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.
Guatemala will weigh easing punishments for minor narcotics-related offenses as part of a push to liberalize drug policy and explore regulating production of opium poppies and marijuana for medical use, President Otto Perez said. A government-backed commission delivered an interim report on the president's legalization proposal in September and Perez said the final recommendations should be ready by March or the second quarter of next year.
In Latin America’s latest challenge to Washington’s “war on drugs,” Ecuador has quietly begun releasing thousands of convicted cocaine smugglers. The move is a result of the country’s new criminal law, which took effect August 10. It treats “drug mules” who commit the low-profit, high-risk offense more as vulnerable people exploited by cartels than as hardened criminals. Around 500 mules have already been freed and at least another 2,000 are expected to follow, says Jorge Paladines, national coordinator of the Public Defender’s Office.
Prison overcrowding is a widespread problem in Latin America, primarily because of harsh drug-sentencing laws and inadequate budgets, but Costa Rica may be setting a useful example for dealing with it. In most countries, guards control the perimeter, but groups of prisoners or criminal gangs organize and control life inside the prison compound. Rehabilitation and re-integration programs are limited.
The attorney general, Patrick Atkinson, must move with dispatch to determine, as the justice minister, Mark Golding, suggests, whether the police can proceed by issuing summonses to, rather than arresting, persons who are to be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The idea makes sense in the face of the Government's declared policy to decriminalise ganja use, but has added urgency following last week's death, apparently the result of a severe beating while in a Montego Bay police lock-up, of Mario Deane, who was arrested for a ganja cigarette. (See also: Ganja decision should not be based on votes)
A call has been made for the government to declare an amnesty on all arrests for the possession of under one pound of marijuana. The plea from the Ganja Future Growers Producers Association was made following the death of Mario Deane who was in the custody of the State. Deane was arrested and held at the Barnett Street police station lock-up in western Jamaica for possession of a marijuana spliff. While in custody, he was beaten and died in hospital a few days later.
Around 2,000 inmates convicted of low-level drug offences could be released in Ecuador under a new criminal code, as countries across the Americas slowly move away from harsh punishments for minor drug crimes. In an interview with El Comerico, Ecuador's chief public defender, Ernesto Pazmiño, said that thousands of people convicted of drug possession, street sales or acting as "mules" (couriers) will have their cases reassessed after the country's new Integrated Penal Code comes into force.
America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
In February, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that most of the 2006 drug law norms were unconstitutional. Following this pronouncement, at the end of May, the Court of Cassation decided that people sentenced and incarcerated under the illegitimate norms have the right to be resentenced. The decision may affect about 10.000 prisoners detained for cannabis crimes.
A new decree that overhauls Italy's drugs laws paves the way for releasing "thousands of convicted smalltime drug dealers from prison". The move follows parliamentary approval of a decree earlier this month that overhauls Italy's drugs laws and reclassifies marijuana as a soft rather than a hard narcotic. The new law also effectively removes jail time as a sentence for smalltime dealers, offering community service and other options in its place. (See also: Council of Europe lauds Italian moves on prison overcrowding)
On February 12, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Fini-Giovanardi law setting out penalties related to the sale and possession of illegal drugs, was improperly approved, and abrogated the law. Since then, Italy has returned to previous regulations that imposed lighter sanctions on cannabis users. Prisoners' rights organisations argued that harsh drug laws have created a booming prison population in a system that is already overcrowded. Since January 2013, Italy's prisons have been under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights.
If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation. As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
At the 56th Session of the UN Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) this week in Geneva, the UN gender experts from around the world gather to examine the state performance on the rights of women including discussing strengthening the rule of law and access to justice in achieving universal human rights including those for women.
WASHINGTON — In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.