High Level Dialogue on Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-related Offenses in the Americas

The exclusive use of incarceration may represent an inadequate response to a complex and growing challenge

In the framework of the Inter-American drug abuse control commission CICAD a high level dialogue on the Alternatives to incarceration for drug related offences has been taking place from December 1 to 3, 2015 in Washington. The event featured sessions dedicated to debating the major topics, study trip and education.

Under the leadership of the Secretary General Luis Almagro, the Organization of American States promoted an open debate on drug policy in the hemisphere.

Evidence shows that the exclusive use of the criminal justice system, the disproportionality of sentences, and incarceration as the only response to the problem may represent an inadequate and inefficient response to a complex, and growing, challenge. For this reason it is important to discuss alternatives.

Another important theme is the proportionality in sentencing. According to the 2013 Declaration of Antigua, Member states might offerdifferent sentencing options according to the specificities of the crime.  The application of justice, the way policies are designed, and imperatives of existing legislation are all crucial considerations in this debate.

Increasing attention should be paid to juvenile offenders, offering policies and specialized measures to administer justice in cases involving juvenile criminal offenders – including conflict prevention, restorative and transformative justice with a focus on social integration.

Furthermore, programs and interventions under judicial supervision have been discussed, analyzingdifferent strategies and actions which, using judicial supervision, provide additional responses to prison for certain drug-related offenses (mainly those involving offenders with substance use disorders).

One of the common aims of the debate is to support social integration for drug-related offenders, promoting an individual’s active participation in social institutions such as the labor force, families, communities, and schools.  Social integration programs provide individuals with health, education, labor, and other social services in order to prevent them from becoming involved in criminal behavior, to reverse/reduce participation in criminal behavior, or to reduce the likelihood of recidivism among individuals already in the criminal justice system.

Alternatives to incarceration

The sessions dedicated to the debate has been complemented with a study trip to the Drug Treatment Courts for adults and juveniles for the District of Columbia, followed by a presentation of the OAS Member States currently implementing this model (Argentina, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, the United States, and Canada).

Among the themes that will be discussed in the last day of the event the Pros and Cons of the Clemency and Pardons, the Community Court Model, Models for social integration of incarcerated individuals and the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Training.

On the event dedicated page further information on the dialogue will be made available soon.