Addicted to Punishment: Penalties in the War on Drugs More Severe than for Murder and Rape

Over the past several decades, Latin America has seen penalties for drug crimes—even low-level selling—skyrocket. And in many Latin American countries, nonviolent drug offenses receive significantly longer sentences than many violent crimes such as homicide and rape.

A new study of criminal legislation explores this phenomenon in seven Latin American countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina). The study was conducted by Dejusticia, as part of the Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derechos, with support from the Washington Office on Latin America and the Open Society Foundations. It found that penalties for all seven studied countries have increased 521 percent since 1950.

The report reveals that the average maximum sentence for a drug offense rose from 34 years in prison in 1950 to 141 years today and in three of the seven countries surveyed, drug trafficking was subject to longer maximum and minimum penalties than murder.

The report, Addicted to Punishment: The Disproportionality of Drug Laws in Latin America, states: “When comparing murder with drug trafficking, the logical assumption is that penalties for murder must be higher because it results in a concrete harm to a very important protected legal right—human life and personal integrity—while trafficking does not, in and of itself, lead to such a harm.”

But even those countries that do not impose longer sentences for drugs than violent crimes still impose vastly harsher sanctions than what is called for. In Colombia, for example, the maximum penalty for murder is 37.5 years (an increase from years ago), while the maximum penalty for trafficking is 30 years.

The consequences of such disproportionate sentences include costly crises of mass incarceration throughout the region. Overloaded prison systems have drawn funds and focus away from legitimate regional concerns.

The report argues that sentences handed down for even minor drug crimes are sending millions of nonviolent offenders to jail every year, often at much higher rates than for violent crime, making a persuasive case for drug policy reform.

Read the whole report here.

17 Comments

In the UK a person convicted of the most serious of child rape could get up to ten years in prison.

Also in the UK, a person convicted for Cannabis Trafficking offences carry maximum sentences of 14 years imprisonment and a fine...

That is shocking. I wonder how common these disparities are?

Unfortunately, if you've been following the lifetime of "wonderful exploits" of "Jimmy Savile and friends", one would find it hard to believe that the punishment even approaches a single percent, in relation to the life-long damage caused by the perpetrators of such reprehensible offenses against humanity.

Sadly, you could quite easily argue that murder is a "lesser offense" than child molestation, since at least in the case of a murder victim, their suffering will not continue for decades after the crime is committed against them.

Who exactly are the victims in the case of someone who is smoking a joint on their couch, in the privacy of their own home on the weekend? Are they the police who "stormed the castle?" The prosecutors who are paid to put people away for not harming anyone else? The prisons who derive their incomes from warehousing these non-violent individuals, taken from their homes without warning over a plant?

It's time to REPEAL cannabis prohibition globally, and end this ridiculous and damaging farce once and for all.

Nobody in their right mind believes this has ever worked, or that it is working now, or that it ever will work.

So let's fix the problem, by ENDING the problem once and for all.

In Canada, they are planning on making even registered, documented, approved medicinal cannabis patients "criminals", after instituting pre-failed "mandatory minim prison terms" which are known world-wide not to have any positive benefit to anyone but private prison investors, whose incomes are derived from the warehousing of otherwise productive, non-violent human beings.

Since the government has a list of 15000+ medicinal cannabis patients who will not have between (various estimates of) $1,500.00 to $5,000.00 per month to pay their soon-to-be-created Canadian Cannabis Monopoly Corporation for low-grade "medicine" which will be cheaper to get from a common "drug dealer" on the street, the target is obviously to "provide justification" for the creation of a private prison system in Canada.

This will cost upwards of 1.8 BILLION dollars annually, that would be added to the existing 2+ BILLION currently wasted on "enforcement actions" against the Canadian public already.

Recommendation: Save 4+ BILLION dollars annually, and repeal prohibition. Let people who want/need cannabis grow their own. Allow the existing cannabis market to come above board, and steal revenue through existing sales taxes, business taxes, goods and services taxes, income taxes, fuel taxes, energy taxes etc, etc, etc., that are already in place.

It's time we ended the obvious failure of prohibition, and moved on.

http://overgrow.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-fallacy-of-the-legalize-and-...

In some countries (like the Republic of Georgia) even tiny amounts of drugs can get you these long sentences--meaning that those possessing drugs for personal use can end up in prison for longer than murderers. Crazy.

Thanks Daniel, To top it all, evidence indicates that these sanctions are completely unnecessary. In Ecuador an amnesty was granted to convicted traffickers/mules and the rates of re-offending were staggeringly low. In other words the length of the sentence was no more a deterrent to re-offending than simply getting caught. You could accomplish the same results with much less harsh penalties. Incarceration is always a punishment of last resort and it should be proportionate. If memory serves (and it may have been you who told me this) but Georgia's had one of the most rapid increases in prison populations in the world. It's amazing how widespread the penalties are.

