat to community health. However, despite the substantial social costs attributable to illegal drugs, a well-described discordance between scientific evidence and policy exists in this area, such that most resources go to drug law enforcement activities that have not been well evaluated. When the Office of the Auditor General of Canada last reviewed the country’s drug strategy, in 2001, it estimated that of the $454 million spent annually on efforts to control illicit drugs, $426 million (93.8%) was devoted to law enforcement.
Whose website laments that in the United States today we have “more than one million nonviolent offenders fill[ing] the nation’s prisons,” and sings the praises of “community supervision alternatives such as probation and parole, which cost less and could have better reduced recidivism among non-violent offenders”? Guess before you click.
Canada’s new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders are based on “very bad criminal law policy” and constitute a threat to public health as well as the concept of judicial proportionality, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour says. The law should, and almost certainly will, face a justifiable constitutional challenge, Arbour adds of the omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10, which received royal assent in March. Forcing judges to impose minimum sentences for drug offences endangers the legal precept of proportionality, under which judges must tailor the level of punishment to the severity of the crime, adds the former United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
The United States government spends more than $7 billion annually to enforce marijuana prohibition in shockingly cruel ways, but the efforts have not deterred marijuana use. The side-effects of pot are minimal, especially when compared to legal, often lethal drugs like OxyContin or Xanax. The consequences of a marijuana arrest, however, can be far more damaging than the drug itself. America’s legal system continues to treat the plant as if the 1920s propaganda film Reefer Madness were true. In the United States -- where a marijuana arrest occurs every 42 seconds, on average -- the war on pot has disastrous consequences for its victims.
A host of academic, legal, health, political and social figures are joining together to back a campaign to decriminalise drug use in Brazil, as tens of thousands of consumers uninvolved in the drug trade are currently jailed. The “Drug Law: It’s Time to Change” campaign is an initiative launched by the Brazilian Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which aims to gather one million signatures in support of a bill that will be introduced in congress during the second half of 2013.
When she was 66 years old, Alicia Castilla was put in jail for three months for cultivating marijuana, which she used to help her sleep better. In this video testimony, she talks about the suffering caused by her imprisonment in Canelones (an Uruguayan prison) and her experience with the justice system in Uruguay.