Welcome from the Secretary General

 

Washington D.C.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this High-level Dialogue on Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug Related offences.

More than three and a half million people find themselves imprisoned in our hemisphere and at least one third are in prison because of drug-related crimes. This situation has exacerbated the problem of prison overcrowding, a problem faced by many countries in the region. Within this context, drug policy has also come into conflict with the guarantee and respect of human rights. This is an issue of particular concern to the OAS, not only in regard to the general population, but specifically women and youth, who find themselves disproportionately subject to this situation.

It is, therefore, necessary to understand crime as a social phenomenon, and as such, a state's intervention must begin with an analysis of causality. We cannot generate adequate policies without understanding the causes of criminal behavior. The reflexive use of criminal law, which may manifest in the proliferation of new crimes, increasing penalties disproportionately, and the indiscriminate imprisonment of a large number of offenders, can provide an inadequate response to a complex and dynamic problem.

The strategy of addressing all levels of the drug trafficking chain solely through the application of criminal law has overloaded the efforts and resources of the justice system, and has failed to definitively stop these criminal organizations. The majority of individuals incarcerated for drug-related crimes are not high-level drug traffickers, but those in the lower tiers of the supply chain - easily arrested, prosecuted, and, more importantly, replaced. Therefore, we must make an effort to find alternatives to incarceration for many of these individuals, who tend to live in conditions of vulnerability. In doing so, we must reserve the right to punishment when required, but also safeguard human rights. "More justice for more people" requires the search for balance.

Countries in the region have already begun to gradually promote alternative responses to a punitive approach, especially in relation to consumption and possession for personal consumption, understanding that drug use is an issue that has to be addressed from a public health perspective and limited resources must be used efficiently.

Justice and criminal law have been strong allies for centuries, but this alliance now faces complex issues within societies, requiring multiple balanced responses. The underlying problems of crime must be addressed through other approaches, such as health, ensuring a comprehensive response from the justice system.

The OAS has dedicated this space to discussing alternatives to incarceration, so we can reflect on this issue and further the range of options available to help enrich our understanding of one of the most serious aspects of the drug problem.



Luis Almagro Lemes
OAS Secretary General


updated on 10/1/2015 11:28:11 AM