Today, the Drug Policy Alliance is releasing a nine-part video series challenging assumptions about who ends up behind bars for drug selling and distribution-related offenses.
The series includes three introductory videos breaking down the history and ineffectiveness of the current system of domestic drug market criminalization, which often results in the same punishment for low-level individuals and ‘kingpins.’ It also includes six videos of individuals sharing their stories about being ensnared in the criminal justice system for sales-related offenses.
“We grow up being told that drug dealers are the worst of the worst,” said Alyssa Stryker, Criminal Justice Reform Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We’re told we need to put them in prison for decades because they’re violent kingpins getting rich by preying on people who use drugs. But many people who sell drugs are people who use drugs, or are working at the very bottom of drug selling hierarchies and barely making ends meet. Many are not involved in any kind of violence or coercion, and are simply trying to support their families under challenging economic conditions.”
The DPA series includes the story of Aron Tuff, a veteran from Georgia who used illegal drugs to manage the pain of a back injury sustained during his Army service. The police found 0.3 grams of cocaine on the ground near Mr. Tuff at a party, and charged him with possession with intent to distribute. Because of prior convictions related to his drug use, Mr. Tuff received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
It also includes the story of Caswick Naverro, who began using drugs at a young age to deal with the post-traumatic stress symptoms he experienced as a result of the violence in his New Orleans neighborhood. He started selling drugs when he was 13 years old to help support his younger siblings and single mother, who suffers from lupus.
“We need to stop sending people like this to prison for decades,” added Stryker. “And ultimately we need to stop relying on criminal punishment to address this issue and instead focus on fixing the prohibitionist policies and underlying structural economic issues that drive people into drug selling in the first place.”