The Ministry of Justice in Brazil announced the results of research that show that there are too many people behind bars in Brazil for drug trafficking. The Ministry subsequently recommended a review of drug legislation in light of the data and in support of human rights, seems to indicate that things are changing, or at least that change is in the air for drug policy in the nation. The study was a joint project of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, and the University of Brasília UnB, coordinated by Luciana Boiteux.
Almost 75 percent of the prison population in Bolivia remains in jails without a sentence. One third of the inmates are incarcerated due to the draconian character of Bolivian drug law, Law 1008 (Ley 1008). Although Evo Morales’ government announced that it would modify the law, the modifications have been centered around the regulation of coca cultivations, not on the tremendous repercussions of the law on the prison situation and the criminal justice system.
On September 29, 2010 the Associated Press (AP) published an article entitled Ecuador: Almost 3,000 Detained for Narco-Trafficking in Eight Months. The article, which states how many were arrested for possession and how many for international trafficking, insinuates that such large numbers of people detained on drug charges indicates that Ecuador is playing a key role in decreasing the amount of illicit drugs that are trafficked in the Andean region. However, the key questions to ask after reading the article are: who are these 3000 people and has their detention led to an actual decrease in the movement of drugs through Ecuador?
In the last few years, many Latin American countries face a dilemma – imported from Western countries – of conceding some if not all of its penitentiary services to large national and/or international companies. Such a step calls into question whether or not the State should hand over legal authority, including the duty of sanctioning, guarding and rehabilitating the offenders.
I spent a week over the summer lecturing in New Zealand where I had the chance to speak with a number of politicians, lawyers and health professionals who were engaging in a review of their drug and alcohol laws under the leadership of their Law Commission. This independent body has made sensible recommendations that would reduce drug and alcohol related harms by providing more just laws but is experiencing a similar stonewall response from their government as we have from ours in the UK.
(See also: Drug Law Reform: Lessons from the New Zealand Experience, Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 8, August 2010)
An unprecedented one-year comparative study of the drug laws and prison systems in eight Latin American countries - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay - will be released on December 9, 2010, by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America is the first major study to explore the way drug laws have contributed to prison overcrowding, analyze who is imprisoned on drug charges, and evaluate the impact of incarceration on people's lives, their families and their communities. Based on the available data, each country-study presents and analyzes statistics on the situation in the prisons, including levels of over-crowding; the percentage of prisoners behind bars on drug charges; the percentage of those who are consumers, low-level offenders or bigger traffickers; and the level of involvement in the drug trade of those in jail.
Within the international drugs market, Argentina is a “trans-shipment” country for cocaine. Recent decades have seen an increase in the consumption of narcotic and psychotropic substances in the country, and in recent years laboratories for the production of cocaine hydrochloride, though not on the scale of those in Colombia, Peru, or Bolivia, have begun to appear. The laws designed to prosecute drug crimes have failed to reduce the scale of trafficking and have resulted instead in the imprisonment of people in vulnerable situations.
The number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in Brazil has increased over the last 20 years, but this has not affected the availability or consumption of drugs. The study also shows that those who are locked up for drug offenses are mainly small-scale dealers who represent the lowest links in drug distribution operations, and not the large-scale wholesale traffickers who dominate the country’s illicit drug trafficking trade.
During the 20th century, drug policies in Colombia were increasingly repressive, largely ineffective, and heavily influenced by the international legal framework that was put in place. In effect, in just a few years Colombia went from having a scattered set of regulations, with an emphasis on prevention and medical-administrative treatment, to having legislation abundant in definitions of criminal conduct and sanctions that included the full drug cycle, from production through marketing and trafficking to consumption.
Ecuador was never a significant center of production or traffic of illicit drugs; nor has it ever experienced the social convulsions that can result from the existence of a dynamic domestic drug market. While Ecuador has become an important transit country for illicit drugs and precursor chemicals and for money laundering, the illicit drug trade has not been perceived as a major threat to the country’s national security. However, for nearly two decades, Ecuador has had one of the most draconian drug laws in Latin America.
Mexico is currently undergoing one of the worst crises in its history in terms of violence and insecurity. This crisis is directly related to the strengthening of organized crime in Mexico associated with drug trafficking, the divisions within the leading drug trafficking cartels, and their diversification. All this has resulted in a bloody struggle to control the key markets for the trafficking routes. The response of the Calderón administration has been a “war on organized crime” with two key elements: the growing use of the armed forces in public security tasks, and legal reforms aimed at more effectively fighting organized crime and, in particular, those involved in the trafficking, commerce, and supply of drugs.
Bolivia’s participation in the international drug-trafficking circuit was determined by a series of factors, ranging from the ancestral tradition of growing and consuming coca leaf, to the endemic poverty of the population (per capita GDP is less than US$ 1,000) and the structural weakness of state institutions.
Uruguay has one of the most advanced drug policies on the continent. In Uruguay, the law does not criminalize drug use or possession of drugs for personal use. In addition, in recent years its national drug policies have prioritized the prosecution of medium and large-scale traffickers rather than focusing resources and energy on small-time dealers who are easily replaced. This country study examines the scope of the legislation, the policies developed and how the normative and policy frameworks find expression in Uruguay’s prison system, with a special focus on the population incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
Peru is a major world producer of coca leaf and its derivatives. Since the year 2000, successive Peruvian administrations have followed a drug policy focused on supply reduction through interdiction and eradication strategies. The law on drugs does not punish drug use or drug possession for personal use by imprisonment. Nonetheless, the Peruvian authorities treat drug use as if it were criminal conduct. As a result, the police are overwhelmed, trials are delayed, and the prisons are filled.
Argentina is a “transit” country within the international drug market. The laws designed to prosecute drug crimes have failed to reduce the scale of trafficking and have resulted instead in the imprisonment of people in vulnerable situations.
The Bolivia chapter is based on a survey of 130 prisoners in the San Pedro men’s prison in the city of La Paz, supplemented by other official data. The study Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America, published today by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), concludes that Bolivia has one of the harshest drug laws in the region, combined with inadequate administration of the national prison system.
The number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in Brazil has increased over the last 20 years, but this has not affected the availability or consumption of drugs, reveals a study by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The study also shows that those who are locked up for drug offenses are mainly small-scale dealers who represent the lowest links in drug distribution operations, and not the large-scale wholesale traffickers who dominate the country’s illicit drug trafficking trade.
In Colombia, most of the people incarcerated for drug-related crime are merely small-scale participants in the drug trafficking networks, reveals the study Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Ecuador has one of the most severe and unfair drug laws of all the countries included in Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America, a comparative research study published today by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). From when it came into force in 1991, drug Law 108 has created an ongoing situation of disproportionate sentences that violate both human and civil rights. Although the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is in the process of developing a proposal to reform the drug law – after recognising the injustices it causes – the reform process advances at a slow pace and it is not yet known whether the process will continue. Therefore Law 108 is still in force.
Mexico’s security crisis’ most evident toll is the unacceptable level of violence linked to drug trafficking. However, a report published today by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) reveals that there are other damaging consequences, such as increased number of prisoners and the fact that the majority of the prisoners are small-scale offenders or users, and are from the most vulnerable sectors of society.