CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening


CICAD: Institutional Strengthening

The Importance of Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug Related Offenders


Vienna, Austria. March 11, 2015

In the last few years, many of the countries in the Americas have experienced a significant increase in the number of people incarcerated for drug-related offenses. The length of sentences for these offenses have an important relationship to prison overcrowding – a problem experienced by many countries in the region.

“We need to ensure that our penal systems are used as the last resource”, said Miguel Samper, Colombia´s Vice-Minister for Crime Policy and Restorative Justice. Colombia is one of the countries leading this effort at the regional level.

The importance of judicial and sentencing reform and alternatives to incarceration has been discussed by a growing number of countries in and outside of the Americas. This has been the subject of an interesting event held this year at the United Nations’ CND meeting in Vienna, in which high senior officials from Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States joined forces with CICAD/OAS Executive Secretariat to raise their concerns for developing and implementing alternatives to incarceration for drug related offenders.

During this event, United States ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli; Roberto Campa, Undersecretary of Prevention and Citizen Participation in Mexico´s Ministry of Interior; Miguel Samper, Colombia´s Vice-Minister for Crime Policy and Restorative Justice; Honorable Ivor Archie, Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago; and Art Wyatt, from the U.S. Department of Justice invited UN member states to participate in an ongoing discussion launched under the umbrella of the OAS through its Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). Ambassador Paul Simons, Executive Secretariat of CICAD opened the floor to other non OAS member states to reflect on the importance of this matter.

ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli said that “locking people up for minor drug offenses, especially individuals with untreated substance use disorders, does not work”. He added that “In promoting reform we are not suggesting that illegal behavior be ignored, or that drug use and sales are not serious matters. The point is that there are better alternatives than prison for people with low-level drug offenses”.

“While making sure that we do not cross the line in offering impunity, many countries in the hemisphere are moving ahead with offering feasible alternatives in different judicial-penal stages to small scale, non-violent drug related offenders”, said Ambassador Paul Simons. “It is a challenge to convince public opinion, especially in countries with high crime rates, of the importance of developing these alternatives in which police, the justice system and the health sector, for instance, work together to find creative solutions”, he added.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie stated that “In Trinidad and Tobago, the search for alternatives to incarceration is driven by a growing understanding of drug dependency or addiction as a public health issue and a critical examination of the social and economic environment”. This has been enhanced by the fact that “The Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal has recently declared mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offences to be arbitrary and unconstitutional, thereby giving judges greater flexibility in designing sanctions that are appropriate for the particular circumstances.

“Prioritization of the individual's punishment has caused serious social welfare costs; therefore, a paradigm shift is necessary today in the justice administration and law enforcement; a change that emphasizes the implementation of measures and penalties according to the individual and the type of misbehavior”, said Roberto Campa, Undersecretary of Prevention and Citizen Participation in Mexico´s Ministry of Interior.

Some OAS countries are working within the framework of their regional drug commission CICAD to present a menu of alternatives to incarceration for the U.N. special General Assembly on drugs in 2016.

CICAD Executive Secretary Paul Simons and UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov talking about the mutual cooperation between the two organizations.

updated on 3/13/2015 11:50:57 AM