Introduction - Synopsis

 

HIGH-LEVEL DIALOGUE ON ALTERNATIVES TO
INCARCERATION FOR DRUG-RELATED OFFENSES
Washington, D.C. 1-3 December, 2015

Executive Summary
 


In recent years, many countries in the Americas have experienced a significant rise in the number of people entering their criminal justice systems and being incarcerated for low-level, drug-related offenses.  This has created enormous social and economic pressures, and led to the neglect of crucial perspectives on health and human rights.  The growth of the prison population incarcerated for drug-related offenses is related to the reflexive use of criminal law and a punitive tendency towards the expansion of the codification of criminal sentences relating to drug offenses. This includes the significant increase in the number of criminal activities associated with drugs, as well as the increased sentences given for drug-related offenses.  Additionally, this phenomenon has occurred in the context of the growing use of pre-trial detention, a tool frequently used for low-level, drug-related offenses.

The trends identified above illustrate that criminal law and justice policy for low-level, drug-related offenses should be refocused on a less repressive and more preventive approach. This would allow for the creation of policies and legal norms that better reflect social and legal realities and result in the rehabilitation of offenders, a reduction in prison overcrowding, a reduction in the levels of these crimes, and a more efficient use of public resources.

Alternatives to incarceration can be a viable policy option for states if they include the adoption of mechanisms or measures which permit a human rights and public health-based response. The goal being to provide a more rational and proportional response to individuals involved in the criminal justice and penitentiary systems for such offenses. Alternatives to incarceration are defined as those measures – whether legal reforms, strategies, programs, or policies – intended to reduce criminal prosecution, limit the use of incarceration as a punishment, or decrease the time of actual deprivation of liberty in the event of incarceration for individuals who have committed drug-related offenses.

The most important goal of these alternatives is the social reintegration of low-level, drug-related offenders. This must occur through an interinstitutional effort which combines various processes (justice, health, education, training, job opportunities, and other social and administrative services) so that the results are sustainable.

OAS Member States have made great efforts to elevate this discussion to the level necessary to progress in the search of concrete, effective, and efficient policy options.  These include:

  • In 2013, by mandate of the Heads of State, the OAS issued a report entitled "The Drug Problem in the Americas." Among the challenges identified in the report was the increase in prison populations for crimes related to drugs and the consequent prison conditions; the lack of available treatment and the limited access to social services for dependent drug users, as well as the vulnerabilities and challenges exposed to various social groups, such as youth, women and low-income populations.
  • The Declaration of Antigua, Guatemala.  In their 2010 declaration, “For a comprehensive policy against the world drug problem in the Americas,” OAS Foreign Ministers “[encouraged] Member States, in accordance with their domestic law, to continue strengthening measures and policies, including a gender perspective, as appropriate, to reduce overcrowding in prisons, while promoting greater access to justice for all, and establishing penalties that are reasonable and proportionate to the severity of the crime, and supporting alternatives to incarceration…”
  • The resolution at the OAS Special General Assembly in Guatemala (AG/RES. (XLVI-E/14)1).  This 2014 resolution affirmed the necessity to, “Promote, where appropriate and in accordance with domestic laws, alternatives to incarceration, taking into account, inter alia, a gender perspective, the severity of the crime, and the appropriate sentencing, with the view to deterring crime, achieving the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of incarcerated persons in order to ensure the well-being of individuals and communities, and reducing overcrowding in prisons, with full respect for human rights.”
  • The May, 2015 Technical Report on Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-Related Offenses.  To advance the aforementioned efforts, the government of Colombia, then holding the presidency of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), proposed the creation of a working group to generate proposals for alternatives to incarceration for drug-related offenses. It was charged with identifying and analyzing alternatives to incarceration on the basis of existing evidence and with a view to strengthening public health and privileging human rights.

The OAS continues to make significant efforts to strengthen the capacity of its Member States in the design of suitable responses to the problem of drugs in the Hemisphere, and it does so in the framework of its own meetings between and with Members States, as well as through a variety of events organized in the lead up to UNGASS 2016.  The path ahead remains long, and this discussion and debate must continue. We, therefore, look forward to seeing you on this occasion.


updated on 10/16/2015 9:20:53 AM