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Advocates say Rockefeller drug laws remain too harsh

Albany, NY
United States
The Ithaca Journal (NY)

The Sentencing Project Releases New Report: Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006

[Courtesy of the Sentencing Project] Dear Friend: The Sentencing Project has released a new study reporting growing momentum for sentencing reform designed to limit prison population growth and reduce ballooning corrections budgets in the United States. Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006 finds that at least 22 states have enacted sentencing reforms in the past three years. The report further identifies that the most popular approach for reducing prison crowding -- implemented by 13 states -- was the diversion of low-level drug offenders from prison to drug treatment programs. Additional policy changes included: -Expansion of alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. -Parole and probation reforms designed either to reduce time served in prison or to provide supervision options to reduce the number of revocations to prison. -Broader sentencing reform, such as modifying controversial mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006 argues that in order to build on these positive legislative developments, lawmakers must continue to enact evidence-based criminal justice policies. Recommendations of The Sentencing Project urge that policymakers: -Expand the use of drug treatment as a sentencing option. -Utilize intermediate sanctions for technical violations of parole and probation. -Repeal mandatory minimum sentences. -Reconsider sentence lengths. Follow this link to download a copy of the report, The Sentencing Project 514 10th St, NW Suite 1000 Washington, DC 20004
Washington, DC
United States

Harm Reduction Coalition statement: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Harm Reduction Coalition Statement: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, 2007 The HIV/AIDS crisis among African Americans demands increased commitment, innovative strategies, and coordinated action by government, community-based organizations, civic and religious groups, and the African American community. African Americans make up nearly half of all AIDS cases in the United States, and over half of new HIV diagnoses. The majority of women and infants living with HIV are African American. The most striking feature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans is the role of structural factors that drive high HIV prevalence.� A range of studies indicate that African Americans across various categories - adult and adolescent heterosexuals, men who have sex with men, injection drug users - do not have higher rates of sexual and drug-related risks than whites. African Americans are just as, if not more, likely as whites to use condoms, limit numbers of sexual partners, avoid sharing syringes, and test for HIV. Higher rates of HIV among African Americans do not reflect higher levels of risk: the narrow focus in HIV prevention on individual behavior change has failed African Americans by ignoring the structural context of poverty and homelessness, disparities in education and health care, and high rates of incarceration among blacks. The cumulative and reinforcing impact of these social and political forces create a vortex of vulnerability directly responsible for the current HIV crisis among African Americans. Solutions to the African American HIV/AIDS epidemic must ultimately recognize and redress the lethal effect of these structural disparities. Such efforts demand courage and commitment; the recommendations below require significant investments matched with political will and leadership. Yet failure to act has already exacted too high a price. We cannot afford delay. Changing the Course of the African American HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Ways Forward Reduce the high rate of incarceration among black males. Research and experience demonstrate clear links between HIV prevalence and high rates of incarceration among African Americans. Incarceration results in disruption of families and communities, social exclusion and diminished life opportunities, and pervasive despair and fatalism - an ideal environment for HIV to flourish. Draconian drug laws and law enforcement practices targeting African Americans lead to astronomical numbers of black men caught up in the criminal justice system, with catastrophic results for public health, civil rights, and social justice. We must reverse this tide by challenging mandatory minimum sentencing that removes judicial discretion, disparities in sentencing laws between crack and cocaine, and racial profiling in marijuana arrests. We must broaden alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug-related offenses, including drug courts and diversion to treatment. Combat stigma, promote HIV testing, and reduce disparities in HIV care and treatment. Interlocking forms of stigma surrounding HIV, drug use, and sex and sexuality perpetuate a climate of silence, fear, and self-hatred that deters HIV testing and disclosure. Disparities in health care access and quality and the scarcity of non-judgmental, culturally competent HIV clinicians result in poor HIV care and greater mortality among African Americans, further reinforcing stigma and hopelessness. We must simultaneously address the cultural and systemic barriers to HIV testing, care and treatment among African Americans. Increase knowledge, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Research indicates that sexually transmitted infections facilitate HIV transmission, and that rates of these infections are higher in African Americans. Efforts to address sexually transmitted infections include education on symptom recognition, screening in community settings, and expedited partner therapy (where patients deliver treatment to their partners). Increase availability of syringe exchange programs. Syringe exchange is highly effective at preventing HIV without increasing drug use. Greater access to sterile syringes among African Americans requires new and expanded syringe exchange programs and improved access to addiction treatment. The African American community and leadership has largely set aside historical debates and divisions around syringe exchange. Now, the federal government must act to lift the federal ban on syringe exchange funding; and criminal laws against possession of syringes and drug paraphernalia must be rescinded as inconsistent with public health. Address structural determinants of risk that fuel the epidemic. We cannot successfully implement HIV interventions in the black community without first addressing the structural, social and economic factors that perpetuate marginalization and risk. We must eradicate poverty by promoting economic stability and reducing income inequalities, providing quality education and job creation, ensuring universal health care, and creating affordable housing. These efforts must be grounded in a broad political mandate to address racism, gender inequality, homophobia and classism in the United States. Harm Reduction Coalition, February 2007
United States

