Nearly 100 civil and political rights organizations urge Congress to reject Biden’s prejudicial conviction proposal
Media contact: Ambar Mentor-Truppa [email protected]
Letter highlights damage to people of color, calls for public health approach
Washington DC – Today, nearly 100 leading civil rights organizations, community organizers and political groups published a joint letter to leaders of Congress opposing President Biden’s proposal to permanently classify fentanyl-related substances (FRS) as Schedule I drugs. A permanent classification would exacerbate racial inequalities in the criminal justice system while omitting reduce overdose deaths or promote public safety.
Class-wide FRS programming has been in effect since 2018, but overdose deaths have continued to rise, reaching record highs last year. People of color, meanwhile, have been disproportionately harmed by the classification’s tougher condemnation laws, which punish FRS up to four times more than fentanyl despite the fact that FRS is of equal potency or lesser. In pushing to make this classification permanent, President Biden is ignoring evidence showing that strategies rooted in public health, not criminalization, are needed to reduce overdoses.
The coalition calls on Congress to let class-wide planning policy expire and focus on adopting public health solutions, such as expand access to harm reduction and treatment.
Signatories to the letter include Drug Policy Alliance, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, The Sentencing Project, Vera Institute of Justice, and Fair and Just Prosecution.
“The overall ‘solution’ captured in the Biden proposal is that of criminalization rather than being geared towards public health,” said Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “This is despite the fact that we know that the conditions created by criminalization lead to overdose. In fact, the proposal contains zero provisions for harm reduction and expanding access to treatment for those who want and need it. It is shameful at a time when our country is facing record overdose rates. It should also be noted that the Biden proposal sets a dangerous precedent for a radical new approach to drug programming and sentencing. ”
“After the last few years of national conversation about the deep racial disparities embedded in the US criminal justice system, it is frustrating that the Biden administration is repeating the mistakes of the past rather than learning from them. The Biden administration’s proposal to further criminalize fentanyl-related substances as the most dangerous without sufficient evidence, made during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as we see increased overdose rates, will only lead to more people in prison, suffering and dying ”, said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Congress must let temporary programming expire and pass legislation that will direct resources to help the people and communities most affected by drug addiction, rather than continuing to criminalize a public health crisis.” “
“We all want a solution to the opioid crisis, but more criminalization is not the answer”, said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time to treat this urgent situation for the public health problem it is, and instead of more arrests, to provide people with the help and treatment they need.”
“We strongly support efforts to tackle the current overdose crisis and believe that this can be done without increasing our reliance on mass incarceration and without worsening existing racial inequalities,” he added. said Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director of the Sentencing Project. “If Congress and the Biden Administration grant the Drug Enforcement Administration unilateral power to program thousands of fentanyl-related substances, the country will continue to repeat the mistakes of the war on drugs rather than pursue a more just future. “
“The overdose crisis is a public health crisis, and Congress must treat it as such”, said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. “With overdose deaths increasing year on year, it is quite clear that the current approach to arrest and conviction that the Biden administration wants to make permanent, which disproportionately harms blacks and Latinxes, was a dismal failure. Congress has an obligation to allow the expiration of temporary Class I programming for all FRS and to focus on strategies that have been proven to save lives, including improving access to medicines, treatment and prevention services.
“Handcuffs and prison cells don’t prevent overdoses and don’t save lives” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution. “The science is clear: communities need harm reduction services and treatment resources, not more criminalization. We urge the Biden administration and Congress not to repeat the mistakes of decades past and the failure of the war on drugs. Current laws provide for numerous penalties to address serious criminal behavior associated with fentanyl and its analogues; classifying all fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs is simply not necessary and will only worsen racial disparities and do nothing to make our communities healthier and safer.
About the Drug Policy Alliance – The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which drug use and regulation is grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they do. put in their bodies, but only for crimes committed against others. , and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.
About the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition tasked by its diverse membership from more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all people in the United States. The Leadership Conference works for an America that lives up to its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
About Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that monitors human rights violations in more than 90 countries, including the United States. We investigate abuses, expose the facts of these abuses, and advocate for those in power to respect rights and ensure justice. To learn more about the work of Human Rights Watch, visit www.hrw.org
About the sentencing project – The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize the imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic and gender justice. Our political priorities envision the full inclusion in society of people with criminal records and the end of extreme sentences. Our goal is to center the leadership, voices, vision and experience of those directly affected by mass incarceration to make the rationale for systemic change alive, credible and compelling.
About the Vera Institute of Justice – The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of lawyers, researchers and activists who work to transform the criminal and immigration legal systems until they are fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with affected communities and government leaders for change. We develop fair and anti-racist solutions so that money does not determine freedom; fewer people are in prisons, prisons and migrant detention centers; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s corporate headquarters are in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.
About fair and equitable prosecutions – Fair and Just Prosecution is a nationwide network of elected prosecutors who work on meaningful and compassionate criminal justice reforms. To learn more about FJP’s work, visit www.fairandjustprosecution.org.