The Humans Rights Watch and ACLU report

A powerful report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union: Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union call on all states and the federal government to decriminalize the use and possession for personal use of all drugs and to focus instead on prevention and harm reduction. Until decriminalization has been achieved, we urge officials to take strong measures to minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of existing laws and policies. The costs of the status quo, as this report shows, are too great to bear.

The report takes a close look at individual cases in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York with some damning stories and statistics.

We interviewed over 100 people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York who were prosecuted for small quantities of drugs—in some cases, fractions of a gram—that were clearly for personal use. Particularly in Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors did more than simply pursue these cases—they often selected the highest charges available and went after people as hard as they could. […]

In 2009 (the most recent year for which national data is available), more than 99 percent of people convicted of drug possession in the 75 largest US counties pled guilty. Our interviews and data analysis suggest that in many cases, high bail—particularly for low-income defendants—and the threat of long sentences render the right to a jury trial effectively meaningless. […]

At year-end 2014, over 25,000 people were serving sentences in local jails and another 48,000 were serving sentences in state prisons for drug possession nationwide. The number admitted to jails and prisons at some point over the course of the year was significantly higher. As with arrests, there were sharp racial disparities. In 2002 (the most recent year for which national jail data is available), Black people were over 10 times more likely than white people to be in jail for drug possession. In 2014, Black people were nearly six times more likely than white people to be in prison for drug possession. […]

Our analysis of data from Florida, Texas, and New York, presented here for the first time, shows that the majority of people convicted of drug possession in these states are sentenced to some form of incarceration. Because each dataset is different, they show us different things. For example, our data suggests that in Florida, 75 percent of people convicted of felony drug possession between 2010 and 2015 had little to no prior criminal history. Yet 84 percent of people convicted of these charges were sentenced to prison or jail. In New York State, between 2010 and 2015, the majority of people convicted of drug possession were sentenced to some period of incarceration. At year-end 2015, one of sixteen people in custody in New York State was incarcerated for drug possession. Of those, 50 percent were Black and 28 percent Latino. In Texas, between 2012 and 2016, approximately one of eleven people in prison had drug possession as their most serious offense; two of every three people serving time for drug charges were there for drug possession; and 116 people had received life sentences for drug possession, at least seven of which were for an amount weighing between one and four grams.

So much for the constant harping by drug war apologists that people aren’t going to prison for mere drug possession.

Even for those not sentenced to jail or prison, a conviction for drug possession can be devastating, due to onerous probation conditions, massive criminal justice debt, and a wide range of restrictions flowing from the conviction (known in the literature as “collateral consequences”). […]

The sheer magnitude of drug possession arrests means that they are a defining feature of the way certain communities experience police in the United States. For many people, drug laws shape their interactions with and views of the police and contribute to a breakdown of trust and a lack of security. This was particularly true for Black and Latino people we interviewed. […]

While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use, the criminal law is not the solution. Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice. Rates of drug use fluctuate, but they have not declined significantly since the “war on drugs” was declared more than four decades ago. The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish. It punishes an activity that does not directly harm others.

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7 Responses to The Humans Rights Watch and ACLU report

  1. Freeman says:

    So much for the constant harping by drug war apologists that people aren’t going to prison for mere drug possession.

    Exactly. And we all know a few intellectual-honesty-in-absentia individuals who definitely know better and nevertheless spread that lie far and wide every chance they get. When pinned down, they admit their attempt to mislead with the “I was speaking only of Federal Prison, not incarceration in general” weasel-out when the obvious thrust of their argument was to suggest that drug enforcement in general focuses on distribution king-pins and ignores end-user possession “offenses”.

  2. DailyHeil says:

    The most read newspaper in the UK, and the 8th most popular news website in the world, has published an article implicitly supporting the extrajudicial killing of thousands of people in the Philippines.

    The Daily Mail, a newspaper which published support for Italian fascists and the Nazi regime in the 1930s, now seemingly supports the illegal and brutal bloodshed being imposed by yet another authoritarian leader, Rodrigo Duterte.

