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Resolution on Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform

Posted by JCPA  

06:40 PM Oct 16, 2015

Adopted at the 2015 JCPA Town Hall

Over the last four decades, this country has pursued a drug policy that has done little to curtail usage and has had significant negative impact on our society. Drug arrests comprise half the arrests in our criminal justice system, and approximately half of those are marijuana arrests—the vast majority of which are for simple possession for personal use. There are more marijuana arrests each year in this country than for all violent crimes combined. Overall levels of incarceration in the U.S. have increased dramatically since the 1970s.

Arrests and prosecutions for drug offenses fall vastly disproportionately on African-Americans and Latinos, despite usage among Caucasians at similar rates. Recent police/citizen encounters resulting in the deaths of black men in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities have highlighted the degree to which our law enforcement systems focus disproportionately on minority communities. The events in Ferguson and Baltimore underscore the dangers of continuing our policing emphasis on drug possession, since the drastic increases in arrests for drug possession and other low-level non-violent crimes have fueled the increase in negative police-community interactions.

Long sentences and mandatory incarceration for minor drug offenses, including marijuana possession, have not significantly deterred drug use or reduced addiction rates, which are in any event low for marijuana compared with other drugs—both legal and illegal. Instead, mass arrests and incarceration have removed large numbers of people from productive engagement in their communities. Criminalization degrades the conditions that can aid in recovery for people who are addicted—such as access to treatment and support networks, gainful employment, and education. Mass incarceration is a significant contributing factor to poverty, income inequality, and family instability. African-American and Latino leaders with whom we serve in coalitions routinely point to racial disparities in the criminal justice system as one of their highest priorities. Major civil rights organizations regularly call for changes in drug laws as one strategy to address these concerns and have backed efforts in federal and state legislatures to change policy on marijuana in particular.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes:

  • Unrest in American cities is a matter of tremendous concern, as is the sentiment among minority communities that our nation’s law enforcement systems unfairly result in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of minorities to a disproportionate degree. The huge investment of law enforcement resources devoted to arrests and prosecutions for minor drug offenses have produced little societal benefit, while the cost and negative fallout are extensive.
  • Redirecting the focus of our law enforcement systems away from minor drug offenses would free up resources to combat more serious and dangerous crimes, resulting in improved public safety, reduced perceptions among minority communities that the system is biased against them, and a fairer and more effective criminal justice system. Treating personal marijuana use as a public health issue and not a criminal justice one is a more appropriate and effective way to address the issue.
  • Among the possible reform measures that may warrant study and consideration are decriminalization; community program diversion; and greater government investment in services such as drug counseling, treatment for mental health issues, and other rehabilitation and social supports services. Avoidance of incarceration should be the default approach for low-level drug possession.
  • Incarceration should be reserved for more serious offenses. And, for persons who are incarcerated, adequate funding for, and increased access to, re-entry programs can assist their successful reintegration into the community, foster public safety by reducing recidivism, and promote responsible citizenship. Reentry planning should include educational programs and job training, access to medical and mental health care, and continuing substance abuse treatment where appropriate. Supportive programs should be provided before and after release from incarceration, to ease transition into the workforce. Denying access to public assistance, food stamps, subsidized housing, professional licensure, student loans, and other programs to individuals who would otherwise qualify is short-sighted and counterproductive.

The community relations field should:

  • Urge state and federal government agencies and officials to evaluate and support where appropriate measures to replace criminalization with responsible regulatory policies. These include but are not limited to community program diversion; and greater government investment in services such as drug counseling, treatment for mental health issues, and other rehabilitation and social support services.
  • Urge state and federal government agencies and legislators to adopt policies and legislation designed to reverse mass incarceration, including but not limited to reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses; eliminating certain enhancements for prior nonviolent offenses; granting judges greater sentencing discretion; pretrial and bail reform; ending the practice of incarceration for minor or technical violations of parole or probation conditions; and offering new pathways to reduce prison sentences (such as participation in community-based treatment programs for drug and alcohol addictive disorders and mental health conditions, early release programs, and alternatives to incarceration). A current example of this type of legislation is the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 123).
  • Advocate and encourage our coalition partners to advocate in favor of recognition and adoption of policies based on the following principles:
    • Long sentences and mandatory incarceration for minor drug offenses, including marijuana possession, are not effective to deter drug use or reduce addiction rates. Avoidance of incarceration should be the default approach for low-level drug possession. Incarceration should be reserved for more serious offenses;
    • Redirecting the focus of our law enforcement systems away from minor drug offenses can serve to free up resources to combat more serious and dangerous crimes, resulting in improved public safety, reduced perceptions among minority communities that the system is biased against them, and a fairer and more effective criminal justice system;
    • Treating personal marijuana use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue, is a more appropriate and effective way to address issues associated with drug use;
    • Patients should have full access to marijuana for medical uses, and researchers should have full access for research purposes;
    • For persons who are incarcerated, reentry planning should include educational programs and job training, access to medical and mental health care, and continuing substance abuse treatment where appropriate. Supportive programs should be provided before and after release from incarceration, to ease transition into the workforce; and
    • Denial of access to public assistance, food stamps, subsidized housing, professional licensure, student loans, and other programs to individuals who would otherwise qualify is unacceptable.
    • Federal laws should be modified to reduce the numerous legal conflicts and impediments for states that have legalized medicinal marijuana or decriminalized or legalized marijuana.

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