Report calls for overhaul of drug crime policies

June 19th, 2009 – The Massachusetts Bar Association, in a wide-ranging report released yesterday, called for the overhaul and war-on-drugsreexamination of law enforcement efforts to combat drug use and the penalties nonviolent drug users face under current laws.

The report, titled “The Failure of the War on Drugs: Charting a New Course for the Commonwealth,’’ says its recommendations could save the state $25 million annually through reduced minimum sentencing and the parole of nonviolent drug offenders, according to a statement from the bar association.

The report calls drug policies obsolete. “What appears to the task force as obsolete in state drug policy is the idea of using the criminal justice system to control what people consume,’’ it says.

The report points to four areas of widespread failure: the increase of arrests without the diminished use of illegal drugs, a disparate impact of drug laws on minority groups, economic effects for offenders looking for work with a criminal record, and high rates of recidivism.

In the short term, the report calls for reformulation of mandatory minimum sentences linked to drug crimes in school zones, diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug addiction, and more opportunities for work-release, parole, and “good conduct’’ credit.

Long-term goals include increasing addiction treatment programs, the reformulation of educational programs, and a better utilization of parole programs.

The task force was created in 2007 to study Massachusetts sentencing mandates and incarceration policies concerning drug addiction and related crimes committed by drug offenders. The task force was composed of 33 area lawyers, law enforcement officials, members of the judiciary, mental health professionals, physicians, social workers, and public policy advocates.

Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, a task force member, said in the bar association statement that the costs of dealing with the 2,500 inmates and pre-trial detainees in custody are unsustainable.

“Sheriffs have made great progress in creating programs that increase post-release opportunities and reduce recidivism, but we need much broader authority to properly classify eligible inmates to those programs,’’ Cabral said.

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