Earlier this month, the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) approved a resolution that called for justice and health agencies to work together to provide a range of alternatives to incarceration for those affected by a substance use disorder. The CND, held in Vienna, Austria, is the largest annual governmental meeting on drug issues with 53 member states. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy initially proposed the resolution.
“A global consensus is emerging that no nation can solve its drug problem by simply arresting and incarcerating those affected by a substance use disorder,” said Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, who represented the United States at the CND. “The United States is strongly committed to advancing strategies that bring justice and health agencies together on innovative solutions for drug-involved individuals wherever they are in the world.”
The United States introduced the resolution, which emphasizes that too many individuals with substance use disorders around the world are serving extended prison sentences, but not receiving evidence-based treatment or other needed health services. Increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration and the provision of treatment for these individuals, whether in the community or in prison, supports sustained recovery from substance use disorders, promotes fairness, and reduces prison overcrowding.
The resolution encourages all countries to utilize a range of alternatives to incarceration and other criminal justice reforms that also promote treatment for substance use disorders. The health-related interventions referenced in the resolution include screening for substance use disorders, access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, counselling services and other behavioral health services, overdose prevention and treatment, recovery support services, treatment for HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases and mental health disorders. The alternatives to incarceration and other reforms listed include reduced or suspended sentences, diversion programs before or during trial, home detention, community service, fines, victim restitution, random drug testing, and GPS tracking.
Effective combinations of supervision and drug treatment, which are a subject of ongoing research in the United States, can result in more effective crime reduction, better health outcomes and lower prison costs. These alternatives can also allow incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders to return to their families and communities, while concurrently receiving treatment and helping to break the cycle of drug use, arrest, incarceration, relapse and re-arrest.
The resolution, specifically called for the following:
The full title of the resolution is: Supporting the Collaboration of Public Health and Justice Authorities in Providing Alternatives to Conviction or Punishment for Drug-Related Offenses of a Minor Nature. The following countries co-sponsored the resolution: Australia, Ecuador, El Salvador, European Union, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Israel, Lithuania, Mexico, Namibia, and Uruguay.