WY: Meth-pregnancy bill criticized

Cheyenne, WY
United States
Billings Gazette (MT)

Press Release - Methamphetamine Conference Controversy Raised in Salt Lake City: National leaders and researchers hold each other to account

For Immediate Release February 2, 2007 Contact: Luciano Colonna, Tel: 801-635-7736 Methamphetamine Conference Controversy Raised in Salt Lake City: National leaders and researchers hold each other to account SALT LAKE CITY: Mayor Rocky Anderson demanded that America's leaders stop playing politics with people's lives as he opened the 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis. The conference brings together people of color, researchers, treatment providers, LGBT activists, and law enforcement professionals for frank discussions about methamphetamine's impact on communities and families. This is the second time the Harm Reduction Project, a Salt Lake City nonprofit agency, has convened this esteemed group. "This nation's response to drug use shows a lack of integrity and imagination," said Anderson in his speech welcoming the more than 800 participants to Salt Lake City. Anderson called for treatment on demand and for fiscal responsibility from elected officials who must promote treatment rather than incarceration. Mayor Anderson's welcome followed an emotional and highly charged address by HRP Executive Director Luciano Colonna who asked participants to take responsibility for their role in failing American families when it comes to confronting drug abuse. "You will be challenged and you will be uncomfortable," said Colonna, "but we cannot deny our culpability in making the criminal justice system the fallback strategy in America's failed war on drugs." Colonna called on researchers and treatment providers to play a more active role in changing public policy and response to drug use. Colonna and Anderson received standing ovations from the participants. Dr. Patricia Case of Fenway Community Health brought humor and some bewildered head-shaking when she presented evidence of America's long infatuation with stimulants. Case showed slides of advertisements from the 1950's promoting amphetamines for weight loss and as "mother's little helper." Youth activist Caitlin Padgett from Vancouver Canada finished the morning's presentation with a dynamic call to action on behalf of young people. After a full day of presentations ranging from replacement therapy - a controversial approach to meth addiction - to an interactive panel about treatment for women featuring Utah expert Kathy Bray. The day wrapped up with a special screening of "Rock Bottom" an explicit film about meth in the gay community. The conference continues through Saturday. A complete program and speaker list is available at and ###
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Treatment Not Jail: California Governor Proposes Cutting Proposition 36 Drug Treatment Funds

As part of his 2007-08 budget released this week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting funding for the state's treatment-not-jail program, Proposition 36. Under the six-year-old program, people charged with drug possession can be diverted into drug treatment instead of being sent to prison. Some 140,000 people have entered treatment under Prop. 36, saving the state an estimated $1.3 billion dollars in prison costs.

Passed by the voters in 2000, Prop. 36 mandated that the state allocate $120 million a year for its first five years. Last year, the first year in which the legislature had to set funding, it approved $145 million for Prop. 36. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget is thus a $25 million dollar decrease from the previous year. But it is almost $90 million less than the $209.3 million the California Coalition of Alcohol and Drug Associations estimated is needed to "adequately address the treatment needs."

To make matters worse, Schwarzenegger's proposal would funnel $60 million of the $120 million into the year-old Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program (OTP), which requires counties to come up with matching funds before they can get any of the state funds. Cash-starved county governments will have to come up with the money or they will lose out. The counties have already said they will challenge that requirement, and the measure could lead to lawsuits by counties or drug offenders if treatment is not made available.

Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts come despite a UCLA analysis showing that taxpayers saved $2.50 for every dollar invested in the program. Look for a funding battle in Sacramento over Prop. 36 this year.

Hardened addicts given free heroin in secret NHS trial (The Times, UK)

United States

Sentencing: Public Hearings on Illinois SMART Act Pack 'Em In

Supporters of an Illinois bill that would allow judges to divert low-level drug offenders into county "drug schools" instead of jail or prison are holding a series of public hearings across the state to drum up renewed support for the stalled measure. If the turnout in Chicago is any indication, public interest is high.

