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Calling For A New Bottom Line In Reducing The Harms Of Drug Abuse

Sponsored by: Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz (NY) NHCSL President

Adopted by the Caucus on November 18, 2006

WHEREAS, the war on drugs has failed: despite spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and incarcerating millions of people, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent, and widely available in every community in the United States. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse – addiction; overdose; the spread of AIDS/HIV, Hepatitis and other diseases--continue to mount, and;

WHEREAS, the war on drugs is a major force driving the incarceration of over 2.3 million people in the U.S.—or a quarter of the world’s incarcerated population—over half of whom are convicted of drug offenses, with black, Latino and poor people disproportionately represented in our country’s overflowing jails and prisons,[i] and;

WHEREAS, Americans spend approximately $140 billion annually on prisons and jails including $24 billion spent on incarcerating over 1.2 million non-violent offenders. In many states (such as New York, Texas, and California), spending on prisons far surpasses spending on education, primarily and dramatically affecting young Latinos and other people of color, and;

WHEREAS, Latinos comprise approximately 14.4% of the general population[ii] and 13.9% of yearly reported illicit drug users[iii], yet among people convicted of drug offenses, 42.6% are Latino[iv]. In 2001, the chances of going to prison were nearly three times higher for Latino males (17.2%) than white males (5.9%)[v], and drug offenders made up nearly twice the percentage of Latino State inmates (27.4%) than of white State inmates (14.8%), and;

WHEREAS, the drug war has devastated Latino families, women and youth. Latino youth are 13 times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system as a result of a drug offense, are incarcerated for more than twice the amount of time for similar drug offenses[vi], and are nearly four times more likely to have an incarcerated parent as are white youth.[vii] In 2004, Latinas were arrested at four and a half times the rate of white women in the U.S.[viii], and;

WHEREAS, injection drug use is the number-two cause of all Latino HIV/AIDS infections, which comprised 18% of all cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2004, and 20% of all reported cases in the U.S. since the beginning of the epidemic, now in its 25th year.[ix] Despite all the advances in AIDS treatment, AIDS is still among the top five leading causes of death for Latinos aged 25-54 and more than half of these deaths were caused by contaminated syringes, and;[x]

WHEREAS, access to affordable, community-based drug treatment, along with educational and economic opportunities, have shown to be successful at reducing the harms of drug misuse, yet more than half of those Americans—and 26.5% of Latinos[xi]--in need of drug treatment do not have access to it, particularly Latinos and Latinas living in poor urban or rural areas, and;

WHEREAS, state policies reducing the incarceration of non-violent offenders and increasing the availability of treatment are cost-effective and beneficial to Latino communities in many states: nearly a third (31%) of all clients enrolled in California’s treatment instead of incarceration program are Latinos, roughly proportionate to their usage and population levels[xii]. Conversely, Latinos are significantly underrepresented in drug courts in Texas, despite being incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of whites[xiii], and nationwide, only 36% of Latinos in federal prisons receive any form substance abuse treatment, the least likely of any racial/ethnic group[xiv], and;

WHEREAS, Latinos are important contributors to our democracy and economy yet are disproportionately disenfranchised because of prior felony drug convictions—severely diluting Latino political participation and voting strength—and are denied public housing, benefits, and student loans—adding further burdens to Latino families and students, and;

WHEREAS, nearly 40% of all criminal deportation proceedings in the U.S.—or the removal of over 33,000 legal residents and undocumented immigrants—are a result of a drug conviction, including minor possession offenses that can trigger automatic deportation and carry a lifetime ban on reentry, permanently separating husband from wife, parent from child, and destroying many Latino families, especially those with mixed documentation status, and;[xv]

WHEREAS, there is not one but rather many Hispanic communities throughout the United States, all of which face different challenges of substance abuse. Individual states therefore require flexibility in serving the needs of each of these communities.

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (“NHCSL”) will introduce and support legislation that prioritizes a public health, not a criminal justice, approach to drug policy, and is measured by a standard that reduces the harms of both drug abuse and unjust drug policies within our communities, while increasing public safety, thereby creating a New Bottom Line. At a minimum, such a standard should include reducing drug overdoses, the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, the number of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars, and the racial disparities created or exacerbated by the criminal justice system.

Be it further resolved, that the NHCSL calls for immediate changes in U.S. drug policies which will: reduce over-incarceration, racial disparities, civil liberties abuses, and the destruction of families by repealing mandatory minimum sentences and diverting nonviolent drug offenders out of prison and into community-based treatment programs; remove barriers on access to sterile injecting equipment as well as to drug treatment on request that includes methadone and other alternative maintenance drugs; provide fully funded, bilingual drug education, prevention and treatment services for Latinos and other communities of color; report on the allocation of local, state, and federal expenditures for all public education and health services as well as the war on drugs, so that states can understand the real cost of the war on drugs to their budgets and their communities; and give states the flexibility they need to find the most effective way to deal with drugs while saving taxpayer dollars and keeping their communities safe.

This resolution was adopted this November 18, 2006, at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators Executive Committee & BBA Annual Meeting held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz, NY
NHCSL President

[i] United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. May 2006.
[ii] U.S. Census Bureau, Quick Facts, 2004. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html.
[iii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA), Office of Applied Studies. National Survey on drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2005. September 2006, Table G.11
[iv]Arboleda, Angela. Latinos in the Federal Criminal Justice System. National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Statistical Brief, No.1: July 2002.
[v] Bonczar, Thomas P., US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Prevalence of Imprisonment in the US Population, 1974-2001," NCJ197976 (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, August 2003), p. 8
[vi] About Minority Over-representation. Governor Ted Kulongoski’s Summit on the Over-representation of Minorities in the Juvenile Justice System. Available at: http://www.oya.state.or.us/dmc/minovrep.htm
[vii] Mumola, Christopher J., US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, August 2000), p. 2
[viii] Harrison, Paige M., & Allen J. Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, April 2005), p. 11
[ix] Department of Health and Human Services. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS among Hispanics. June 2006. www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/hispanic.htm
[x]Dawn Day, Ph.D., Health Emergency 2003: The Spread of Drug-Related AIDS and Hepatitis C among African Americans and Latinos (The Dogwood Center: Princeton, NJ, 2002), p. i.
[xi]Margarita Alegria, et al.. Improving drug treatment services for Hispanics: research gaps and scientific opportunities
[xii] UCLA News Release. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/meth/a/blucla030719.htm.
[xiii] Russel, Malik. Press Release: Race and Imprisonment in Texas. Justice Policy Institute. February 24, 2005. http://www.justicepolicy.org/article.php?id=483.
[xiv]U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional Populations in the United States, 1997. November 2000.
[xv] Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2004, Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Report, p.6 Table 4