New Bill Could Quadruple Prison Time For Opioid-Related Offenses

By Britni de la Cretaz 12/20/17

A member of the Drug Policy Alliance says the New Jersey bill is "a return to the failed policies of the past.”

man's hands gripping prison bars

As more and more states look at alternatives to incarceration for people convicted of drug-related offenses, and public health officials increasingly come out against the criminalization of addiction, politicians in New Jersey are taking an opposite tack.

A new bill in the state legislature would increase sentences—in some cases up to four times longer—for people convicted of heroin- or fentanyl-related offenses.

According to WHYY, the consequences for possessing five grams of heroin would double—from three to five years to five to 10 years. For 10 grams, it would quadruple, going from three to five years to 10 to 20. Three Democratic sponsors of the bill did not respond to WHYY’s request for comment.

“This bill is really a return to the failed policies of the past,” Roseanne Scotti, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told WHYY. “These increased sentences cost us a lot of money. They do nothing to reduce the availability or purity of drugs on the street.”

In 2014, there was a bipartisan push to scale back sentencing for drug offenses on the federal level, based on the reasoning that it was costing too much money for little-to-no results.

The Trump administration has advocated for increasing the already harsh penalties for drug offenders. Despite the fact that incarceration has not historically proven to be an effective deterrent or an effective form of treatment, it is still encouraged as a response to the opioid epidemic by people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Even President Trump himself suggested arrests and sentencing for drug offenses needed to increase to combat the opioid crisis.

Conversely, President Obama granted clemency to 1,715 non-violent drug offenders during his time in office. Just last week, a report from The Sentencing Project laid out the inadequate or non-existent treatment that incarcerated folks are getting for their addictions, which can lead to higher rates of recidivism and the likelihood that people will end up right back behind bars.

Dr. Robert Foss, a social psychologist at the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, weighed in on why people continue to suggest harsh punishments as a solution. “Humans are pretty oblivious to evidence, so even when we see that our system of punishment hasn’t worked, that evidence doesn’t override our gut instinct that it should work,” Dr. Foss told The Fix earlier this year.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
britni headshot.png

Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.