Illinois House Bill 4885, the Substance Abuse Management Addressing Recidivism Through Treatment (SMART) Act", would appropriate $3.5 million to allow state's attorneys' offices to open drug schools where low-level drug offenders could have their cases dismissed and arrest records expunged after completing an eight-hour course and -- depending on a mental health and addiction assessment -- possibly undergoing drug treatment.

The bill would allow counties to opt to follow the example set in Cook County (Chicago), where District Attorney Dick Devine pioneered the drug school idea. In the Cook County Drug School program, first-time drug possession offenders are offered mental health screenings, addiction assessment, and an eight-hour drug education program, and some -- depending on their assessment -- may be ordered into drug treatment. The county spends roughly $350 per person per year on the program, compared to the more than $21,000 it costs to incarcerate someone for a year.

After being introduced in January, the bill stalled in the legislature this fall, but supporters were able to pass a resolution calling on legislators to participate in a series of public hearings on alternatives to imprisonment and issue a report on those hearings. Hearings have already been held in Champaign, East St. Louis, and Chicago, with more set later this month for Decatur, Rockford, Rock Island, and Waukegan.

At the October 25 meeting in the Ashburn Lutheran Church in Chicago, the Southwest News Herald reported that "hundreds of people crowded into the church for the hearing, with some coming on buses from as far away as Rockford." Convened by the Developing Justice Coalition, a statewide alliance of community-based social service and religious organizations working on issues such as sentencing reform, prisoner re-entry, and public, the hearing featured several dozen speakers, including many ex-prisoners who said their drug arrest records had dogged them ever since. The coalition was organized by the Safer Foundation, which works to help ex-prisoners re-enter society.

Turnout for the hearing was "phenomenal," said Ashburn Lutheran pastor the Rev. Pam Challis. "It has been a long time since we had to put chairs in the aisles," said Challis, looking around at the standing-room only crowd after the meeting. "It is indicative of the fact that this is needed."

"I am a product of incarceration. I was in jail twice, and while I was incarcerated I learned absolutely nothing," said drug educator Armando Fox. After the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council gave him "a second chance" he was able to turn his life around. "Sometimes the choices we make aren't always the best, but we really shouldn't just throw people in prison. They don't learn anything."

But with its current drug laws, the state of Illinois throws quite a few people in prison. It spends nearly $250 million a year on its prison budget.

Attending the hearing were state Representatives Mary Flowers (D-31st) and Esther Golar (D-6th). Flowers, a 23-year veteran of the legislature, accused the body of passing "bad legislation" with its zero tolerance drug laws that set strict sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. "Some of those crimes should have been probational. The only thing we did was dig ourselves a bigger hole at your expense," she said.

The legislature is out of session now, but the SMART Act will probably come to a vote in January. Advocates are doing all they can do to show lawmakers there is broad public support, and packing hundreds of people into a hearing on a relatively obscure piece of legislation is a good start.

Troubled Iraq War Vets Suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 2, 2006 CONTACT: Tony Newman, (646) 335-5384, Tommy McDonald (646) 335-2242 Troubled Iraq War Vets Suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Denied Treatment by the VA due to Past Transgressions More than 1 in 3 Returning from Iraq Seeking Help for Mental Heath Problems, According to US Army Report Drug Policy Alliance to Congress: Support our Troops! Offer Compassion and Treatment, Not a Jail Cell to Veterans who Self-medicate with Drugs A November 2 front page story in USA Today reported that Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are being punished for misconduct and dismissed from the military without receiving medical benefits needed to treat the disorder. Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who supervises the legal defense of Marines, told USA Today that scores of Marines are being dismissed without receiving much-needed benefits. “When classic symptoms of post-tramatic stress disorder arise—including alcoholoism and drug abuse—the veterans are punished for their behavior… The Marine Corps has created these mental health issues” in combat veterans, Vokey told USA Today. “And then we just kind of kick them out into the streets.” Substance abuse experts and veterans groups warn that soldiers dealing with such problems are known to have higher rates of substance abuse problems. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 76 percent of veterans experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems. The Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that advocates for a public health approach to dealing with drugs and drug misuse, urges compassion and treatment for the veterans who self-medicate with drugs because of the trauma of war. “It is easy for people to buy a bumper sticker and demand that we ‘Support the Troops,’ but if we are going to walk the talk, we better offer treatment—not a jail cell—when we help our brothers and sisters heal from the damages of war,” said Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “U.S. prisons are already filled with nonviolent drug law offenders, many serving long sentences for small amounts of drugs. Service members who are incarcerated and separated from their families because of a drug addition will be yet more ‘collateral damage’ of this war.” The Drug Policy Alliance advocates for treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders and hopes that legislators will take this opportunity to promote treatment and assistance for vets who are struggling with addiction problems. Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance plans to advance legislation in 2007 that would offer substance abuse treatment instead of jail for veterans. “No matter who controls the House and Senate, whether you are Republican or Democrat, pro- or anti-war, we all need to offer compassion and assistance to our soldiers who are suffering due to fighting in this war,” Piper said.
United States

