Studies reveal the ineffectiveness of long prison sentences for nonviolent drug law offenders. The capacity of the judicial system is stretched far beyond its limits, resulting in slow procedures, lengthy pretrial custody and overcrowded prisons. Referral schemes or specialized drug courts are introduced offering offenders a choice between prison and treatment. The main objective is crime reduction by providing nonviolent offenders the chance to escape the vicious drugs-crime-prison cycle.

  • People deprived of their liberty for drug offenses: The social costs of drug policy

    New studies reveal increase in incarceration for drug offenses in the Americas
    Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (CEDD)
    November 2015

    The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) released a series of new studies showing that despite the current debate in Latin America on the need to rethink drug policy, mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses has increased across the region. The five thematic reports analyze the gap between discourse and reality, the criminalization of consumption, alternatives to incarceration, women imprisoned for drug offenses, and minors imprisoned for drugs in Latin America.

    Download the reports (Outside link)

  • Women Behind Bars

    Photo essays show the human cost of current drug policy in the Americas
    Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    May 2015

    Across Latin America, the effects of disproportionate punishment for low-level, non-violent drug offenses are particularly severe for women. To shed light on this issue, WOLA has created a photo essay to show the human cost of current drug policies in the Americas. The photos tell the stories of four women, each providing a unique insight into the deeply troubling cycle of poverty, low-level involvement, imprisonment, and recidivism into which women are too often pushed.

  • Technical Report on Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-Related Offenses

    Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) / Minister of Justice and Law - Colombia
    April 2015

    Convinced that responses to the drug problem should be comprehensive, centering on public health and human rights perspectives, the Government of Colombia, with the support of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), is committed to encouraging the debate on alternatives which allow for a focus on the individual, moving beyond approaches solely based on repression.

    Download the report (PDF - outside link)

  • Drug courts: Equivocal evidence on a popular intervention

    Joanne Csete & Denise Tomasini-Joshi
    Open Society Foundations (OSF)
    March 2015

    Some countries have adopted drug treatment courts as a way to reduce drug-related incarceration. Drug treatment courts, also called “drug courts,” are meant to offer court-supervised treatment for drug dependence for some persons who would otherwise go to prison for a drug-related offense.

    Download the briefing (PDF - outside link)

  • On the death penalty for drugs

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    The Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released today, calls upon States that ‘continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences to consider abolishing the death penalty for such offences’. The report highlights the widening rift between countries on the issue of the death penalty for drug offences. These tensions are set to surface as Member States convene in Vienna next week at the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN policy making body on drug control issues.

    application-pdfDownload the full statement

  • The United States rethinks draconian drug sentencing policies

    Elizabeth Lincoln
    WOLA/IDPC Policy Briefing
    January 2015

    Across the Americas, an unprecedented debate on drug policy reform is underway. While a regional consensus on what form those reforms should take remains elusive, there are at least two issues where consensus is growing: the need to address drug use as a public health, rather than criminal, issue and the need to promote alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and ensure proportionality in sentencing for drug-related crimes. Draconian drug laws were often adopted in Latin American countries with the encouragement – if not outright diplomatic, political and economic pressure – from the U.S. government.

    Download the briefing (PDF)

  • Moving Away from Drug Courts

    Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use
    Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
    May 2014

    Drug courts have spread across the country, yet available research does not support their continued expansion. Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and fail to help those struggling with drug problems. The drug court model must be corrected to play a more effective role in improving the wellbeing of people involved in the criminal justice system who suffer substance misuse problems – while preserving scarce public safety resources.

    Download the report (PDF)

  • The unintended negative consequences of the 'war on drugs'

    Mass criminalisation and punitive sentencing policies
    Penal Reform International (PRI)
    March 2013

    Criminalisation of drug users, excessive levels of imprisonment, and punitive sentencing practices, including mandatory sentencing, the death penalty and enforced ‘drug detention centres’, are some of the unintended negative consequences of the 50 year ‘war on drugs’, a policy with direct impact on the vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities and women. This PRI briefing paper discusses these consequences in detail and sets out what parliamentarians can do about it.

    application-pdfDownload the briefing (PDF)

  • Addicted to punishment

    The disproportionality of drug laws in Latin America
    Jorge Parra Norato Rodrigo Uprimny Diana Esther Guzmán
    January 2013

    In Latin America, trafficking cocaine so it can be sold to someone who wants to use it is more serious than raping a woman or deliberately killing your neighbor. While it may seem incredible, that is the conclusion of a rigorous study of the evolution of criminal legislation in the region, which shows that countries’ judicial systems mete out harsher penalties for trafficking even modest amounts of drugs than for acts as heinous as sexual assault or murder.

    application-pdfDownload the report (PDF)

  • The Death Penalty for Drug Offences

    Tipping the Scales for Abolition
    Patrick Gallahue, Ricky Gunawan, Fifa Rahman, Karim El Mufti, Najam U Din & Rita Felten
    Harm Reduction International (HRI)
    November 2012

    Executions for drug offences have escalated in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia against a trend towards abolition globally, reveals a new Harm Reduction International (HRI) report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences, Global Overview 2012: Tipping the Scales for Abolition. The report reveals that over 540 people were executed for drug offences in Iran in 2011, a trend that continues in 2012 and represents a five-fold increase since 2008. At least 16 people were executed for drugs in Saudi Arabia in the first six months of 2012, compared with one person in 2011.

    application-pdfDownload the report (PDF)


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