Mandatory minimum sentences already a proven failure in the U.S.
TORONTO, Nov. 20 /CNW/ - Legislation introduced earlier today in the
House of Commons by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will do little to reduce
drug use and instead worsen already serious public problems by resulting in
increased risk of HIV transmission, said the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
"There's no proof that mandatory sentences reduce drug use or the
problems associated with it. In fact, there's evidence that it creates more
public-health problems than it solves," said Richard Elliott, Executive
Director. "Even conservative jurists like former U.S. Supreme Court Chief
Justice William Rehnquist have said that mandatory sentences make good
politics, but result in bad policy. Clearly, Americanizing Canada's drug laws
is not the answer."
Mandatory-sentencing policies have produced record incarceration rates of
non-violent drug users in the United States. In addition to the massive cost
of a larger prison population, higher incarceration rates lead to higher
infection rates of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Higher
infection rates ultimately result in greater health-care costs. Since most
prisoners are eventually released back into the community, the public-health
implications of imprisoning non-violent people who use drugs cannot be
Even a detailed examination conducted for the Department of Justice
Canada in 2002 concluded that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. Such
measures, it said, are "least effective in relation to drug offences"; "drug
consumption and drug-related crime seem to be unaffected, in any measurable
way, by severe (mandatory minimum sentences)."
"Talking about 'getting tough on crime' may be politically expedient, but
when it comes to drug issues, the rhetoric isn't backed up by reason,"
concluded Elliott. "What Canada needs now is a sensible approach to drug
policy - a smart one based on solid scientific evidence, sound public-health
principles and respect for human rights."
A myths-vs.-reality backgrounder and a briefing paper entitled "Mandatory
Minimum Sentences for Drug Offences: Why Everyone Loses" are available at
About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) promotes the human
rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and
internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and
community mobilization. The Legal Network is Canada's leading advocacy
organization working on the legal and human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS.
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