New Toolkit Offers Promising Approach to Drug Offenses and Drug Law

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File Photo. Credit: Getty Images

By Darling Gonzalez and Noe Herrera

NEW YORK, NY – Global health organizations, Vital Strategies and the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (IIP) are launching a toolkit in an effort to help guide prosecutors’ approach to people who use drugs.

The toolkit, “A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use,” serves as a resource that assists in changing the trajectory of criminal cases that have led to the current overdose crisis as well as the mass criminalization in the U.S., the groups assert.

According to statistics, “It’s estimated that up to 65 percent of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder and at least 20 percent were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their offense.”

“A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use” not only sheds light on the issues of systemic racial injustice and mass incarceration, but also helps develop an evidence-based approach that centralizes health in criminal cases.

The new approach would not only serve to transform traditional drug prosecutions, but also help develop cultural change, include partnerships with prevention programs, and provide resources for prosecutors that can help shape the outcome of criminal cases across the country, the guide claims.

The reliance on the criminal system to deter drug overdoses is ineffective, notes the guide, suggesting 2020 has experienced a “staggering thirty percent increase” in overdoses from the year before.

The toolkit suggests five guiding principles.

The first is “enhancing access to voluntary treatment” and diluting the “role of the criminal system.”

Second, prosecutors must “learn and reckon” with the previous approaches, policies, and practices that dealt with drugs, including the “War on Drugs.”

Third, prosecutors should also change their overall goals for drug-related cases. Instead of solely focusing on “punishment and recidivism,” they should approach these cases with the intent to promote “health equity, social stability, and racial justice.”

The fourth objective relates to public policy. The policies must be “sustainable, in that they endure changes in leadership and decreased resources during economic downturns.”

Fifth, the guide also stresses discretion must be used. Prosecutors must evaluate each case “based on all of the circumstances, rather than by the crime charged.”

These recommendations “convey ideas informed by best practices, empirical evidence, and the collective wisdom of a working group of prosecutors, defense attorneys, advocates, people who have personally experienced incarceration for drug-related crimes, and public health experts from diverse jurisdictions.”

The guide overall promotes an understanding of drug-related crimes in a public-health lens and creates an effective method of reducing drug overdose and injustices in the criminal legal system.

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About The Author

Darling is an incoming junior at UCLA, majoring in English and Political Science with an interest in law. She is originally from Bell Gardens, California.

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One thought on “New Toolkit Offers Promising Approach to Drug Offenses and Drug Law”

  1. Alan Miller

    Prosecutors must evaluate each case “based on all of the circumstances, rather than by the crime charged.”

    Meaning what exactly?  There’s a lot of flowery language here, but few specifics.  It seems once again drug crimes are being blamed on the system, rather than on the dark reality of drug abuse itself.

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