In case of Georgia the sentence is from 7 to 14 years. But plea bargaining is a widespread and is a kind of another 'crazy' issue

This is really strange. Murder

Taiwan does indeed have the death penalty for drugs but as far as I know it hasn't been used on a drug offender since 2002. But Taiwan is hardly alone. There are 33 States or Territories with the death penalty for drugs. Not all actually carry out executions but those few that do execute in prolific numbers. In fact in Iran between 70 and 80 of all executions are for drugs offenders. In other countries, like Singapore, drug offenses account about half of all those executed in the past decade.

For more, see: http://www.ihra.net/contents/1290

Experience.
During my recent life as a student worker and engineering companies.
I visited several jails tThe Foreign Sundays largest Latin America several times during my trips abroad and share with all these thoughts that arise away remembering my presence among prisons with high security measures.
I remember many faces of prisoners from different countries, cultures and languages ​​who asked me hopefully help move me up today and I could not respond because it requires changes in High Instance Law, International Humanitrias backed organization like Open Society and generous people like those who are working and reviewing this issue.
1 - The Latin American embajas not accompany prisoners in their countries.
2 - They have lawyers and are backed court for the rescued trafficking gang returning to the same job forever.
2 - They are very longing for his family and travel costs is difficult to achieve schedule a visit in jail many documentations and required investment.
3 - Lack change the prison system that benefits their future officers and directors of youth fading prolonging his sentence.
4- Europe, Asia have support from their embassies but Africa and Latin America: Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Central America.
5 - Support to return to their countries in the short time.
I have more comments and even I would publish a book but need support
Greetings from South America Paraguay.
123osvaldo@gmail.com
Ingeniero Mecatronica-Sicólogo-Filósofo.

Malaysia too has a draconian law on illicit drugs. If you are one is found guilty by a competent Court in possession of 15 gms of heroin or morphine or a mixture of both there is the mandatory death by hanging. The amount of each type of drugs the possession of which is deemed to be trafficking is stipulated. Of late although the punishment is still imposed execution of the sentence seemed to in abeyance. A number of cases has been commuted to life sentence by the Rulers in Council. It is not a pardon. There is a move to do away with the death sentence.
In cases where the amount/weight of drugs is below the presumptive amount for trafficking and if there is no evidence to prove trafficking the sentence is quite severe; imprisonment of up to 15 yrs, in addition to being canned.

Dear Tan Sri,

You are absolutely right about these kinds of sanctions. Disproportionate and cruel penalties are not limited to prison. There are so many more such as death penalty and even caning.

Thank you for your comment and advocacy on this issue.

It is always bad policy to make a harsher sentence or a lesser crime as the criminal will now resort to any means, I.e murder, to not get caught and sentenced for the lesser crimes. We are seeing this play out with the thousands of drug related deaths in Mexico

May I add that the USA has a *death penalty* on the books for production of >60,000 marijuana plants in a continuing criminal enterprise netting >$2M per annum?

It's probably unconstitutional... but it's the DEATH PENALTY!

When I'm producing the news for my show and some pot gardener is sentenced to a mandatory minimum of >5 years, I search the crime blotter in that area for the most recent sentences handed down in child rape cases. It's sadly predictable how that search always turns out.

it caused by the perpetrators of such reprehensible offenses against humanity.

RUSS, YOU DON'T GIVE THE WHOLE PICTURE OF DRUGS IN THE U.S. IN CALIFORNIA, OREGON? AND OTHER STATES MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS LEGAL. ABOUT HALF OF OUR POT IF GROWN IN AMERICA, DOESN'T COME FROM MEXICO. POSSESSION OF AN OUNCE OR LESS IS A MISDEMEANOR, NO BIG DEAL. PERHAPS A SMALL FINE. IN STATES WHERE MEDICAL MARIJUANA ISN'T LEGAL, IT DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ARE. IF YOU'RE WHITE AND BUY POT FROM A BLACK, YOU USUALLY DRIVE SAFELY BACK TO YOUR SUBURB. THE BLACK OR LATINO, HOWEVER, IN NEW YORK IS LIKELY TO BE STOPPED AND FRISKED, (WITHOUT A WARRANT, DON'T GET HOW ITS CONSTITUTIONAL) AND CAN BE THROWN INTO OUR PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX WHICH IS MOSTLY FILLED WITH BLACKS AND LATINOS. I ASKED FRIENDS IN ENGLAND WHO WAS IN THEIR'S. THE ANSWER: "BLACKS AND THE IRISH." I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT THE UK HAD LEGALIZED HEROIN. SAW IT IN OPERATION IN ZURICH WHERE IT LOOKED PRETTY SEEDY AND OF COURSE PEOPLE ALWAYS WANTED MORE. CRIMINALIZATION IS OBVIOUSLY NOT THE ANSWER. AT IN NY STATE, THEY'VE CUT BACK BUT NOT ELIMINATED THE ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS, WHICH GAVE JAIL TERMS FOR CRACK COCAINE, USED BY THE POOR, WOMEN GIVING 25 CENT BLOW FELLATIO FOR A SMOKE OF CRACK. WHILE THE RICH,WHO USED POWDER, GOT OFF EASIER.

Add your voice