Sentencing: Arizona Legislative Initiative Would Roll Back Reforms When It Comes to Methamphetamine Offenders

A decade ago, voters in Arizona approved a groundbreaking initiative, Proposition 200, "The Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act of 1996", which barred judges from sending first- or second-time drug possession offenders to prison. Instead, drug possessors are placed on probation and sometimes sent to drug court. But now, the Arizona legislature, concerned with the demon drug du jour, wants to treat those convicted of methamphetamine possession differently -- to be sent to jail or prison instead of getting probation and drug court.
Arizona State Prison Complex - Safford
On the November ballot is Proposition 301, an initiative sponsored not by the voters but by the state legislature. If Arizona legislators wanted to go on the record as partially undoing Prop. 200, they could have voted to amend it. Instead, they crafted this proposition and dropped it in the laps of the voters.

"Meth is highly addictive and destructive," wrote Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Andrew Thomas in a ballot argument for the measure. "There is a strong connection between meth abuse and identity theft. Phoenix has the second highest rate of methamphetamine abuse of all the nation's cities, as evidenced by drug tests done on arrestees... This proposition will change the law so that people arrested for possession of meth can be sentenced to jail or prison after their first conviction for drug possession. Currently, meth users can be incarcerated only after their second or third conviction for drug possession, or if they refuse to participate in treatment. Time in jail is often the only thing that offers meth addicts a secure, drug-free environment and an opportunity to reflect on their situation."

Proposition 301 singles out meth offenders for special treatment, and it does so on the basis of inaccurate ballot language -- language that survived a court challenge not on the merits, but because the challenge came too late. In the Arizona Legislative Council's analysis of the initiative, which is part of the ballot, the council informs voters that: "This change in the law will allow judges to use a jail term as a condition of probation to force methamphetamine users to comply with court mandated drug treatment and rehabilitation."

That language is misleading at best. While under current law, judges may not sentence people to jail or prison for first- or second-time drug possession offenses, they can put them on probation and send them to jail for violating it, as in, for instance, not complying with court-ordered drug treatment programs.

"Their spin is that this thing is simply a tool to force people to stay in treatment," said Caroline Isaacs of Meth Free Arizona -- "No" on 303. "That is completely contradictory to the bill's actual language," she told the Tucson Weekly last week. "Everybody is rightfully concerned about the extent of meth use in our community. But Proposition 301 would take us in exactly the wrong direction, in terms of dealing with our meth problem. To say the solution is to not provide treatment to people is absolutely backwards."

It is not just activists like Isaacs who oppose the measure. Pima County Superior Court Judge Barbara Sattler, who presides over the county's drug court program, told the Weekly "there is a lot of misconception concerning Proposition 301... It is true that first- and second-time offenders who possess small amounts of drugs (be it meth, cocaine, heroin, etc.) cannot be initially sent to prison or jail. However, if they violate treatment orders or get arrested for other felonies or drug offenses, they can be sent to jail or prison. Second-time offenders can get jail time up front as a condition of probation (although again they can not go to prison up front). Violating a treatment order means failing to drug test, testing positive for drugs or failing to attend treatment, whether that is going to counseling or failing to live in a halfway house catering to drug offenders," Judge Sattler wrote. "You can also go to jail or prison if you reject probation or refuse drug treatment."

A win for Proposition 301 would be a disaster, wrote Judge Sattler. "Incarcerating people keeps them off the streets, but when they come out, if they have not had treatment, they will begin using again. If this prop is passed, it will cost the taxpayers lots of money and clog prison with nonviolent addicts. While there is some drug treatment, in jail or prison, it is minimal and available only to a small percentage of prisoners.

"I think the bill is very short-sighted in targeting meth only," she continued. "While meth is certainly a horrible, highly addictive drug, addicts can be treated. Drug courts and other programs have had success. In the past, other drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine were the 'meth' of their time. The solution is not to target one drug. In a few years, there will be a new drug that takes the place of meth."

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