8 December, 2021
The following intervention was delivered by Aditia Taslim on behalf of INPUD at the 49th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board, under Agenda Item 3: Update on HIV in prisons and other closed settings.
The International Network of People who Use Drugs welcomes the updated report on HIV and prison and other closed settings. We condemn the effort to block the call to reduce overcrowding in prisons through increasing political commitment in preventing the use of custodial sentences for minor offices. It was only yesterday we discussed about societal enablers, and if I recall, there was a wide consensus on the importance of creating those enablers.
UNAIDS report states that at least 111 countries criminalise the use or possession of drugs for personal use and as a result, the majority of prison populations in the world are detained for drug-related offences. In the U.S. alone, every 25 seconds someone is arrested for drug charges. We have seen a dramatic 500% increase over the last 40 years in the prison population. The number of people incarcerated for drug offences in the US alone has skyrocketed from just over 40,000 in 1980 to over 430,000 in 2019. (The Sentencing Project, Criminal Justice Facts).
Following the establishment of the UN Common Position on Drugs, there has been a growing momentum towards decriminalisation efforts. Almost 50 countries and jurisdictions across the world have now adopted some form of decriminalisation for drug use and possession, recognising that criminalisation is failing and disproportionately targeting people living in poverty, people of colour and young people, and most importantly keeping people away from services that can save their life. However, we believe there is an urgent need to be more critical in understanding that despite the efforts, the current form of decriminalisation continues to result in unacceptable impacts and outcomes to the health and human rights of people who use drugs.
We appreciate the call for alternative measures to imprisonment, but these alternatives do not go far enough and continue to punish people. In many contexts, replacement of criminal charges to administrative sanctions have been introduced. The use of high fines is usually applied to highly marginalised people who use drugs who are homeless and/or spend time in public spaces as they are more visible to police, and thus are often targeted.
Our study on decriminalisation shows that respondents from Costa Rica and Kyrgyzstan feel that there has been an increase in frequency of contact with the police since the introduction of fines for drug possession. Police seem to be more motivated to target people who use drugs because of higher fines. This approach has the potential net widening effects.
The seriousness of drug offences is also often measured through threshold quantities. Although in theory, this approach is intended to divert people who use drugs away from imprisonment, threshold quantities are low and too often do not reflect the lived realities of people who use drugs.
The pathologisation of people who use drugs is not only stigmatising and disempowering; but can also justify compulsory and coercive treatment.
The International Network of People who Use Drugs urges Member States to adopt full decriminalisation of drugs and drug use without any sanctions and to shift away from strategies of control and surveillance and pathologisation that portray people who use drugs as victims in need of treatment and rehabilitation. Policies needs to be developed with meaningful involvement and participation of people who use drugs. We strongly appeal to Member States, UNAIDS, and cosponsors to have honest and open discussions with the community on how we can achieve the 10-10-10 targets, rather than continue problematic debates on whether supporting imprisonment should be within the mandate of the Joint Programme.