    In an article published online on October 23, the authors describe the recent death of a seven year-old girl in Manila, the Philippines capital. The headline roars that the young child was “killed by a drug user”, despite no trial having taken place and few circumstances of her death having been made public. Perhaps the Daily Mail is adopting Duterte’s guilty-until-proven-innocent approach?

    In the poorly-written article, authors Josh Hanrahan and Harry Pearl claim that “their [sic] was no escaping President Duterte’s reasoning behind the war [on drugs], as two parents mourned the loss of their innocent daughter at the alleged hands of a drug user”.

    By portraying people who use or misuse drugs as criminals worthy of violence and derision, publications like the Daily Mail are encouraging policymakers and the public to respond to a health issue with brutality and repression.

    Writers who produce such irresponsible journalism must realise the consequences of their dangerous rhetoric.

    But stigma aside, and it’s a shame that it even needs to be said: as one of the world’s most-read publications, the Daily Mail should not publish content that encourages the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people.

  3. Spirit Wave says:

    Drug prohibition addiction (the real drug epidemic) runs rampantly onwards at horrible societal expense (e.g. millions of non-rights-infringing, so innocent, lives ruined to varying degrees) — including granting supreme national leadership to hypocrisy and lies fueled by the in effect heavy theft of ample taxpayer money “to send the right message to children”.

    Certain Drug Prohibition (if you will) must ultimately promptly fall like the Berlin Wall, so the overwhelmingly minority cases of drug abuse affecting much less than 1% of at least our national population (instead of drug use determined scientifically conclusively — not weakly suggestively at best, at least in the case of cannabis and other psychedelics — harmless to date) are addressed as the health issue that they most certainly sanely are for genuine public safety.

  4. Servetus says:

    Human drug rights are finally being characterized by rights organizations as essential to a free and open society, a paradigm contrary to the very essence of a drug prohibition, and one which typically operates as a tool of repression and eliminationism. Drug law reformers will need their own tools if they are to confront human rights supervillains and superpredators such as Rodrigo Duterte, William J. Bennett, Robert L. DuPont, John P. Walters, Peter B. Bensinger, Mel and Betty Sembler, Sheldon Adelson, and a host of other drug war progenitors and schemers.

    The new tool, developed at the University College London, employs Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze and optimize human rights law trial proceedings and thereby better predict outcomes:

    The judicial decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have been predicted to 79% accuracy using an artificial intelligence (AI) method developed by researchers in UCL, the University of Sheffield and the University of Pennsylvania.

    The method is the first to predict the outcomes of a major international court by automatically analysing case text using a machine learning algorithm. The study behind it was published today in PeerJ Computer Science.

    “We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes. It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights,” explained Dr Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL Computer Science

    In developing the method, the team found that judgements by the ECtHR are highly correlated to non-legal facts rather than directly legal arguments, suggesting that judges of the Court are, in the jargon of legal theory, ‘realists’ rather than ‘formalists’. This supports findings from previous studies of the decision-making processes of other high level courts, including the US Supreme Court.[…] [emphasis added]

    AAAS Public Release: AI predicts outcomes of human rights trials

    The European Convention on Human Rights pdf here easily addresses prohibition’s human rights crimes, as it condemns torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

    A human drug rights case could be presented to the ECtHR condemning drug criminalization per se, which would, if successful, influence the rest of international drug law. U.S. prohibitionists are currently protected from foreign judicial proceedings because the U.S. doesn’t recognize the jurisdictions or the decisions made by certain international courts, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, it’s possible to charge violators of human rights in the United States, who in turn would be forced to avoid traveling to any location where the ICC or ECtHR have legal jurisdiction, lest they be recognized, arrested and tried.

    It would be very difficult for U.S. prohibitionists to maintain their own domestic legitimacy once they are wanted for prosecution in other countries for human rights crimes committed against U.S. drug consumers on U.S. soil. The induced international travel restrictions alone would give prohibitionists facing prosecution a taste of their own foul medicine.

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